Truth Taught-When Jesus sends out His followers we will experience persecution.
In this passage, Jesus introduces the ongoing reality from the time of His first disciples through to His Second Coming that His followers will face persecution. That’s the reality in this world. It has always been that way and will continue until the end.
So, there is this evil, satanic resistance to Jesus and His message and our Lord tells His early disciples and us that He is sending His people right into the middle of that resistance.
Our Lord explains something else that is very important to see as we begin. The resistance and persecution does not take place because of social, economical, racial or any other reason no, the persecution Jesus tells us is and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. You will be hated not because you’re a Steelers fan or live on the wrong side of the tracks, you will be hated because of Jesus. In that verse, Jesus gives us the scope of the hatred, doesn’t He? He tells us the truth when He declares all will hate us. Make no mistake when push comes to shove the lost hate Christians because of Jesus. We cannot believe otherwise. Jesus tells us the truth, the lost world hates believers. You can talk about anything under the sun but don’t mention Jesus because then there’s trouble. That’s how it works in this world. That’s how it’s always worked.
To understand this passage correctly is to view it as encompassing all of Christian history, from Jesus and His first followers to His second coming. The reason this is true is because our Lord says things here that are not necessarily true for His immediate disciples but will prove true for the next generation evangelists and so on. These disciples won’t stand before governors and kings, but the Apostle Paul and others after him will.
Matthew 10:16–23 (ESV)
16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
1. Be Wise, Be Innocent, and Beware
16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.
Here is the ongoing reality for all who claim to be Christians. Jesus sends us out among the enemy. Notice He doesn’t send us out among the wolf but among wolves. If the Gospel message is to find success it must be shared among the lost enemies of God and of us. He sends us out among the wolf pack…wolves plural.
Jesus’ followers are the sheep and the world is the wolves. Then He uses examples of other animals.
The serpent is famous for hiding and crawling out of the way when danger is approaching. The wisdom or the serpent Jesus speaks of is the stealthness and patience the serpent uses. Here and for us we are to be wise and not go out of our way to draw unnecessary attention to ourselves especially in times of persecution. We are to speak the Gospel to others…those who are lost with care and wisdom.
Jesus also uses a fourth animal reference here. While being cunning and wise we are also to be innocent and really in the original a little purposely gullible. To be innocent here is to not seek to have everything figured out. We do not know the outcome of a Gospel encounter with someone else. So, innocence is to keep us from becoming jaded and bitter. It seems that these two examples are polar opposites. Being wise and cunning and being innocent is a tough task. Sometimes our cunning will take over if we are not careful but when we add the trait of innocence it brings us back to reality.
Who are the wolves Jesus speaks of? Verse 17 says all men. So, the exact definition of the wolves is all unsaved people everywhere. We are to be wise, be innocent and beware of all lost people. Not to avoid them or shun them but just know going in that they are not your friends. Beloved, lost people are not your friends. You cannot be a follower of Christ and friends with the world.
James 4:4 (ESV)
4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
The reality is in all Christian life God has given us a brain and discernment. We are to think and be balanced. When the wolves came after the Apostle Paul he escaped and fled to another city. In some cases he was given word they were coming. He didn’t say well God has called me and I’m just going to have faith that everything will be okay.
Jesus is telling us that persecution is coming so we should be ready and aware of our surroundings and there is nothing here that equates the follower of Christ with not having faith. Faith here is to be the witness God has called us to be, in the setting He has placed us in and to also be smart about it. We are, as Jesus tells us, sheep among wolves.
To be called sheep is not really a flattering image. Sheep are big, round, and have small skinny legs. They cannot defend themselves, nor can they outrun a wolf. We are helpless among wolves except for the fact that Jesus tells us He will be with us.
When we confront lost people with the Gospel it may not go well. I have to always fight against this. In my mind, I’m going to share the fact that they are sinners and going to hell but God has made a way for them to be with Him for all eternity. I tell them about Jesus and again, in my mind, they are all going to agree, repent and come to Christ. That is usually not the way it works out. That’s okay, because God’s Word is accomplishing His purposes regardless. When you tell someone they are a sinner, it usually doesn’t go very well. Unless God is at work converting them the very fact that repentance requires admitting that you are a sinner will not happen unless God has moved and granted them the wonderful gift of repentance.
The wolves are blinded by their fallen nature, their sin and, what Paul calls, the god of this age.
2 Corinthians 4:3–6 (ESV)
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Have you ever wondered about this blindness? At one time we were blind to all God had for us in Christ. It took God working through the Holy Spirit to bring us to life and give us spiritual sight.
The wolves are blind to their evil, so blind in fact, that they will even kill other people to rid themselves of the reminder that there is a true God and they are accountable.
During the years of WW2 Dietrich Bonheoffer understood this better than most.
While awaiting execution, Bonheoffer recorded a number of his thoughts in a work we now know as Letters and Papers from Prison. One of these essays, entitled On Stupidity, records some of the problems which Bonheoffer likely saw at work in Hitler’s rise to power:
“Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. … The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.”
While this was true in Jesus’ day, it was true in Nazi Germany in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and it’s true in our day. We live in a day like none other where cliché’s, buzzwords, slogans that Bonheoffer referred to pervade the minds of the lost. All you need to do is begin telling someone about Jesus and they will most often respond with things like: the Bible isn’t true it’s full of errors, How can you be so narrow-minded and intolerant to insist that Jesus is the only way to God?
