Matthew 10:24-33

Four sparrows sitting on tree branch, one more on ground.
 "Four sparrows sitting on tree branch, one more on ground." 
Reprinted from Icon: Visual Images for Every Sunday, copywrite© 2000 Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission.


We have included verses 24-25 in this pericope because the remainder of the text cannot be understood without them. verses 16-23 show how the disciples would find themselves as "sheep among wolves,"  defenseless midst betrayal and persecution, and yet not defenseless for the Triune God will be their defense. Verses 24-33 employ different metaphors, but continue the treatment which disciples can expect simply because they own Christ as Teacher and Lord. But, even if it means death at the hands of men, they will prove to be "more than conquerors through Him Who loved them"  (Romans 8:37) because He will protect them and, in the final judgment, will confess them in the presence of His heavenly Father.

With reference to the text for Pentecost IV these Notes said:  "The commentaries point out that Matthew, unlike Mark and Luke, records Jesus' instructions (verses 6-42) which cover not only the tour to the Jews in Galilee but also the instructions for their ministry to both Jews and Gentiles which begins at Matthew 28:19."

That becomes clear in today's pericope because the disciples were not subjected to persecution, betrayal, name-calling, and even death until after Pentecost: Jesus' enemies had called Jesus a devil (Matthew 12:24) but not His disciples. Jesus came into severe conflict with the Jewish authorities (John chapters five, six, seven, eight, ten, eleven) and unbelievers, but it did not involve the disciples directly. But Jesus warned His disciples (John 15:18-25; 16:1-2) in the night when He was betrayed that their lot would be different after Pentecost. And it happened.

Throughout the Book of Acts we have the fearless testimony of the Apostles. Tradition says that all, except the Apostle John, died a violent death. Furthermore, what happened to the Apostles can be expected by (and happens to) Christians in each generation from the Apostolic Age to Judgment Day.

Matthew 10:24-33 divides itself into three parts:

  1. verses 24-25: What happened to Christ will come, in greater measure, to His disciples;

  2. verses 26-31: The true fear of the believer as opposed to the fleshly fear of the denier;

  3. verses 32-33: An "either-or" which does not allow a third possibility.

Matthew 10:24 A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.

Note prominent correlatives "not is -- nor is." This verse has parallel statements. Both are axiomatic, readily understood everywhere in the world:
  1. A disciple, pupil, learner believes, teaches and confesses what his teacher believes, teaches and confesses.

  2. A slave, servant is owned by his lord or master. He has no will of his own but that of his master.

  3. Neither disciple nor slave is above his teacher or master. If he ceases to believe, teach or confess as does his teacher or if he substitutes his own will for that of his master, he ceases to be disciple and slave. He goes against the axiom which is readily understood by all.

Matthew 10:25 It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!

The first sentence in this verse extends the axiom stated in verse 24. The translations are divided if the  "to be" is translated "to be" or "to become." It is surely "to be. "The contrast does not denote equality. That should be obvious. It denotes similarity as to a certain characteristic, which is exemplified in the second sentence of the verse NEB gets at the true meaning:  "The pupil should be content to share his teacher's lot, the servant to share his master's."

Kretzmann: They should not expect to be better off than their Lord and Master, the Head of the Christian household.

The second sentence of this verse is an example of what we call the fact or particular condition. In form and thought it is just like John 15:20. Compare Luke 6:40 and John 13:16. In Matthew 10:25b we have another metaphor, the man in charge of the house and the people who live in the house as a family. Jesus, of course, means Himself and His disciples. Jesus' enemies call Him Beelzebub, the devil. Compare Matthew 10:34; 12:24.27.

The argument is from the lesser to the greater. TEV reads:  "the members of the family will be called by even worse names."

Kretzmann: The enemies had gone so far as to apply the epithet Beelzebub, lord of idolatry, prince of devils, to Christ. It would be presumption for His followers to expect less.
Lenski: The Jews called Jesus a devil's name because he drove out devils; and Jesus says that they will treat his disciples in the same way with less hesitation.

Matthew 10:26 So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.

This section is paralleled in Luke 12:2-9. Verses 26-31 can be subdivided into three sections:

  1. Verses 26-27;

  2. Verse 28;

  3. Verses 29-31.

The verse refers back to verses 24-25:  "You are not above Christ when it comes to suffering. But He conquered them. Therefore etc."

Note the parallelism. Everything hidden and covered will be revealed and known. The LB applies it  only to the persecutors:  "For the time is coming when the truth will be revealed; their secret plots will become public information." 

Ylvisaker applies it only to the Christian message which they will preach.

Ylvisaker: And even granting that their word meets opposition from within and from without, the truth which they confess shall be victorious over all the earth. The Gospel shall become known throughout the world. Therefore they shall not permit themselves to be frightened by the strength of the opposition, but further the cause of the Kingdom with courage and assurance. The saying in verse 26 is significant when applied to the promulgation of the Gospel in verse 27.
Kretzmann: God will, on the Day of Judgment, set everything in the proper light and render to every man his dues.
Lenski: The statement is general and here refers both to the enemies of Christ and all their secrets and to the disciples and the blessed gospel secret. Everything shall come to light, so do not have the least fear either that you shall fail, or that they shall succeed.

These Notes prefer the interpretation of Kretzmann and Lenski. It amounts to a Christian axiom. Underlying verse 26 is the thought that the Word of the Lord endures and conquers. God's Word will prosper and attain its goal. Read all of Isaiah 55.

