Matthew 10:5-8a

THE COMMISSION OF THE KING’S MESSENGER

Matt. 10:5-8a

Jesus sent out these twelve, and these were the orders he gave them: “Do not,” he said, “go out on the road to the Gentiles, and do not enter into any city of the Samaritans; but go rather to the sheep of the house of Israel who have perished. As you go make this proclamation: The Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the leper, cast out demons.”

Here we have the beginning of the King’s commission to his messengers. The word which is used in the Greek for Jesus commanding his men, or giving them orders is interesting and illuminating. It is the word paragellein. This word in Greek has four special usages. (i) It is the regular word of military command; Jesus was like a general sending his commanders out on a campaign, and briefing them before they went. (ii) It is the word used of calling one’s friends to one’s help. Jesus was like a man with a great ideal summoning his friends to make that ideal come true. (iii) It is the word which is used of a teacher giving rules and precepts to his students. Jesus was like a teacher sending his students out into the world, equipped with his teaching and his message. (iv) It is the word which is regularly used for an imperial command. Jesus was like a king despatching his ambassadors into the world to carry out his orders and to speak for him.

This passage begins with what everyone must find a very difficult instruction. It begins by forbidding the twelve to go to the Gentiles or to the Samaritans. There are many who find it very difficult to believe that Jesus ever said this at all, This apparent exclusiveness is very unlike him; and it has been suggested that this saying was put into his mouth by those who in the later days wished to keep the gospel for the Jews, the very men who bitterly opposed Paul, when he wished to take the gospel to the Gentiles.

But there are certain things to be remembered. This saying is so uncharacteristic of Jesus that no one could have invented it; he must have said it, and so there must be some explanation.

We can be quite certain it was not a permanent command. Within the gospel itself we see Jesus talking graciously and intimately to a woman of Samaria and revealing himself (Jn.4:4-42); we see him telling one of his immortal stories to her (Lk.10:30); we see him healing the daughter of Syro-Phoenician woman (Matt. 15:28); and Matthew himself tells us of Jesus’ final commission of his men to go out into all the world and to bring all nations into the gospel (Matt. 28:19-20). What then is the explanation?

The twelve were forbidden to go to the Gentiles; that meant that they could not go north into Syria, nor could they even go east into the Decapolis, which was largely a Gentile region. They could not go south into Samaria for that was forbidden. The effect of this order was in actual fact to limit the first journeys of the twelve to Galilee. There were three good reasons for that.

(i) The Jews had in God’s scheme of things a very special place; in the justice of God they had to be given the first offer of the gospel. It is true that they rejected it, but the whole of history was designed to give them the first opportunity to accept.

(ii) The twelve were not equipped to preach to the Gentiles. They had neither the background, nor the knowledge nor the technique. Before the gospel could be effectively brought to the Gentiles a man with Paul’s life and background had to emerge. A message has little chance of success, if the messenger is ill-equipped to deliver it. If a preacher or teacher is wise, he will realize his limitations, and will see clearly what he is fitted and what he is not fitted to do.

(iii) But the great reason for this command is simply this–any wise commander knows that he must limit his objectives. He must direct his attack at one chosen point. If he diffuses his forces here, there and everywhere, he dissipates his strength and invites failure. The smaller his forces the more limited his immediate objective must be. To attempt to attack on too broad a front is simply to court disaster. Jesus knew that, and his aim was to concentrate his attack on Galilee, for Galilee, as we have seen, was the most open of all parts of Palestine to a new gospel and a new message (compare on Matt. 4:12-17). This command of Jesus was a temporary command. He was the wise commander who refused to diffuse and dissipate his forces; he skilfully concentrated his attack on one limited objective in order to achieve an ultimate and universal victory.

THE WORDS AND WORKS OF THE KING’S MESSENGER

Matt. 10:5-8a (continued)

The King’s messengers had words to speak and deeds to do.

(i) They had to announce the imminence of the Kingdom. As we have seen (compare on Matt. 6:10-11) the Kingdom of God is a society on earth, where God’s will is as perfectly done as it is in heaven. Of all persons who ever lived in the world Jesus was, and is, the only person who ever perfectly did, and obeyed, and fulfilled, God’s will. Therefore in him the Kingdom had come. It is as if the messengers of the King were to say, “Look! You have dreamed of the Kingdom, and you have longed for the Kingdom. Here in the life of Jesus is the Kingdom. Look at him, and see what being in the Kingdom means.” In Jesus the Kingdom of God had come to men.

(ii) But the task of the twelve was not confined to speaking words; it involved doing deeds. They had to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cleanse the lepers, to cast out demons. All these injunctions are to be taken in a double sense. They are to be taken physically, because Jesus Christ came to bring health and healing to the bodies of men. But they are also to be taken spiritually. They describe the change wrought by Jesus Christ in the souls of men.

(a) They were to heal the sick. The word used for sick is very suggestive. It is a part of the Greek verb asthenein (GSN0770), the primary meaning of which is to be weak; asthenes (GSN0772) is the standard Greek adjective for weak. When Christ comes to a man, he strengthens the weak will, he buttresses the weak resistance, he nerves the feeble arm for fight, he confirms the weak resolution. Jesus Christ fills our human weakness with his divine power.

(b) They were to raise the dead. A man can be dead in sin. His will to resist can be broken; his vision of the good can be darkened until it does not exist; he may be helplessly and hopelessly in the grip of his sins, blind to goodness and deaf to God. When Jesus Christ comes into a man’s life, he resurrects him to goodness, he revitalizes the goodness within us which our sinning has killed.

(c) They were to cleanse the lepers. As we have seen, the leper was regarded as polluted. Leviticus says of him, “He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp” (Lev.13:46). 2Kgs.7:3-4 shows us the lepers who only in the day of deadly famine dared to enter into the city. 2Kgs.15:5 tells us how Azariah the king was smitten with leprosy, and to the day of his death he had to live in a lazar house, separated from all men. It is interesting to note that even in Persia this pollution of the leper was believed in. Herodotus (1: 138) tells us that, “if a man in Persia has the leprosy he is not snowed to enter into a city or to have any dealings with any other Persians; he must, they say, have sinned against the sun.”

So, then, the twelve were to bring cleansing to the polluted. A man can stain his life with sin; he can pollute his mind, his heart, his body with the consequences of his sin. His words, his actions, his influence can become so befouled that they are an unclean influence on all with whom he comes into contact. Jesus Christ can cleanse the soul that has stained itself with sin; he can bring to men the divine antiseptic against sin; he cleanses human sin with the divine purity.

(d) They were to cast out demons. A demon-possessed man was a man in the grip of an evil power; he was no longer master of himself and of his actions; the evil power within had him in its mastery. A man can be mastered by evil; he can be dominated by evil habits; evil can have a mesmeric fascination for him. Jesus comes not only to cancel sin, but to break the power of cancelled sin. Jesus Christ brings to men enslaved by sin the liberating power of God.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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