Matthew 10:21-23 Part 3

Continuity always demands some kind of a recap in order to get some remembrance about where we were last time and start the motors running again.  And I needed to say a few things anyway to “round off” what was being discussed last Lord’s Day.

You’ll recall that the very basis of the perseverance of the apostles was “being engrafted into the person of Christ Jesus” – that they could not have endured the abandonment of everyone around them and suffered the physical and mental abuse at the hands of authorities and continued to preach the Words of Christ through faith!

And what I wanted to add to that this morning is that no one should get the idea that the twelve original disciples had a special portion of Christ that is not available to any other Christian who lives in Him!

I think we often get the idea that the apostles were “super-Christians.”  And that the foundation of the Church was built on special men who were given more.  And that, because of that, less is asked of us than was of them!

But, you see, that’s not true.  Here in the text Jesus exhorts them to be faithful, for “the one who has endured to the end is the one who will be saved.”  Now, they had a lot to go through, didn’t they?  But I want you to know that the Bible does not know any other kind of Christian except the one who endures to the end.  Listen to Paul:  “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He will also deny us.”  (Second Timothy two, two)  You see, all of His people are engrafted in Him, and rooted in Him.  And all of us have access to Him – for we live in Him!  And there is the source of the perseverance – with joy, and anticipation, and thankfulness, and contentment, and motivation.

So we’re expected, and exhorted, and commanded, to persevere just like the apostles were!  They had nothing of what we might call “special” gifts to endure.  Living in Him is, of course, the most special thing there is; but the apostles had nothing “over and above that.”  It’s the same indwelling, and engrafting and rooting and walking that you have!

And let’s not forget the Spirit of Christ which was “shed abroad” after the resurrection and ascension!  The apostles did not yet have the Paraclete – the Comforter – the Helper – the Teacher that we now have!

So not only did they not have more (or something special), in order to persevere in Christ Jesus, but they had “less” (if there’s anything “less” associated with being rooted in the body of Christ)!

So not only were they not special men who were given more of Christ in order to endure – not only did they not have a special “portion” of Him – we are the ones – the special ones – who have been given more!  We have been given the Spirit, the third Person of the Triune Godhead, Whose function in the salvation of Christ’s people is to CAUSE us to live in Christ’s body!  He has been “shed abroad” in our hearts; and He has regenerated us; and He comforts us; and He prays in us and for us before the Father, in the Name of the Son and on account of the Son!  He, Himself, causes the connection to be made between us and Christ Jesus; and He facilitates the faith that causes us to live IN HIM and He in us!  And He teaches us how to do that!  And pleads our case as a counselor at the mercy seat!

And as Paul says in Romans eight, we have received the Spirit of adoption; and “as many as are led by the Spirit, they are the sons of God.”  And that same Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God!  “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.”  “And in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us.”

But these are the things that the apostles were being rooted in, and here is “the foundation of the Church” being laid in these twelve disciples who were about to begin speaking the Words of Christ right in the womb of the harlot!  And, suffering pain and affliction and rejection and persecution, the apostles were to find the lost sheep of the house of Israel – that remnant from the twelve tribes, that one hundred and forty-four thousand!  For these are the continuity between the old and the new!  Here is the preservation of the Church by its King!

As Paul told the Thessalonians in His first letter, “God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  So the Church will be preserved - the apostles of Jesus were sent out for them, and they would suffer deep persecution for it!  But in the midst of that persecution, and before the tribulation to come in the siege of Jerusalem, all of the lost sheep of Israel would hear the voice of the Shepherd and flee to safety!

Listen to the apostle John as he writes the vision of these things as they actually happened in the heavens.  Chapter seven of Revelation: 


“And after this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the Land, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind should blow on the Land or on the sea or on any tree.  And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the Living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the Land and the sea, saying:  Do not harm the Land or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.  And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:” (tribes are enumerated).


You see, as the apostles are sent by Christ to preach and find the lost sheep, John sees that happening as the angel rising up from the east to mark God’s people for protection, in order that they might be brought to the Shepherd – and that the apostates only in Jerusalem may be destroyed!

But the angel tells the other angels – in John’s vision – not to harm men until all of God’s people are sealed on their foreheads.  In other words, until they have been marked out for protection as belonging to God, don’t hurt anybody!  We’ll see much more about this preservation of God’s elect when we get to chapter twenty-four.  But we’ve seen the cosmic significance of much of what Christ has said and done already – I just wanted you to be able to place this event in its proper perspective and give to it its proper weight!

For the apostle John it was an event of such magnitude that heaven itself was opened up so that he could see the cosmically personalized plan of God for the covenantal remnant!  He had been there and experienced it all!  And thirty years later he witnesses the whole event from the heavenly perspective!  They were sealed in heaven, and they were preserved on earth, and they came into the New Covenant Church by the preaching of the apostles.  And, as we know, they were the establishing force for the founding of new Churches in the Gentile nations.

