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Matthew 10:40-11:1 “Encouragement Brought by Unity with Jesus”

“’The one who welcomes you welcomes Me, and the one who welcomes Me welcomes the One who sent Me. The one who welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet receives a prophet’s reward. And the one who welcomes a righteous man in the name of a righteous man receives a righteous man’s reward. And whoever might provide one of these little ones a cold cup only in the name of a disciple, truly I say to you he may never destroy his reward.’ 
And it came about when Jesus completed instructing His twelve disciples, He turned from there to teach and preach in their cities.”


The conclusion to this second discourse has many similarities to the conclusion of the SM, as well as a few obvious differences. One of the most significant similarities is the way in which Matthew arranges his conclusion and transition (compare 7:28 to 11:1[1]). One of the major differences is that Jesus ends on a positive note (see 7:27). Another is the fact that while Jesus addresses His disciples (see 5:1), he addresses only His disciples (see 7:28) and of those, only the twelve He selected. Jesus has not (for the most part) been speaking of Himself or of His mission in broad terms but of their mission in specific terms as it relates to Jesus’ mission and agenda. These verses not only record Jesus’ concluding words to His chosen dozen (10:40-42) but also include Matthew’s concluding context that places these words in their proper setting (11:1). This conclusion offers encouragement to the proclaimers of the kingdom and prepares the reader for the advancement of Jesus’ agenda.


Jesus’ Concluding Words (10:40-42)

Jesus is a master preacher who crafts His logic and rhetoric with skill and precision. It is right to expect His conclusion to do everything a conclusion should. In other words, it’s important to note not only that these verses work together but how they work together. The general theme of unity, fidelity, and solidarity with Jesus runs throughout vv. 24-42. Mostly, that theme has been used to expose the dangers and possible disappointments that will arise on account of this solidarity. Here, Jesus assumes (rather than demands) solidarity with Himself in order to provide a balance of encouragement. This encouragement begins with Jesus setting a blessed precedent (v. 40) before moving on to produce a promise (vv. 41-42).


Jesus’ Precedent: Implications of the Chain of Command (v. 40)

“’The one who welcomes you welcomes Me, and the one who welcomes Me welcomes the One who sent Me.


With so much talk of wolves who ravish (v. 16), those who will hand over/betray (παραδίδωμι) the twelve (vv. 17-20), and family members who rise up against one another (vv. 21, 35-36), it is a blessed thought that anyone will welcome the apostles on their mission. The one who welcomes/receives (ὁ δέχόμενος) brings the image of a warm welcome. The present tense indicates those who continue to receive them, an encouragement indeed that at least some will receive them with open and eager arms.[2] This verse contains two parallel statements that work together to both summarize the whole of Jesus’ discourse while at the same time put in place a foundational precedent.

The first statement (the one who welcomes you welcomes Me) assumes the role of the twelve as Jesus’ apostles (ἀπόστολος – v. 2) whom He sent out (ἀποστέλλω – vv. 5, 16). The role of an apostle is more than a messenger (ἄγγελος) or even a herald/proclaimer/preacher (κῆρυξ) but is more akin to an ambassador who represents a mighty dignitary, sovereign, or king. The sense is quite plain that whoever welcomes the twelve on their apostolic mission are not welcoming them as individuals so much as they are welcoming the representatives of Jesus. Fidelity and solidarity with Jesus has already been stated as being paramount in one’s life (vv. 37-39). The welcome the apostles will receive is thus drawn from a connection with Jesus. As they represent Him, there will be those who welcome them and thus welcome Jesus.

The second statement (and the one who welcomes Me welcomes the One who sent Me) carries the point one step further. Just as the twelve are apostles or “sent out ones” of Jesus, so is Jesus a “sent out one” from the Father. The same verb used to describe Jesus’ sending out of the twelve (ἀπέστειλεν – v. 5, ἀποστέλλω – v. 16) is used to describe the One who sent Jesus (τὸν ἀποστείλαντά – v. 40). It is not only appropriate but necessary to understand Jesus’ first advent as an apostolic mission from the Father. There are two basic points to be made from this observation. First, the twelve are not establishing a precedent but are following a precedent already made. Jesus is the model of apostleship, not the twelve. They are following in His footsteps and will pattern their ministry from His. Second, and closer to the immediate context, the chain of welcoming travels from the twelve, through Jesus, to the Father. Jesus is the Father’s image and physical representative on planet earth. The twelve fulfill the same office for Jesus. Thus, anyone who welcomes the twelve, welcomes the Father through Jesus.

