Before the Son of Man Comes – Matthew 10:23

The first part of verse 23 refers to the mission the twelve which is about to begin, the disciples are going to go through the towns of Israel. But what does it mean they will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes (v. 23b)? “This is one of the most problematic verses in the Bible” (Wilkins, Matthew, 394). There are several options for understanding this difficult verse.

First, the “towns of Israel” is an unusual way to describe the short-term mission. They are going to the towns of Galilee, but Israel as a geographical area no longer exists. Some therefore expand this to all of the Jewish communities in the Diaspora. As Nolland suggests, this is unlikely. For Nolland, Jesus’s point is the twelve will not have fled all the villages in Palestine until the Son of Man comes (Matthew, 427).

Second, when the Son of Man comes is eschatological, alluding to Daniel 7:13-14. The Son of Man is the judge of the nations and the one who initiates God’s Kingdom. Jesus calls himself the Son of Man frequently in the Gospel of Matthew (9:6, for example). Does this refer to the second coming of Jesus? At this point in Matthew, Jesus has not mentioned his death and departure, so the idea of “return” would be strange. However, he may be referring to Daniel and the Jewish expectation of the Son of Man judging the nations without yet implying anything about a departure and return. Certainly, later readers would have understood this as the “return of Jesus.”

Third, this section is remarkably similar to Matthew 24:9-14. Describing the time after the birth pains that are NOT signs of the end (24:4-8), Jesus warns his disciples of persecution and promises everyone who stands firm to the end will be save. In 24:14 he says the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world, and then the end will come. (the abomination of desolation is the next paragraph). Rather than the “towns of Israel” he says the whole world will hear the gospel of the kingdom.

Jesus and his disciples thought the kingdom of God will be fully realized in their lifetimes. This may refer to Pentecost, or a failed belief Jesus would establish the kingdom soon after Pentecost. This refers to the mission in Acts and culminates in the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70. Jesus shifts from the immediate future to the distant future, as he will do in Matthew 24:4-8 (present age) and 24:9-14 (the future tribulation just before the end).

Despite rejection and persecution, there will be a continuous mission to both Israel and the Nations until the Second Coming of Jesus to establish his kingdom in the future. The twelve are not called to live a comfortable life as executive leaders, they will suffer because the maintain their testimony until the very end, even if that end results in martyrdom. The reason the disciples will suffer is their relationship with Jesus (10:24-25). Jesus has already been accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul (9:34) and this will be the cause of the decisive break from the Pharisees (12:22-37).

The problem for interpreters here is “when is this?” Matthew 24:19-13 also warns about very similar persecution on account of the name of Jesus in an eschatological context; the next paragraph predicts the abomination which causes desolation (24:15-21). When the persecution happen? In the apostolic period? During church history? Only in a future “tribulation period” prior to the second coming?

The immediate application is to the Twelve and the persecution they will face as they present the Gospel to the Jews first, and eventually to the rest of the world.

There is an application for contemporary Christianity. Jesus is clear if you are representing Jesus, the world will treat you the same way they treated Jesus. There is no promise in the Gospel that the disciple of Jesus will be free from suffering, either from the typical things that happen in this world or from targeted persecution for your faith.

How does the admonition to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” work in the context to contemporary persecution? Maybe, “don’t hide your faith, but don’t go out of your way to get persecuted.” This seems to have been Paul’s policy.

Do Not Worry About What You Will Say – Matthew 10:19-23

Jesus tells his disciples they will governors and kings, to bear witness. The twelve disciples would be rightly concerned how they would behave when they are brought before these authorities, so Jesus tells then the Holy Spirit will guide their speech.

Peter and John Preachingbefore kings

“Do not be anxious” also appears in Matthew 6:25, do not be anxious about your life, food drink or clothing. Just as the disciples are not to worry about their physical needs (God will provide), they do not need to worry about the words they will speak to the people who have the power to kill them because the Holy Spirit will be speaking through them.

In Acts 4 Peter and John are brought before the high priest and a few of the Temple aristocracy. When he is asked by what authority he speaks, Peter is “filled with the Holy Spirit” (4:8) and he bears witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus (4:8-12). Those who heard the speech were astonished that an unschooled man would have that kind of courage to speak as he did (4:13-17). When he is told to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, Peter boldly says he will continue preaching in Jesus’s name (4:18-20).

I have occasionally heard this verse misused by people who downplay preparing academically for preaching and teaching the Bible. I have talked to pastors who claim that they do very little preparation, they just let the Holy Spirit lead. That is not what this verse is talking about! These disciples will be dragged before authorities and they will give bold testimony through the power of the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit is calling to mind things they have learned from Jesus in the first place! When a pastor tells me they like to let the Spirit lead, I usually tell them they should give the Holy Spirit something to work with (and seriously prepare themselves to preach).

