THE sending forth of the disciples upon their first preaching tour (Matt. 10; Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6) has been the favorite pretext of misguided fanatics through the centuries. Time and again, some erratic soul has taken these commands literally and endeavored to practice them even to the point of the sandals and staff. They overlook the very first statement of our Lord in Matthew’s account—that this mission was purely local and temporary, to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Later on (Luke 22:35-36) when they must face a hostile Gentile world, they are given entirely different instructions and bidden to provide themselves with swords.
But it is also true that in Matthews account, further on in our Lord’s discourse (vv. 16-23), He seems to go beyond the immediate application, giving a prophecy about the trials and persecutions which they would undergo following His ascension. There we have an application that stretches through all the Gospel age.
Next He says: “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.” While there is a sense in which Christ “came” in the destruction of Jerusalem, or even earlier in the empowering of the Spirit of Pentecost, we are looking here at the ministry of the faithful remnant of Israel in the last days before our Lord’s second advent. The disciples prefigured the faithful witnesses in the time of Israel’s great trouble before our Lord comes in judgment.
The rest of Jesus’ message to the twelve contains general principles applicable to any age. What He had declared to them privately must be proclaimed aloud, without fear of men who could destroy only the body. Note that our Lord declares that He came not to bring peace but a sword and that He is the great divider, separating even families in their allegiance to or rejection of Him. In these days when light and easy things are being said of our Lord and He is pictured as the Great Pacifist with a gospel of brotherhood, sweetness and light, we need to remember that really Jesus Christ has been and is the most dividing force in all history! He who is not with Him is against Him, and he who gathers not with Him scatters abroad—so with the sharp, two-edged sword of the Word, Jesus Christ splits the whole human race asunder to the right and to the left. He unifies those who are in Him, but He is the great Divider of humanity—and this age will see division to the end over the supreme issue. Where do we stand with regard to Christ? His gospel is the savor of life unto life or of death unto death, and by Him the thoughts of all men are revealed.
Although many of the literal commands of this commission of the twelve are not for us, it would be a great day if His witnesses now so comfortably settled in established positions could go forth with the abandon of these early missionaries. Alas, with too many of us, the adventure of the Cross has become a fixed professionalism. We need the old abandon of those who, having freely received, freely gave.