Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.X.
(1) What is described here is not the choice, but the mission of the Twelve. That selection had been made before (Luke 6:13), and the number at once suggested the thought that they represented the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28), and were as such to be His messengers to the whole people of the dispersion. The name Apostle (which He had given them before—Luke 6:13) signified literally “one who is sent;” but it had acquired in classical Greek a more specific meaning, as the “ambassador,” or “envoy,” of a state. According to our Lord’s teaching they were sent by Him, even as ‘He had been sent by the Father (John 20:21).
All manner of sickness.—See Note on Matthew 9:35. The repetition of the same words emphasises the delegation of authority.
Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;(2) A comparison of the four lists of the Apostles (Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:13-16, Acts 1:13) brings out some interesting facts. (1.) The name of Peter is always first, that of Judas always last. In the former case we recognise acknowledged preeminence. The position of the latter may have been the consequence of the infamy which attached to the name of the traitor; but it is possible (and this may have been one of the elements that entered into his guilt) that his place had always been one of inferiority.
(2.) All the lists divide themselves into three groups of four, the persons in each group being always the same (assuming that the three names, Judas the brother (?) of James, Thaddæus, and Lebbæus, belong to the same person), though the order in each group varies.
(3.) The first group includes the two sons of Jona and the two sons of Zebedee, whose twofold call is related in Matthew 4:18-21, John 1:40. In two lists (Mark and Acts) the name of Andrew stands last; in two (Matt. and Luke) that of John. In none of them are the names of Peter and John coupled together, as might have been expected from their close companionship (John 20:2; Acts 3:1). The four obviously occupied the innermost place in the company of the Twelve, and were chosen out of the chosen. The three, Peter, James, and John, were the only witnesses of the healing of Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:37), of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1), and of the Agony in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37). Something seems to have excluded Andrew, though he had been the first called of all (John 1:40), from this intimate companionship; but we find him joined with the other three as called to listen to the great prophetic discourse on the Mount of Olives (Mark 13:3). All the four appear to have come from Bethsaida, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.
(4.) The name of Philip is always first in the second group, and he, too, came from Bethsaida. Next, in the three Gospel lists, comes that of Bartholomew. The name, like Barjona and Bartimæus, was obviously a patronymic, and it was at least probable that he had some other name. The absence of any mention of Bartholomew in St. John’s Gospel, or of Nathanael (John 1:45) in the other three, has led most modern commentators to the conclusion that they were two names for the same person; and the juxtaposition of the two names in their lists agrees with the fact that it was Philip who brought him to know Jesus as the Christ (John 1:45). On this assumption, Bartholomew was of Cana, the scene of our Lord’s first miracle (John 21:2). The name of Matthew stands before that of Thomas in Mark and Luke, after it in the Gospel which beare his own name. On the change of name from Levi, and his description as the son of Alphæus, see Notes on Matthew 9:9. As the name of Thomas, or Didymus, means “twin,” there seems some ground for believing, from the way in which the two names are grouped together, that here too we have another pair of brothers called to the service of their Master. Eusebius (H. E. i. 13), in his account of the conversion of Abgarus of Edessa, speaks of this Apostle as “Judas who is also Thomas.” and this suggests the reason why the cognomen of “the Twin” prevailed over the name which was already borne by two out of the company of the Twelve.