More than a simple line of encouragement to these undoubtedly apprehensive apostles, this statement summarizes the precedent for the entire New Testament. To this day, there are people who either welcome or dismiss the apostles as they either submit to or reject their writings (i.e., the books of the New Testament). In their persons, the apostles represented the Lord Jesus Christ who represented God the Father. In their writings, the apostles left instructions for the church as Jesus’ representatives who again, represents the Father. To ignore, alter, or dismiss any portion of the New Testament is to treat Jesus and God the Father in the same manner. But to welcome and submit to the apostolic writings is to welcome and submit to Jesus and the Father. This precedent is followed by a promise.


Jesus’ Promise: Connecting Solidarity with Reward (vv. 41-42)

Three similar statements in vv. 41-42 tease out the precedent of v. 40 by means of an explanation by drawing out the motivation of those who will welcome the twelve.[3] Of the three examples given, the first two form a general principle while the third provides a specific and contextual conclusion to Jesus’ thought.


Generic Examples: Solidarity via Support Secures Reward (v. 41)

The one who welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet receives a prophet’s reward. And the one who welcomes a righteous man in the name of a righteous man receives a righteous man’s reward.


The same precedent of welcoming continues through these verses with two alterations. First, rather than welcoming the twelve or Jesus, a generic prophet and a righteous person are in view. Second, rather than showing a chain of command indicating that the treatment of the messenger is essentially the treatment of the one who sent him, the statements look forward to the eternal implications of solidarity.

Jesus speaks of welcoming a prophet in the name of a prophet (εἰς ὄνομα προφήτου) or because he is a prophet. This addresses the motivation of the one who welcomes the prophet.[4] The prophet is welcomed by virtue of what he is, a spokesman of God. It matters not where he’s from or who he’s related to. Simply that this one proclaims God’s revelation and thus is known for his fidelity and solidarity with God is enough to warrant his welcome. Those who recognize this and welcome him are promised a prophet’s reward (μισθὸν προφήτου λήμχεται), that is, the same reward given to the prophet. By their service to the prophet in their welcoming him, they show their solidarity to his mission as God’s mouthpiece. As such, they aid him in his mission. Thus, they will share in the eschatological blessing promised to the prophet. 

The same is true of the one who welcomes a righteous man because he is a righteous man. As a prophet proclaims God’s revelation (God’s messenger) the righteous man exemplifies God’s character (conforming his life to the message).[5] This will not be the last time Matthew connects the prophet and the righteous man together (Matt. 13:17; 23:29).[6] The one who proclaims is linked with the one who hears and obeys. To welcome such a one on the basis of his name as a righteous man is to show solidarity with his life of obedience. He is welcomed because he is a righteous man and the one who welcomes him (showing unity and solidarity) is promised the same eschatological reward as the righteous man.

The point being driven home is that solidarity to the Father through Jesus brings with it a reward. The prophet is not welcomed because of his status, but because of whom he speaks for. The righteous man is not welcomed because of his prestigious reputation, but because of whom he is subject to. Solidarity and unity as shown through their welcome is motivated exclusively by the connection these people have with God. This point is made abundantly clear in the next verse.


Specific Example: Support of Discipleship and its Reward (v. 42)

And whoever might provide one of these little ones a cold cup only in the name of a disciple, truly I say to you he may never destroy his reward.


At first glance it may appear that there is a descending order in the value or significance in those being welcomed. Jesus first speaks prophets, then righteous ones, then little ones (τῶν μικρῶν τούτων) or insignificant ones. Who are these little/insignificant people? The answer is found in the motivation for their being given a cup of cold water; namely, in the name of a disciple (εἰς ὄνομα μαθητοῦ). The prophet was welcomed in the name of a prophet (εἰς ὄνομα προφήτου). The righteous man was welcomed in the name of a righteous man (εἰς ὄνομα δικαίου). Thus, this little one is a disciple. The point is the same: he is welcomed simply because he is a disciple. That is, his solidarity with Jesus is the basis for his welcome.

It does not matter whether one is widely known as a prophet or is locally recognized as a pious man. The welcome Jesus has in mind does not cater to one’s position in society or stroke the ego of the individual but is exclusively motivated by one’s connection with Jesus. Thus, the welcome of even an unknown, uncelebrated, and insignificant disciple, even a welcome so small as a cup of water (the most basic and unelaborate gifts a person could give), is worthy of a reward. Jesus’ concluding “truly” is stated negatively[7] though its force is to emphasize the absolute certainty of reward. The verb translated lose (ἀπόλλυμι) is the same term found in several places earlier in this discourse. The twelve are being sent out to the perishing/destroyed sheep of Israel (v. 6). The twelve are warned to fear God who can destroy both body and soul in hell (v. 28). Just recently, the twelve were warned of the paradox of finding vs. destroying their soul (v. 39). There is a consistent thread that weaves through these thoughts. Israel is lost/destroyed because they are in animosity rather than in unity with Jesus. The soul that God will destroy is the soul that is not in unity with Him. The soul that is found rather than destroyed is the soul that is in unity with Jesus. Thus, Jesus proclaims that solidarity and unity to Him as demonstrated through solidarity to His people (as per the precedent in v. 40) will never lose/destroy their eternal reward.