And as far as our text is concerned, the apostles persevered in this task given to them by our Lord; and God’s elect sheep, who were lost also persevered – and they were preserved and saved from the holocaust to come!

Now, as you already know, this is the third sermon on this three-verse passage, (verses twenty-one through twenty-three), and I’ve yet to say very much about the third verse.  And there are some important things here.  As you can see, here in twenty-three, Jesus says:  “but when they persecute you in this city, escape into the other….”

Now, that raises some issues with regard to the apostle’s attitudes concerning their commission, doesn’t it?  And it has some bearing on our position viz a viz those who might persecute us as we disciple the nations.

What Jesus does here is give permission for the apostles to flee persecution!  He’s already said that they would be sent among wolves and that they were to be keen as serpents, and guileless as doves; and that they would be accused, and beaten, and tried before governors and kings; and that their own families and friends would turn on them and reject them and accuse them; and that there would be no comfort for them – even by those who would normally be expected to comfort and shelter them.

And we’ve also described the apostle’s place in the body of Christ – that they were being rooted in Him, and, therefore, participate in the Divine virtues – being preserved in Christ and persevering through the rejection and the ripping and tearing of rapacious wolves!  And by now the apostles already know at least some of what’s about to occur – that the King had come, and that He was cutting off the Old Covenant nation and establishing a New Heavens and a New Earth.  And their commands were to go and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom and find those who belonged to the King.

And then Jesus tells them to flee persecution in a given city to go to the next one; and that they wouldn’t be finished going through all the cities of Israel before the Son of Man be come.

And so the questions arise as to escaping persecution.  He’s already said once for them to shake off the dust from their feet if they’re not received in a “worthy” manner; and that they were to go on to the next place!

So the questions have to be asked – and answered – about what is enough, and when to give up, and consistency, and fear, and discouragement, and leaving a flock to be injured!

The Scripture even says that it’s a hireling that leaves the flock when it’s in danger!  The OWNER stays and fights to save them!  Is this the same kind of situation?

Well, it’s no doubt that Jesus does give His disciples permission to escape in certain circumstances.  And I agree with the commentators that it may be the best thing, under similar circumstances, that one avoids needless injury and death.  In the apostle’s case, when the situation got so bad that towns and villages rose up against them, such as what happened to the apostle Paul on many occasions, and when synagogues set themselves to maim and kill them, the apostles were to escape!

And we have to see that this was not a case where the apostles showed an effeminate nature, or timidity!  Or inordinate fear!  There just comes a time when a prudent decision has to be made that this situation, or that situation, is hopeless – or that it is too dangerous, and that further preaching will result in only disastrous consequences!  Besides, their command from the King was to keep going into all the villages and towns of Israel!  And if they all put themselves, imprudently, in positions where they were all killed, then their commission wouldn’t get accomplished!

I don’t think their situations were complicated by having to establish communities of believers – churches – for which they were to be pastors and teachers.  Quite the contrary!  Their jobs included preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and finding the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And once they were found, nothing is said by Jesus about what to do with them!  The issue isn’t addressed.  Just go on to the next village.  Preaching was enough to let them know the Messiah was here.  So the question of whether to leave a flock in danger didn’t come up.  And apparently, from my reading and study in the coming chapters, and in the parallel passages in the Revelation, the whole flock was found and they were preserved to the end, and they all escaped Israel before the conflagration began!

But there is another question here.  And that is the one of discouragement.  I know that a large number of those who would minister to the people of God are not doing so because of trials and persecution.  And if that’s the case, then there’s something wrong.  When men leave the ministry, or give up, or retire from the prosecution of the Kingdom mandate, then there’s something wrong.  Because the commission to disciple the nations doesn’t terminate in disillusionment, discouragement or retirement.  It is a way of life.  And not only for just ministers, but for anyone who lives in the body of our Lord.

I would not disagree that temporary setbacks do occur – especially when there seems to be no fruit, or rejection is coming from every direction, or jobs and friends are lost due to the Gospel.  Good men are often saddened and even frightened by these things.  And we all get weak-kneed sometimes when the opposition becomes confrontative or harsh!

But in Christ Jesus, where the Divine virtues are, is perseverance through trials and heartaches and rejection.  Men of God who live in Christ stay; or they go on to the next place to speak the Words of God.  They don’t become discouraged and quit.  They don’t retire.  They don’t change professions!  They find somebody else to speak the word of truth to!  Persecution doesn’t lead to retirement - it drives a man to speak boldly!  Even if it’s another place!

Jesus didn’t give His disciples the option of going home.  There was no option to quit if it wasn’t working!  They were to persevere to the end!  The option to languish in discouragement was forfeited!  The option to just live a normal life without opposition and rejection and confrontation was forfeited!  It was forfeited because of Christ and His Kingdom!