(5.) The third group always begins with “James the son of Alphæus;” and this description suggests some interesting inferences:—(1.) That he too was a brother of Matthew (there are no grounds for assuming two persons of the name of Alphæus), and probably, therefore, of Thomas also. (2.) That if the Clopas (not Cleopas) of John 19:25, was, as is generally believed, only the less Græcised form of the name Alphæus, then his mother Mary may have been the sister of Mary the mother of the Lord (see Notes on John 19:25). (3.) This Mary, in her turn, is identified, on comparing John 19:25 with Mark 15:40, with the mother of James the Less (literally, the Little) and of Joses. The term probably pointed, not to subordinate position, but, as in the case of Zacchæus, to short stature, and appears to have been an epithet (Luke 19:3) distinguishing him from the James of the first list. The Greek form in both cases was Jacôbus—the Jacob of the Old Testament—which has passed, like Joannes, through many changes, till it appears in its present clipped and curtailed shape. (4.) On the assumption that the James and Joses of Mark 15:40 are two of the “brethren of the Lord” of Matthew 13:55, this James might, perhaps, be identified with the James “the brother of the Lord” of Galatians 1:19 and Acts 15:13, the writer of the Epistle. The balance of evidence is, however, decidedly against this view. (Comp. Note on Matthew 13:55.) The next name appears in three different forms: Judas the brother of James (it must be noted, however, that the collocation of the two names is that which is elsewhere rendered “the son of . . .” and that the insertion of the word “brother” is an inference from Jude 1:1) in Luke and Acts; Lebbæus in Matthew (with the addition, in later MSS. and the textus receptus, of “who is also surnamed Thaddæus”); Thaddæus in Mark; St. John names him simply as “Judas, not Iscariot” (Matthew 14:22). The explanation of the variations is natural enough. One who bore the name of Judas wanted something to distinguish him. This might be found either in the term which expressed his relation as son or brother to James the son of Alphæus, or in a personal epithet. Lebbæus suggests a derivation from the Hebrew leb (heart), and points to warmth and earnestness of character; thad, in later Hebrew, meant the female breast, and may have been the origin of Thaddæus, as indicating, even more than the other sobriquet, a feminine devotedness. Taking the three names together, they suggest the thought that he was one of the youngest of the Twelve, and was looked upon by the others with an affection which showed itself in the name thus given to him. Simon, too, needed a distinguishing epithet, and it was found in the two forms of Zelotes and Cananite (not Canaanite). The former may point to zeal as his chief characteristic, but it was more probably used in the sense in which the followers of Judas of Galilee bore the name, and under which they were prominent in the later struggle with the Romans, as in a special sense “zealots for the law” (Jos. Wars, iv. 3, § 9). (Comp. a like use of the word in Acts 21:20.) On this assumption we get a glimpse, full of interest, into the earlier life of the Apostle so named. The other term, Cananite—which is not a local term, but connected with a Hebrew verb, kanà, to be hot, to glow, to be zealous—expresses the same idea. Lastly, we have “Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him,” described by St. John as the “son of Simon” (John 6:71; John 12:4; John 13:2; John 13:26), the term “Iscariot” being applied in the first and last of these passages to the father. These facts seem to leave little doubt that the name is local, and is the Græcised form of Ish-Kerioth (a man of Kerioth), a town in Judah mentioned in the list of Joshua 15:25. Assuming this inference, we have in him the only one among the Twelve of whom it is probable that he was of Judah, and not of Galilee. This also may not have been without its influence on his character, separating him, as it might well tend to do, from the devoted loyalty of the others.
These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:(5) Go not into the way of the Gentiles.—The emphatic limitation seems at first sight at variance with the language which had spoken of those who should come from east and west to sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of God, and with the fact that our Lord had already taken His disciples into a city of Samaria, and told them that there also there were fields white for the harvest (John 4:35). We must remember, however, (1) that the limitation was confined to the mission on which they were now sent; (2) that it did but recognise a divine order, the priority of Israel in God’s dealing with mankind, “to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile;” and (3) that the disciples themselves were as yet unfitted to enter on a work which required wider thoughts and hopes than they had yet attained. It was necessary that they should learn to share their Master’s pity for the lost sheep of the house of Israel before they could enter into His yearnings after the sheep that were “not of this fold” (John 10:16).
And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.(7) Preach—i.e., “proclaim—act as heralds,” as elsewhere. The repetition of the self-same words as had described first the Baptist’s teaching and then our Lord’s, seems to suggest that this was actually a formula of proclamation. The two envoys of the King were to enter into town or village, and there, standing in the gate, to announce that His kingdom had come near, and then, when this had drawn crowds to listen, to call men to the repentance without which they could not enter it.
Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.(8) Raise the dead.—The words are omitted by the best MSS., and their absence is more in accordance with the facts of the Gospel history, which records no instance of that highest form of miracle as wrought by the disciples during our Lord’s ministry. That was reserved for His own immediate act. The insertion of the words was probably due to a wish to make the command cover such instances of power as that shown in the instances of Dorcas (Acts 9:40) and Eutychus (Acts 20:9-12).
Freely ye have received.—The English hardly suggests more than giving liberally. The Greek is much stronger, “Give as a free gift—give gratis” They had paid Him nothing. They were not in this their first mission to require payment from others. When the kingdom had been established, the necessities of the case might require the application of the principle that “the labourer is worthy of his hire” in an organised system of stipend and the like (1Timothy 5:18); but the principle of “giving freely” in this sense is always applicable in proportion as the work of the ministers of Christ has the character of a mission. They must proclaim the kingdom till the sense of the blessing it has brought shows itself in the thank-offerings of gratitude. The like principle of gratuitous teaching had been asserted before by some of the nobler of the Jewish Rabbis.
Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses,(9) Neither gold, nor silver.—“Silver” alone is named in St. Luke; brass—i.e., bronze or copper coinage—in St. Mark. St. Matthew’s report includes all the three forms of the money then in circulation. The tense of the word rendered “provide” requires notice. It implies that if they had money, they might take it, but they were not to “get” or “provide” it as a condition of their journey, still less to delay till they had got it.
In your purses.—Literally, in your girdles—the twisted folds of which were, and are, habitually used in the East instead of the “purse” of the West.
Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.(10) Scrip.—The practical obsoleteness of the word in modern English makes it necessary to remind readers of the New Testament that the “scrip” or wallet was a small basket carried on the back, or by a strap hanging from one shoulder, containing the food of the traveller. So David carried in his scrip the five smooth stones from the brook (1Samuel 17:40). Such a basket was looked on as the necessary equipment even of the poorest traveller, yet the apostles were to go without it. St. Mark adds, what was implied in this, “no bread.”
Neither two coats.—Commonly, the poorer Eastern traveller carried with him the flowing plaid-like outer garment (the modern abba), with one “coat” or tunic next the skin, and one clean one as a change. That simplest of all the comforts of life they were in this work of theirs to dispense with.
Neither shoes, nor yet staves.—The apparent contradiction between these words and St. Mark’s “nothing except a staff only,” “be shod with sandals,” is explained by what has been said above. They were to have none of the reserved comforts of common travellers, no second staff in case the first should break, no second pair of shoes in which to rest the worn and weary feet. The “sandals” were the shoes of the peasant class.
Experience (and, we may add, the Spirit that teaches by experience) has led the Christian Church at large to look on these commands as binding only during the mission on which the Twelve were actually sent. It is impossible not to admire the noble enthusiasm of poverty which showed itself in the literal adoption of such rules by the followers of Francis of Assisi, and, to some extent, by those of Wiclif; but the history of the Mendicant Orders, and other like fraternities, forms part of that teaching of history which has led men to feel that in the long-run the beggar’s life will bring the beggar’s vices. Yet here, as in the case of the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount, the spirit is binding still, though the letter has passed away. The mission work of the Church has ever prospered in proportion as that spirit has pervaded it.
For the workman is worthy of his meat.—It is a singular instance of the varied application of the same truth, that these words—which our Lord makes the ground of His command that men should make no provision for the future and commit themselves to their Father’s care—are quoted by St. Paul (1Timothy 5:18) as a plea for an organised system for the maintenance of the ministers of the Church. The same law fulfils itself in many ways—now by helping to pay the hire of the labourer, now by the full confidence that the payment may be left to God, and to the grateful hearts of men.
And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence.(11) Enquire who in it is worthy.—The command was a plain practical rule. The habits of Eastern hospitality would throw many houses open to the preachers which would give no openings for their work, or even bring on them an evil report. From these they were to turn away and to seek out some one who, though poor, was yet of good repute, and willing to receive them as messengers of glad tidings.
There abide.—The purpose of the rule was (1) to guard against fickleness, as in itself an evil; and (2) against the tendency to go from one house to another according to the advantages which were offered to the guest.
And when ye come into an house, salute it.(12) When ye come into an house.—The English indefinite article is misleading. We must read “into the house,” i.e., the dwelling of the man who had been reported as worthy. The salutation, as the words that follow imply, was the familiar, “Peace be with thee—Peace be to this house” (Luke 10:5).
And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.(13) If the house be worthy.—The doubt implied in the “if” seems at first somewhat inconsistent with the supposition that they only went into the house after having ascertained the worthiness of the occupant. It must be remembered, however, that the missionaries entered each city or village as strangers, and that in such a case even the most careful inquiry might not always be successful.
Let your peace come upon it—i.e., the peace implied in the formula of salutation. The imperative is not so much a command addressed to them as the proclamation of an edict from the King in whose name they went. Their greeting was not to be a mere ceremonious form. It would be as a real prayer wherever the conditions of peace were fulfilled on the other side. At the worst, the prayer for peace would bring a blessing on him who prayed.
