Matthew 10:21-23 Part 2

As you know, we’re in a portion of the text of Matthew which is so critically important to us, because of its application to our function as members of the body of Christ’s Kingdom.  What the apostles were told to do; and how they were to do it; and what they would encounter; and how they were to handle the things they encountered – all of these things are vital to us!

As are other things – for example those issues with which we began the preaching last Lord’s Day:  obedience to Christ the King; disobedience to the civil magistrate when he counters the express commands of God; the reason the civil magistrate is to be honored and obeyed; and how the Church must speak to society clearly, as the apostles were here instructed to do by Christ.

And as we dig deeper into this text it will become more and more evident that another topic will emerge as vitally important to us, too!  A topic that I told you four or five weeks ago that I would address.  And because we’re here at verses twenty-one through twenty-three, the topic is especially appropriate!

And it’s appropriate that I address it here at the beginning of the sermon (and not just because I wouldn’t get to it if I didn’t).  But because of the fact that Jesus is advising His twelve chosen men of the severe persecution and rejection that they will encounter among the wolves when they preach the Gospel of the Kingdom!

He’s just said that they would be delivered over to the councils, and that they would be interrogated and put on trial, and that they would be scourged, and sent to governors and kings in bonds; and He also told them that they wouldn’t even have the comfort that most everybody else has when they’re in trouble – i.e. close family support – because their family members, many of them, would turn on them too!  And the most destructive thing that can happen to a man is to have everyone against him when he’s being persecuted!  Affliction is so much easier to bear when there are those around you who love you and support you, such as friends, children or parents.  But the apostles would not have that, because the Gospel of the Kingdom would go so far as to anger some of their own family members to the point of delivering them over to authorities with accusations!

Now, as Jesus is saying these words to His disciples, it is a fact that the political and social environment was especially unique.  Although these things He’s telling them are true in varying degrees in every situation, they were especially significant at this point in time, and in this environment.

And before I tell you what this vitally important topic is, let me just quickly bring you up to date concerning the politics and society in Israel in the time of Christ.  It’s been a long time since I said very much about this.  And I won’t bore you with much now.

But Israel had been under foreign leadership for several centuries by the time Jesus was speaking these words.  First it was the animalistic Babylonians (Iraq to us now); then it was the Persians (Iran to us now); then the Greeks, and then the Romans.  Israel had been ruled from Damascus, Syria and from Alexandria, Egypt, and of course from some places within the boundaries of Israel - including Jerusalem.

Needless to say, the Jews had not been free to determine their own government in quite a long time.  And although it was quite small, Israel seemed to be the prized possession of tyrant after tyrant.

On the other hand, Israel had a very peculiar and unique history!  They had the revelation of God; and the land had been given to them by God!  And they had occupied it for fifteen hundred years!  And every petty tyrant with a few thousand troups wanted it!  (By the way - just a little history – Alexander the Great conquered the world with only a maximum of about thirty-five thousand soldiers.  But it took four years and eighty thousand Roman troups for Titus to destroy Jerusalem in 70 A.D.)  But as you can imagine, the passions ran strong and deep within this little country and in this one majestic city.

And by the time Jesus issued these instructions to His disciples, the emotions and political intrigue were at a fever pitch!

And added to that was the thoroughly decadent state of the culture!  There was the Pharisee party and that of the Sadducees – both of them religious sects, but both playing a deadly political game.  Then there were the zealots who were exceedingly nationalistic.  And the Essenes who were separatists.  And these were not just political parties – these were sometimes deadly enemies!

Added to the intrigue were splits – very emotional splits – in opinion about whether to receive and meld into the culture of those who ruled them.  You see, each one of the four cultures who had successively ruled the world since the sixth century B.C. had a profound effect on the whole world!  Each one of them!  The religions and philosophies and lifestyles and goals of these four great civilizations had immense effects on the face of the whole world!  They didn’t just conquer the world, they changed it.  They had a huge effect on life and the way it was lived!

And the people in Israel had strong opinions on whether to join in those cultures – in fact many of the violent clashes were over this issue!  And at the time of Jesus, party spirits ran high about it.

