The Twelve Sent Forth (Matthew 9:35-11:1; Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6)

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Traveling from one town or village to another with his disciples, Jesus taught in the synagogues, declared the glad tidings about the kingdom, and cured the afflicted. His message focused on how responsive ones could become part of the realm where his Father is recognized as Sovereign and share in all the promises and blessings this signified. Observing the sad plight in which the people found themselves, the Son of God was moved with deep compassion for them. He perceived them to be like abused and helpless sheep without the compassionate concern and dependable guidance of a caring shepherd. (Regarding the Greek terms describing the sheep in Matthew 9:36, see the Notes section.) In view of the needy condition of the people, Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, petition the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-38)

As in the case of a field of grain ready to be harvested, the potential existed for many to become part of the realm where God is Sovereign. At the time, there were few laborers who could point out the way for others to gain a divinely approved standing. Consequently, Jesus called upon the disciples to pray to the heavenly Father, the “Lord of the harvest,” for an increase in the number of workers.

During the course of his public activity, Jesus summoned the twelve disciples who were most closely associated with him. He empowered them to free people from the control of “unclean spirits” and to cure the sick and infirm. The twelve came to be known as “apostles” (“ones sent out”), for Jesus sent them out to do the good works for which he had granted them the authority and to proclaim the message about the “kingdom of God.” (Matthew 10:1; Luke 9:1, 2; for additional details about the apostles, see the section “Choosing the Twelve” under the heading “Back in Galilee.” )

He sent them forth by twos (Mark 6:7), possibly according to the way in which they are listed in Matthew 10:2-4 (Peter and Andrew; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean and Judas Iscariot).

The instructions Jesus gave to the apostles included both specifics relating to that particular mission and admonition that would apply in the future. At this time, they were not to go among the non-Jewish peoples nor to any Samaritan town. They were to limit their activity to fellow Jews, giving exclusive attention to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” These “lost sheep” would be persons who recognized their helpless state and would respond favorably to the message the apostles proclaimed. (Matthew 10:5, 6)

Jesus told the apostles, “As you go, proclaim, saying, ‘The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received free, give free.” (Matthew 10:7, 8) In the person of the promised Messiah (the “king of Israel”), the “kingdom of God” had indeed drawn near. (Compare John 1:49.) While the apostles did not then specifically proclaim Jesus to be the king, they did impart the knowledge needed for others to put faith in him (which included the admonition to repent of their transgressions), demonstrating that they wanted to be in the royal realm where he is the king by his Father’s appointment. (Compare Mark 6:12.) Jesus had not asked for any payment for empowering the apostles to perform miracles that would demonstrate to others that they had divine backing for their proclamation about the kingdom. Therefore, the relief that they would bring to the afflicted was likewise to be made available without cost.

As workers of good, the apostles, however, did have the right to receive food and lodging from responsive fellow Israelites. With full trust in God’s providential care and the hospitality of favorably disposed individuals, they were not to equip themselves in a manner typical of travelers. According to Jesus’ instructions, they would not take along any gold, silver, or copper coins for making purchases, any bread, and any bag with supplies. They would only wear the essential attire and their sandals. (Matthew 10:9, 10; Mark 6:8, 9; Luke 9:3; see the Notes section regarding the differences in the instructions.)

Upon entering a town or village, the apostles were to search for “deserving” or “worthy” ones, persons who would appreciatively accept them and their message. These individuals would reveal themselves to be worthy of the precious spiritual benefits the apostles were able to impart. In the homes of these worthy ones, the apostles were to stay until such time as they would leave for another place. (Matthew 10:11; Mark 6:10; Luke 9:4) Their remaining in one house in the town or village would have made it easier for other inhabitants to find them if they wanted to benefit from their ministry. It would also have reflected proper regard for those who initially extended hospitality, as the apostles would neither seek nor accept what might have appeared to be better accommodations.

