Prophet-Righteous Man-Little One
Jesus went out
Summary of Matthew Chapter 10
While Mtw 10:41 is unique to Matthew’s Gospel, 10:40 bears similarities to Luke 9:48, 10:16 and John 13:20 while 10:42 corresponds to Mark 9:41. However, as noted on previous web pages in the Matthew chapter 10 series (and of which the reader has probably got fed up with reading time after time!), they don’t bear the same context and we would be best advised to firstly interpret their occurrence here in the context in which they sit rather than to import an interpretation from elsewhere which may or may not be correct and applicable.
Although these words were primarily spoken to the disciples shortly before they were sent out on their Mission to Israel, the verses nevertheless represent a word of encouragement also directed towards those who will accept Jesus’ messengers as they enter the towns and villages of Galilee and the surrounding area.
In this passage, what Jesus has already said in Mtw 10:11 is repeated of sorts but here the implications of such actions are spelt out plainly, being a fitting conclusion and a word of comfort that ends Mtw 10:34-39 - the passage which deals with the alienation from members of the believer’s immediate family with regard to the Gospel.
Those who have forsaken family to follow Christ will receive a hundredfold in this life from those who receive them into their houses in the areas to which they travel for Christ’s sake (Mark 10:28-30). Therefore, those who receive Jesus’ disciples become the new ‘family’ that Jesus promised the disciples for forsaking their own, natural, ones.
We need to clarify what’s meant by ‘receive’ in this context seeing as we’ve taken this word in the present day Church and used it to speak of the need for men and women to
‘receive Christ into their lives’
when we’re talking about them turning to Jesus for forgiveness and healing through His work on the cross. The NT doesn’t use this meaning but it’s all too easy for us to impose our current colouring of the word and see in this verse the teaching something along the lines of a salvation discourse which isn’t warranted. Specifically culpable for this interpretation is John 1:11-12 (though it’s the interpreter who’s responsible not the Scripture!) when we read only the second of the verses as
‘But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God’
rather than allow our interpretation to be coloured by the preceding one which states that
‘He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not’
something which could only naturally mean hospitality and acceptance of the Mission given Him by God. It should be noted, however, that the two Greek words employed here are different to that which is used in Mtw 10:40 (and different to each other, too!). Even in the passage Mtw 10:40-42, the Greek word for ‘receive’ changes but it’s difficult to see what difference in meaning is being implied - if any - by the substitution.
To be received by individuals has already been covered by Jesus in Mtw 10:11-14 and the thought must primarily be that of accommodation being provided where the disciple is to search out with all diligence the ‘worthy’ in the town and reside with them until their work is done (see my notes here). Matmor notes that the verb used means
‘receive as a guest, welcome’
and this is the easiest and most straightforward interpretation which is founded upon a previous statement. The Greek word (Strongs Greek number 1209) is used with this meaning in Luke 9:53 and II Cor 7:15 where the people would naturally be thought of as extending hospitality (or, as in the case of the first Scripture, refusing it).
But this ‘reception’ must also imply the acceptance of the teaching which is being brought by the disciple and we should similarly think of this implication as colouring the intention of the words as spoken by Jesus in our present verse. As Mathag comments, the receiving of the disciples positively means that the person
‘...is to accept the message of the disciples and thus the message of Jesus and His person...[which] is in turn the Gospel of God...so that to receive it is to receive the message of God and thus to accept the grace of God’
Receiving a believer means more than the local inn-keeper has provided a bed for the night but that the head of that household has accepted the disciple into their household because they’ve found acceptance through the things which they’ve been teaching and demonstrating in the midst of the villages to which they’ve come.
Therefore, by the context of the person receiving the disciple, we can say that acceptance of the message is implied by their allowing the traveller to lodge with them but that the word ‘receive’ should mean ‘allow Jesus into one’s heart’ is incorrect and should be rejected as an interpretation not only here but elsewhere in the NT.