Not only with the disciples be threatened by local Jewish councils and Gentile courts, but they will also be ostracized from their families. Jesus then tells his disciples that “everyone who endures will be saved” (10:21-23).

Is there an allusion to Deuteronomy 13:6-11 here? In that passage Moses warns against family members and friends enticing a person to worship an idol. Do not listen to that person, they are to be killed! If the local Jewish councils and synagogues think the preaching of the disciples is in some way idolatrous, would they think they are following the principle of Deuteronomy 13:6-11 when they try to correct the disciples with physical punishment and even death?

Most commentaries detect an allusion to Micah 7:6, sons and daughters rise up against their family, even neighbors cannot be trusted. “But as for me, I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me” (Mic 7:7). The parallel is closer in the LXX.

Everyone will hate the disciples “for my name’s sake.” As he will say in v. 24, it is the preaching of Jesus that causes the persecution. If you suffer on account of your testimony for Jesus and the gospel, then that is a good thing; if you suffer because you did something stupid, then that is not the kind of suffering Jesus is talking about. If you are caught speeding, you cannot claim you are suffering persecution from the pagan government and somehow this passage applies.

Here is a very 2021 analogy, if you do not like it, move on to the next paragraph. If you joined a riot and broke into a federal building, destroyed federal property and looted things from government offices, then you are going to suffer. Your family might even turn you in to the FBI when they see your social media posts! This is not a fulfillment of Matthew 10:21-23: you did something that deserves punishment, jail time, etc.

Jesus is describing suffering on account of his name, unjust punishments and even execution as a result of preaching the Gospel. Some Christians claim this verse when people hate them, but Jesus is not talking about being hating because you are a jerk. This hatred is based toward the disciples of Jesus for being a disciple of Jesus.

Jesus promises the disciples that they will be saved, but from what? This cannot refer to being saved from persecution or death since some will die (Stephen, Acts 7:59-60; James, Acts 12:1).  When a town begins to persecute them, the disciples are to flee and go to another town. On the one hand, Jesus has already prohibited retaliation in 5:39 (so no fighting back against one’s oppressor).

This section began with an admonition to be wise as a serpent. If a town is aggressively persecuting the disciples on account of the name of Jesus, perhaps the wise course of action is to leave (Nolland, Matthew, 427). It is a misuse of this verse to claim that a disciples of Jesus ought to put themselves in dangerous positions of intentionally break laws to preach the gospel. The disciple who is wise learns how to navigate a culture so that they can maximize their chances for reaching the lost with the Gospel of Jesus.

The Disciples Will Face Persecution – Matthew 10:16-23

Mike Wilkins suggested Matthew 10:5-15 are instructions for the short-term mission to the villages of Galilee while 10:16-42 prepares the twelve disciples for their long-term mission in the future (Matthew, 389). This certainly helps with the problem of applying the specifics in 10:5-15 to contemporary ministry. There is a shift from the present to future tense and the ministry envisioned in 10:16-42 does include Gentiles (v. 18). In addition, there is no hint of the kind of persecution described in 10:16-42 in the mission of the Twelve in Galilee.

Flogging Jesus Medieval

On the one hand, this section does describe the dangers faced by the Christian mission both in the earliest chapters of Acts and the mission of Paul in the second half of the book. It is possible to draw analogies to Christian mission at any time in history since those who are doing the ministry of the Gospel often face resistance and persecution from the culture they are trying to reach. This is not only so-called “foreign missions” but also reaching one’s own culture with the Gospel. Matthew is clear: if you are a disciple of Jesus, you will suffer at the hands of even your own family!

The disciples are being sent out into a dangerous world (Matthew 10:16-18). Jesus reverses the metaphor; the sheep were the people living in Galilee who had no shepherds. Now the disciples are the sheep. “Like sheep among wolves”

The contrast between “wise as serpents” and “innocent as doves” suggests the balance the disciples will need between craftiness and moral purity. For early Christians, this may refer to the problems they will face trying to navigate Roman culture and remain ethically upright. Modern missionaries make similar decisions. For example, if every bribes officials to get things done, is it morally permissible for a Christian to bribe government officials?

The ESV translates συνέδριον as “courts,” the NIV 2011 has “local courts” and the NRSV has councils.” This word is often translated as Sanhedrin, but the noun is plural. “The Sanhedrin” refers to the (singular) council in Jerusalem. Since these warnings are more universal, modern translations use the more general term. But this obscures the fact these are Jewish local councils likely meeting in the synagogue rather than the Gentile city council of Ephesus.

