Matthew 10:16-18

The Lord Jesus Christ is commissioning His twelve apostles to go out and find the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And, as we saw in verses five through fifteen, He has told them what to do and how to go about it; and He has empowered them for the figurative “shaking off” if they weren’t welcomed and heeded.

Now, this morning we are going to begin seeing what Jesus said about the resistance they would meet and how they were to handle that resistance.

And let me say right at the beginning that there are disputes in interpreting the historical time for Jesus’ warnings.  And what I mean by that is that most commentators say that Jesus, at this point here in verse sixteen, takes a leap ahead into the future to a time when the first Christians would be missionaries to the Gentiles; and that He not only is commissioning His new apostles for this present employment – which we already know as the seeking out of the lost sheep of the house of Israel – but He is also preparing them for the later employment of preaching to the Gentile nations!  And this harsh treatment in the rest of the chapter would come later at the hands of governors and kings of foreign countries.

Now, I don’t know why it is that Theologians and commentators have to take these forward leaps in time with Jesus’ words!  As we will no doubt see when we move further into this Gospel – especially chapters fifteen through twenty-five – it is a quite common occurrence.  For various reasons they’ve not wanted to leave the words of the King in their own context!  I guess there’s something exciting about spiritualizing His words and putting their meaning into some mysterious context that nobody understands!  A context that’s always off in the future.

Certainly the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles will bring rough times!  And certainly Christians will be dealt severe blows for the faith – all through history!  But why attempt to make these words apply directly to those coming times?

Surely some principles inherent in His words will, indeed, apply to later.  And, as it has been in the past, much of what Jesus says here is figurative of cosmic occurrences of splendid proportions!

But the commentators have just cast this context away and displaced all the words our Lord speaks here; and placed them in some other mysterious context in the future.

Listen to just one.  This is Matthew Henry:


 “This part of the sermon looks further than to their present mission; for we find not that they met with any great hardships or persecutions while Christ was with them, nor were they well able to bear them; but they are here forewarned of the troubles they should meet with, when, after Christ’s resurrection, their commission should be enlarged, and the Kingdom of heaven, which was now ‘at hand,’ should be actually set up….  It is good to be told what troubles we may hereafter meet with, that we may provide accordingly, and may not boast, as if we had put off the harness, when we are yet but girding it on.”


And here is the italicized introduction for these verses, from Jamiesson, Fausset and Brown:  “Directions for the Future and Permanent Exercise of the Christian Ministry.”  No mention at all of the present context!

And other than the obvious destruction and violence to the historical nature of God’s Word that occurs when people do this, let me just give you the other obvious reasons why all these words have to remain in the context!

First, Jesus plainly says that these twelve men must not go to the Gentiles; they are to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel!  So not only does this passage not leave it open that the Gentile nations might be inferred here, but Jesus expressly forbids them to go to them!

Secondly, in every case in Scripture where there are Words from God which are to be applied to future days coming, there is some indication of what’s being done!  In this passage there’s not even a hint.  And yet all the commentators just break the words of the King between verse fifteen and verse sixteen.  And everything up through fifteen applies to the present mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and all the verses after, beginning with sixteen, are for the future when they encounter the Gentiles!  And that just breaks all the rules of sound exegesis!

And, thirdly, right in the middle of all these verses, which commentators say apply to future Christian ministry – verses sixteen through forty-two – we find this, verse twenty-three:  “…and when they are persecuting you in this city, escape into the other!  For truly I say to you the cities of Israel shall by no means be finished before the Son of Man be come.”

Now, we aren’t to verse twenty-three yet, so I’ll just leave that right there for now.

Fourthly, the argument that Matthew Henry puts forth for breaking the historic continuity of these verses – that the apostles didn’t receive this kind of persecution from the Jews and from their Roman governors – just doesn’t wash!  He said in that passage of his commentary we read before that these verses are for future Christian ministry because Jesus’ warnings of alienation and persecution didn’t occur at this time.  But I say that if they didn’t occur I must not be reading my Bible right!  Because I read gross recalcitrance from the entire nation of Jews, which increased in its level of hostility for the entire period of time, ending in a murderous Satanic frenzy with the crucifixion of the King of Kings!  There was irreconcilable animosity and malevolence, and an increasing hardening of the nation and all of its cities!

And from this point on, Jesus and His apostles all continued to go through the towns of Israel preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing all kinds of disease and weaknesses of men.  And the cities did not repent, but showed ever increasing hostility!

