To bring His anciently prophesied New Covenant to pass, our Lord foreordained to use the ministries and words of men He Himself would choose. Besides the men who gave these prophecies in the older Testament (Isaiah, David, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc.) would be their followers in the New—the apostles and prophets. The latter were initially chosen through His incarnate ministry on earth; the doctrine they taught of the Christ and His work, unfolded, expanded upon, and applied in inerrant writings from Matthew to Revelation would be the foundation stones of His inaugurated kingdom and plan.
But for these men to be effective in the work to which God appointed them, they needed to be trained and taught. And like them, we too must be discipled by our Lord for our role in the great worldwide promise-plan He has established from of old.
The real work would not begin until after our Lord rose from the dead and ascended back into heaven to rule and reign. It is imperative while He is still on earth that His men learn from Him and are prepared to carry on His mission through their own. This week’s passage shows us the principles the Lord used in shaping His men for ministry—aspects imperative to any God-glorifying ministry we undertake as well.
A. Great Partnerships (v. 7)
Think over what the Twelve have just seen. They have witnessed the Lord’s miracles on virtually every level of life, particularly demonstrating His power over the intractable fallenness that is shot through our world spiritually, physically, and environmentally. And they have been sobered by seeing His childhood friends and relatives reject His rule and claims once again. Notably, none of this deters our Lord (rejection was prophesied and His power in inaugurating and extending His kingdom must be demonstrated, for He came to redeem); rather, He prepares His men for a new and effective season of ministry and service.
He summons the Twelve, setting them apart as a distinct and uniquely qualified group out of the larger mass of His disciples. Previously, they have been chosen as apostles; here, they are for the first time sent out as apostles. They are His representatives and intermediaries; they carry His authority and stand in His place. They will continue to do so once He has gone back to heaven and left them to complete His work. Matthew’s account of this event tells us our Lord instructs these men to only go to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6). Did not our Lord care about the nations? Did not the older Testament say His plan was to teach them the word and ways of God (Isa. 42:1b)? Yes! But the nations were always to be reached through Israel (note how the Apostles and first Christians were all Jews—the remnant of Israel which embraced Messiah, bridges the Testaments, and acts as the hinge from Israel to the Church), and our Lord is yet showing that nation mercy as He goes “to the Jew first” (Rom. 1:16).
He chooses to send them in pairs, staggered (the verb tense of “began” implies this happened over a period of time, not all at once). Doubtless this is partly inspired by His desire for their mutual encouragement, protection, fellowship, and support. But it is also rooted in the OT requirement that two witnesses be required in the event of bringing charges against someone (Deut. 17:1-6). We will return to this idea later, as it is rich.
Note that the text says He gives them authority (v. 7b). This is not their authority. They only are channels for His. It is the same with us. Any spiritual authority we have to accomplish anything for the kingdom of God—whether in discipleship, prayer, goals for ministry, personal godliness—authority that overcomes obstacles both natural and supernatural for the advancement of God’s kingdom and the glory of Christ is not our authority. It is Christ’s, who rules heaven and earth, exercised through a yielded and obedient servant filled with His Spirit. How this would both humble us and expand our hearts with a vision for what God can do through us as we trust and obey Him!
We learn much from the apostles being sent two-by-two (that’s literally what the Greek text has). One of the most important is that as we minister in and to a fallen world, we cannot do so alone. Our Enemy is too cunning and too strong, our flesh is too manipulative, the fallenness we face risks being too overwhelming and draining. As Aaron and Hur held up Moses’s tired arms until God brought the victory (Ex. 17:8-13), so also we must have the humility to recognize our own need for others in the Body as we fulfill the ministry given to us by the Lord.
B. Great Peace (vv. 8-9)
These verses may initially seem a bit odd. Who goes on a trip with basically just the clothes on their backs? But the point is our Lord does not want them to be unnecessarily encumbered—one must travel light when going on urgent work—and more importantly forced to trust entirely in His power and provision.
They are allowed to take a staff—a kind of walking stick that could also be used to fend off animals or robbers—and Matthew and Luke add that it cannot be a new staff; they must not take the time to buy new things, but must go on the mission right away!
