Matthew 9:35-10:8

Angel holding bundle of harvested wheat.
 "Angel holding bundle of harvested wheat." 
Reprinted from Icon: Visual Images for Every Sunday, copywrite© 2000 Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission.


Matthew 9:35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.

The verse is almost identical to Matthew 4:23. The word "all" in this verse and in 10: I does not mean that He had visited every town and had healed every instance of disease, but rather that He had traveled very extensively in Galilee and had healed every instance of illness brought to His attention. There were still towns to be visited and there were still diseases to be healed.

During the state of humiliation Jesus' human nature did not always use all the attributes which His human nature was given. Note that, as in 10:7.8 , preaching and teaching are mentioned before healing. The latter corroborated the former and, of course, also denoted Jesus' compassion. Jesus' compassion came to people through instruction in the Word and the power to heal. The expression  "good news of the kingdom" here proves that the "kingdom" is already present in the Gospel, the gracious rule of God in His Gospel.

Matthew 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

"When he saw" clearly indicated Jesus' humanity. He learned by personal experience.

Bengel: The disposition of Jesus was most fruitful in works of mercy.

That should never be forgotten.

Lenski: The compassion of Jesus is one of the deepest, richest, most comforting of all his Savior qualities. The casual observer of the multitudes would never have seen what Jesus saw.

True. Both the humanity and divinity of Jesus are implicit in verse 36.

The translations are interesting: AV: " fainted and were scattered;"  NKJV:  "weary and scattered;"  RSV and NIV:  "harassed and helpless;"  TEV and NEB:  "worried and helpless;"  JB:  "harassed and dejected;"  NASB:  "distressed and downcast."  This means more than the lost condition of all men as the words "as sheep not having a shepherd" clearly indicate.

Ylvisaker: The shepherds in Israel were as hirelings who were concerned for themselves and not for the sheep, and the instructors gave stones instead of bread.

Matthew 9:37 Then he said to his disciples,  "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.

In verse 36 we had the figure of lost sheep. Here Jesus introduces another figure: that a harvest and laborers. "Plentiful" not just temporal but also causal. He was about to do something about this terrible condition. Here the twelve are called "the disciples." This word has various meanings in the New Testament.

Stoeckhardt: When Jesus had withdrawn Himself to a lonely region, He chose the Twelve, whom He called Apostles. In all of Galilee Jesus had faithful disciples. Even though the great multitude did not change their hearts and attitude, and refused to accept the grace and love of Christ, His Word nevertheless brought some fruit. Especially those who had suffered and had felt His miraculous help, clung with their hearts to their Benefactor. Most of His followers remained at home and at their work, proclaiming the praise of the Lord, and were Christ's followers in the spiritual sense of the Word. But a good portion of His disciples also followed the Lord wherever He went. Not that they were constantly with Him in His journeys, but as much as their own responsibilities and work permitted, to hear from His own lips the words of eternal life, and to rejoice in the great deeds He performed. Out of this circle of disciples that followed Him, the Lord chose for Himself the Twelve and designated them as His Apostles. . . . The word 'Apostle' means 'a messenger who is sent'. Later the Lord would send these Apostles out to preach, and to proclaim Christ to the world, continuing His work here on earth. They were to be witnesses of Christ also in a special way, different from the other disciples, speaking and writing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so that the church of the New Testament would be built on the Word of the Apostles, as well as on the words of the prophets, forming an unshakable foundation (Ephesians 2:20). In confirmation of their special calling the Lord equipped them with miraculous gifts and power, and chose twelve after the number of the twelve tribes of Israel, being the holy patriarchs of the New Testament. In the night before, Jesus prayed on the mountain to God, speaking as the eternal Son to the eternal Father, and agreeing with the Father about what He was going to do, Jesus choosing the twelve disciples 'whom He would' (Mark 3:13), the twelve being directed to Him also by His Father.

"Therefore" denotes great contrast.

Kretzmann: The harvest of God is always great, since He wants all men to be saved. When the souls have grown weary and surfeited with the husks of human doctrines and traditions of men, they are more apt to feel and realize their need of the Gospel of Jesus, as in the case of many of the Jewish nation.

Note the contrast: a  large  harvest ----  few  workers.

Matthew 9:38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." 

"Therefore, in view of this distressing need"  "The Lord" denotes the Father. During Jesus' humiliation the Father was "Lord of the harvest." It is far more than "Owner" (AAT) or "the one in charge" (LB). He is the One Who, through Christ, has compassion to send laborers.

The prayers of the saints on this earth are valuable in God's sight and unite their hearts to do His work. God alone sends workers whether immediately or mediately. Not even Christ sent Himself. Self-appointed workers try to outdo Christ.

The workers are those who are qualified to do this work and are sent.

Matthew 10:1 He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

It is remarkable that before the disciples had prayed for workers, Jesus empowered them to be workers. He answers even before we call but that does not excuse us from praying.