The Mishnah also makes this association with the teaching of the one who’s been sent and those who’ve sent him to fulfil a religious duty when it comments (Berakoth 5:5 - my italics) that
‘If he that says the Tefillah [one of the essential elements of prayer in the daily service of the synagogue] falls into error it is a bad omen for him; and if he was the agent of the congregation, it is a bad omen for them that appointed him because a man’s agent is like to himself’
It can be shown here, therefore, that the thought of Jesus’ teaching is quite in-keeping with first century Jewish thought and is drawing upon that principal, even though the Mishnah relates it only to human relationships where Jesus goes on to relate it to God Himself.
Matfran quotes Jeremias as writing that
‘God Himself enters the house with Jesus’ messengers...’
but the statement is one step on from what the text actually says. If we talk about God coming to dwell within the household which receives the disciple (where Jesus is the common link between the two), we would need also to believe that Jesus has taken up residence by His presence, a theology which is difficult to justify until the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was to come to abide within the believer (or, at least until after the resurrection).
Rather, we should understand the words to mean that the reception of the disciple implies a reception of the will and purpose of God, made known to Jesus and now passed on in and through the disciple. As noted above, ‘to receive’ implies an acceptance of the teaching which is being brought and, therefore, of the One who originated it, but it doesn’t mean that the presence of the Originator comes to dwell in the household anymore than the presence of the Prime Minister of England comes to take up residence in the buildings where the Government’s will is being outworked throughout the land - rather, by obedience to the legislation handed down it can be shown what type of relationship the observer has to the one who sits above them in authority.
In much the same way, acceptance (implying obedience) of the words of the disciple means acceptance of the words of Jesus and, because the message of Christ comes from God the Father, it also proves acceptance of the Originator. As Matfran comments
‘...the reception afforded to Jesus’ disciples becomes the test of a man’s relationship to God...’
and Mathag observes that, because Jesus is the uniting link between the Father and the disciples in this verse, the mediator who stands between God and mankind, it shows why
‘...Jesus and the Good News are practically identical’
for to accept One should imply the other even though, in our present age, the teachings of Christ can be stripped away from the Person and made to stand alone as maxims and proverbs. However, by doing such a thing, the position and authority of the statements of the words of Christ are removed and they become little more than truisms with no context.
Therefore, we shouldn’t think of this ‘reception’ as being simply a matter of giving a disciple a bed for the night but that it’s a demonstration of what happens when men and women both see the miracles which take place in their midst and hear the word which is proclaimed to them and decide to accept or reject them, therefore also turning to accept or reject the messenger who’s been sent as a representative of Christ.
Jesus again speaks almost identical words to the disciples at the last Passover meal before the crucifixion in John 13:20 when He says
‘...he who receives any one whom I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me’
But there’s an added clause here which we need to note.
The three words ‘whom I send’ immediately implies the commission of the disciple in going out by a direct command of Jesus and which we’ve already come across in Mtw 10:5ff. It’s important for us to note the similarity of both passages here and how they apply not to people who decide they want to go but to those who are specifically called, commissioned and sent out by Jesus Himself.
Prophet-Righteous Man-Little One
From the relationship
of the previous verse, Jesus now moves on to outline three specific types of believer represented by the labels
Prophet-Righteous Man-Little One
though the interrelation between the three is lacking from these two verses and we should think of each sentence as standing alone. There is a logical development of thought, though, which Matfran summarises as being a reward which is received by ‘passing the test’ of Mtw 10:40. Receiving those who’ve been sent is rewarded depending on the type of person who’s being received and this is what is being expanded upon in these two verses.
Although the interrelationship between these three types of believers is lacking, there does appear to be an attempt by Jesus to speak of all types of believers in the three titles that are being employed, even though it isn’t altogether that easy to be certain just where the boundaries are intended to be drawn.