So for all these reasons, and for general hermeneutical principle, we have to view this passage in its simplest and most reasonable context - and that is that the words of Jesus here in chapter ten have their most immediate relevance to the apostles going through the cities and towns of Israel, hunting for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And when it is evident that application can be made to general Christian ministry, then we’ll do it.  And when it is evident that we have a concrete historic occurrence which has cosmic significance, then we’ll point it out.

But Jesus and His apostles were about to go through the joys of finding God’s elect people and suffer the hostilities of the depraved!!  And we have to remember that the antagonism raised among the Jews by Jesus and His apostles was at least as terrible as any among the Gentiles.  At least!!  There’s always a hostile reaction to truth; but the Messiah was Jewish.  He was of the house of David.  And He was shaking out and separating out the nation.  And the crushing and shaking of the old heaven and earth brought violence in return.  And that’s what He’s warning them about.  In fact, there’s never been as much violence to the preaching of the Gospel than there was in Israel at this time!

Verse sixteen.  “Lo,” – there’s that word again.  Jesus uses it this time, rather than Matthew.  It’s like saying, “behold.”  “See.”  “This is a very important occurrence.  It has great significance, and you must see it.”  “Lo, I Myself am sending you as sheep among wolves!  Therefore become keen as the serpents and guileless as the doves.”

If you don’t mind, I really don’t like the word I’ve used to describe the serpents there in the written texts.  The Greek word is fronimos, which has to do with the ability to act with mental acuity:  and the right word to use isn’t “shrewd” as I have it there.  After thinking about it for a while I’ve decided that a word used by another commentator is better than mine.  And that word is “keen.”  I think you’ll see that that one isn’t the best we can do either, but it’s an adequate single word.  We’ll have to say a lot more than just a single word, though, to bring it all out.

But Jesus says that He’s about to do something of great proportions!  “I, Myself, am sending you….”  There’s emphasis on the personal “I” here.  And, of course, what’s being said is that the One with the authority to do this thing of magnificent proportions is who’s doing it!  “I, personally, am doing it!”

What’s He doing?  Sending.  The word “APOSTLE” means one sent.  And those “sent out” by the King have the EXOUSIA of the King to do what the King commands.  When He sends them, they are empowered with authority to accomplish their mission.  Now, we’ve already seen what the mission was, in the former verses – to find the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

But here He says, “Lo, I Myself am sending you as sheep among wolves….”  Note that He’s not sending them like sheep….  He’s sending them “as” sheep!  As mentioned a number of times previously, there is a clear distinction in Greek between “as” and “like.”  And this isn’t a statement regarding similarity.  In other words, the apostles weren’t to be sent looking like sheep, or acting like sheep, or not even “like” sheep.  They were sent by the King “as” sheep.

He’s calling them “sheep.”  And He’s sending sheep after lost sheep.  Now that doesn’t make sense if you have your mind on animals.  Sheep don’t hunt sheep.  But we’re not to have our minds on animals, are we?  The sheep allegory – which runs all the way through the Scriptures – is clearly one of shepherd and followers.  Certain people belong to the Shepherd, and they are called sheep because they belong, and because they follow.  And He watches them and tends them and feeds them, and binds up their wounds and searches for them when they’re lost… etc. etc..  In other words, the concentration of the allegory is on the Shepherd - not on the sheep.  I am sending….”

So, when the King, as the Great Shepherd of the Sheep, sends out His empowered apostles as sheep, the concentration of the allegory isn’t on the sheep hunting sheep, but on the Shepherd who will find and save His sheep – that is, the ones who already belong to His flock, but are temporarily lost.

And, to go even further with it, with regard to the sheep apostles – the point here isn’t even on the hunting activity, but on the danger that wolves pose to sheep!  And you should see right off that Jesus is not saying that He is sending them into the midst of wolves.  The terminology used is (Greek word and letters?) – among wolves.  In other words they are among wolves, already!  And Jesus is sending them in that condition!  The looking for the lost sheep, and the preaching of the Kingdom and the King will generate the fierce, ripping and tearing which wolves are prone to do!

And the reason they’ll proceed with that activity is that “I, Myself have sent you….”  And your looking and preaching is in My Name, and My Name motivates the wolves and angers them to fierceness!”  It is in His Name and on His Account that the sheep apostles are sent out, and it’s because of His Name and His account that the wolves will become violent!

Do you see the point?  They were already among wolves.  But the fact that it was Jesus sending them, and the fact they were sent in His Name, and the fact that they were hunting His sheep – these are the things that caused the wolves to begin baring their fangs!

