Matthew 10

Structure of the Passage

Verse 1-4 Jesus Commissions the Twelve Disciples
Discourse 2: Mission and Suffering (Mt. 10:5–11:1)
The commission proper (Mt. 10:5–8)

a. Audience (Mt. 10:5–6)

b. Message (Mt. 10:7)

c. Miracles (Mt. 10:8)

Instructions on support (Mt. 10:9–15)
The Expectation of Persecution (Mt. 10:16–23)
Official persecution and the Spirit’s ministry (Mt. 10:16–20)

a. Family division and the coming of Jesus (Mt. 10:21–23)

Three reasons not to fear persecution (Mt. 10:24–33)

b. Disciples share in their master’s persecution (Mt. 10:24–25)

c. Disciples must not fear persecutors (Mt. 10:26–27)

d. Disciples must fear only the ultimate judge (Mt. 10:28–33)

Jesus and peace (Mt. 10:34–39)

e. The divisive mission of Jesus (Mt. 10:34–36)

f. The ultimate loyalty of Jesus’s disciples (Mt. 10:37–39)

The reward for supporting the mission (Mt. 10:40–11:1)


Christ instructs the disciples to go out for Him, and gives them preparation for what will come. Persecution and trials, but also reasons to persevere. He gives them spiritual and mental baggage for when the road becomes hard: the judgment of God; the care of God; their value; and His comfort.

Exposition of the verses

Verse 1-4 Jesus Commissions the Twelve Disciples

Jesus instructs His disciples regarding the work in the harvest (Mt. 9;37-38) and He teaches that however they will be received, whether rejected (Matt. 10:14, 18, 22, 24–25) or received (Mt. 10:11, 40), it will all be because of Jesus Christ and His teaching. It is through the apostles that the church will be built, despite their weaknesses (2 Cor. 4:7). It is those apostles, that have often been portrayed negatively in the ministry of Jesus who will rule Israel in the end of times (Matt. 19:28). God does not demand perfection in man, but devotions to Him and His teaching.
The names of the disciples are listed in this section. Also Mark and Luke do (Mark 3:16–16; Luke 6:14–16), and Luke again in Acts 1:13). The names are the same, except Thaddeus. Matthew’s list has two distinctive features: it is arranged in pairs (perhaps reflecting the tradition that they were sent out in pairs, Mark 6:7 cf. Luke 10:1), the first two being pairs of brothers, the others apparently arbitrarily grouped for literary effect; and Simon (Peter), who comes first in all the lists and whose leading role among the twelve is clear in all the gospels, is explicitly designated in Matthew as “first,” even though no further numbering follows. Verse 2 is the first time in which Matthew calls them “apostles.” This makes sense, for they are to be sent out into the world with the authority given. Matthew has only mentioned the call of five disciples. Jesus takes the initiative (Matt. 4:18-22) and gives them authority. The disciples are given the same authority as Jesus Himself (Mt. 4:23-24; 9:35).
The fact that there are 12 apostles refers to the tribes of Israel, Moses’ choice of twelve tribal leaders (Num. 1:1-16 and so has a symbolical role. The number was so important, that they needed to remain 12 (Acts 1:15-26), and that also Paul continues to refer to them as “the Twelve” in 1 Cor. 15:5. Israel, who is now without godly leaders will be led by twelve men who have authority from God, power, the ethics of Jesus and the love of God in their hearts.

Discourse 2: Mission and Suffering (Mt. 10:5–11:1)

The commission continues after the twelve are mentioned. The disciples have witnessed Jesus’ work, and now are sent off themselves to perform the same acts of kindness to the world. As Jesus was rejected, they will face rejection, and where Christ is welcomed, they shall be welcomed. Though Luke had an additional prohibition of greetings on the road (Luke 10:4), Matthew leaves this out. There is a structure in the instruction:

Reception: Blessings for worthy homes and villages (Mt. 10:11–13)

Rejection: General warning—unworthy homes and villages (Mt. 10:14–15)

Rejection: Specific warnings—synagogues, governors, kings, family (Mt. 10:16–39)

Reception: Rewards for receiving Jesus’s followers (Mt. 10:40–42)

This teaching on mission and suffering fits Matthews earlier teaching that the Gentiles will be a part of the community in believers. The discourse is divided in 4 sections:

