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Matthew 10:5-8 “The Twelve’s Mission”

“These twelve Jesus sent out after commanding them saying, ‘Do not go in the road of the Gentiles nor enter a city of the Samaritans. But more so keep going to the perishing sheep of the house of Israel. Now, as you go, preach saying: the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the infirm. Raise the dead. Cleanse lepers. Cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give!’”


For the third time in five verses, Matthew points his readers to the twelve just mentioned.[1] The calling and appointing of these apostles is for a specific purpose: to be sent out. What follows is the beginning of Jesus’ detailed instructions to the twelve concerning this mission. These initial verses broadly outline the twelve’s mission by answering three basic questions: who, what, and how.


Who: The Mission’s Objects (vv. 5-6)

These twelve Jesus sent out after commanding them saying, ‘Do not go in the road of the Gentiles nor enter a city of the Samaritans. But more so keep going to the perishing sheep of the house of Israel.


That Jesus commands (παραγγέλλω) the twelve is worth noting. The term has a military ring to it.[2] While He has given them authority, the twelve are not independent parties but are subject to whom that authority originates. Their marching orders begins by identifying the objects of their mission. First comes a double prohibition who not to engage: the Gentiles and Samaritans. This is immediately followed with a command regarding who to engage: the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Both the prohibitions and the command require careful consideration.

These prohibitions are quite strong,[3] leaving no wiggle room and demanding that the twelve not even consider going down the roads that lead to Gentile territory (εἰς ὁδὸν ἐθνῶν) nor entering any city of the Samaritans (εἰς πόλιν Σαμαριτῶν). These prohibitions not only limit the parameters of the mission, but also help to define them. Because Galilee is something of an Israelite island with the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Gentile districts of Tyre and Sidon to the north and the Decapolis to the east, and Samaria to the south, there is nowhere left for the twelve to go. 

This observation leads to several realizations, some more obvious than others. (1) The emphasis is for the twelve to remain in Galilee. The northern region of Galilee has been Matthew’s geographical focal point since 4:12. The north is supposed to be where Messiah is revealed (Is. 9:1-2) and it is here that Jesus began His ministry (4:17-23). This first apostolic mission is to be contained to the same region that held Jesus’ focus in a ceaseless and ongoing manner.[4]

(2) The prohibitions are not ethnically motivated. Not only is there some debate regarding the separation between Israelite and Samaritan being along religious and political lines more so than ethnic mingling,[5] but the language Jesus employs keeps the twelve from pushing further south into Judea and Jerusalem. If the twelve are to remain in Galilee, then this is not a command that makes a distinction purely on ethnic grounds. There must be something larger at play.

(3) The command to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel is not a contrasting idea (but, rather, instead), but a comparison of something superior (more so, better).[6] It is not that going to the Gentiles or Samaritans is a bad thing (for it certainly is not) but that going to the lost sheep of the house of Israel is a better one.

(4) The designation of Israel as “lost sheep” is very informative as Matthew brings the image of 9:36 back to the foreground. Matthew utilizes the image of Israel as sheep more frequently than any other New Testament author (9:36; 10:6, 16; 15:24; 18:12; 25:32, 33; 26:31) and here his language clearly alludes to Jer. 50:6.[7] The context of Jer. 50 is that of Babylon’s prophesied demise. Yet it is in those days that a united Israel will come and seek Yhwh their God (v. 4). Then they will return to Jerusalem and enter into an everlasting covenant with Yhwh (v. 5). The reference to Israel as lost sheep whose shepherds have led them astray (v. 6) is the motivation behind the promises of vv. 4-5. Both Matthew and the LXX of Jeremiah use the participle from ἀπόλλυμι (to ruin, destroy/perish, be ruined) to describe these sheep. The perfect tense describes a present state caused by a past action. These sheep have entered a perishing state and continue to perish.[8] The sense is not that these sheep have wandered away, but that they are perishing. Commanding the twelve to go to them carries a similar implication as 9:36, that the twelve will be new shepherds among God’s flock.

The purpose of Jesus’ allusion to Jer. 50:6 and the reason for His focus on the northern region of Galilee and the people of Israel is to continue the call begun with John the Baptist (3:2) and continued through Jesus (4:17). This is a call for Israel to return to Yhwh and be restored. In short, these parameters are not set up for Gentile exclusion but to emphasize the necessity of Israel’s repentance before eschatological blessings and restoration can begin. This point is made crystal clear in the next verses where Jesus reveals the mission’s objectives. 