"Called" often denotes Jesus' tender call to Himself.  "Gave" cannot be stressed enough. These extraordinary, miraculous gifts were "given." Jesus did not say: "Pray for gifts." He said:  "Pray for workers." These gifts which Jesus gave were limited to the Apostles, to corroborate His message.

Bengel: How great the authority of Him Who gives authority!

Right. He is divine. He has already conquered the unclean spirits, works of Satan, the very antithesis of a Holy God and His angels. The "authority" is twofold: "to cast out, to heal." As mentioned above,  "every" does not mean "each instance" but rather "of every kind." It was a total authority over Satan and his work. The charismatics seldom mention this total authority over Satan. They merely try to impress us with a  "higher spirituality." What Jesus gave His disciples is vastly different from this.

Matthew 10:2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Mark 3:16-19 and Luke 6: 13-16 mention the Twelve earlier. Matthew places them here though they had been called earlier. The list is found once more at Acts 1:13.

Bengel: Matthew calls them apostles once, in the present passage; Mark does so once (6:30), and that when they returned from that mission; John never does so, for in 13:16 he uses the word in its general, not its particular, meaning; Luke does so in his Gospel particularly, but only on occasions, and those the same as Matthew and Mark or subsequently, for other weighty reasons. See Luke 6:13; 9:10; 11:49; 22:14; 24:10. . . . After the advent of the Paraclete, in the Acts and Epistles, they are never called disciples, but apostles. In the Acts, those only are called disciples, who had either learned with the apostles, or were then learning from the apostles, and were apostolic men. See Acts 6:1; 21:16. After which last passage the word 'disciple' does not occur again in the New Testament.

The names of the apostles, as indicated above, are recorded four times in the Gospels and Acts.

  1. The Twelve are named in pairs. They went out in pairs;

  2. In all four lists we find three quaternions, groups of four;

  3. Peter is always first,  primus inter pares, first among equals, in the first quaterion; Philip the first in the second group; James the son of Alphaeus in the third; and, Judas always last, though not found in the Acts that for obvious reasons;

  4. The names within the quaterions vary in order, for example, Matthew places himself last in his quaterion;

  5. The first six were formerly disciples of the Baptist;

  6. The first four were fisherman; Matthew was a tax gatherer; James, the son of Alphaeus was a relative of Jesus; Simon, the Zealot (that's what Canaanite means), was a proud Pharisee; Judas was not a Galilean like the other eleven, but from Judea.

The point we are making is that Jesus called twelve men from various backgrounds, endowed with differing gifts, but sanctified and purified their natural endowments for His service. All were given to Jesus by the Father, even Judas. That was no accident. It had been prophesied. This does not mean that God willed Judas to betray Jesus but that He used the betraying apostleship of Judas to save all men from sin

Matthew 10:5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:  "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.

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. The verse is very explicit:  "Don't go on a road that leads to the Gentiles and don't enter any city of the Samaritans." Jesus came first for the Jew. This first tour, which somewhat resembled our modern vicarage, was a trial mission.

"Go rather" means "but instead". Here Jesus recalls the metaphor of verse 36. Not only were the children of Israel lost, as are all men, but they had been miserably misled by their teachers.  "The sheep, the lost, of the house of Israel" is very explicit.

Matthew 10:7 As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.'

"Go" is repeated from verse 6. This verse immediately reminds us of the preaching of the Baptist, Mark 3:2, and of Jesus, Matthew 4: 17. It was clearly the preaching of repentance, sin and grace.

"Is near" means "it has drawn near and therefore is now here." This is not eschatological. Jesus was the embodiment of the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, the Twelve were to preach Christ. "Preach this message" means to bear a message from a superior. The Twelve were true heralds.

Matthew 10:8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give." 

Note the four groups of unfortunates, victims of Satan. Four simple commands put in the present imperative. There is no record of the Twelve (as in the case of the Seventy) actually performing these miraculous deeds but Jesus gave them this authority temporarily. They did not pray for these gifts. There is no record of these gifts going beyond the Apostolic Age. In fact, Hebrews 2:4 makes it plain that these extraordinary gifts merely attended and corroborated the Apostolic message only in the Apostolic Age. They are always and ever secondary to the preaching of the Kingdom of Heaven.

To absolve penitent sinners, to bring the spiritually dead to life, to prepare sinners for heaven, these are the great themes. This is the great "freely receive -- freely give."  NEB translates the last sentence: "You received without cost; give without charge." This in no way violates what is said in verse 10:  "The laborer is worthy of His food." Jesus means that we should never charge money for the spiritual gifts which He gives man in the Gospel. When a pastor takes perquisites for preaching, baptizing, confirmation, etc., he should make sure that he does not violate the principle:  "You received without cost; give without charge."


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. 11-13. Used with permission.

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