It is important to understand that Jesus is not teaching a salvation by works where one secures his eternal reward through deeds. Rather, Jesus is emphasizing the implications and necessity of solidarity and unity with Him. No man comes to the Father but through Him. How men treat His apostles reveals their unity (or lack thereof) with Him and thus to the Father. The point being driven home is blessing that comes with identifying with Jesus.


Matthew’s Concluding Context (11:1)

And it came about when Jesus completed instructing His twelve disciples, He turned from there to teach and preach in their cities.


Matthew’s conclusion formula (and it came about when Jesus finished… – καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς) signals the end of the discourse and the transition into the following narrative. Yet there is more here than a simple linguistic transition or syntactical marker. Matthew is quite informative as he provides insight into Jesus’ motivation as well as prepares the reader for the narrative to come. 

At least two observations stand out. First, Jesus did not commission the twelve to take over His mission, but to help Him in His mission. Jesus finished His instruction and then proceeded to continue the task for which He came. He left that location for the purpose[8] of teaching and preaching the coming kingdom. There is a solid continuity here with 9:35 with the shared terms of “Jesus”, “towns”, “teach”, “preach”, and “their”.[9] In other words the Lord of the harvest has commissioned new workers, but the work of harvesting continues.

A second observation revolves around the meaning of “their cities” (ταῖς πόλεσιν αὐτῶν) for which there are only two options. The first option relies on the syntax of the verse which supplies only one possible antecedent for the pronoun αὐτῶν (of them/theirs), the twelve disciples (τοῖς δώδεκα μαθηταῖς). This would mean that Jesus left the place where He instructed the twelve to teach and preach in the same cities the twelve were traveling through. The second option is to understand αὐτῶν (their/of them) as not having a specific antecedent at all but being more general to indicate the cities of the local inhabitance. As evidence for this second option is the similar construction ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶν (their synagogues) as used in 4:23 and 9:35. Yet, it must be said that which synagogues are in view (who the congregants where) is not assumed from the context but is stated within the context. Therefore, pointing to 4:23 and 9:35 as evidence to support this second view (that “their” indicates the Galilean populace in a general manner) is a weaker argument than it may at first appear. The syntax strongly supports the first option (the cities through which the twelve will travel)[10] but ultimately the sense of either explanation will produce the same result: Jesus is following the disciples on their tour.

Because Jesus has given the twelve strict parameters for their first mission as confinement to the Galilee (10:5-6), even if “their cities” refers to the cities of the Galileans Jesus will undoubtedly be teaching and preaching where the disciples have already been. Rather than this being a coincidence, it is better to understand this as Jesus’ intention. Taken in the larger context of Matthew’s gospel we note that (1) Jesus has already conducted extensive kingdom teaching, preaching, and proof (4:23; 5:1-7:29; 9:35). (2) Jesus is now sending his twelve apostles through the same region He has already been through to proclaim the same message He has already proclaimed, explained, and demonstrated. (3) Now, Jesus intends to return through the same region teaching and preaching that same message of repentance in light of the nearness of the kingdom of heaven (4:17). Jesus is following directly on the heels of the twelve. The twelve are essentially announcing Jesus’ coming. The question then is this: will Galilee welcome Jesus or doubt Him? The answer to that question is revealed in the following narrative. 

[1] Matthew uses the precise words “now it happened when Jesus finished…” (καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς) to conclude each major discourse (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1).

[2] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), p. 419.

[3] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), p. 444.

[4] Archibald Robertson, Matthew and Mark, vol. I, VI vols., Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1930), p. 85.

[5] David Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), p. 283-4.

[6] John Broadus, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, An American Commentary on the New Testament (Forgotten Books, 2012), p. 233.

[7] Οὐ μὴ with the subjunctive is the strongest negation in Greek. Οὐ μὴ ἀπολέσῃ τὸν μισθὸν αὐτοῦ = He may never lose/destroy his reward!

[8] Both infinitives διδάσκειν and κηρύσσειν communicate purpose.

[9] Nolland, p. 447.

[10] Ibid.

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