That the disciples will be “flogged in their synagogue” indicates they are targeting Jewish audiences. The disciples will be considered worthy of physical punishment for their testimony about Jesus. Synagogue as cultural center, more than a “Jewish church.” A synagogue could function as a legal court for the Jewish community. The “courts” in verse 17 does not necessarily refer to a Roman court (Paul in Acts 18, brought before Gallio’s court in Corinth).

The maximum punishment in the law was 40 lashes (Deut 25:3). Since the Law says more than 40 lashes is degrading to the one giving the punishment, the tradition developed by the first century to stop short of forty. m.Makkot 3:10 recommends a number near forty but less than forty; 3:11 gives some instruction for beating people who are physically unable to take a full flogging.

Paul’s practice of starting in the synagogue until he is forced to leave, usually by a riot. In 2 Corinthians 11:24 Paul says he was given “forty lashes less one” on five occasions. Matthew 10:17 and 23:34 uses the verb μαστιγόω, a word associated with Roman flogging (of Jesus, in Matt 20:19; Mark 10:34; Luke 18:33).

The disciples will eventually de dragged to governors and kings, to bear witness before the Gentiles (v. 18). The ESV’s “dragged” is perhaps overly dramatic, the verb (aorist passive of ἄγω) is often translated as “arrested.” To be arrested by the Gentile authorities (the Romans) is more dangerous than being brought before a Jewish council. The synagogue council might flog the disciples, but the Romans could torture and execute them!

This escalation of persecution tracks well with the book of Acts. Peter and John bear witness before the High Priest (Acts 4:1-22) and the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:17-42) and are flogged several times; Stephen bears witness in a synagogue and is lynched (7:54-8:1); James is beheaded by Herod (Acts 12:1) and Peter is arrested and held for execution (Acts 12:2-5). Paul is frequently abused both by the synagogues and Roman officials (2 Cor 11:16-29) and eventually bears witness to the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:1-11), Roman governors Felix (Acts 24) and Festus (Acts 25:1-12), King Agrippa II (Acts 25:13-32) and eventually before Caesar himself (23:11; 27:24).

Jesus therefore warns his disciples they will face persecution on account of their testimony about him. Two observations follow from this. First, following Jesus is dangerous. There is no promise of an easy life, nor can a follower of Jesus expect nothing but peace and prosperity in their lives. Much of what passes for “evangelical” Christianity in the west seems to have missed this point.

Second, the persecution described here is on account of the name of Jesus. It is not the general suffering which is the fate of all people. Again, popular preachers will sometimes associate personal suffering (illness, financial troubles, etc.) with satanic attacks. It is more likely people suffer because of their own bad choices or poor decisions of others.

Rely on God and Travel Light – Matthew 10:8-11

What did Jesus mean when he told his disciples to not take money or extra cloaks and sandals on their mission to the villages of Galilee? Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 6:25, to not be anxious about their life, food drink or clothing because God will see to their needs. Matthew 6:25-33 is important background for understanding these commands for the short-term mission to the villages of Galilee.

Take no Cloak or sandals

“You received without paying; give without pay” is only found in Matthew and may mean something like, “you are not in this for the money.” Jesus freely gave his authority to the disciples and they are to exercise that authority without expecting payment.

First, Jesus tells his disciples to not take money or extra clothing on their mission to Galilee. These are the things one normally takes on a journey, but they will not need them because God will take care of them. Nolland suggests the three types of coins are significant. They may not bring any gold (rich provision), nor silver (middling provision) nor even copper (modest provision) (Matthew, 418). Mark’s Gospel only mentions copper coins, Luke has silver. Where to you eat when you travel a long distance? A decent restaurant? McDonalds?  A gas station?

Second, carrying a second tunic allows for a change of clothing, but also for warmth if the disciples need to sleep outside. (Clothing not wearing out in the wilderness, so no need for a second cloak?)

Third, “No sandals” is unique to Matthew, Mark allows sandals rather than boots or footwear for long walks (“sensible shoes”). Does Matthew mean the disciples are to travel barefoot, or to not take a spare pair of sandals? If they were to go barefoot, then the journey would be slow, perhaps they rely on God to protect them physically as they travel. (Sandals not wearing out in the wilderness, so you do not need a second pair?)

Fourth, a walking staff is not a luxury since a sturdy walking stick can also be used as a weapon if the disciples are attacked by animals or bandits on the road. The noun ῥάβδος can refer to a stick used for punishment, a rod.

It may be the case that these commands simply mean the mission is short-term and there is no need to collect the supplies one might need for a long journey (Wilkins, Matthew, 390). On the other hand, since Jesus called the people of Israel “sheep without shepherds” and then appointed twelve shepherds to go and tend to their needs, he is likely evoking God’s protection of Israel in the Wilderness and/or God’s protection of Elijah in 1 Kings.