1. The commission proper (Mt. 10:5–8)

2. Instructions on support (Mt. 10:9–15)

3. Warnings about opposition to the mission (Mt. 10:16–39)

4. The reward for supporting the mission (Mt. 10:40–11:1)


Verse 5-6 Audience

The disciples get an immediate prohibition not to go to the Gentiles nor Samaria, but only to the lost sheep who need a Shepherd. Here, Gentiles and Samaritans are still excluded, though Jesus anticipate that soon the message will also reach them. After His resurrection, He commands message to the Gentiles (Mt. 28:19).
The reason is, that Matthew presents Christ as Abraham’s son through whom all the nations will be blessed (Mt. 1:1; cf. Gen. 12:2–3). The Jewish are the foundation of the covenant, and the Gentile mission does not replace, but broadens this mission of God. The Gentiles will always have to acknowledge the priority given to the Jews in redemption (Gen. 12:2–3; Luke 2:32; John 4:22; 10:16; Acts 15:12–18; Rom. 11:16–24; 15:7–13; Eph. 2:11–13; Rev. 21:12–14).

Verse 7 Message

The message that they have to proclaim is the same as John and Jesus already proclaimed before: repentance and the kingdom of heaven, anticipating the great rule of God (Mt. 24:14).

Verse 8 Miracles

The disciples have been blessed by the Kingdom teaching and Kingdom works, and have seen that everything is without financial gain (Acts 3:6; 4:32–5:11; 8:18–20; 18:1–3; 20:33–35; 1 Cor. 9:18; 2 Cor. 11:7; 12:14–18; Phil. 4:10–18). It is about attachment to the Kingdom, and detachment from the world. “Without cost” translates dōrean, “as a gift,” an expression which sometimes means “for nothing” in the sense of “in vain” (Gal 2:21) or “without cause” (John 15:25), but usually connotes generosity (of God’s generosity, Rom 3:24; Rev 21:6; 22:17). Paul did not take free board from people (2 Thess. 3:8; cf 1 Cor. 9:3–18), but here the disciples are allowed to do so, seen in the following verses.

Verse 9-15 Instructions on support

The disciples are again instructed not to worry about the day of tomorrow, (see Mt. 6:25–33), and they are called to travel light. The Christian community will provide for them. They are called to go in dependency on God. The message of God is not for sale (Acts 8:20), but those who receive its gifts freely should also give freely to its messengers (Matt. 10:8b, 11). There is a strong lesson for the Christian church here. Money is considered to be a common good in the Kingdom, belonging to God, and the Christian community is called to care for one another, bearing both physical as emotional burdens.
God will care for the disciples through the hospitality of strangers, whom the disciples do not know yet, but who will be placed on their path. Hospitality was and is common in the Middle Eastern culture. However, based on the message of the disciples, not all will be hospitable. Verse 13-14 will speak of this “worthiness” of people who take the disciples in freely. Those who refuse the message will refuse hospitality to the messenger. God values the protection and care of His messengers so high, that those who reject them will be worse off than Sodom and Gomorra, and their treatment of the angels (Gen. 18-19). The disciples must shake off the dust from their feet: a symbol of dissociation.

The Expectation of Persecution (Mt. 10:16–23)

Verse 16-23 Warnings and encouragement

The following passage are two cycles of warning and encouragement. The first section (Mt. 10:16-20) warns for persecution from the civil government, and the second warning comes closer: betrayal of their own families. The first comfort is the Holy Spirit who will speak to the disciples despite the harsh circumstances, and the second comfort is the coming of Jesus, who will deliver those who remain faithful to the end. Jesus message of the rest of this chapter is, that He is not coming to bring peace, but that persecution is a part of His mission, and also will be a part of the disciple’s mission.

Verse 16-20 Official persecution and the Spirit’s ministry

Jesus teaches the disciples about hatred against them. Those who reject the message will not leave it alone, but hate the messenger. Therefore, the disciples are as sheep among the wolves (Mt. 7:15; Acts 20:29; John 10:12; Ezek. 22:27), and Jesus teaches them to be shrewd as snakes (cf. Gen. 3:1) and harmless (cf. Rom. 16:19; Phil. 2:15) as doves. A snake goes out of the way when trouble comes near, meaning that the disciples are called to be smart, to avoid harming their opponent in order to preserve the gospel message. It is as Paul’s instruction to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:17-21; Rom. 16:19).
In verse 17, Jesus explains who the wolves are. They are both Jews and Gentiles, for Jesus here speaks of the Jewish courts and provincial rulers. The punishment in the synagogue would be flogging, for moral and ritual offenses against the Mosaic law, including breaking the food-laws, or blasphemy. However, Jesus tells them that persecution for the Kingdom leads to the advancement of the Kingdom, just like Jesus’ appearance before the authorities will be a message of His advancing reign and triumph in trials (see the passages Mt. 24:14; 28:18–20; Acts 4:1–22; 5:17–41; 6:12–8:3; 12:1–19; 16:19–40; 21:27–28:31; Phil. 1:12–18). It will be a witness, that men and women are willing to suffer for Jesus Christ.
In verse 19 and 20 again Jesus says, “do not worry.” First He had told them to leave material provision and security to the Father in heaven, and now the same counts for the worlds they will say in trying situations. Obviously this does not mean that they should preach unprepared, but that when they are called to give account, they will be helped by the Spirit of God (John 14:26; 15:26–27; 16:13–15) who lives in them and thus speaks for them.