As a matter of fact, the dissent against Rome never did die down.  It was just constant.  There were always rebellions and seditions and uprisings.  And it didn’t seem to matter how Rome ruled them either!  They would be loose with them and then they’d be cruel - either way, within all the political parties, there would be extremely emotional issues ready to break out in fighting.  And not just against the Roman soldiers, but also among the Jews!  And as we know the last uprising took four years to put down and completely destroyed the state.

But the picture I’m trying to paint for you, so that we can see the situation as Jesus sends these twelve men out to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, is of political chaos:  double-dealing; torture and death; intrigue; high emotion; religious zealotry and pantheistic idolatry; legal injustice and cruelty; sexual immorality, pandering and manipulative defrauding; mysticism, magic and demonic activity.  And the desire of the people to meld into the pagan societies of Greece and Rome was described by the prophet as adulterous copulation with unclean strangers.

Nothing was settled, everything was out of order, the situation so emotionally charged that there were death squads roaming the city of Jerusalem at night to put fear into the people.  Nobody trusted anybody else – even in families.  No one knew who their friends really were, or who would take their side in an issue, and who would accuse them. 

Theologically we can describe it as a nation filling up its sin before the final cutting off.  The injustice and idolatry of the nation’s leadership had caused the people to be beaten and killed and taken into bondage by pagan animals on numerous occasions.  And now that leadership – both religious and civil leaders – had brought the covenant people of God to utter ruin; and the One Who would perform the covenantal cutting had come.  He was there.

The Spirit of Christ had moved as fire between the pieces of the sacrificial animal declaring life to those who believed and obeyed, and declaring death and abandonment to those who would rebel and would not obey.  And the curse of that sacrifice was about to be executed on the disobedient.  The “bond of blood” with which Christ had entered into covenant with Abraham had reached its ultimate point of execution.  The shepherds of Israel had scattered and ruined the sheep – they were hurt, cut, lost, and down.  And now the very thing signed and sealed in the sacrificial system was to happen to them – blood-letting, disemboweling and burning.

I thought it important for you to hear this again (and not only for the purpose of pointing out the covenant requirements at the Lord’s Supper, but for another purpose.)  I wanted you to see the environment into which Christ’s apostles were sent.  They were sent among wolves.

And what I promised you those four of five weeks ago was the reason for their preservation and their perseverance.  When we were at that point in the text I asked you what the reason was – and I gave you some of the more immediate reasons.  But I also said that these weren’t the ultimate reason; and I said that I’d give that to you later.  Well, it’s later.  And the apostles did persevere – they preached the Gospel of the Kingdom – with Jesus, for Jesus, on account of Jesus and in Jesus’ Name – and they did it under the harshest of circumstances and under the most stringent of difficulties.  They spoke the Truth - the Word of God – no matter who turned on them.

And they were able to do so because they were “in Christ” and the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ was “in them” as the foundation of the Church.  And through them we were “in Him” too.

In the Old Testament (Exodus twenty-eight, verses nine through twelve) the Law of the priesthood and the sacrifice included the fact that when the priest went in to make atonement for the people, he went in with the names of the twelve tribes of the nation written on stones which were on the shoulders of their ephods.  And they had twelve jewels on their breastplates.  So when the priest went in, he had the entire people of God with him.  He was their mediator.

And we must see this as a magnificent prefiguring of the Lord Jesus Christ our High Priest Who, Himself, was the sacrifice and the Royal High Priest!  And Who went into the temple with the entire Church in Him - with all our names written in His heart – and offered Himself to be slaughtered for our sin.  And as He – the High Priest – consecrated Himself to God as the sacrifice, the entire Church was consecrated in Him!  We all entered the sanctuary together in Him!  He acted for us – He represented us – and the identification with us was so close, the Scripture speaks of our being actually in Him!

As He is consecrated, the Church is consecrated.  As He is sanctified, the Church is sanctified.  And it is this consecration as priests in our Royal High Priest that is the very basis of the confidence with which we can approach God in worship and prayer and seek to live an obedient life.

And, as the text will say, not only are we consecrated in Him, but we are to suffer in Him.  For as it says, the servant is not over His Lord.  But we participate in Him.  The Spirit of Christ effects and facilitates the union of Christ and the Church – He joins, through faith, things in heaven and things on earth.  And it is this faith by which we obtain possession of the heavenly virtues which are ours in Him!

