Matthew 10:2-4 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
The most remarkable thing about the apostles is how unremarkable they were. They were ordinary people from ordinary walks of life, and were not even great role models. James and John were volatile (Luke 9:54), Thomas struggled with doubt (John 20:27), and Peter denied Jesus three times with a curse (Matthew 26:69-75). The success of Christianity was not due to the greatness of the apostles, but to the greatness of Jesus Christ. But why twelve?
Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28), said Jesus.
The nation of Israel consisted of twelve tribes (Genesis 49:28), and the apostles will rule over them when Jesus Christ returns. Israel was the geographical center of God’s kingdom, and will be so again. Jesus will rule on his glorious throne, and the apostles will rule beneath him. This reveals a rich continuity between the Old and new Testaments.
Matthew 10:5-6 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.
After Jesus rose from the dead, he told his apostles to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). But at this point, he restricted their mission to the nation of Israel. Christianity began within Judaism, and the Jews should always be included in the outreach of the church. Wherever Paul evangelized he took the gospel first to the Jew, then to the Gentile (Romans 1:16).
The Jews have been mostly unresponsive to the gospel, but this will not always be the case. Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob (Romans 11:25-26), wrote Paul. This seems to mean that there will be a great turning of the Jews to Jesus Christ near the end of this age.
Furthermore, this and other passages assume the continued existence of Israel, which is surprising in itself. They were deported to Babylon in the sixth century BC, and regathered in their homeland decades later. They were exiled again in AD 70, and regathered in their homeland almost two millennia later, in 1948.
Due to intermarriage, most people lose their national identity within a few generations of leaving their homeland. For the Jews to maintain their identity, and return to their homeland centuries later, is truly extraordinary. If God preserved the Jews, and brought them back to their homeland twice, he can turn them to the Messiah in due time. What Jesus said to the apostles, he says to the church today: Go . . . to the lost sheep of Israel.
Matthew 10:8 Freely you have received; freely give.
Giving and receiving are both important to following Jesus Christ. The disciples freely received from him, and freely gave to others. Some want to receive without giving; others want to give without receiving; but both are needed to thrive.
The Sea of Galilee has been teeming with life for thousands of years. Water flows in from the north, out at the south, and life continues to flourish. The Dead Sea also receives water from the north, but it has no outlet at the south, and it has been dead for thousands of years.
If we receive from Christ, but do not give to others, we will never flourish spiritually. If we give to others, but do not receive from Christ, we will soon become depleted. Freely you have received; freely give.
Matthew 10:16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.
Whoever proclaims the gospel should expect to be treated badly. Jesus’ disciples were beaten, imprisoned and killed for the message they preached. They may have been tempted to keep their faith private, but that was never an option. Their mission was so important they were willing to give up their lives.
Likewise, a member of the coast guard was sent out on a rescue mission. The storm was so violent that he feared he would not make it back. You don’t have to make it back, his captain replied. But you do have to go out. This was the attitude of Christ to his apostles. They did their job courageously, and so have many since.
Reflection and Review
Why is the existence of Israel surprising?
Why are giving and receiving important to spiritual flourishing?
Why were the disciples willing to give up their lives for Jesus Christ?