It would be easy to think of the ‘little one’ of 10:42 as referring to natural children (as it does in Mtw 18:6, for instance), but Mark 9:41 which uses most of the words of this verse, reads
‘...whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward’
thus equating the believer with being a ‘little one’ and which points us towards a more ‘adult’ reference. However, referring to children, Jesus speaks in Mtw 18:6 of
‘...one of these little ones who believe in Me...’
thus showing that ‘little ones’ can and will have faith in Christ (see Mtw 21:15) and may be a demarcation here used by Jesus to refer to children with faith in Him rather than, as most commentators, to believers who are young or immature in their understanding of the things of the Kingdom. We’ll see below that the phrase perhaps more rightly means an ‘insignificant believer’ but, certainly, ‘child’ would be a better interpretation for us to be able to understand the three types of believers that Jesus is speaking of where ‘prophet’ would group together all those who have begun to speak with God’s Word into situations, ‘Righteous Man’ which would speak of those who are growing in stature in Christ but who have not yet been specifically commissioned by Jesus to Mission work and ‘Little Ones’ who would represent the young believing element of the disciples, children with faith in Christ, who were too often considered to be second class citizens until they came of age.
Indeed, the two titles of ‘prophet’ and ‘righteous (man)’ are used again in Mtw 13:17 and 23:29 where they appear to be a phrase employed to summarise the entire believing element of the OT where ‘those who speak from God’ and ‘those who are righteous’ would be good definitions of what was being meant. These two phrases may be meant to stand on their own, therefore, as a summary of all believers but, with the mention of the little ones, seems to have been expanded to the very youngest and those regarded as insignificant in the things of God.
I have taken the three phrases, therefore, to be a summary of all the array of believers who would find themselves believing in Christ and of adhering to His teaching. But it may also be that Jesus just used three phrases which were designed to show the breadth of the application rather than to have any specific boundaries in mind when it came to the type of believer thus represented.
Again, the thought of reception shouldn’t be interpreted primarily in the sense of salvation and the context should be thought of in terms of being received into the house as the disciples journeyed through Israel with the message of the Kingdom of Heaven.
However, as noted in the previous section, reception of the messenger implied reception of the teaching which they brought and this will be the sense here also. Matmor correctly notes that
‘To welcome such a man is to agree with his basic position’
and this is the intention behind the phrase ‘because he is a...’ more literally rendered ‘in the name of...’.
Whoever is received as being a servant of God will cause the receiver to be given the reward which the other person would naturally receive. Therefore, what we’re looking at here is the contribution that those who receive the disciples give to the work which is being performed by the disciple himself - whether large or small - the principle being that the supporter becomes a part of the work which is being done.
Matfran sees ambiguity in the phrase and comments that 10:41
‘...could mean a reward given by the prophet, or one equal to that which a prophet receives or more probably a reward proportionate to the importance of a prophet’
I have obviously opted for the middle of these three interpretations because the first seems to be unsubstantiated by future Scriptures which speak of the apostle being received by those to whom he was sent (after all, what type of ‘reward’ could an apostle actually give apart from a personal ministry of the power of God? But, then, how could this be construed as a ‘reward’ when everyone is entitled to receive God’s grace freely - Mtw 10:8?) and the third would cause us to the interpretation that a Church hierarchy existed in Jesus’ mind when the NT seems to pull away from this (I Cor 12:22-25, Mark 9:35).
Therefore it seems best to interpret Jesus’ words as teaching that contribution to the care of the disciple is received back as the reward that the disciple will ultimately receive from the hand of God Himself.
The giving of the ‘cup of cold water’ is, as Matfran notes
‘...an essential act of courtesy and hospitality in the East’
and is probably mentioned by Jesus because it’s an act of care which is taken for granted rather than something which would have been viewed as extraordinary and unusual. Therefore, even in the common, everyday care for people which would be directed towards believers as being just ‘one of the crowd’, the believing giver finds that they receive back from God as a result of what they thought was an obligation towards all men. But the necessary defining words of Jesus here are
‘...because he is a disciple’
rather than interpret any giving of water to a disciple as deserving reward. The point being made here is, as Matmor points out, that
‘...the smallest conceivable gift [is being imparted] to the most insignificant of people...Jesus is not speaking of a small
service rendered to a great person but of a small service rendered to a small person’
That is to say that we aren’t looking at the smallest of contributions being made by individuals to the great evangelistic campaigns under men like Billy Graham and Luis Palau but of the support given to those who have little or no backing, who are not held in high esteem by the Church in general and who have ‘gone into all the world’ at the command of Christ with little mass media coverage and virtually no campaign funds!