Now, we’ve been able to see before that all the nations of the world had been different from Israel since its inception.  And they are described in many different ways in Scripture – one of which is that they were infested with beasts.  Wild animals roamed about and killed at will, having dominion and control over the entire environment.

But the nation of God’s people had never before been described in those terms.  It was under the protection of God, and it had God’s Law, which is the foundation for civilized society.  Everything else in the world was beastly.  But not Israel.  It wasn’t described that way.

But now, as you can see, Jesus is describing Israel as being infested with ferocious animals!  They have dominion in Israel.  (among wolves)  And the nation with the Law and the Promise had come to be as any other nation of wild beasts.  Except, the fact that they did have the Law and the Promise, added to them all the responsibility for being the light of the nations!  And the fact that, even with the advantages, they became beastly like everyone else, they were dropped to a lower level of degeneracy – they became the harlot of Babylon.  They took Babylon’s place as the most degenerate of them all.  Babylon had a whore; and her name was Israel!

And God’s elect followers – the apostle sheep – were among all this ferocious degeneracy.  And so were the lost sheep of the house of Israel!  And Jesus told them that they were going to fare about like you’d expect sheep to fare among wolves.  And He goes on to tell them, (and we’ll get to this next week) that that’s what’s happening to Him!  And the student isn’t above his teacher, “so go without fear,” He says, “considering ME!”

But let’s go on with this verse.  And there comes, here, a statement about their conduct (verse sixteen).  “Become, therefore, keen as the serpents and guileless as the doves.”  Jesus carries on the animal metaphor, but this time using one animal clearly associated with decadent society and one that isn’t.  “Become keen as the serpents…,” an animal of decadent society, and “guileless as the doves,” an animal which isn’t associated with degeneracy.

Now, He doesn’t tell His apostles to become like the serpents!  He doesn’t want them to become hypocritically devious like these sons of Satan, the original devious beast of the field; but He wants them to be “keen.”  That is, to clearly see and understand the nature of the situation, and be able to be keenly aware of the depravity of men, the gravity of their situation as sheep, and be alert to anything that might infuriate the wolves needlessly!

But, at the same time, they need to become guileless as the doves.  We’ve seen this word “guile” before.  And Jesus isn’t telling His apostles to be helpless as doves; or harmless as doves, or peaceful as doves, or as sweet as doves.  He’s telling them to become guileless as doves!  And that part of the nature of doves that He’s zeroing in on is that they have no appearance of evil!  Doves are what they are.  They’re single-minded.  There’s no admixture in their purposes.

It’s not like wolves and serpents which are devious, and cunning, and designing and hypocritical.  The characteristic desired here is that doves don’t have a hidden agenda!  They don’t’ have any secondary motives that people don’t know about!  They are what they are and you get what you see!  The appearance is the whole of it.

The apostles are to be “keen” as the serpents – and, by the way, that word “keen” is used a number of times in Scripture as “awareness” or “cleverness” when around deceivers – and they are to be without any devious purpose – no hidden agenda, nothing at all which gives the appearance of evil.

Now, since we can’t get much further than this verse today, let me just say in closing that these two terms – keen and guileless – form the basis for two very important Theological principles which are timeless in the Kingdom, because the requirements of the Lord for His first twelve – at least for their character – aren’t any different than it is for us as we deal with the world order.  Although our society hasn’t yet reached the depths of being called “Babylon” or “Babylon’s whore,” and although we aren’t dragged before kings and governors for preaching the Gospel, and although we aren’t scourged in Jewish synagogues, we can safely say that our society has become much more animalistic.  The more decadent a society becomes, the more beastly its behavior.

And we are to be keenly aware of its nature, its philosophies, its depravity, and its fierceness.  But at the same time we are to be faultless and single-minded and open.  All the people around us should be able to say, as Jesus said about Nathaniel:  truly there is a man without guile!  He has no purpose that’s hidden, but everything he is, is right out in the open.  No secrecy, no hidden agenda, no deceit, no hypocrisy.  Guileless.

People, that’s the way we must approach the world with the Gospel of the Kingdom.  Because God’s people must hear the voice of His Son.  And when we do that, and the wolves attack, then we need have no fear.

With keen awareness of the human condition, the way the world order operates, we are to carry on our Kingdom work under the authority of the King. 

Others should be able to say (about you) there’s no deviousness in him.  He’s thoroughly predictable.  He always acts and speaks in accord with the holiness God requires of him.  There’s no guile in him.  What you see is what you always get.