A disciple is not above his teacher
I originally intended commenting on these two verses as part of the previous passage which ran 10:16-23 but 10:23 serves as a good conclusion on those verses and, though the theme of persecution continues here, there is a change of thought to explain the reason why it should befall those sent out into the land of Israel.
Neither does 10:26 naturally follow on from these two verses and its opening
‘So have no fear of them...’
more rightly explains the preceding passage from 10:14 and encourages the disciples to persevere in their mission. Therefore, although only a short web page, these two verses seem to deserve a separate position of their own in the commentary.
A disciple is not above his teacher
This short two verse passage has no direct parallels in the NT and remains unique to Matthew. If the author had been drawing upon other sources that were spoken at different times in Jesus’ earthly ministry and included them here under one common theme (as many commentators believe), both Mark and Luke are definitely not the sources for his quote of this utterance which, like the verses which have preceded it, are a warning to the disciples that they will face persecution.
Here, though, the idea is not that the disciple will suffer because of the message of the Gospel and of the signs performed in their midst, but because of the disciples’ close association with Jesus. Persecution is thus seen to be a reaction to the leader rather than to His followers.
But, although there are no direct parallel passages, there are a few places in the NT where the opening phrase of Mtw 10:24-25 which runs
‘A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master...’
is paralleled but in a different context or spoken at a different time and place. It may be, therefore, that the phrase was a common one amongst the Jews at the time and used to emphasise the importance of the Master from whom the disciple learnt and received. Jesus doesn’t use the phrase to put the disciples down, however, but to encourage them and, in Luke 6:40, to have a full experience and to learn completely from Him that they will be like Him. Jesus is quoted as saying there that
‘A disciple is not above his teacher, but every one when he is fully taught will be like his teacher’
There’s no thought of persecution here - even in the surrounding passage - but it’s delivered to the disciples to make them realise their dependence upon Him. However, the logical inference from the verse is that, if the disciple is like the master, then the same fate awaits both, and the reaction of society to the latter should dictate the response to the former.
John 13:16 is another passage where the words meet with a parallel, John recording Jesus as saying at the Passover meal directly before the crucifixion that
‘...a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him’
words which are particularly relevant in the context of the sending out of the twelve here in Matthew. If ever the work of God amongst the people should grow to such an extent that the popularity of the leader becomes almost one of pre-eminence in everything, the disciple should soberly remind himself that it’s God who retains such a characteristic, not the servant who must always point to the Father and allow himself - or, better, make himself - a fellow-servant with others rather than the head above all - a clear teaching of the action of Jesus in washing the disciples’ feet which has preceded this speech (John 13:3-15).
John’s passage also points towards the relationship between the Father and Son here, for Jesus, being sent into the world for the purpose of performing a work on the behalf of mankind, naturally continued to point towards the Father as being the One who was to be worshipped and obeyed, the Son taking the obedient role of serving God rather than of assuming His unique position.
Jesus goes on from this utterance two chapters later, however, and quotes His own saying to bring out more truth. In John 15:20, Jesus instructs the disciples to
‘Remember the word that I said to you - “A servant is not greater than his master” - If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also’
which parallels Mtw 10:24-25 better than the other passages quoted above. However, this took place shortly before the crucifixion and can’t be regarded as a parallel as such. But the implications are almost identical and persecution directed towards the disciples is assured them because of their commitment to be truthful representatives of everything that Jesus has spoken and done.
As reflections of Jesus in the earth, therefore, the follower of Christ must expect to receive the same as the Master has and, to know that someone has set themselves against Jesus is to know also that the same person is opposed to themselves - an observation which adequately explains the call for believers not to be unequally joined together with unbelievers (II Cor 6:14) or to enter into a partnership in business in the same manner (II Cor 6:15).
If a person had some little mark of respect for the one as a head over their followers even though they were set in opposition to them, that respect is quickly dissipated when the followers are encountered.
Here, the idea is the direct association with the work of God as being a characteristic of ‘Beelzebul’ (see below for an explanation of this title), a demarcation of some satanic power or of satan himself and a strong way to oppose the work of God. Certainly, although the power of God is not believed in society, people seem to have no problem with faith in the outworkings of satanic forces in and through people’s lives - perhaps in-keeping with the general trait in men and women that they’d rather believe something bad about someone than something good and uplifting (notice the popularity of the gossip columns and the articles written about crimes and misdemeanours in the nation’s papers!).
To label anything as being ‘of satan’ naturally causes the unknowing to shy away from any clear association with the work (unless you’re a Hell’s Angel or other satanically inspired individual) and causes fierce opposition, even to the extent of it being demonstrated in persecution which, by its very nature, could be seen to be a work of satan himself! Therefore, by inspiring people to oppose what’s good in society, man naturally allies himself with the forces of darkness and so becomes open to the work of satan in his own life! A clear indication that satan doesn’t mind moving against what he himself has labelled as being his own when his sole purpose is to remove any opposition to his own work.