And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.(14) Shake off the dust of your feet.—The act was a familiar symbol of the sense of indignation, as in the case of St. Paul (Acts 13:51) at Antioch in Pisidia. The Jewish maxim, that even the very dust of a heathen land brought defilement with it, added to its significance. It was a protest in act, declaring (as our Lord declares in words) that the city or house which did not receive the messengers of the Christ was below the level even of the Gentiles.
Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.(15) For the land of Sodom and Gomorrha.—The thought implied in the previous verse is now expressly asserted. The cities that stood out, in the history of the world, as most conspicuous for their infamy, were yet less guilty (as sinning less against light and knowledge) than those who rejected the messengers of the King. The same comparison reappears with the addition of Tyre and Sidon in Matthew 11:21.
In the day of judgment.—The phrase, like the Old Testament “day of the Lord,” is wider in its range than the thoughts we commonly connect with it, and includes the earlier and more earthly judgments, as well as that which is the great consummation of them all.
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.(16) I send you forth.—The nominative pronoun is emphatic, “It is I who send,” and that not so much as an assurance of protection, but, as the words that follow show, as reminding them of their responsibility as His delegates.
As sheep in the midst of wolves.—Nothing can be more striking than the union of this clear foresight of conflict and suffering with the full assurance of victory and sovereignty. The position of the disciples would be as sheep surrounded by a flock of hungry and raging wolves, the wolf being here, as elsewhere in the New Testament, the symbol of the persecutor.
Wise as serpents.—The idea of the serpent as symbolising wisdom, seems to have entered into the early parables of most Eastern nations. We find it in Egyptian temples, in the twined serpents of the rod of Æsculapius and of Hermes, in the serpent-worship of the Turanian races, in the history in Genesis 3 of the serpent that was “more subtle than any beast of the field.” For the most part it appears in Scripture as representing an evil wisdom to be fought with and overcome. Here we learn that even the serpent’s sinuous craft presents something which we may well learn to reproduce. When St. Paul “caught men with guile” (2Corinthians 12:16), becoming “all things to all men” (1Corinthians 9:22), he was acting in the spirit of his Master’s counsels.
Harmless as doves.—Better, simple, sincere—i.e., “guileless.” The Greek indicates more than simple harmlessness—a character in which there is no alloy of baser motives. Once again truth appears in the form of paradox. The disciples of Christ are to be at once supremely guileful and absolutely guileless. Our Lord’s reference to this symbolism gains a fresh significance when we remember that He had seen the heavens opened, and the Spirit of God descending “like a dove” upon Himself (Matthew 3:16). In and by that Spirit the two qualities that seem so contradictory are reconciled.
But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues;(17) To the councils.—The plural shows that our Lord referred, not to the Great Council or Sanhedrin at Jerusalem, but to the lesser councils connected with provincial synagogues that had power to judge and punish persons accused of offences against religion.
They will scourge you in their synagogues.—The words imply the actual infliction of the punishment within the walls of the building. To us this appears something like desecration, but there is no reason for thinking that it did so to the Jews, and St. Paul’s language in Acts 22:19; Acts 26:11, seems to place the fact beyond the shadow of a doubt. The stripes of which the Apostle speaks in 2Corinthians 11:24, were probably thus and there inflicted.
And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles.(18) Ye shall be brought before governors and kings.—The words are significant as looking forward (if we assume the unity of the discourse) to that future work among the Gentiles upon which the Twelve were told that they were not as yet to enter. “Rulers” stands always in the New Testament for the governors (proconsuls, procurators, and others) of the Roman Empire. “Kings” at least includes, even if it does not primarily indicate, the emperors themselves.
Against them.—Rather, unto them. The word is simply the dative of the person to whom we address our testimony, not involving necessarily any hostile or even reproving purpose.
But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.(19) Take no thought.—In the same sense as in Matthew 6:25, “Do not at that moment be over-anxious.” The words indicate an almost tender sympathy with the feelings of Galilean disciples, “unlearned and ignorant men,” standing before those who were counted so much their superiors in power and knowledge. The words that follow contain a two-fold promise: not only what they should say, but how, in what form and phrase, to say it, should be given them in that hour. The courage of Peter and John before the Sanhedrin is at once the earliest and the most striking instance of the fulfilment of the promise (Acts 4:13).
