“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.
“Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.” — Matthew 10:16-26.
Verses 17-20: These verses anticipate a later, more extensive mission than the immediate occasion. Persecution will occur at the hands of both Jewish (v. 17) and Gentile (v. 18) authorities. But disciples are not to respond to this as pagans do, by hiring professional orators to defend them in court. The Holy Spirit will provide their defense (cf. Acts 4:8).
Verse 23: The “coming” refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 as an act of judgment against the nation of Israel. This understanding retains the note of urgency and fits the experience of the church prior to A.D. 70. The other references to the coming of the Son of Man view it as a great and terrible display of God’s judgment. Although these cannot be limited to the destruction of Jerusalem, that event was terrible in intensity and fell on what had been the central visible symbol of God’s presence, the temple. [RSB]
Our Savior fully prepared his disciples for the treatment they would receive from the world. He compared ungodly men to wolves, and his apostles to sheep. He described the manner in which these wolves would treat his sheep in thought, word, and deed. The thoughts of ungodly men towards the apostles would be thoughts of hatred. Jesus said, “you will be hated by all for My name’s sake” (vs. 22).
The world has always hated the children of God. There is nothing more painful than the ill-will of our fellow-creatures. Jesus therefore warned his disciples against being turned back from him by the hatred of the world, saying, “…he who endures to the end (in spite of these trials) will be saved.”
The hatred men felt in their hearts would lead them to utter hateful words against the disciples of Jesus. They had called the Lord Jesus himself Beelzebub. Ought his disciples to expect better treatment? Was it not enough if the servant was not worse treated than his Lord?
Christians have always been slandered. Jesus comforts his disciples under their accusations by this assurance in verse 26 – “Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.” Would it not comfort those who are falsely accused, to know that the day is coming when the truth would be made known? Such comfort all Christians possess, when slandered by their enemies.
Men would not only speak words against the disciples, but would commit cruel actions against them. They would imprison them and scourge them, and even cause them to be put to death. Yes, parents would turn against their own children, and persecute them in the most unnatural manner.
All these trials did not come upon the disciples during their first journey; but as Jesus knew they would come upon them after his ascension, he directed them how to behave under these trials. They were to do everything to avoid persecution, except concealing the truth. In their characters they were to resemble serpents and doves; serpents in caution and prudence, doves in gentleness and harmlessness; they were not to be malicious as serpents, or silly as doves, but wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. Yet in spite of all their good endeavors, they would be persecuted for preaching the gospel.
One great advantage would arise from their being brought before kings and judges — they would have an opportunity of declaring the truth to those high dignitaries; as Paul did to Felix, who trembled on his judgment-seat (cf. Acts 24). Jesus bade his disciples take no thought what they should speak when examined by their judges. Though they could not foresee what perplexing questions would be put to them, they were not to be disturbed with the fear lest they should not be able to answer well; for God would assist them with his Spirit.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.