Matthew 10:27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.

Again we have parallel thoughts.  "What I say-speak --- what you hear-preach." Added to that we have the parallels  "in the darkness-in the light" and "in the ear-on the housetops." Ylvisaker interprets:  "within the disciple group-public promulgation" and "a symbol of familiarity-public promulgation."

Lenski: What is told in the darkness is the same as what is covered; and what is whispered into the ear is, of course, secret. In due time they would be called on to make them public. Nor will the hostile efforts of men be able to prevent their publication. The gospel cannot be suppressed. Jesus is telling them to speak and proclaim in clear, unmistakable language, openly, courageously.

Matthew 10:28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

"Quit being afraid of etc." Whenever Scripture tells believers not to be afraid, it gives the reason why they should not fear and is always practically saying:  "Let Jesus do the worrying and fearing," if we may speak thus. Compare 1 Peter 5:7; Isaiah 43:1-5; Psalm 46:1-2; Matthew 6:33-34.

Bengel: I FEAR HIM is a stronger phrase than I AM AFRAID OF HIM.

The article with the present participle denotes a class of people, those who hate Christ and His Gospel and will go so far as to kill, but only "the body." They can do no more than that.

No human being, not even the devil, can harm my soul, so long as I cling to and confess Jesus and his Word. What a comfort! If a Christian loses his soul, he loses all.

Bengel: He who publicly preaches hidden truth, him the world afflicts; he who fears everything except Him. 1 Peter 3:14.15.

The person who fears God, does so by faith. He fears God in the sense that he refuses to commit sin and go contrary to the will of God. He speaks as did Joseph, Genesis 39:9. All sin is sin against GOD. He speaks as did Paul at 1 Corinthians 9:27. He will not let his flesh get the upper hand. Galatians 5:16.17. Stephen, the martyr (Acts 7), is the best example, other than Christ Himself, of a person who feared God rather than to be afraid of people.

Bengel: It is not easy to preach the truth; and to none are severer precepts given than to the ministers of the Word, as is evident from the epistles to Timothy and Titus. . . . Many witnesses to the Truth have been first excited, and afterwards led on, by the most fearful terrors from God.

Matthew 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny ? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.

We noted above that verses 26-31 center on the word "fear."
  1. Verses 26-27: Don't fear mere people because your message, spoken openly, will succeed;

  2. Verse 28: Be fearless. Men can only kill your body but can't destroy your soul;

  3. Verses 29-31: If God providentially cares for the seemingly worthless in the animal kingdom and cares for your body infinitely more than you can, why should you fear?

Here we have two arguments from the lesser to the greater, one in verse 29, the second in 30, and the two combined in verse 31.

The answer "of course" means:  "They are nearly worthless. In fact, we didn't know they were worth that much." It amounts to a penny in our day. Note that Jesus says "your" Father, not "their" Father. He is not the Savior of sparrows and yet cares infinitely for them. The single point is: "How great Thou art!"  We so easily doubt the greatness of God and His loving providence which reaches even the cheapest life in nature.

Matthew 10:30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

All are numbered," by God, of course. This is a present periphrastic, denoting the present state, as translated by all translations except TEV and JB which make it  "have been counted." God is not pictured as a hair-counter but as a God Who cares infinitely and providentially for the crown of creation, man. It has been estimated that the average human being has about 150,000 hairs on his head. If He cares that much, what dare or can I ever fear?

Matthew 10:31 So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

"In view of God's infinite care for the cheapest in nature and for the smallest detail in the crown of creation, man ." "Quit fearing,"  which implies that we do. The conclusion is obvious, but lest we miss it He adds: Than many sparrows you are of more value, YOU. Note the contrast between "one" and "many."

With reference to sparrows in verses 29 and 31. His providential will covers just one sparrow. How much more the many? But you are worth more even than the many. Quit being afraid!

Matthew 10:32 Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.

Again an inferential "therefore." It draws an inference which covers verses 24-31. Everyone whoever "no matter who." The basic meaning of "acknowledge" is "to say the same thing." Using this same verb, Romans 10:9 says:  "If you confess the Lord Jesus with your mouth and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." And then in verse 10:  "For with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."

The confession of a Christian is not a meritorious deed but rather a confession of what has already saved him. "Confess" in Matthew 10:32 denotes the intimate relationship between Christian confessor and Lord. By faith the confessor says the same thing as Christ did as to His person, Word and work for all men.

"Before the people"  obviously means openly, frankly, fearlessly.

"I also" denotes the close relationship again His confession will correspond to that of the confessor, openly, frankly, fearlessly  "before My Father, the One in heaven." Note that He says My Father, not  your.  Jesus is Advocate of the confessor among men. This is primarily eschatological, the final Judgment, but is going on now already. If we refuse to confess Him now, it follows that He is not confessing us before the Heavenly Father.

If this last sentence bothers your conscience, read 1 John 2: 1, your only help.

Matthew 10:33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

"But" means  "and contrariwise." The opposite holds true also. Note the correspondence between 32 and 33. But note the differences also.

"To deny" Christ is to do to Him what Peter did to Him. There can be no starker law, the second use of the law, than this verse. Bengel calls it "the law of retribution." Revelation 3:5 is very comforting for confessing believer. It corresponds to verse 32. Matthew 7:23 is a frightening passage. It corresponds to verse 33. Repentance covers all of Christian living.

God, be merciful to me, the sinner!


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Matthew-John Sundays After Pentecost Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 14-17. Used with permission.

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