For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.(20) It is not ye that speak.—The words are strong. Human thoughts and purposes seem as if utterly suppressed, and the inspiring agency alone is recognised. It would be obviously beside the drift of our Lord’s discourse to make this promise of special aid in moments of special danger the groundwork of a theory of inspiration as affecting the written records of the work of the disciples.
And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.(21) The brother.—The nouns are in the Greek without the article, “brother shall deliver up brother,” and are thus, perhaps, more forcible as statements of what should happen often. Our English idiom, however, allows the use of the article with nearly the same meaning. The words reproduce almost verbally the prophecy of Micah 7:6, and are there followed by the prophet’s expression of his faith, “Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation,” answering to the “endurance” of which our Lord speaks in the next verse.
And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.(22) Hated of all men for my name’s sake.—Here, as before, the words sketch out the history of the persecution with a precision which marks and attests the divine foreknowledge. From the days of Stephen to that of the last martyr under Diocletian it was always as a Christian and for the name of Christ that men thus suffered. Would they but renounce that, all would have gone smoothly with them. As Tertullian said of the sufferers of his day, “We are tortured when we confess our guilt, we are set free if we deny it, for the battle is about a Name” (Apol. c. 2). (Comp. 1Peter 4:16.)
He that endureth to the end—i.e., endures, as the context shows, in the confession of the name of Christ as long as the trial lasts, or to the end of his own life. Such a one should receive “salvation” in its highest sense, the full participation in the blessedness of the kingdom of the Christ.
But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.(23) When they persecute you The counsel is noteworthy as suggesting at least one form of the wisdom of the serpent. Men were not to imagine that they were “enduring to the end “when, in the eagerness of their zeal, they courted martyrdom; but were rather to avoid danger instead of courting it, and to utilise all opportunities for the continuance of their work. The effect of the command thus given may be traced in all the great persecutions under the Roman Empire, Polycarp and Cyprian furnishing, perhaps, the most conspicuous examples.
Till the Son of man be come.—The thought of another Coming than that of the days of His humiliation and of His work as a Prophet and a Healer, which had been implied before (Matthew 7:21-23), is now explicitly unfolded. The Son of Man should come, as Daniel had seen Him come (Daniel 7:13), in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory, to complete the triumph of His kingdom. It is more difficult to understand the connection of the words with the preceding limit of time, “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel.” The natural result of such a promise was to lead the disciples to look forward to that coming as certain to be within the range of their own lifetime, and was the ground of the general expectation of its nearness which, beyond all doubt, pervaded the minds of men in the Apostolic age. Explanations have been given which point to the destruction of Jerusalem as being so far “a day of the Lord” as to justify its being taken as a type of the final Advent, and they receive at least a certain measure of support from the way in which the two events are brought into close connection in the great prophetic discourse of Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21. But the question meets us, and cannot be evaded, Were the two events thus brought together with a knowledge of the long interval by which they were in fact to be divided from each other, and if so, why was that knowledge kept from the disciples? Some reasons for that reticence lie on the surface. That sudden widening of the horizon of their vision would have been one of the things which they were not able to bear (John 16:12). In this, as in all else, their training as individual men was necessarily gradual, and the education of the Church which they founded was to be carried on, like that of mankind at large, through a long succession of centuries. The whole question will call for a fuller discussion in the Notes on Matthew 24. In the meantime it will be enough humbly to express my own personal conviction that what seems the boldest solution is also the truest and most reverential. The human thoughts of the Son of Man may not have travelled in this matter to the furthest bound of the mysterious horizon. He Himself told them of that day and that hour, that its time was known neither to the angels of heaven, nor even to the Son, but to the Father only (Mark 13:32).
The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.(24) The disciple is not above his master.—The proverb was probably a common one, and is used by our Lord (as in Luke 6:40; John 13:16; John 15:20) with more than one application. Here the thought is, “Be not amazed or cast down at these prophecies of evil days; in all your sufferings you will but be following in My footsteps; what they have said and done with Me, they will say and do with you also.”
It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?(25) It is enough.—Here also we note a tone of grave and tender sympathy, not without the gentle play of feeling which the words seem to betoken. To be as their Master in anything, even in shame and suffering, might well be enough for any scholar.