The disciples are to rely on God for their food: the laborer deserves his food.  The disciples are workers in a harvest field, so the principle seems to be based on feeding one’s workers.

Is this an allusion to Elijah and Elisha? God provided for both miraculously, but also through the hospitality of others. A better background is the twelve tribes of Israel in the wilderness, god provided their food, water and clothing during the forty years in the wilderness.

This passage has been interpreted in various ways in church history. But Did Jesus intend these instructions for his disciples to describe how ministry ought to be done in all circumstances? In other words, did Matthew include this teaching of Jesus to give a model for how the Christian Church should continue Jesus is mission for his original readers?

Although I am certain that Jesus did not call us to build huge cathedrals made of crystal, nor are pastors called to be to live in mansions and drive to church in one of their mini luxury vehicles, I’m not convinced that this is a model for ministry. I’m not aware of any modern mission organizations that sends missionaries out to the field with no spare clothing, extra sandals, and no money whatsoever.

What is the application of this passage? Like the prohibition on teaching and preaching in Galilean and Samaritan villages, these commands about traveling light and relying on God refer only to Galilean mission Jesus is about to send his disciples on.

Although there may be some principles to be drawn from these commands in Matthew 10:5-15, this is not a model for doing missions today.

Why did Jesus tell his Disciples to not go to the Gentiles? – Matthew 10:5

After selecting twelve disciples, Jesus instructs them for their mission to the villages of Galilee. The first of these commands may surprise some readers, since Jesus restricts their mission to the Jews. They are not to go to Gentiles or Samaritans at all!

Lost Sheep of the House of Israel

The first of these instructions is to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (10:5-8a). Does this command imply Jesus only came to the Jewish people? Jesus tells them to not even go to Gentile or Samaritan villages, although the Jewish disciples of Jesus would certainly not have considered entering either a Gentile or Samaritan town.

  • When asked by a Gentile woman to heal her daughter, Jesus states it is not right to give food for the children to dogs. In Matthew 15:24 Jesus repeats the words from 10:6, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (cf., Mark 7:24-30 which does not have the lost sheep line).
  • James and John want to call fire down from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village for refusing to receive Jesus (Luke 9:54). Even though Jesus speaks with a Samaritan woman, his disciples are surprised he is talking to the woman (4:27).
  • Even as late as Acts 10 Peter is reluctant to preach the Gospel of the God-fearer Cornelius and he is criticized when he returns to Jerusalem (11:1-3). James is still suspicious of Paul’s gentile mission in Acts 21:17-26.

It is therefore not surprising Jesus tells his disciples to only go to the Jews. The announcement that the Kingdom of God is near, and Jesus is the Messiah would have little meaning for a Samaritan and less for a Gentile. Mike Wilkins asks why Jesus would bother with the command if the disciples were not likely to go to the Gentiles anyway. For Wilkins, the prohibition dispels any doubts about whether Jesus was really the messiah. This is “Israel’s opportunity” and later they will be responsible for their rejection of the Messiah (Matthew, 390).

Is this restriction retracted in the Great Commission? Perhaps. But in the Book of Acts the initial mission was to still to the Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 2-7) first. There is suspicion of Philip’s mission in Samaria (Acts 8) and of Peter’s mission to Cornelius (Acts 10). Even in Acts 21 it does not seem like James is operating under the Great Commission; he is not reaching out to Samaritans or Gentiles (and probably not Hellenistic Jews). John Nolland argues Matthew did not consider the Great Commission as a “replacement of the mission to Israel with a mission to the Gentiles,” Jesus’s disciples are to continue their mission to Israel after the resurrection (Matthew, 429).

Who are the lost sheep of the house of Israel? The “lost sheep of the house of Israel” alludes to Jeremiah 50:6 and evokes the long exile of Israel.  Just prior to the final destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of God’s people among the nations, God describes the people as “lost sheep,” ignored by their shepherds and harassed by the nations. Remember Matthew has just described the Jewish crowds as “sheep without a shepherd” (9:36). As the messiah, Jesus is the good shepherd sending his working into the world to care for the lost sheep.

The twelve are to proclaim the same message as Jesus, “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Although repentance is not specifically mentioned in 10:6-7, Jesus condemns the villages of Galilee because they did not repent after seeing his miracles (11:20-24). The disciples are to do the same messianic signs as Jesus in Matthew 8-9 (heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons).

Who are the Workers Sent into the Harvest? – Matthew 9:37-38

After looking at the crowds and having compassion on them, Jesus tells his disciples “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.” He then encourages his disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the harvest. In what follows this saying Jesus prepares his own disciples to be the laborers in the harvest.

