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: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.Matt. 10:5-8
A Short Synopsis
In this short passage of scripture where Jesus sends out the twelve apostles, there are really three parts to it; (1) the focused evangelistic approach toward the Jews only, (2) the proclamation that the kingdom of heaven is at hand and (3) the demonstration of miracles through the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. As with many verses in the Bible, they tend to generate more questions than answers. Let us look at a few questions that may come to mind from readers of this passage.
Some Curious Questions
Why did Jesus at that time decide to send out his loyal apostles to serve as ancient missionaries to the Jews? Why twelve? Who were the twelve apostles? How did Jesus choose his disciples? Why not go into the way of the Gentiles or the Samaritans? Why is the house of Israel described as the lost sheep? Why did Jesus give such a long dissertation to the twelve following these verses? Finally, what did Jesus tell his disciples to do when he sent them out and what did Jesus send the apostles to do?
By delving into other parts of the Bible and exploring the scriptures, hopefully we will be able to answer many of these questions that are often filled with curiosity and intrigue. One of the most important aspects of Bible Study is to learn about the context in which a passage of scripture is to the whole scheme of things. For this, let us back up a few verses to see what transpired shortly before this message from Jesus. In chapter nine, Matthew records that Jesus was going about all the cities and villages teaching in the synagogue and preaching the very same message of the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus was also healing every sickness and disease among the people, essentially mirroring the same message he gave to the twelve apostles.
Continuing in chapter nine, when Jesus saw the multitudes he was moved with compassion; perhaps as a reflection of seeing not only their physical needs but also their spiritual needs. He describes the people as sheep having no shepherd. Then Jesus says to his disciples, “The harvest truly [is] plenteous, but the labourers [are] few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.” [Matt. 9:37-38] This was therefore the prelude, or setting, to this week’s scripture reading on why Jesus sent out the twelve apostles. After Matthew records the names of the apostles, he then documents how Jesus sent them forth, as laborers into his harvest.
But why not go into the way of the Gentiles or the Samaritans? Who were these people and why did they not have the same priority for the gospel message? Well, perhaps time was playing against the events that would eventually transpire where the Son of Man, otherwise known as Jesus, would be betrayed into the hands of sinners and eventually crucified following a mockery of a trial. The Gentiles were generally considered as non-Jewish people, or rather, heathen or foreign people and are first noted in Gen. 10:5 and last noted in Rev. 11:2.
While they may not have been initially chosen to have salvation through the Lord, it was nevertheless prophesied by the Lord that he would come to them, “I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” [Is. 49:6] In the divine plan of God, this played out with the apostles as the rejection of the gospel message with the Jews proved to be the turning point, “Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” [Acts 13:46]
Similarly, the Samaritans were considered a mixed race of Jews and Gentiles and were often despised by the Jews. This was evident when Jesus asked a woman from Samaria for a drink of water at Jacob’s well with her response, “Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.” [John 4:9] By geographic location, Samaria was bordered by Galilee to the north and Judea to the south. But let’s look back in history to see just how the Samaritans were in the eyes of the Lord as part of this study on Jesus sending out the twelve apostles.
First and Second Kings documents a number of things that took place in Samaria such as setting up false places of worship in high places (1 Kings 13:32), rearing up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal (1 Kings 16:32), doing those things secretly that were not right with the Lord their God by setting up images and groves in all their cities ( 2 Kings 17:9), burning incense in all the high places ( 2 Kings 17:2), serving idols, (2 Kings 17:3), leaving the commandments of the Lord their God, making molten images instead in the resemblance of calves, serving Baal (2 kings 17:16), causing their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, using divination and enchantments, and selling themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord to provoke him to anger (2 Kings 17:17). In ancient times, the mix of Samaritans and so called renegade Jews was truly an abomination in the sight of the Lord based on their worship of false gods.
This is perhaps why Jesus used a Samaritan in contrast to a Jewish priest and a Levite in the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). After all, one would think that the Jewish priest or Levite would have set the example to help the poor and destitute man lying on the side of the road after a violent mugging, but no, it was rather the Samaritan who showed compassion upon him and took care of him. Thus, Jesus chose to make a glaring point that the Jews were behaving worse than the despised Samaritans in lacking compassion, care and mercy.
As time progressed through history however, even the apostles ended up preaching in Samaria, much as they did to the rest of the known world, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” [Acts 1:8] Philip for example, was specifically recorded as preaching in Samaria, “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.” [Act 8:5] It is also noted that there were even churches located in Samaria from Acts 9:31. Little wonder that all of the known world was evangelized thereafter since Jesus instructed his disciples, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:” [Matt. 28:19]
The House of Israel
Now that we have reviewed the Gentiles and the Samaritans, what about the lost sheep of the house of Israel? A few chapters later, Jesus was further recorded, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” [Matt. 15:24] This was a common phrase for the Jews since they had lost their way on many occasions throughout history as recorded by the ancient prophet Isaiah, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” [Is. 53:6] The prophet Jeremiah also wrote of the Jews through inspiration from the Lord, “My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray.” [Jer. 50:6] It was only through the grace of the gospel where certain Jews returned back to the Lord, “For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” [1 Pet. 2:25]
Are you an Apostle?
To close off this Bible Study on Jesus sends out his twelve apostles, hopefully this has provided readers with an opportunity to explore and expound upon this passage of scripture. Jesus chose the most eclectic group of individuals for his twelve apostles with many being common fishermen of the day, such as Peter, another one who was a tax collector for the Roman Empire, and one person who would ultimately betray him. On the surface, one could really ask why this group of people but consider that Christianity still exists and thrives two thousand years later. Technically, there are no apostles today solely based on the criteria used during the earthly ministry of Jesus since all twelve apostles were witnesses to the resurrected Jesus Christ and had been with him since the early days of his ministry.
But putting that all aside however, if you are a Christian today, do you consider yourself an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, at least in the context of current day criteria? By this, an apostle really is a believer in the foundational aspects of Christianity, his death, burial and resurrection, believing in his atoning sacrifice on the cross for your sins and placing your faith in his saving grace for eternal life. This is where apostleship starts. From there we live through the power of the Holy Spirit to empower us in living a life worthy of the calling of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. This is apostleship, where a living faith plays out each day amidst the challenges, setbacks and spiritual oppression from the world. Are you a witness for the Lord in this context or are you a silent Christian where if people were asked around you, few would know that you are a Christian?
When Jesus sent out the twelve apostles, he sent people to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Our message is no different today. The kingdom of heaven is indeed at hand and far closer now than it was two thousand years ago. Give Jesus your all, give him your undying faith and belief in him for sustaining your life each day. In turn, live for him, resting in his mercy and grace, for this is where Jesus places us each day, as light in a dark world.
Bible Study Questions – Jesus sends out the twelve apostles
- Going back two thousand years into this Bible study on Jesus sends out the twelve apostles, how do you think you would have reacted if you were one of them and had to leave everything you knew about regular daily life?
- Can you name the two groups of people who the apostles were told not to and preach to based on this week’s scripture reading?
- What were the three things Jesus was doing with the multitudes shortly before this event took place with his apostles?
- What verse in the book of Acts shows that Paul and Barnabas then turned toward the Gentiles to preach to them?
- Can you name at least three things the ancient Samaritans did to offend the Lord God?
- In the context of your Christian beliefs, what is one small thing you could do today to serve as an apostle for the Lord Jesus Christ?
- To further build upon your faith, choose one of the hyperlinks noted in this Bible study on Jesus sends out the Twelve Apostles and read another study.