When first entering the house where the owner extended hospitality, they were to greet the household. (Matthew 10:12) This would have been with the customary “shalom” (“peace,” a wish of well-being resulting from God’s blessing). In the case of those who proved themselves to be worthy, the apostle’s wish for peace would come upon the household. If, however, the residents of the house later revealed themselves undeserving, rejecting the message the apostles proclaimed, the expression of peace was to return to them. (Matthew 10:13) This suggests that they were not to allow unresponsiveness to rob them of their peace, the tranquility they enjoyed as persons having divine approval.

Whenever the apostles came to a place where they and their message were rejected, they were to shake the dust off their feet upon leaving that particular house, town, or village. This gesture would serve as a testimony against the unresponsive ones. In the day of judgment, the very dust would testify against them as having been persons who rejected the message the apostles proclaimed, did not repent of their transgressions, and refused to accept the marvelous opportunity of coming to be part of the realm where God is acknowledged as Sovereign. As individuals who possessed knowledge about the Most High and witnessed miracles that verified the dependability of the message the apostles declared, their accountability was greater than that of the corrupt inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah in the days of Abraham and Lot. Therefore, as Jesus stated with a solemn “amen” (“truly”), it would be more bearable for the “land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment” than for the inhabitants of a town or village who refused to listen to the apostles. This indicates that, on account of the greater accountability, the judgment would be more severe. (Matthew 10:14, 15; Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5)

According to ancient Jewish sources, dust from outside the land of Israel defiled by one’s carrying or touching it. Therefore, the apostles, when shaking the dust off their feet, could also have been indicating that the rejection of the message revealed the people to be impure and as having no relationship with God. They were leaving the unbelieving people behind as persons with whom they would have no further contact, taking nothing of theirs with them, not even the dust on their sandals.

Jesus alerted the apostles to the fact that they would be encountering enemies who would seek to harm them. He likened his followers to defenseless sheep being sent out among wolves. This called for them to become “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) In pursuing their prey, serpents are cunning. They conceal themselves and quickly slither away from any threat. So, the apostles would wisely remain alert, not exposing themselves to danger but acting swiftly to avoid it. Possibly because deceit is associated with the serpent in Eden, they were reminded to maintain their innocence, not resorting to anything of an underhanded nature that would be associated with the characteristic of serpents. The harmless, inoffensive nature of doves would be more in keeping with their activity, which would never injure anyone but would always result in the greatest good possible for those who responded favorably to their proclamation about the kingdom.

Jesus then prepared the apostles for what they, in the future, could expect from men who would violently oppose their activity. He admonished them to be on guard. Opposers would hand them over to be tried by Jewish courts, and they would be scourged in the synagogues, being regarded as enemies of their own countrymen and meriting severe beating. For the sake of Christ or because of representing him, they would be dragged before governors and kings. Their appearance before these non-Jewish rulers would serve as an opportunity to testify to them about him. Besides being presented to the kings and governors, the testimony would also be heard by others, resulting in a witness to non-Jewish peoples. (Matthew 10:17, 18)

While in the process of being taken before rulers, the disciples were not to give way to worry as to how to present their case. Jesus assured them that, in that “hour” or at that time, what they needed to say would be given to them. The spirit of the heavenly Father would be speaking through them, enabling them to bear witness in an effective manner. (Matthew 10:19, 20)

In the case of Christ’s disciples, unbelieving family members would turn against them. Close relatives who formerly loved them would become hatefully hostile. A brother would betray his own brother, handing him over to ruling authorities to be executed. A father would deliver up his own child to be put to death, and children would take a stand against their parents and have them killed. On account of Christ’s name or being identified as belonging to him as his disciples, believers would come to be hated by all, evidently meaning all who persisted in unbelief. Jesus then added, “The one, however, who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:21, 22)

In view of the portrayal of intense persecution with death as a possible outcome, the “end” may signify the end of a person’s life. Salvation is assured for all who endure faithfully, loyally remaining true to the Lord Jesus Christ and not denying him when faced with bitter opposition.