Wheat Feild

But Jesus describes the harvest as plentiful, not “ripe” or ready for harvest. There are so many people living in Galilee that Jesus cannot personally visit all of the villages to teach with authority and heal. This is the initial motivation for appointing twelve of his followers as disciples. They are going to go to the villages of Galilee and announce the coming of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 10).

A harvest as a metaphor in the Second Temple Period for eschatological judgment (threshing wheat and gathering grapes for the winepress). The “Lord of the Harvest” refers to God, but likely also Jesus as the Son of Man who will render justice at the final judgment. Even in the Parable of the Weeds (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43) the harvest refers to a future time when the wheat and the weeds will be separated, the wheat will be taken into the barn and the weeds burned on a fire (where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth). In the book of Revelation, the “harvest of the earth” refers to the devastation of God’s enemies at the final judgment at the end of the tribulation (Rev 14:14-20).

Does Jesus mean, the field is ready for harvest because the judgment is about to happen? Or does he mean there are many people in Galilee who are ready to hear the message of the messiah? The harvest is not yet ripe, as if the end of the age has already come and the wheat and weeds are about to be separated. But in some respects the harvest has begun when Jesus sends his workers out into the fields, his disciples to the villages of Galilee.

If the people are harassed and helpless, then they are exactly the people who would be looking for the Messiah to come and render judgment on their own leaders and any gentiles who are harassing them.

Who are these workers for the harvest? In the immediate context, the twelve disciples are sent out to the villages of Galilee in the very next paragraph.

There is nothing wrong with the application of this passage to evangelism or world missions. Christians ought to pray to God for him to send workers into the fields ripe for harvest. But in Matthew, that “mission field” is specifically the villages in the region of Galilee. This becomes more clear in Matthew 13, in the parable of the sower. The sower who sows his seed is Jesus announcing the nearness of the Kingdom of God; the various soils will represent reactions to Jesus’s preaching and healing in Galilee up to that point in Matthew.

Like Sheep without a Shepherd – Matthew 9:35-38

Jesus sees the crowds following him and describes as “sheep without a shepherd” (9:35-36). Matthew uses this saying to introduce the Discipleship Discourse (Matthew 10). The application of this passage is difficult since many churches have used “the harvest is plentiful” as a Missions conference theme but few take the instructions in 10:5-15 seriously as a model for doing Christian mission. In addition, Jesus is quite clear this is a limited mission to the Jewish towns and villages of Galilee. He specifically tells them to avoid Gentiles and go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Sheep without a shepherd

In Mark 6:34 has the “sheep without a shepherd” line to introduce the feeding of the 5000. The mission of the twelve is in Mark 6:6b-13, 30. Luke 10:1-2 uses the harvest to introduce the instructions for the mission of the seventy-two. Matthew has relocated this saying as an introduction to a section on preparing the disciples for their mission to Galilee (Matthew 10).

Jesus has compassion on the crowds. The verb (σπλαγχνίζομαι) refers to a strong feeling of pity or sympathy. The word is related to the noun for viscera, the innermost part of a person. One feels their emotions in their stomach, so the verb becomes a metaphor for deeply felt emotions. In the Gospels, the word is only used for Jesus’s compassion on suffering, with the exception of Matthew 18:23-25 (the master’s compassion on the unmerciful servant), Luke 10:33 (the good Samaritan has compassion in the injured men) and Luke 15:20 (the reaction of the father to the prodigal’s return). In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’s compassion is always directed towards physical need (14:14, a healing; 15:32, food for the 4000; 20:34, a blind man)

Since they are like sheep without a shepherd, the people are “harassed and helpless.” In the context, the phrase is an apt description of a lost sheep. Sheep are not well equipped to care for themselves and those who wander off from the flock becomes prey.

Harassed (σκύλλω) has the sense of troubling or annoying someone (in Luke 8:49, “do not trouble the teacher”). But there is violence implied by the word, it is sometimes used literally for “flay” or “skin” and in the passive voice it can refer to being torn or lacerated (BrillDAG).  “Helpless” (perf pass ptcp from ῥιπτέω), literally to be thrown down, the perfect passive participle is used for throwing oneself down on the ground, prostrating oneself.  The verb is used for exposing an unwanted infant (BDAG). The verb does not necessary imply violence, although “discarded” captures the thought, the people are tossed aside as if they have no value (Brown and Roberts, Matthew, 97).

Who is harassing the people? It is possible this harassment refers to general life under the Romans, the metaphor of a “sheep without a shepherd” makes this an allusion to the leadership of Israel. The harassed and helpless people are like “sheep without a shepherd,” a phrase which evokes the prophetic critique of the leaders of Israel and Judah.

The phrase may be drawn from Numbers 27:17. In that context, Moses realizes that when he dies there will be no one to lead Israel in the wilderness, they will be like sheep scattered in the wilderness without a shepherd. The Lord then appoints Joshua, a man with the spirit of leadership, to succeed Moses.