They are not even allowed to take food or money—we go on car trips for three hours with more provisions than what they took on their likely lengthy assignment! When they have nothing—when even getting new things would be direct disobedience to a command from heaven—they have no recourse but to throw themselves onto the kindness of Christ, trusting in future grace with each step.
Notably, the Lord also tells them not to bring two tunics with them. A tunic was a long garment worn next to the skin. Wealthy people had more than one, one of which was worn as an outer garment and would usually be quite ornate. Besides reinforcing the need to trust Christ for provision, this was an added note of encouraging identification with the common people and adopting a bearing that was culturally understood as urgent and imperative. In that, Jesus is crafting His men in the mold of the OT prophets, who also dressed and carried themselves in ways that underscored the gravity of their ministry.
Peace comes as we trust the Lord. Knowing that this was their first time ministering alone in a hostile context, our Lord wisely removes from them any escape hatches or ability to be self-reliant. He stretches their faith by deliberately putting them into a context where He must provide for them by external (or even supernatural) means. What a loving reminder as we do our work for the Lord! He is keen about placing us in situations where the deliverance, the provision, the accomplishment is clearly from Him. O that we would throw ourselves on His covenant mercy and see His do wondrous things for the glory of His name!
C. Great Prudence (vv. 10-11)
As they go into the towns and villages, upon accepting an offer of hospitality they are to stay at that home until they leave the town. They are not to abruptly leave if a more comfortable or amenity-rich option comes along. In this, they are to focus on the message and the work, not on themselves or the perks they get as representatives of the King. (What a rebuke to the ministries flush with worldly resources in our day! Making lots of money isn’t the problem; using the money for unnecessary self-enrichment is. What a poor testimony to a scrutinizing world.)
This message-emphasis is also tied to how they are to react if their message is rejected. If they are not listened to, the Lord tells them to shake the dust off their feet as they leave. This is what Jews would do when reentering Israel after traveling in Gentile (or Samaritan) lands. They did not want any of that “pagan” dirt getting on God’s land.
Here is where the two witnesses idea comes in: In Deuteronomy 17, the two witnesses are mentioned in the context of bringing charges against covenant-breaking (v. 2), specifically through idolatry (v. 3). This was so serious—the penalty was execution—that charges could not be entreated unless the wicked behavior was confirmed by at least two people.
Here is what our Lord is saying: By rejecting Him and His messengers, these religious Jews are no better than pagan Gentiles, and are guilty of idolatry and covenant-breaking (!). To the repentant, the two witnesses reinforce the gracious offer of forgiveness. To the recalcitrant, it is a terrifying threat of condemnation by the very God the impenitent claimed to serve!
As we serve the Lord in a fallen world, we two must be most careful to maintain focus on His message and work, not on our benefits and blessings, and we mist be willing to proclaim the fullness of His message to people, including the parts that speak of condemnation to the impenitent. God will honor our faithfulness!
D. Great Principle (vv. 12-13)
In obedience to the Lord’s instruction, the Twelve go to the various towns and villages in Israel and proclaim repentance in light of God’s present and future kingdom. To authenticate their message and provide a preview of the comprehensive salvation God offers the world, they cast out many demons (signifying the gospel’s triumph over the demonic hosts that have so tormented the world) and healed the sick (demonstrating the comprehensive redemption of the body inherent in the gospel and the cross). The salvation God offers is not just for the soul but for every area of life and human experience as well. Some (much) of this we experience progressively in this life; we await its fullest manifestation in the age to come, during the millennial empire and on the new earth.
Repentance is the key to everything. Repentance puts us in a right relationship with the Lord God, and does so in such a way that we are positioned to experience plenteous and comprehensive blessing and redemption. As God’s people, we know the choicest and most intimate and wondrous of His blessings, chef among them being perfect and eternal fellowship with the God we love! And yet He gives the repentant everything else as well. The lost denigrate repentance as the loss of their autonomy and the sins they love. It is that. But in surrendering those things, we get everything truly wonderful and intended by God! O that we would be a people aflame with the tremendous beauty of repentance! That will be a most effective and God-honoring means of winning many to Christ as we await His soon return.