But, again, the thought is of acceptance of who that person is and of who and what that person represents just as in the previous verse where we aren’t thinking of someone ‘tolerating’ both the prophet and the righteous man but of receiving them because they are the prophets and righteous men associated with Christ.
Thus, acceptance of the message and of the One who sends the messenger is equally important and, as Mathag comments
‘...no further reason is necessary for the offering of hospitality than the identity of the person as a messenger and a Christian [sic]’
The principle is quite straight-forward and is represented in both positive and negative aspects later in the NT. Positively, in III John 5,7-8, the apostle writes that
‘...it is a loyal thing you do when you render any service to the brethren...For they have set out for His sake and have
accepted nothing from the heathen. So we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers in the truth’
where the investment which fellow believers make in other disciples’ lives becomes the reason for why the receiver is credited with the work of the travelling missionary.
II John 10-11, however, gives us the negative aspect and a good reason for being wise with the distribution of our resources. John there writes that
‘If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting; for he who greets him shares his wicked work’
The believer should always be careful where their resources are placed and a responsibility is laid upon them to deal wisely and carefully as they seek to make the most of their money for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
We have often thought of the believer being obligated to give ten percent (the ‘tithe’ - for more information see my notes on ‘Giving’) into the local church funds and to do very little more. But if that money is being unwisely used, we become associated with that work to our own detriment. Better that individual men and women investigate the accounts of the local fellowship before they commit to putting their money into that bank account for, once invested, the return we get is the response of Jesus towards that church.
Similarly, to invest one’s resources into a ministry gift within the Church (where the tithe is rightly given to God’s ministers not a church denomination) reaps the same reward as that ministry will receive directly from God. Even looking at this logically, the truth of the matter can be perceived for, money which supports someone who is used in reaping a harvest for God is naturally the resource which has made it possible.
Therefore, all the more, believers should pull away from blindly putting their money into organisations of which they know little or nothing about. Rather, having investigated both the message and ministry of the individual, they should give to those people who are doing a work for God which they consider to be of God and who need funding.
Jesus went out
The parallel passage which deals with the commissioning of the twelve and their sending out in Mark’s Gospel, concludes with the words that the disciples (Mark 6:12-13)
‘...went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them’
and, in Luke 9:6, that
‘...they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere’
Strangest of all amongst these observations is, perhaps, Mark’s note that they anointed with oil many who were sick, something that they weren’t specifically commanded to do by Jesus. While it’s true that methodology is unimportant in the Church so long as it isn’t inherently sinful, we should be surprised at the information passed on to us here.
Marklane seems to see the oil spoken of more in the sense of a medicinal treatment (see his footnote) and, while there is justification for such a view from the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:34), Markcole is to be preferred who sees the oil as being indicative of the anointing of the Holy Spirit who was bringing the healing through their ministry, as appears to be the inference in James 5:14 where a similar practice in the early Church is being outlined.
It may be, therefore, that the disciples needed some form of ‘crutch’ upon which to rest as they journeyed about throughout the towns and villages of Israel but we are, perhaps, being a little too uncomplimentary in our interpretation of the passage. Rather, we should just note that certain methodology appears to have been present on occasions even when Jesus appears normally to have healed simply with a word of authoritative command.
Matthew’s Gospel, however, doesn’t mention the disciples either going away from Jesus or of the success which they achieved. Rather, Jesus comes back sharply into focus and we’re told of His actions rather than of the twelve.
Mtw 11:1 parallels the couple of verses which concluded the Sermon on the Mount (Mtw 7:28-29) and shouldn’t be thought of simply as an aside added by the author to round off the narrative (it does, however, show us that the person who came up with the divisions of chapters and verses in the Bible doesn’t always appear to have had his head in gear). Both there and here, there is something which needs to be observed which has been specifically recorded for us to learn from.
It’s too easy to gloss over the simplicity of what Matthew records for us as some commentators are wont to do. Matfran, for instance, gives this verse just six lines of explanation, describing it simply as
‘...a transition from the collection [sic] of sayings...to a resumption of the narrative of the itinerant ministry of teaching and preaching...’
which, although quite correct, fails to understand the importance of the verse not just as a conclusion but as imparting fresh knowledge.