Verse 21-23 Family division and the coming of Jesus

The most intimate human relationships will break due to loyalty to Christ. This has been prophesied in Mic. 7:6, with the same words (though Micah speaks of the breakdown of society, and does not mention killing itself. In the most intimate family bonds there will be such a division and hatred that these intimate relationships will break. The comfort is, that believers form a new family, a household of God in which God provides and cares, and where is love among each other. So Jesus here tells about the depth of persecution, first seen in Palestine in the early forties, when James is Martyred by Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:1–4).
When persecution comes, the disciples should flee from city to city, just as Jesus had done also (Mt. 10:14; 23:34; Acts 17:13; 1 Thess. 2:15). The Son of Man will come before they have run out of villages to run to (Matt. 10:23). This passage is difficult to understand (even so are Mt. 16:28; 24:30, 44; 25:31; 26:64). Turner gives five possible explanations:

1. Jesus will soon follow up on the ministry of the disciples. In this view, the coming is not eschatological but simply refers to Jesus’s rejoining the disciples before they complete their immediate ministries.

2. Jesus’s resurrection amounts to a coming, since by it the new era of the church is inaugurated.

3. The coming of Jesus is a process beginning with the resurrection, continuing through Pentecost, and culminating in his return to earth.

4. The destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 amounts to a coming in judgment upon Israel.

5. Jesus will return to the earth before the disciples complete their mission to Israel.

The most possible explanation here is, that Christ’s teaching concerns the entire mission of the Church of God until the return of Jesus Christ in the final day. According to France, “the coming of the Son of Man” is not a description of a particular historical event but evocative language to depict his eventual vindication and sovereign authority. He bases this on Dan. 7:13–14, which is clearly a parallel to Jesus’ teaching here. The power of the Son of Man will come on the earth, and reign in glory over all the nations.

Three reasons not to fear persecution (Mt. 10:24–33)

Verse 24-27 Disciples share in their master’s persecution, and must not fear

As hard as the message of Jesus seems, He makes them understand that this is the cost of discipleship, for the disciple is not greater than his master and will not avoid the hardship which His master endures. Jesus’s opponents have gone so far as to call him Beelzebul, so why should his disciples expect to be praised? If the master of the household is called names, and disrespected, how much more will the members of the household have to endure the same? Later we see how the Apostles have integrated this message in their lives, and call themselves “slaves” of the living God (Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1, etc; Jas 1:1; 2 Pet 1:1; Jude 1:1). It is a striking surrender to the authority of God, and the obedience of the servant, even in trying times.
There should be no fear and no shame of the gospel. Verse 27 speaks of speaking in the light, openly, so that everyone can hear and despite persecution, the gospel will be boldly proclaimed. This passage prepares for the coming verses, were the disciples are again encouraged not to fear for men, but instead fear for God to whom they have to give account. Jesus also speaks of the rooftop, which in a Palestinian house was a place of rest (Mt. 24:17) and prayer (Acts 10:9), and a platform of speech for the people below.