In fact it is the principle work of the Holy Spirit to create in the hearts of God’s elect the faith which unites us to Christ!  He roots our lives in the person of Jesus Christ, and, through that faith, causes us to be participants in Him!

And here’s the point in all this – that even though a man of faith stands before God devoid of all purity and all good, he nevertheless finds in Christ alone, all the purity and life he needs, because by faith he possesses and lives by what he does not find in himself, but in Christ alone!  When Christ suffered – we suffered; and when He was humiliated – we were humiliated; and when He was crucified – we were crucified in Him.  And we were resurrected in Him!

So when the apostles went out to minister the Gospel of the Kingdom, and when they encountered all the things we mentioned earlier – resistance, rejection, persecution – they persevered through it all because Christ was rooting them in Himself – and in His suffering!  He was rooting and building the whole Church to come in His own humiliation.  That’s why they persevered!

And as He was cutting off the old and rooting the new, the apostles were suffering humiliation and accusations and beatings and trials and imprisonment and death – not in their own strength; not in their own goodness; not in the authority that Christ had given them; and not in their own purity – they suffered and persevered because they were being engrafted into Christ!  And by faith they were taking on His suffering and His humiliation!  And by faith they were receiving His virtues.  You see, there can be no depraved confidence in the flesh – no matter what they say about man’s ability to reason and from inside, solve his problem!  Our faith is in Christ Jesus from Whom flow all the virtues of life!  We are not confident in who we are or what we are; we’re confident in who Jesus is and what He did.

We live in Him; we suffer in Him – and on account of Him – and we receive strength to persevere in Him!  And people these aren’t just mystical things that we may or may not experience if and when the time comes, or conjure them up in ourselves – motivating ourselves!  This is objective reality!  Listen to Paul write about it!  Colossians chapter two: 


“As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him; rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving….  In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.  And you are complete in Him, Who is the head of all principality and power; in Whom also you are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; co-buried with Him in baptism, wherein also you are co-risen through the faith of the operation of God, Who hath raised Him from the dead….”


Paul says that in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead, and in Him we are complete!

So you see, the apostles weren’t going out just in the strength of some promises, or just in the strength of the commands and goals given to them by Christ – they, the representatives of the whole Church foundation, were being rooted in Christ Himself.  And there’s the reason for their perseverance.  Again let me stress – we do not live by sight or by feelings or by motivations or internal strength.  We live by this marvelous gift – this connection facilitated by the Holy Spirit – this thing called faith by which we are connected to the very body of Christ.  And through it we live in Him and He lives in us.

And that’s why we persevere.  And that’s what the text says – verses twenty-one through twenty-three which we didn’t finish last week.  Verse twenty-two says:  “But in the end the one who persevered, this one shall be saved….”  And what our Lord is giving to the apostles for the first time is this idea that perseverance is irrevocably connected to the faithful engrafting and rooting in Himself!  For those who are “in Him” will, indeed, persevere.  Those who are by faith living in Him and participating in His life – those who are being humiliated in Him and on account of Him; those who are receiving the accusations and the fierce rejections – even from beloved family members; those who live in the “fullness of the Godhead bodily” – these will persevere and be saved.

You remember I spoke earlier of the “bond in blood” as the fire of the Spirit of Christ roared between the pieces of the sacrifice (Genesis fifteen).  (This morning we celebrate the reality which that event pre-figured.)  Another prefigurement of the table was the Passover.  And please remember that the Passover celebrated another event of sheer horror.  One in which the Spirit of God killed the first-born of everything alive in Egypt, but preserved all of those who were covered by the blood of the sacrifice!

Now it’s obvious that these things were the foreshadowing of the one atonement to come in Christ Jesus and His crucifixion.  But it must also be obvious that His crucifixion was a bond in blood – a bond in life or death, as the prefigurings were.

Sure.  When we celebrate the Table, we celebrate life.  But the other side of that is a horror – as the bond in blood was a horror to Abraham (as the Scripture puts it).  For the Table is a celebration in joy only for those who are rooted in Christ and who persevere in the faith.  Those are the ones who will be saved.