Beelzebub.—The Greek gives the form Beel-zebul. Its history illustrates some interesting phases of Jewish thought. (1.) It appears in the form Baal-zebub, the “Lord of flies” (probably as sending or averting the swarms of flies or locusts that are one of the plagues of the East), as the name of a god worshipped by the Philistines at Ekron, and consulted as an oracle (2Kings 1:2) in cases of disease. (2.) Later Jews, identifying all heathen deities with evil spirits, saw in the god of their nearest and most hated neighbours the chief or prince of those “demons,” and in their scorn transformed the name into Baal-zebel, which would mean “Lord of dung,” or Baal-zebul, “Lord of the dwelling”—i.e., of the house of the evil spirits who are the enemies of God. Our Lord’s connection of the name with “the master of the house” seems to point to the latter meaning as that present to our Lord’s thoughts. The reference is clearly made to the charge that had already been implied in Matthew 9:34. We do not indeed find the name of Beel-zebub there, nor indeed do we meet with the direct application of that name to our Lord anywhere in the Gospel history; but there was obviously but a single step, easily taken, between the language they had actually used and that which is here reported of them.
Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.(26) Fear them not therefore: for . . .—The words that bid them banish fear look backward and forward. Why should they be afraid when they were only suffering what their Master Himself had suffered, and when they could look forward to the open publicity of His triumph? In that day the veil that now conceals the truth shall be drawn away; the unknown sufferers for the truth shall receive the crown of martyrdom; the undetected cowardice that shrinks from confessing it will then be laid bare.
What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.(27) What I tell you in darkness.—The words point to our Lord’s method of teaching, as well as to the fact of its being esoteric, and disclosed only to the chosen few, and to them only as they were “able to bear it” (John 16:12). Parables, and dark sayings, and whispered hints, and many-sided proverbs, were among the forms by which He led them on to truth. They, in their work as teachers, were not to shrink through any fear of man from giving publicity to what they had thus learnt. To “proclaim on the housetops”—the flat roofs of which were often actually used by criers and heralds for their announcements—is, of course, a natural figure for the fullest boldness and freedom in their preaching.
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.(28) Are not able to kill the soul.—Here our Lord uses what we may call the popular dichotomy of man’s nature, and the word “soul” includes all that truly lives and thinks and wills in man, and is therefore equivalent to the “soul and spirit” of the more scientific trichotomy of St. Paul’s Epistles (1Thessalonians 5:23).
Fear him which is able . . .—Few words have given rise to interpretations more strangely contrasted than these. Not a few of the most devout and thoughtful commentators, unwilling to admit that our Lord ever presented the Father to men in the character of a destroyer, have urged that the meaning may be thus paraphrased: “Fear not men; but fear the Spirit of Evil, the great Adversary who, if you yield to his temptations, has power to lead you captive at his will, to destroy alike your outward and your inward life, either in the Gehenna of torture or in that of hatred and remorse.” Plausible as it seems, however, this interpretation is not, it is believed, the true one. (1) We are nowhere taught in Scripture to fear the devil, but rather to resist and defy him (Ephesians 6:11; James 4:7); and (2) it is a sufficient answer to the feeling which has prompted the other explanation to say that we are not told to think of God as in any case willing to destroy, but only as having the power to inflict that destruction where all offers of mercy and all calls to righteousness have been rejected. In addition to this, it must be remembered that St. James uses language almost identical (“There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy,” James 4:12) where there cannot be a shadow of doubt as to the meaning.
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.(29) Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?—The coin mentioned here is not the same as the “farthing” of Mark 12:42. The word there is kodrantēs, the quadrans, or fourth part, of the Roman as; here it is assarion, the diminutive of the as, and equal to the tenth part of the denarius. The fact that the denarius was the average day’s wages of a soldier or a labourer, gives a fair approximation to its value. The homeliness of the illustration was adapted to the past experience of the apostles. It appears in a yet more homely form, in the “five sparrows sold for two farthings” of Luke 12:6, the cheapness that thus tempted the purchaser witnessing to the small account men took of the birds so bargained for.
Without your Father.—The primary thought is obviously that the providence of God extends to the very meanest of His creatures. The thoughts with which we in these later days are more familiar may lead us to think of that Providence as more commonly working under the form of fixed and general laws; but, however this may be, the truth remains unaltered, for law itself is but the expression of the will of God, and faith may accept the law as working out a divine purpose of good for the universe and for every free agent who consciously accepts it.
But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.(30) The very hairs of your head.—The apparent hyperbole of the figure is but the natural expression of the thought that even the incidents of life that seem most trivial are in very deed working together for good to those that love God. They are not at any moment of their lives to think that they are uncared for by their Father.
Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.(32) Shall confess me.—Literally, make his confession in and for me; and so in the corresponding clause. The promise points forward to the great day when the Son of Man shall be enthroned in His kingdom, and then before His Father and before the angels of God (Luke 12:8) shall acknowledge His faithful servants. The words are remarkable (1) in their calm assertion of this final sovereignty, and (2) in extending the scope of the discourse beyond the apostles themselves to all who should receive their witness.
But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.(33) Whosoever shall deny me.—As with all other eternal laws, the blessing on those who fulfil the conditions to which it is attached has its counterpart of woe on those who do not fulfil them. To deny Christ on earth by word or deed, to live as if His work were nothing to us, must lead to His denying us in the last great day.
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.(34) Think not that I am come to send peace.—Truth appears again in the form of seeming paradox. Christ is “our peace” (Ephesians 2:14), and came to be the one great Peacemaker; and yet the foreseen consequences of His work involved strife and division, and such a consequence, freely accepted for the sake of the greater good that lies beyond it, involves, in fact, a purpose. The words are the natural expression of such a thought; and yet we can hardly fail to connect them with those which, in the earliest dawn of His infancy, revealed to the mother of the Christ that “a sword should pass through her own soul also” (Luke 2:35).
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.(35) The words are partly, as the marginal reference shows, an echo of Micah 7:6, but the selection of the special relationships as typical instances suggests the thought of some personal application. Had Zebedee looked with displeasure on the calling of his two sons? or was there variance between the daughter-in-law and the mother-in-law in the household of Peter? Were the brethren of the Lord, who as yet believed not, as the foes of a man’s own household?
He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.(37) He that loveth father or mother more than me.—The words are important, partly in themselves, partly as explaining the stronger phrase of Luke 14:26-27, which speaks of a man “hating father or mother” as a condition of discipleship. Where two affections come into collision, the weaker must give way; and though the man may not and ought not to cease to love, yet he must act as if he hated—disobey, and, it may be, desert—those to whom he is bound by natural ties, that he may obey the higher supernatural calling.
And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.(38) He that taketh not his cross.—The words were hardly a specific announcement of the manner of our Lord’s death, though they imply, interpreted by events, a distinct prevision of it, such as that which we trace in John 3:14. To the disciples they would recall the sad scene which Roman rule had made familiar to them, the procession of robbers or rebels, each carrying the cross on which he was to suffer to the place of execution. They would learn that they were called to a like endurance of ignominy and suffering. When they saw their Master Himself carrying His own cross, the words would come back to their minds with a new significance.
He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.(39) He that findeth his life.—The word is the same as that translated “soul” (i.e., that by which man lives in the lower or the higher sense of life) in Matthew 10:28. The point of the maxim lies in the contrast between the two senses. To gain the lower now is to lose the higher hereafter, and conversely, to lose the lower for the sake of Christ (i.e., to die a martyr’s death in confessing Him) is to gain the higher.
He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.(40) The discourse which had so clearly told of suffering ends with words of promise and the assurance of victory. As Christ was sent by the Father (John 20:21; comp. Hebrews 3:1), so were they His apostles and representatives; and He would count all honour and affection shown to them as shown also to Himself, and through Him to His Father.
He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.(41) In the name of a prophet—i.e., for the sake of that which the name connotes—the prophet’s work as a messenger of God, the righteousness of which the living righteous man is the concrete example. The distinction between the two involves the higher inspiration of the prophet as a messenger of God, and perhaps implies that that inspiration belonged to some, and not to all the Twelve, while those who were not to receive that special gift were at all events called to set forth the pattern of a righteous life. The “reward,” and the time of its being received, belong to the future glory of the kingdom; and the words of the promise throw the gate wide open, so as to admit not only those whose gifts and characters command the admiration of mankind, but all those who show in action that they are in sympathy with the work for which the gifts have been bestowed.
And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.(42) One of these little ones.—The term was familiarly used of the scholars of a Rabbi, and in this sense our Lord, as the great Master, sending forth His disciples, now employs it. He would not disregard even the cup of cold water given to the humblest disciple as such and for the sake of Christ. Taken by themselves, the words do not go beyond this but the language of Matthew 25:40 justifies their extension to every act of kindness done to any man in the name of that humanity which He shares with those whom He is not ashamed to call His brethren (Hebrews 2:11).
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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