Verse 28-33 Disciples must fear only the ultimate judge

Don’t be afraid is an imperative. Jesus forbids to fear for persecution and persecutors. Further, in verses 28-31, Jesus will tell the disciples whom they should fear. Jesus speaks strongly (again) against worries and anxiety. The disciples should not only resist fear, but be bold when they face opposition and martyrdom.
The body and soul contrast shows that beyond the physical there is another dimension, namely the spiritual, which is more important in the Kingdom of God. Both the body and the soul are subjected to God’s power and judgment, but it is the soul who is subjected to eternal life. Disciples are not only to draw near to God as a loving Father (cf., e.g., Matt. 10:20, 29) but also to be in awe of God’s authority as their eschatological judge (Heb. 10:31; James 4:12; Rev. 14:7). Temporal agony in martyrdom is nothing compared to the eternal destruction in hell.
“Hell” is γέεννα (geënna), the valley of Hinnom southwest of the old city of Jerusalem. This was a dreaded place where human sacrifice was at one time offered to the god Molech (2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6; Jer. 7:31–32; 19:2–9; 32:35). Γέεννα in Matthew is the place of fiery punishment following the last judgment (Matt. 18:8; 25:41; cf. 25:46; Dan. 12:2). It is distinguishable from ᾅδης (hadēs), the place where the dead wait for the final judgment. Jesus here presses the loyalty of the disciples on their hearts, teaching them to put the trial of today in contrast to the eternal life, and see that dying for Christ to live with Him is far better than to deny Him, and to burn forever.
Verse 29-31 show a lesser-to-greater argument, namely the valuableness of the disciples in the eyes of God. Two sparrows were sold for hardly any cost (see also Mt. 6:26). An ἀσσάριον (assarion) was a copper coin worth about one-sixteenth of a denarius, the normal wage for day laborers. God’s care for those sparrows shows how much greater His care is for His disciples. He knows of their persecution and struggles, and is even aware of the number of hairs on their heads (1 Sam. 14:45; 2 Sam. 14:11; Luke 21:18; Acts 27:34).
Counting of hairs is an expression in the Old Testament (Ps 40:12; 69:4; 1 Sam 14:45; 2 Sam 14:11; 1 Kgs 1:52; Dan 3:27), humanly impossible to do, but possible by God who created men and women. It proves God’s perfect care for the details of the disciples’ life. Nothing will happen outside of His knowledge and consent. In verse 31, Jesus presses again: “do not be afraid.” Continually He comforts and strengthens. He is real in His teaching, He does not smooth over the harshness of life and the trials that awaits the disciples, but He gives all the baggage they need to persevere.
In verse 32-33, Jesus radically points out again whom is to be feared. Judgment before God demands a radical choice, for God will confront man with his decision whether to acknowledge Jesus before a hostile world, or to deny Him, who is in power over everything that exists. This points back again to verse 27, where Jesus tells people to proclaim the Gospel message from the rooftop. Proclaiming Jesus when your life is at stake is a very strong form of endurance. The verse speaks of a personal role which Jesus has in the judgment. Loyalty to Jesus may result in persecution now, but it will result in the loyalty of Jesus on judgment day.

Jesus and Peace (10:34-39)

Verse 34-36 The Divisive Mission of Jesus

Jesus has been uncompromised in His message. The Kingdom message that seemed so peaceful (Mt. 21:4–5) comes not without absence of hostility. Christ did not come to bring peace, but the sword. “I came” points to His own mission, and He demands a loyalty to death, for Him. He tells His apostles not to expect any less persecution and opposition than He had to endure. The sword is here a metaphor of conflict, and suffering, and division, and violence. It is the sharpness of the message of God, yet also the suffering that awaits those who are loyal to Him.
Verse 35 seems to point directly to the message of Micah 7:6. Micah spoke of the threatening situation in his own day, but the passage was commonly understood in Jewish interpretation to refer to the woes of the messianic age. Obviously this passage does not mean that there is no value in the family, but that God has priority over family ties. The new family of the believer is the family of God, where brothers and sisters are united to Christ (Mt. 12:46–50; 19:27–29).
In verse 37, Jesus points out the former love of His disciples, and mentions those who choose their family above Himself. Luke, in 14:26 had spoken with the semitic idiom of “hate” (Gen 29:30–33; Deut. 21:15–17; Mal 1:2–3). Matthew speaks of “to love more,” which is easier to understand. It speaks of “seeing the Kingdom first” (Mt. 6:33). Again, Jesus closely stick to the commandment of obedience to parents, as He later on shows in Mt. 15:3-9, when He openly criticizes the Pharisees for going around this commandment. There is great suffering in losing close ties for the Kingdom, but it is a part of cross bearing. Cross bearing and the command to follow Him means being prepared to die with Him. Many people have failed to understand the radical implications of this message. It is a willingness to lose your life, in order to gain the soul.

The Reward for Supporting the Mission (10:40–11:1)

Verse 40-42, the last verses of this chapter speak further of this loyalty to Christ above anything else, and the reward which follows the service to those in the Kingdom. The rewards promised are great. Those who receive a prophet (Mt. 5:12; 7:15–17; 11:9; 23:34; 1 Kings 17:9–24; 2 Kings 4:9–37) will be rewarded with a prophet’s reward (Matt. 10:41; cf. 13:17), and even an insignificant cup of water to some of God’s children means a lot. Jesus names His followers here “little ones” (Mt. 18:6, 10, 14; 25:40, 45), but the message is clear. Whatever place in the Kingdom of God people have, they are worth more than the smallest thing on the earth, in the eyes of God.