We should note that the reason for Jesus’ commissioning of the twelve and sending them out (Mtw 10:1,5) wasn’t so that He could take a quick breather from His ministry and have a week off at some Jewish health and fitness resort (if such a thing existed - email me if you know of any!), but the verse records for us that, after His instruction had been completed
‘...He went on from there to teach and preach in their cities’
That is, we should picture the disciples as going out at the same time as Jesus into all the cities rather than as a replacement of His ministry. We would, perhaps, have expected Jesus to have stayed close to the shores of the Lake, maybe even in Capernaum, His home, so that those sent could quickly and speedily find Him should things go wrong - we make the same provisions for those believers who are trained up and sent out by our denominational structures - but Jesus seems to have confidence in their ability (imparted as it is by Him - Mtw 10:1) and that the short teaching He’s given them is sufficient to meet all their needs.
We must remember that, in the early Church, believers knew and experienced God in a much deeper way than we do today even though we profess to have the same faith and experience. I’m not saying by that that we shouldn’t be moving in the same way as they did in the early Church, only that we seem to have lost the simplicity of the Gospel and have never received such authority from God as they did and so know that we will have adequate resources for each and every situation that we encounter.
But the disciples, mostly unlearned men, had no difficulty seeing the greatest of miracles take place through their own ministry (Luke 10:17) and yet, all the while, didn’t know where Jesus would have been had things gone wrong!
Having no back up, therefore, should never be a problem to a Missionary if they know the power and presence of God in their lives and, though affiliation with Missionary Societies may seem frugal and important, one has to look rather with confidence to the support of God in being sent rather than the hand of man.
Summary of Matthew Chapter 10
The context of all the teaching in Matthew chapter 10 is, firstly, on ‘being sent’ rather than of going out on one’s own inclination (Mtw 10:5-6) and, secondly, on declaring (speech) and demonstrating (miraculous signs) the Kingdom of God as the fulfilment of one’s commission (Mtw 10:7-8).
I made a valiant attempt to try and reflect this in my titles to all the web pages by adding
‘The preaching of the Gospel and...’
before each one - but I just couldn’t make it work!
However, fundamentally, to rip any of these verses out of that context and to apply them to situations in which they are unwarranted is a danger which many believers - and not just commentators - have accepted with apparent glee! It’s not that they can’t apply to different situations than the original and, by comparison with the parallel passages, we can see that they are relevant to many other scenarios - but the primary interpretation of many of these verses must be the context in which they were first spoken.
All the other teaching which follows on from the basic commission of preaching and healing - that is, speech and signs - are instructions which could be applied more generally to all believers in all times who have a commission from God to go out in obedience. Neither should we think that we can strip away the context of Mission from these verses and apply them to a believer’s everyday life except where there are parallels or where the interpretation of the verse demands it.
This passage has addressed many of the issues which should be uppermost in the minds and lives of all those who have a commission from God and who venture to fulfil it by obedience. Once the boundaries of the commands are understood (10:5-8), the general principles of how to finance themselves and find digs becomes of immediate necessity (Mtw 10:9-11) before a few warnings are given should the disciple be rejected by the people to whom he’s sent.
From here, Jesus equips the disciples with teaching which should come back to mind when they most need it. He speaks of the attitude and policy they’re to adopt when persecuted (10:17-25) and of the need to exercise wisdom (10:16-17); of the need they have to know that God will give them what’s needed to be said even when they find themselves face to face with those who naturally are in authority over them (10:19-20) and who will also give them revelation in matters which remain hidden from natural eyes (10:24-26).
Jesus is aware that the disciples will naturally fear what may befall them (10:26-33) and encourages them to think carefully who they obey rather than choose merely temporal responses which cut away from their eternal relationship with God. Persecution is then extended to encompass the family (10:34-39) and the disciple is encouraged to elevate their love for God over and above natural earthly ties before concluding with a word which could equally well have been spoken to those who were being hospitable to them but which emphasised their importance in being representatives of both Jesus and God Himself (10:40-42).
All in all, although many commentators see Matthew’s record as being a compilation of sayings delivered to the disciples at various times throughout His ministry, they hold together as one comprehensive and coherent unit and should be understood as such.
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