In Matthew, Jesus (the new Moses) appoints his twelve disciples to continue his mission throughout Galilee. As the chapter develops, this call to discipleship extends beyond the immediate context of Matthew 10 to disciples at the time the Gospel was written.

There are several passages in the Old Testament describing Israel’s leaders as “bad shepherds.” In Ezekiel 34 the shepherds do not take care of their flock and they are scattered as if they have no shepherd (34:5). The solution is to appoint a new, good shepherd who will rescue the sheep from the wild animals who harass them and care for them. Ezekiel is looking forward to an eschatological shepherd-king who will rule of Israel in peace and prosperity (34:25-31). In Micah 3 the leaders of Israel and Judah are like shepherds who butcher their flock and eat them (3:1-3), rather than care for them as they should (3:4-12). Perhaps most significant is Jeremiah 50:6, God’s people are lost sheep because their leaders have led them astray and their enemies have devoured them.

The crowds following Jesus are oppressed and downtrodden because they do not have good shepherds. In Matthew 10 Jesus will send out his chosen twelve disciples on a mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  There is nothing wrong with the application of this passage made in Missions conferences, we ought to pray to God for him to send workers into the fields ripe for harvest. But in Matthew, that “mission field” is specifically the villages in the region of Galilee.

Jesus Casts out a Mute Spirit – Matthew 9:32-34

Matthew 9:32-34 briefly narrates a second miracle, Jesus helps a demon oppressed man (9:32). Davies and Allison call this an “exceedingly concise and comparatively unremarkable pronouncement story” (Matthew, 2:138). The miracle is not point of this short paragraph, but the contrasting reaction to Jesus by the crowd and the Pharisees.

Jesus drives out demons

In fact, there is not much to the story and the substance of the story is repeated in 12:22-23. When Jesus heals a demon oppressed deaf-mute, the people are amazed and wonder if Jesus is the son of David. The importance is in the parallel with the two blind men in the previous story. The blind and the deaf will see and hear in the coming eschatological age. Deafness and the inability to speak is associated with demonic oppression. Jesus does not cure the deafness but casts out the demon which is preventing the man from hearing and speaking.

More important than the miracle itself is the reactions to Jesus set up the conflict stories in Matthew 11-12. The crowds marveled, nothing like this has ever happened in Israel.

Since this is a summary statement, the reaction of the people refers to all of the miracles collected in these two chapters, just as they were amazed at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Because Jesus taught with authority the people were amazed (7:28-29). Now Jesus has demonstrated his authority of creation, sickness, sin, demons and even death, so the people once again react with amazement.

Matthew’s point is  the miracles Jesus did go beyond the miracles of Elijah or Elisha because he is the expected, messianic Son of David. In fact, all of the stories collected in Matthew 8-9 support this claim.

The Pharisees disagree: Jesus is casting out demons by the power of the prince of demons. Just as the reaction of the crowd sums up chapters 8-9, the reaction of the Pharisees anticipates much of what will happen in chapters 10-12. In 10:25 Jesus says “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.”

In Second Temple Judaism, Beelzebul was the prince or ruler of demons, see Testament of Solomon 3:1-6.

T. Solomon 3:6 Then I interrogated him and said, “Tell me, who are you?” The demon said, “I am Beelzeboul, the ruler of the demons.” I demanded that without interruption he sit next to me and explain the manifestations of the demons. Then he promised to bring to me all the unclean spirits bound. Again, I glorified the God of heaven and earth, continually giving thanks to him.

In 2 Kings 1:2 Baal-zebub (Beelzebul in the LXX) is the god of Ekron. Baal means lord, zebub may mean “flies,” so the name may refer to the “Lord of the Flies.” It is possible the name means “lord of dung), zebel can mean dung, as in the re-spelling of the name Jezebel (Albright says this is rejected by any competent scholar). Others suggest zbl is a prince, so the name would mean “baal the prince” (Theodore J. Lewis, “Beelzebul,” ABD:1:639). In any case, the name refers to a powerful enemy of God and is more or less equivalent to Satan.

This line is a summary of the response to Jesus Matthew will develop over the next three chapters, leading to the decisive break between Jesus and the Pharisees and the beginning of the use of parables in Matthew 13.

The Son of David Heals the Blind – Matthew 9:27-31

In Matthew 8-9 Jesus demonstrated his authority over creation, demons, sin and sickness, and even over the power of death. As people see Jesus’s self-revelation, they have to make some kind of a decision: who is Jesus? Two blind men in Matthew 9:27-31 declare he is the Son of David and “spread his fame” and the crowd marvels. Yet the Pharisees are not yest convinced he is the Messiah and begin to accuse him of being in league with the devil himself (Matthew 9:34).

