Chapter 9 verse 35 provides a typical Matthean bridge that tells us the thought is connected although the events may not be. After the miracles, Matthew speaks of Jesus continuing through the land, teaching and healing. Note that in Matthew 4:23 (an earlier bridge) almost the exact same wording is given. We know then that Jesus continues to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, but the next event that Matthew will relate continues the theme of mission.
To start it off, even before we leave chapter 9, Matthew remarks that Jesus felt compassion for the crowds that gathered both to hear him and to seek healing. He views them, we read in verse 26, as sheep without a shepherd. This may be somewhat surprising. Jesus is not looking at the general populace of the world. Rather he looks out over the Jews—God’s covenant people. Sheep without a shepherd? But what of the high priest and the other 69 Sanhedrin members? What of the priests maintaining the temple and overseeing the entire process of animal sacrifice? What of the Pharisees and scribes who bustle about amid the people and especially on the Sabbath teaching in the synagogues? Surely of all nations and especially in their religion, the Jews were highly organized. But Christ sees them as sheep without a shepherd. The obvious conclusion is that in Christ’s analogy of sheep and shepherd, he is not using it to view or determine structural or hierarchical authority. It is not the authority of the shepherd that is lacking. It is the serving aspect of the shepherd as he leads the sheep to pasture (in this case, truth). The next verse confirms this perspective as Christ laments the fact that there are but few laborers for the harvest. With that introduction to a mission of serving by leading to truth, Matthew next recounts the sending out of the twelve apostles for their first mission work.
The grouping that Matthew gives of the apostles seems to indicate in what company they went out on their mission. In Luke 10 we read of Christ sending out 70 disciples, two by two. The pairing of the 12 in Matthew 10 seems to indicate this same coupling arrangement. Even in the Greek, an “and” is included between each pair, but only a separation from one pair to the next. So it is Peter and Andrew (first pair) James and John (second pair) Philip and Bartholomew (third pair) and so on. Notice Christ pairs brothers (Peter and Andrew; James and John) and also friends (Philip and Bartholomew [also called Nathaniel] – John 1:45). Notice that the second James (also now known as James the Less) in the list is the son of Alphaeus. Turning to Mark 2:14 we find that Matthew (there called Levi) is also a son of Alphaeus. So why didn’t these brothers pair up? James the Less is paired with Thaddaeus. Perhaps a clue as to the reason may be found in Acts 1:13. In that passage we find that Thaddaeus (here called Judas) is the son of James the Less. So in this case, father (James) and son (Judas/Thaddaeus) teamed up rather than James with his brother Matthew. The point is not so important, but it is interesting to note how many of the disciples were related—seven of them coming from only three families.
The rest of chapter 10 is devoted to the instructions Jesus gives them prior to their mission work. A careful reading will show that these instructions are partly for their current specific work and partly for general mission work that will involve the rest of their lives (and our lives). Notice that Jesus begins telling them to go nowhere among the Gentiles (verse 5). However, down in verse 18 he tells them that they will be dragged before kings to “bear witness before them and the Gentiles.” Obviously the difference is related to their specific mission (to the Jews only) and the general ministry that they will have throughout the apostolic age (to the Gentiles as well). In the same way, we find that this specific mission has a specific end that takes place sometime within a short time (maybe a few weeks?) of its beginning (see Luke 9:10). Yet in Matthew 10:23 tells them that they “will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (The expression “the Son of Man comes” almost always speaks of Christ’s second advent.) So, again, we have mention of the specific mission which ends within weeks, and a longer lifetime (and “this age”) mission that doesn’t end until Christ returns.
The division between specific mission instruction and general mission instruction occurs around verses 15 and 16. Prior to verse 16 the apostles are told (1) to go to the Jews only (this is in keeping with Christ’s fulfillment of the old covenant which culminates with the appearance of the Messiah), (2) to perform the validating signs of the kingdom—healing, raising the dead, casting out demons, (3) to trust in God for provision—no extra money, tunic, sandals, etc., and (4) to offer and withhold blessing based on the reception of the message.
Following verse 15, general mission comments are made which apply to us as well. Note that the thrust of the general instructions is this: the message of the kingdom will be met by violence from people dedicated to the god of self/humanity. This is precisely why Jesus begins this section by saying that he is sending them out as sheep in the midst of wolves. They depend on him; they must continue in the kingdom teaching they have learned—acting only on God’s authority, maintaining complete humility of spirit, and not in attack (not even in revenge) on their enemies. But, Jesus warns, the world will not react with the same humble, no-attack spirit. Family members will turn on each other (10:21), and God’s people will be hated (10:22). “Expect it,” Christ says. If they did it to Christ, the master, they will surely do the same evil to his followers.
One item in this passage needs clarification. First, verse 19 tells us that the Spirit will give us the words to speak in time of attack. This is not a call to be unprepared. There is not some greater spirituality or humility in not preparing. This is a call to be aware. We need not work at means to extricate ourselves from the confrontation. It may come suddenly or slowly. But our mission is not to react to it, but to proclaim Christ and the kingdom. God is the one who will take all witness for him to hearts as he sees fit. So this is a call to be faithful in the same one message of Christ.
The conclusion to the recognition of evil that will be done because of our witness is simple. Christ says in verse 26 to have no fear. The worst they can do is hurt us physically. But we belong now and forever to Christ. All they kill us, they are the ones who should fear because they must face the one who is Lord over both body and soul (10:28).
Christ came to bring everlasting peace to those he redeems. But he came to this earth to bring about this conflict between his own and those whose trust is in self/humanity. That conflict will find its way dividing even the strongest of physical ties in families. But love for God must reign supreme (10:34-29).
Live for God; live for Christ; live for the kingdom. As the great commandments tell us, loving God is closely followed by loving others. As we love the people of God, we love our God (10:40-42).