What: The Mission’s Objectives (vv. 7-8a)

The mission stated in vv. 5-6 identify who the twelve were to focus on, but not what they were to do with/for them. This information is provided in the form of five present tense imperatives in vv. 7-8a. These five imperatives can all be traced back to Jesus’ foundational example in His preaching (4:17) and His mighty deeds (8:1-9:34). In other words, the twelve are being commanded to preach what Jesus preaches and do what Jesus does.


Proclaim what Jesus Proclaimed (v. 7)

Now, as you go, preach saying: the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

The command to preach (κηρύσσετε) is associated with the previous command to go (πορεύεσθε) from v. 6 by the adverbial participle[9] from the same verb (πορευομενοι). Thus, the imperative to preach (as well as the following imperatives in v. 8) assumes obedience to the first command to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. They are commanded first to go. But while they are going, they are commanded to preach saying “the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

As with the command to go (πορεύεσθε) in v. 6, this command to preach (κηρύσσετε) is in the present tense. The same ongoing action is understood. Yet, Jesus does not leave this command open to interpretation. He specifically identifies what the twelve are to preach, namely, that[10] the kingdom of heaven is at hand. One who preaches (κηρύσσω) is a preacher or herald (κῆρυξ). The duty of a herald is to take the message given to him and proclaim it to the people designated by his master. These men are not allowed creative license to embellish, alter, add to, or subtract from this message. They are to go throughout Galilee proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom from heaven.

With this command comes several observations. First, this is the same message proclaimed by John the Baptist in Judea and Perea (3:2) and Jesus in the Galilee (4:17). The twelve are not assigned a new message to preach but an old and established message that reaches back through Jesus and John to the Old Testament prophets. 

Secondly, this message is dripping with implications. The Old Testament expectations of the kingdom revolve around two obvious aspects, the king and his kingdom. These two components are discussed at length by the prophets and include all (though not limited to) the following details:

  • The King

    • Yhwh as King (Obad. 21)

      • Judge/slay the wicked (Ps. 2)

      • Bring righteousness and blessing to the faithful (Ps. 72)

    • A Davidic heir as King

      • One who comes humbly (Zech. 9:9)

      • One who comes to lead (Mic. 2:13))

      • One who is closely identified with Yhwh (Hos. 3:5)

    • Anticipated by a forerunner (Mal. 3:1-4)

    • Rule from the temple in Jerusalem (Is. 6:1; Mal. 3:1)

    • His coming and kingdom relates to the Day of the Lord 

      • Judgement upon nations and restoration of Israel (Obad. 15:21)

      • Necessity of repentance and anticipation of blessing (Joel 2:1-32)

      • Will sweep up and destroy unrepentant Israelites as well as unrepentant Gentiles (Amos 5:18-20)

      • Will produce a repentant Israel (Mal. 4:1-5)

  • The Kingdom

    • Populated by Israel (Obad. 15-21)

    • Global sovereignty 

      • Sovereign rule encompasses the globe (Ps. 72; Zech. 9:10)

      • Gentile nations are subject to the King (Is. 2:1-4; Amos 9:11-12)

    • Precipitated by Israel’s repentance (Hos. 6:1-3; 14:1-7)

Finally, this message clarifies why this mission needs to go to Israel first. In short, by proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom, the twelve are (1) affirming the message preached by John and Jesus, (2) proclaim the nearness if not the actual presence of the king, (3) warn of the nearness of the eschatological conclusion of all things whereby (a) Israel is regathered and restored, (b) nations submit to Israel’s king, (c) the wicked are judged, and (d) the righteous are rewarded. The king and his kingdom are so tightly connected to Israel’s repentance that no such kingdom can come until Israel recognizes and follows her divine and Davidic king. These twelve are the king’s ambassadors sent out to proclaim His message, His kingdom, and call Israel to come and follow Him by leaving their old shepherds (scribes, Pharisees, political ideals, etc.) in the dust.

That Jesus concentrated His and the apostle’s efforts on the Galilee is most interesting. The northern plains of Galilee is where Joshua’s conquest was decided (Josh. 11:1-23), the Canaanites were defeated (Judges 4:12-16), and restoration of Israel is anticipated (Hos. 1:10-11). Jesus is sending the twelve out to call Israel to repentance and come to Him for their restoration.