Christ heals two blind men

Two blind men call on Jesus as the Son of David.  Why do they call Jesus the “son of David”? Matthew told us Jesus was the son of David in the very first line of the book. Starting in 9:27, the reader learns this is not merely descent in the line of David, but the Son of David who will rule as king in the eschatological kingdom (2 Sam 7:11-16). From this point on in Matthew, Jesus is called the “Son of David” several more times (12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 22:42). The first century B.C. text Psalms of Solomon describes the messiah as the son of David:

Psalms of Solomon 17:21 See, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to rule over your servant Israel in the time known to you, O God.

According to Isaiah 35:5-6, the messiah would open the eyes of the blind and the ear of the deaf (cf., Isa 29:18; 42:7-16). The opening and closing of the eyes and ears is an important theme Isaiah 6, a text Jesus will pick up in Matthew 12 in response to the Pharisees who accuse him of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub.

Isaiah 35:5–6 (ESV) Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.

When Jesus answers the disciples of John the Baptist in Matthew 11:5: “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”

Rather than asking to be healed, the blind men ask Jesus to have mercy on them. Mercy (ἐλεέω) refers to having compassion for someone in need or to feel pity for them. This is usually expressed in a concrete action, such as almsgiving (the cognate noun ἐλεημοσύνη). In verse 27 the two blind men do not ask Jesus to heal them, but to have mercy. Since they are blind, they cannot take care of themselves and were likely reduced to begging. It is entirely possible these men call on Jesus for alms, some tangible gift of mercy rather than actual healing.

Blindness is associated with the judgment of God on sin in the Old Testament. For example, the men of Sodom are struck blind by the angels (Gen 19:11). In Exodus 4:11, in response to Moses complaint that he cannot speak, God himself says “Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?”

Leviticus 21:20 includes blindness in a list of illnesses that prevent a person from going up to the temple to worship.  David prohibits the blind from entering the sanctuary (2 Sam 5:8). In the first century B.C., the coming messianic age will prohibit the blind, deaf and lame from participation in the final battle (1QSa 2:3-11; 1QM 7:4-5).

Jesus asks the men if they believe he is able to do this, and they express faith. This is the only place in Matthew where Jesus asks a person if they believe before they are healed.

Jesus touches their eyes. For most healings, Jesus does not need to touch the person, but for restoring sight he often touches the eyes (the part of the body that needs to be healed). This section of began with Jesus touching a leper (8:3), he touched Peter’s mother-in-law’s hand (8:15) and the dead girl (9:25).

Jesus gives them a “stern warning”: see that knows one knows about it. Like the warning to the leper at the beginning of the section (8:4), Jesus warns the men not to talk about this miracle. Why does Jesus warn them in this way?

Is Jesus frustrated with the blind men? The verb ἐμβριμάομαι is sometimes an expression of anger or displeasure (BDAG), or even a sever scolding (BrillDAG). It has the connotation of indignation. The word is used for the attitude of the disciple objects to the woman using the expensive perfume to anoint Jesus’s feet (Mark 14:5). But this is also the word John used to describe Jesus’s emotions when he arrived at Lazarus’s tomb (John 11:38, but there is the possibility of anger or frustration).

As usual, the formerly blind men disregard Jesus’s command to be silent and “spread his fame throughout that district.” There is no way to contain the news that the son of David restored their sight!

That Jesus’s fame spreads throughout the region recalls Matthew’s summary statement in 4:24. The result is larger crowds seeking healing. It is not unlikely Jesus asks the healed men to stay silent so that the crowds do not get out of control. The large crowds draw the attention of Pharisees and other Jewish leaders who see Jesus as a messianic movement.

Jesus Raises the Dead – Matthew 9:18-26

In Matthew 9:18-26 Jesus raises a young girl from the dead and heals a woman with a flow of blood. These miracle stories immediately follow Jesus’s response to the Pharisees and Disciples of John who question his practice of eating with “sinners” like the tax collector Matthew. In fact, these two miracles illustrate Jesus’s teaching that it is not the time for mourning, but celebrating.

Raising Jairus's Daughter (Ilya Repin; 1871)

As expected, Matthew greatly reduces Mark 5:21-43. Luke 8:40-56 is also shorter than Mark, but many of the details dropped in Matthew remain. The child is dying in Mark 5:23, but in Matthew 9:18 she has just died. Matthew drops the name of the man and simplifies his title. With respect to the woman, Matthew reduces the description by omitting what she had spent on doctors. She does not touch Jesus, he speaks to her when he sees her. This allows Matthew to omit the troubling line about Jesus feeling his power go out if him and the question “who touched me?” Since the daughter is already dead, no one tells the man his daughter just died, and mourners are reduced. He does not take Peter, James and John into the room with him, nor does he speak to the girl (the Aramaic words are dropped) and he does not give strict orders not to talk about the miracle or tell her parents to give her something to eat. Mark reports the girl is twelve years old; Luke includes this detail but moves it to the request for healing.