Effeminacy is not one of the virtues in the body of Christ.  When one is faced with the rejection and rebellion of his own family, or his friends, or his co-workers, or his congregation – he doesn’t find effeminacy when he flees to Christ for solace.  He finds those virtues which lend him perseverance and consistency and obedience.

Well, even though I’d like to say some more about that, I think I’ll leave it now, because we have some other important duties here in this text.  Jesus goes on to say to the disciples here – “for truly I say to you the cities of Israel shall by no means be finished”  (by the way, that’s the strongest negative possible in the Greek language) “shall by no means be finished before the Son of Man be come.”

In other words, He says, you’ll still be doing this, you will still be preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, you’ll still be finding the lost sheep of the house of Israel, you’ll still be the objects of stifling persecution – you by no means will be finished going from town to town when dreadful and exquisite things begin to happen! i.e. Jesus “coming” into His Kingdom!

In other words something of great historical and cosmic significance is going to occur – while you’re preaching the Gospel from city to city; the implication being that the continuation of your commission is required of you to it’s completion even though these grand events will be happening – yea, even because of these events!

The idea that has been expressed concerning this text – that the preaching of the apostles to find the lost sheep would stop at the point of whatever event this is by Jesus, is a misreading of the text!  There is absolutely no hint of that here.  In fact, by grammar and by implication, the event Jesus eludes to here is to happen very soon, in a relatively short historical context!  They can’t get to all the towns of Israel, a very small country, before this takes place!

 And what is to take place is defined by the title that Jesus uses to describe Himself here – “The Son of Man.”  We’ve seen that title once before in Matthew’s Gospel – and we’re going to see it again a number of times!  The term comes directly from the prophecy of Daniel, the seventh chapter, where Daniel sees the fierce brightness of the coming incarnation of the glory of God – the King coming to establish the fifth Kingdom of Daniel’s prophecy!  He is pictured there as coming in great glory in the clouds of heaven to sit at the right hand of God.  Listen to the prophecy:  Daniel seven, beginning at verse nine.


“I kept looking until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow, and the hair of His head like pure wool.  His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire.  A river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him; thousands upon thousands were attending Him; the court sat, and the books were opened.

I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the Clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him.  And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a Kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His Kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”


I won’t read any more of this right now, but let it be understood now, that the coming of the Son of Man that Jesus mentions here in the text is the same coming of the Son of Man that Daniel saw in His vision from God (which is the only place in the Old Testament)!  And it is the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ before His Father’s throne and being given dominion – His work having been accomplished!  This is His “coming” in the clouds of glory, having offered Himself as the ultimate blood sacrifice, having been raised from the dead with power, and ascending to His Father with every single one of the Church preserved in Him!

And He took dominion from His Father’s hand and proceeded to execute judgment on the old nation, filling all the old figures, preserving the lost sheep of the house of Israel… and laying the foundation to the Church universal and His dominion over all the nations – a dominion which is forever and forever!  You remember that’s the same vision the apostle John saw.

And before the apostles even finish the towns and villages of Israel, He will do all of this – He will “be come.”  That’s why it’s the subjunctive word.  “By no means will the towns of Israel be finished before the Son of Man be come.”  Before the King of Creation reflects the very glory of His Father – before the most majestic things in all of history take place:  The suffering, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Christ Jesus, and His dominion over all things.

And nowhere does the glory of the dominion of Christ shine brighter than in the preserving and perseverance of His people as we suffer in Him, with Him and on account of Him – in His Name.

Don’t be discouraged, don’t stay, don’t quit, don’t let rejection and anger and persecution cause you to back away.  You may become disappointed, but don’t retire from your duty.  Speaking the Word of Life to society – to the nations; discipling them in the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit “and I will be with you to the end”…preserving you!

Now, as we come to the table of our Lord this morning, let me remind you that this is a “sign” of the union we have in Him through faith.  It is not the union itself; but it “signifies” that union.  In other words, we are not eating the real body of Christ, or drinking His blood; but the bread and the wine “represent” His body and His blood.

Our Lord instituted this sign Himself on the night in which He was delivered up; and it obviously replaced the Passover… which then became obsolete.  And He, Himself, said that this was His body and His blood.  So, the body and blood of our Lord are here signified in such a way that the relationship between the sign and the reality of the sign are such that there is great benefit to us as participants.

By faith (which is a gift in and of itself) we apprehend the reality through the sign.  Further, by faith we participate in His body and His blood through the sign!

Not that we become “divine”… that’s blasphemously false!  But that our Lord Jesus Christ has united us in Himself and joins us to Himself as brothers.  And He apprehends the sign as the reality!

We spend all of our time (with regard to this subject) trying to determine how WE are to understand it; and we don’t approach the table in an attempt to understand how HE sees it.

And since HE’S the One Who instituted it; and since He said “this is My Body,” HE apprehends the sign as the reality.  And, therefore, there is gracious provision, IN HIM, for each of us as we signify that union in Him.