Jesus is about to send His disciples out to proclaim the Kingdom and He has given them unprecedented authority. Yet He has insisted that they take nothing along to help them, no money, no food or supplies, and He told them they are to be depending on the generosity of strangers for their sustenance. That may sound a little rough to us, but now He tells them the hardships they are likely to encounter, and in doing so, He speaks of an age to come, an age of battles and violence… the age we live in. As He tells the disciples of the hardships they will face, He might even remind us of the book of Revelation.
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. (10:16)
The disciples will encounter more than just those who reject their message- they will also encounter violent opponents. Jesus likens the situation to sheep among wolves, for they will be without defenses. How should they respond to such dire circumstances? They must be as shrewd as snakes. This is an allusion to Genesis 3:1: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.” In crisis, the disciple must be clear-headed and carefully think through his actions; not rash or impulsive. They must also be as “innocent as doves”, meaning that they must be entirely pure in motivation, seeking only to do what is right. As Jesus would later demonstrate, this purity would often silence His opponents.
Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. (10:17-18)
These things did indeed take place later as Jesus predicted here. Notice that not only will the disciples be badly treated, but their treatment will bring them opportunity to proclaim the Kingdom to the Gentile authorities, and as we know, this is what they would one day do.
But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (10:19-20)
Along with this dire message is a message of hope and God’s provision, for God will speak His message in and through you, and thus you will know who is ultimately in control of events, even in the middle of spiritual warfare with a powerful foe. The disciples, soldiers in the front lines of spiritual warfare are assured of their ultimate victory by this; their futures are very bright indeed, even though this world may view them as weak.
Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (10:21-23)
Persecution is even more ominous in these verses as families are torn apart by the combination of the Kingdom message and the violent reaction of this world, as the spiritual warfare of the heavens is manifested on earth. Yes, this is what will happen in our age- it is what began in Acts. Honestly, this is a message we need to understand today, for it is unfolding all around us in this world of ours; it is as fresh as the morning news, sad to say. Yet the day of the Son of Man is coming… One can only wonder what was going through their minds as Jesus spoke to them; what had they gotten themselves into? Yet, Jesus isn’t quite finished just yet; there is more to come next time.