Jesus Commissions the Twelve
“These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, ‘Go…to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (vv. 5–7).- Matthew 10:1–15
Before Matthew gives us the bulk of Christ’s missionary discourse (10:5–42), he lists the twelve disciples who follow Jesus during His ministry in Israel. Scripture says little about most of these men, but what we do know explains Matthew’s ordering of their names (vv. 1–4). Peter is listed first because he is the most prominent of the twelve, the first to preach the Gospel after Pentecost (Acts 2:1–41) and the first apostle to see Gentiles converted (chap. 10). Judas’ later betrayal of the Lord earns him the last place in the group (Matt. 26:14–16).
These twelve are those to whom Jesus first directs His call to ministry in today’s passage (10:5–15). This is important because the fact that the disciples are the ones specifically commissioned in these verses probably means that not everything in this passage is directly applicable to the post-apostolic era. For instance, we know that the command of Christ not to go the Gentiles (vv. 5–6) cannot still be in force, because after His resurrection our Savior tells His people to preach the Gospel to all nations (28:18–20). Similarly, Matthew 10:8a tells the disciples to perform various miracles, but most Reformed scholars understand that the gift of miracles ceased with the death of the last apostle, though God Himself does still heal people at times in answer to prayer.
However, Jesus teaches several principles in this text that are also reflected in passages dealing specifically with the church’s ongoing work in the post-apostolic age. Matthew 10:9–10, for instance, tells the disciples to acquire no money and take with them only what is necessary for their task (verse 10 probably only forbids an extra pair of sandals and staff). Clearly, Jesus is commanding His ministers to live simply, a requirement found also in 1 Timothy 3:1–3, which limits the office of elder to those who do not love money. Of course, these passages do not tell us the church should not take good care of her pastors. It just says that ministers are not to be greedy or in it for the money. John Chrysostom comments that they are not to look “constantly for better fare, which would vex those who would be receiving [them] and give [them] the reputation of self-indulgence” (Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, 32.5).
Jesus’ selection of twelve disciples is intentional and patterned on the twelve tribes of Israel. Just as God once formed His people from the twelve sons of Jacob, so too does Christ form a new people starting with the twelve apostles. These disciples, indeed, all Christians, are to be content with what is necessary to fulfill their vocations and are not to be greedy. Does your life reflect such simplicity, or are you consumed with the things of this world?
Passages for Further Study