When encountering persecution in a particular city, Christ’s disciples were to flee to another city, not needlessly endangering their lives by remaining in a place where opposers were intent on killing them. In the time intervening between the commencement of the work for which the Son of God had commissioned the apostles until his coming again, Christ’s followers would not run out of places to reach with the message about the kingdom. Introducing his statement with a solemn “amen” (“truly”), Jesus told the apostles that they would not “finish [their activity in] the cities of Israel.” (Matthew 10:23)

The Son of God had not yet revealed to them that their preaching and that of other disciples would extend far beyond the land of Israel. Therefore, it seems that Jesus framed his statement in keeping with what the apostles knew and would have understood. This suggests that the cities of Israel are only representative of the places to be reached with the glad tidings that focused on Jesus as the king by God’s appointment. From the standpoint of Christ’s disciples, there would never be a time prior to his return that their work would be completed. Consequently, it does not appear to be necessary to identify the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman forces as an expression of the coming of the Son of Man for judgment. His followers did not stop telling others about him after that event. Therefore, the reference could be to Christ’s coming in glory.

Disciples of Christ should not be surprised about future mistreatment. A disciple, pupil, or learner is not above the teacher, and a slave or servant is not above his lord or master. In keeping therewith, it is altogether enough or fitting that a disciple come to be like his teacher and a slave like his lord, being recipients of the same kind of treatment. The Son of God is both the Teacher and the Lord of believers. Since the householder or master of the house (which is the position of Jesus in his relationship to the household of believers) was called Beelzebul (a designation that was applied to the devil), how much more so would the members of his household be slanderously thus labeled! (Matthew 10:24, 25)

The disciples were not to be afraid of those who would seek to mistreat them. In harmony with the admonition Jesus had previously given, they would exercise due caution and not foolishly place themselves in a dangerous situation. Nevertheless, they were not to give in to fear and become silent, failing to make known the good news about Christ. Whatever is covered should be uncovered, and whatever is secret should become known. As Jesus added, “What I tell you in the darkness, relate in the light, and what you hear [whispered] into the ear proclaim from the roofs” (which were flat and accessible by means of ladders or outside stairs). (Matthew 10:26, 27)

Jesus had taught the apostles privately. What he imparted to them had been covered and hidden from others, but he did not intend for his teaching to remain covered (as if hidden in darkness) and secret. Instead, the apostles were to make it known in the “light” or openly for others to learn, and the truths they had heard from him privately they were to proclaim publicly like announcements that would be made from roofs so that all could hear. Their courageous proclamation would expose them to danger from those who would not respond favorably. Therefore, Jesus again emphasized the importance of not becoming fearful. “Fear not those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, but rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” (Matthew 10:28)

Humans can render the body lifeless, but they cannot destroy the “soul” or the person as a whole and in possession of the God-given right to live in fellowship with him. The killing of the body has no effect on the future life to be enjoyed in keeping with God’s purpose and promise. Therefore, the one who should rightly be feared is the heavenly Father. He can destroy both the body and the soul or the entire person, permanently cutting off the individual from the real life of fellowship with him. That terrifying judgment is destruction “in Gehenna” and, according to Isaiah 66:24, is comparable to one’s being cast into a garbage dump where fires burn continually and maggots feed on whatever the flames do not reach.

Whereas the judgment is severe, Jesus did reveal that his Father’s will is to aid believers to maintain faithfulness because they are precious to him. The Son of God reminded the disciples that two sparrows cost but one assarion (16 of such coins being the equivalent of a daily wage). Although considered as a low-cost food item, these birds did not fall to the ground as undeserving of his Father’s notice. They had value in his sight. Indicative of his Father’s care and concern for the disciples, Jesus told them that the hairs of their head were all numbered, suggesting that everything about them was precious to his Father. They were worth more than many sparrows, and so should not give in to fear regardless of what they might yet face. (Matthew 10:29-31)

Everyone who would confess or acknowledge having a relationship with him before men, Jesus would acknowledge before his Father as being at one with him. As for the person who would disown him before men, Jesus would disown that one before his Father. (Matthew 10:32, 33)

Jesus did not want his disciples to think that he had come to bring peace upon the earth. Instead of peace, he had brought a sword. This was because of the manner in which individuals would respond to him and his message, with the opposite reactions of belief and unbelief creating serious rifts. The hostility of unbelievers would end what may formerly have been a peaceful relationship and replace it with the hostility a sword represented. Jesus, in terms similar to those found in Micah 7:6, spoke about the serious divisions that would develop on his account. A man would be against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s enemies would be members of his own household.