So, although men and women like to think themselves of honest and moral people who choose what is good and right in society, it’s plain to be seen that, by their tastes and choices, they actually would naturally oppose what calls them to account for the way they’re living and urges upon them to put themselves right with God.
This label ‘Beelzebul’ employed here is used by a few groups of people in the NT and no people seem to be immune from thinking evil of something which is good.
Fundamentally, it’s the Pharisees and scribes who label the work of Christ as being evil (Mtw 12:24, Mark 3:22) but, just in case we should think that it’s only the religious leaders who oppose this new move of God in society, we should carefully consider Luke 11:15 where the context of the utterance causes us to read the Scripture as meaning that
‘...some of [the people] said “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons”’
Maybe we should think of this statement as being something ‘caught’ from the previous assertions and proclamations of the scribes and Pharisees (in the present day, if the established Church condemns a move of God, the man in the street is more likely to turn against it, finding justification and guidance from those who he regards to have wisdom in the matters about which he himself is ignorant) but it would appear that Jesus even had His critics amongst the ordinary men and women who gathered together to witness the things He was doing and to hear the message He brought.
I will deal with the word as it occurs in future passages as and when we reach them but, here, we need to try and come to an understanding of both the origins of the title and of what it meant and implied to the first century Jew.
The word ‘Beelzebul’ is simply a transliteration of the Greek word employed here (Strongs Greek number 954) and is variously rendered in the Bible versions, the AV opting for ‘Beelzebub’ probably to bring it more in line with the ending of the title as it appears in the OT in II Kings 1:2-3,6,16 where it’s rendered ‘Baalzebub’ - the Latin (Vulgate) manuscript also renders the word this way and it’s thought to do so because it renders the word from the Hebrew text rather than the Greek.
There are problems with trying to understand the direct meaning and implication of this title and there are a number of alternatives. It first appears back in II Kings chapter 1 (previously cited above) and refers to the god of Ekron to whom king Ahaziah of Israel sent to inquire whether he would recover from his incapacity.
The passage gives us scant information regarding the intended meaning here and most commentators take it as being a title which had been slightly emended by the Jews to give the meaning ‘Lord of the flies’ (explained by Josephus in Antiquities 9:19, it appears, but unable to be found by me in the text!), a derogatory term denoting the carrion-fly which flew about all manner of unclean food and objects in search of a meal and in which to lay its eggs - naturally it would have been seen to be a symbol of corruption and death.
Matmor comments that the title ‘Baalzebul’ (as opposed to ‘Baalzebub’ of I Kings chapter 1) is known in a document from Ras-Shamra
‘...as the name of a Canaanite deity and it appears to mean “Lord of the dwelling” or “Lord of the high place” in Canaanite’
The name seems to have reverted to its original form, however, by the time of the NT even though it’s possible that there had been a further change of the word to resemble the Jewish meaning ‘Lord of the dung’. This seems to be etymologically difficult, however, and would rely more upon the way the word was pronounced than upon its literal spelling.
To be preferred, then, is ‘Beelzebul’ as an accurate representation of a pagan god which had come to be used as a title for a demonic principality that the Jews had recognised and named. They seem to have taken the title of a Canaanite deity and applied it with possibly a little re-interpretation into a label which they could apply to anything evil that they so wished.
Matmor comments that
‘In time it came to signify a very important demon, probably the being we call satan’
though Zondervans asserts that such an equation cannot be definitely established. However, Mtw 12:26-27 seems to make just such an association and reads (my italics)
‘...if satan casts out satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul...’
If Jesus is being condemned for using the power of Beelzebul for casting out the demonic and it’s an indication that satan is casting himself out, it would appear as if the two titles have become synonymous - at least in the mind of Jesus.
Moreover, if we compare Mtw 12:24 which equates Beelzebul with the ‘prince of demons’ and Mtw 9:34 where this phrase also occurs, we can see that Beelzebul must have been regarded as the title of the one who had ultimate sovereign control over the forces of evil. It, therefore, seems most likely that the title was one employed to refer to satan himself and shows us that it had already been applied to Jesus by the time this instruction was being uttered.
If ‘Lord of the dwelling’ and, therefore, ‘Lord of the household’ is the correct interpretation of the word, there’s a natural play upon the meaning of the title in Jesus’ instructions which speak of Himself as being the Lord of the household in which His followers serve. They would be literally saying that ‘the lord of the household’ was none other than ‘the Lord of the household of demonic powers’ and would equate everything which was done in that household as being inspired by and empowered by the head.
With such an established interpretation of the work of Jesus, it’s quite impossible that anything which Jesus did from that time onwards could ever have been interpreted in a good and favourable light - and, even less, the actions which the disciples of Christ were to do.
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