Do What Jesus Does (v. 8a)

Heal the infirm. Raise the dead. Cleanse lepers. Cast out demons.

With the authority to proclaim comes authority to prove. Each of these commands (heal! Raise! Cleanse! Cast out!) are also present tense imperatives which indicate that as they go and preach, they must demonstrate the authority of their proclamation in the same way Jesus has done. These four commands summarize all that Jesus has already demonstrated in chapters 8-9 and may be arranged as such for a purpose. The first (heal the infirm[11]) and last (cast out demons) are both general in concept and clearly connect back to the descriptions of Jesus’ ministry (4:23; 9:35). The point is to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. The middle pair are more specific and correspond perfectly with the first miracle in Jesus’ first (8:1-4) and final (9:18-26) cycles of authoritative proof.[12] The point is simple: the twelve are called to proclaim all that Jesus proclaimed and do all that Jesus has done to advance His agenda. The authority that He gave them is here defined and pointed toward this singular objective.


How: The Mission’s Standard (v. 8b)

Freely you received, freely give!

The final phrase in v. 8 functions not only as a conclusion to the mission statement but also as an introduction to the following verses which will detail the manner in which the mission is to be executed. This phrase has two closely linked parts. First, Jesus makes a simple statement: Freely you received (δωρεὰν ἐλάβετε). This acknowledges how the twelve have come by their authority to preach and prove the nearness of the kingdom. They have not worked hard to achieve a level of understanding or skill. They did not purchase their commissions as apostles. They have no claim to their privileged position as Jesus’ chosen sent out ones that speaks to their rights or prerogatives. They are being sent out with this kind of authority simply because Jesus called them and gave them His authority. All credit, honor, glory, entitlements, rights, and privileges belong to Him alone. 

With this statement comes an explicit command: freely give! (δωρεὰν δότε). The aorist imperative is a strong blanket command for the twelve to give as they have been given: freely. There is no cost for their services, no compensation for the good news that they proclaim. One might easily be tempted to use such authority for personal gain. But they do not labor on behalf of the people as though they are providing them with a service requiring compensation. They labor on behalf of the king and therefore will be rewarded by Him for their faithful service. Their ministry is to be executed with grace (freely giving what they have received) and dependance (exclusively relying upon the One who sent them for support).

[1] The demonstrative these (τούτους) points back to the list in vv. 2-4 while the verb sent out (ἀποστέλλω) shares the same root as the noun apostle (ἀπόστολος).

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), p. 245.

[3] Negated aorist subjunctives are used (μὴ ἀπέλθητε, μὴ εἰσέλθητε) rather than imperatives. The sense is there for stronger than “do not go, do not enter” but is more like “do not even consider going, entering”.

[4] The present imperative πορεύεσθε (from πορεύομαι – to go, depart, proceed, travel) indicates a command to go and keep going.

[5] Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Third (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), p. 534-5.

[6] The adverb μᾶλλον is primarily used as a comparative showing something of greater degree or introducing a better reason. This is the normal way the adverb is used in Matthew (6:26, 30; 7:11; 10:25, 28; 18:13; 25:9; 27:24) as well as the rest of the New Testament (Rom. 5:9, 10, 15, 17; 8:34; 11:12, 24; 14:13; Gal. 4:9, 27; Eph. 4:28; 5:4). Even when a contrast is indicated, the contrast is that of a superior option or idea.

[7] Jer. 50:6 (27:6) LXX: πρόβατα ἀπολωλότα ἐγενήθη ὁ λαός μου (my people have become perishing sheep). Matt. 10:6 NA27: τὰ πρόβατα τὰ ἀπολωλότα οἴκου Ἰσραήλ (the perishing sheep of the house of Israel).

[8] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), p. 392.

[9] The present tense participle communicates contemporaneous action with the imperative. Thus, the translation: as you go (πορευόμενοι δὲ), preach (κηρύσσετε).

[10] Ὅτι marks direct discourse.

[11] The present participle from ἀσθενέω is different than the terms for “sickness” (μαλακία) or “disease” (νόσος) used earlier but is a more general term indicating those suffering sickness or even weakness.

[12] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), p. 417.

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