Anyone who deemed family loyalty to be of greater importance than love for Christ would lose out on everything that would result from being at one with him. Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his beam (staurós) and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his soul will lose it, and whoever loses his soul for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39)

To accord parents or children greater affection than to Christ would lead to pleasing them when their wishes and aims conflicted with loyalty to him. This failure to love God’s Son by heeding his words would make one unworthy of belonging to him as his approved disciple.

In lands under the dominion of Rome, crucifixion was the worst form of punishment. The condemned man would carry the beam (to which he would later be tied or nailed) to the place of execution, where he would be exposed to mockery and die a slow, excruciating death. Therefore, to take up one’s beam suggests to commence a course of reproach and suffering in order to follow Christ. An unwillingness to endure affliction and possibly even death for the sake of God’s Son would make one unworthy of having his recognition.

To “find” one’s soul would denote to secure one’s life through disloyalty to Christ. Losing one’s soul for the sake of God’s Son would signify losing one’s life because of being his disciple. The preservation of one’s present life through any means that dishonored Christ would lead to losing out on the real life in eternity. To lose one’s soul or life for his sake would assure one’s having the eternal life of a never-ending relationship with him and his Father.

Jesus would consider whoever “received” or welcomed his disciples as welcoming him and, to accept him, meant to receive his Father who had sent him. To receive a prophet “in the name of a prophet” would signify to welcome him because of recognizing him to be a prophet. Whoever did so would receive a prophet’s reward or a repayment like that of one who faithfully carried out his commission as a proclaimer of God’s word or message. The individual who received a righteous man “in the name of a righteous man” or because of recognizing the man to be godly or upright would receive a righteous man’s reward or come to be a recipient of the repayment the upright one deserved. (Matthew 10:40, 41)

Even what might appear to be a small gesture of hospitality extended toward a lowly disciple (“one of these little ones” or, according to other manuscripts, “least ones”) would be rewarded. The person who gave just a “cup of cold water” (a welcome refreshment on a hot day to one who is thirsty) “in the name of a disciple” or because of recognizing the person to be Christ’s disciple would in no way lose his reward or the repayment for having done so. Jesus introduced this assurance with a solemn “amen” (“truly”). (Matthew 10:42)

After receiving Jesus’ instructions, the apostles began their activity, traveling from place to place, proclaiming the glad tidings about God’s kingdom, admonishing people to repent, freeing the afflicted from demon possession, and curing the sick. (Mark 6:12, 13; Luke 9:6) According to Mark 6:13, the apostles anointed the ailing ones “with [olive] oil.” Doubtless they did this in the name of Jesus, and the use of the oil may have served to show that the healing was accomplished through them. (Compare Acts 3:6; James 5:14.)


In Matthew 9:36, the earliest extant manuscripts contain forms of the Greek words skyllo and rhípto when describing the people as being like sheep. The term skyllo originally meant to “skin,” but, in other contexts (as here) denotes to “harass,” “weary,” or “trouble.” According to another manuscript reading, the word (instead of skyllo) is a form of eklyo, meaning to be “exhausted,” “wearied,” “faint,” “deprived of strength,” “dispirited,” or “discouraged.” The expression rhípto conveys the sense of being thrown or tossed with a forceful motion. As applying to the state of the people, this suggests a helpless or dejected state.

According to Matthew 10:10 and Luke 9:3, Jesus told the apostles not to take a staff along, but Mark 6:8 indicates that they could do so. This difference may be understood to mean that they were not to procure a staff but could use one if that was their customary practice. In Matthew 10:10 and Luke 9:3, the reference to “two tunics” (chitón, the Greek term designating a garment worn next to the skin) probably means one tunic in addition to the one that would usually be worn. Mark 6:9 is more specific when mentioning that they were not to wear two tunics, implying that one would be enough. Similarly, the point about wearing sandals (Mark 6:9) and not obtaining sandals (Matthew 10:10) would relate to wearing their sandals but not taking along an extra pair for the trip.