John Nolland thinks this is the first of three miracles illustrating the three metaphors in the previous section (Matthew, 394). Jesus does not mourn at funerals; he raises the dead (taking the two women in 9:18-26 as both dead women). The next two (healing the blind and casting out a demon) are less clearly connected to the patch and new wine metaphors.

Going back to 9:6, Jesus healed the paralyzed man so that the teachers of the Law would know he has authority to forgive sin. This is followed by calling Matthew as a disciple and sharing a meal in Matthew’s home. That meal generates two more reactions, first from the Pharisees and then from the disciples of John. To the Pharisees Jesus says, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” and to the disciples of John he response with three metaphors (a bridegroom, patched clothing, and new wine in old wineskins).

In Matthew 9:18-19, A man asks Jesus to raise his daughter. The man is identified as a ruler (ἄρχων), in Mark 5:23 he is a synagogue ruler (ἀρχισυνάγωγος in Mark, ἄρχων τῆς συναγωγῆς in Luke). In Mark and Luke his name is given as Jarius.

A synagogue ruler is the person in charge of the daily operation of a synagogue. He is not a priest or a rabbi. In Matthew, Jesus has not left Capernaum (8:5 he enters Capernaum and in 8:14 he went to Peter’s house and he is in “the house” in 9:1 where he forgives the paralytic’s sin), so the man is in charge of the synagogue in Capernaum. Undoubtedly this leader knew Jesus and perhaps witnessed his healing of the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:1-6). He would certainly have known Jesus’s reputation as a healer and exercised.

In this case it is remarkable because the man is the leader of the synagogue, usually the religious establishment is somehow against Jesus. It is possible however the ruler of the synagogue in Capernaum was not part of the religious aristocracy or a Pharisee. Think of him as a custodian of a small country church. It is unlikely denominational leaders will know hm at all. This may explain Matthew’s reduction of his title from synagogue leader to just a leader, with no reference to the synagogue. Although an archon could be a lord or prince, it can refer to anyone who has some administrative authority.

The man knelt before Jesus and says his daughter has just died. He expresses faith that if Jesus is able to lay his hand upon her, she will live. Kneeling (προσκυνέω) is often associated with worship. In Matthew the verb appears 13 times, three times in the story of the wise men, who worship Jesus as a child; twice in the temptation story. In 14:33 the disciples worship Jesus after he walks on water and calms the sea. The word appears twice in Matthew 28:9, 17 for people who realize Jesus has been raised from the dead and they worship him.  In every other case Matthew uses the word to describe someone who coming to Jesus with a special request (healing, in 9:2, 9:18; a servant in a parable, 18:26; James and John’s mother, 20:20).

The man expresses remarkable faith. In Matthew, the people who express faith in Jesus are usually outsiders (lepers, centurions, unclean women). This is another hint the man is not from a high social status.

By the time Jesus arrives at the ruler’s home, the professional mourners have already arrived: flute players and the crowd making a commotion (Matthew 9:23-26). The verb θορυβέω refers to making a fuss, shouting or other chaotic activity. The place is in an uproar!

As the leader of the synagogue, he would have been expected to hire several professional mourners to wail and sing appropriate laments. Matthew mentions flute players (αὐλητής), this refers to reed-flutes typically used for mourning the dead.

Jeremiah 48:36 describes the mournful sound of flutes played for the dead. Josephus mentions professional mourners with flutes or pipes: “a great many hired mourners, with their pipes, who should begin the melancholy ditties for them” (JW 3.437). Rabbi Judah said, “Even the poorest man in Israel should not hire fewer than two flutes and one professional wailing woman” (m.Ketuboth 4:4).

The mourners mock Jesus when he tells them she is not dead, but only sleeping (v. 24). These mourners know their business, and the girl is clearly dead. When Jesus declares that she is not dead but rather only sleeping these mourners laugh at Jesus!  Jesus is telling them their behavior is not appropriate because she is not dead (like a mourner at a wedding in 9:15).

The resurrection is simple: Jesus takes the girl’s hand and she got up (v. 25). Mark includes the Aramaic phrase Talitha cumi, meaning “little girl, rise up.” Since the Pharisees suspect Jesus is casting out demons by the power of the Devil (Matt 9:34), the Aramaic could have been dropped so that Jesus does not appear to be using a “magic word.”

As with other miracles in Matthew 8-9, it is impossible to keep this quiet. News spread throughout the region that Jesus had raised a girl form the dead.