How do you know there is a God? What about people who never hear about Jesus? Will God judge them? Why should I accept what the Bible has to say?
Most responses are simply something they have heard somewhere else and it fits into their worldview so they use it. When someone says the Bible has errors in it, it can’t be trusted ask them if they could point out a few. It’s not like they’ve ever read through it and made a list from their own research. They are simply saying things they’ve heard others say who’s heard others say etc on down the line.
We are seeing this very clearly in our current social and political setting. Those buzzwords, racist, woman’s choice, hate speech, Trump bad, etc. The media pumps the public full of these ideas and words and they believe them. Bonheoffer would call these people stupid and I think he’s right.
This is why we must be wise, careful, innocent and bold and on the offensive. Christ is the Savior and lost people need to hear the message.
2. Don’t Worry, Endure, and Be Saved
19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Don’t worry about what you are going to say when you’re delivered to the authorities God will give you the words to say. This does mean it’s okay to be a lazy preacher and not prepare because the Holy Spirit will give you the words to say. It does not mean that Christian utterance must be spontaneous. What this does mean is that should you be handed over to the court for speaking the message of Christ, that God will be with you and help you in that hour.
This passage is in many ways like what Jesus previously spoke to His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount…
Matthew 6:25 (ESV)
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Here the main thrust is do not worry but instead put your trust in God. He will help you in the hour of need. He will be there when you need Him.
Jesus then gives us various examples of how this persecution will go for many throughout the ages. Sometimes lost people within a household will deliver their own family to the authorities to be put to death.
Have you ever considered that being a Christian could cost you your life? Bonheoffer knew this reality all too well. Weeks before the end of WW2 he was hung by the Germans. Missionaries every day face the possibility of death. Some are, in fact, dying for their faith as we speak. Have we ever considered that being a Christian could cost us our lives? What has being a Christian cost you? Are you a follower of Christ? Will you stand firm under the weight of persecution or have you cowered in fear at some far less threat. Will you stand firm?
What does our Lord tell us here in this passage? He tells us about assurance of faith.
But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
There are many who seemingly start the Christian life well. That’s not how assurance is measured. You may know someone who started well but now they have no interest in the things of God, stopped attending Church, and never read the Word or pray. How is it that you know you’re a Christian?
How can we have assurance that we are truly saved?
A. Am I currently enduring and trusting in Christ alone for my salvation?
Colossians 1:23 (ESV)
23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
This is much like the writer of Hebrews who tells us…
Hebrews 3:14–15 (ESV)
14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
B. Is there evidence of the saving and regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in my heart?
Evidence is different for everyone but generally is the Spirit leading you into more and more obedience?
Romans 8:14 (ESV)
14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Is God producing or manifesting the fruit of the Spirit within you?
Galatians 5:22–23 (ESV)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
C. Are you seeing a pattern of growth in your life?
Peter gives us his own list of virtues that are being built upon the faith of the believer. So, the way his list works is a true Christian has saving faith. Then through his/her life as God works various Christian virtues are being built upon their faith. If these things are increasing then one can be assured their salvation is genuine.
2 Peter 1:5–10 (ESV)
5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
While these three things are pointers to one’s salvation being genuine the final test is the only way we will know for sure. Will I remain steadfast to the end?
But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Endures to the end of what? What’s the context? Persecution. In other words, if you make it through persecution still holding on to Jesus then you have just proven your salvation is real. You see you didn’t say well now let’s see I love Jesus but I really love comfort, I’ll pick comfort. It simply really means this: if you survive the persecution, you’re the one being delivered. In other words, it is not saying that people who can make it through persecution can hold onto their salvation. It is saying that endurance through persecution is the hallmark of genuine salvation.
So, even persecution is something sent by God as one of the good things which work for our good.
Romans 8:28 (ESV)
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
3. Keep Speaking About Jesus Until He Comes
23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
Here, we should avoid building some eschatological doctrine based on this verse. What is Jesus saying here? If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot speak the Gospel because of persecution, go somewhere else. If you find persecution at your job speak the Gospel at the store. If you are persecuted at school speak about Jesus somewhere else. Our Lord is telling us, His followers to keep at it until He returns.
Paul did that. He preached, started a riot, left town to another town. And when the riot caught him in the next town, he went to the next town. And the riot caught him there, he went to the next town. He just kept moving. He wasn’t going to stand there and die. Life is too precious. Too many towns to reach, too much to be done. And we got to keep moving; we’ll never cover it all before the Son of Man comes.
What have we learned today?
As a follower of Jesus I am called to share the Gospel with the lost. When we do persecution may come. We are also called to be wise and innocent and use the discernment God has given us. Sometimes this means knowing when to share with someone.
Through it all whether we meet with persecution or not we must remain steadfast enduring to the end no matter what God sends our way. When we do we will be saved.
Matthew by D A Carson in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary
A Theology of Matthew by Charles Quarles
A Gospel of Matthew by France
Matthew by Craig Bloomberg
Matthew by Doriani
Matthew by Charles Price
Matthew by Leon Morris
Blue Letter Bible
Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem