Jesus Verse by Verse

an expanded commentary on the Gospel of Matthew

Jesus Verse by Verse...

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Digression 7 Matthew 10:16-39 And The Last Days

A careful reading of Mt.10:16-39 reveals many links with the Olivet prophecies concerning the latter day persecution of the saints; verses 17-21 are effectively quoted in Lk.21:12-18. The preaching tour of the disciples is to be especially replicated in the latter day witnessing of the Gospel. Mt.10:16 prefaces all this by saying that these tribulations will attend those who go out preaching the Gospel. It is not unreasonable to conclude that during the 3.5 year tribulation period there will be a zealous outreach world-wide which will no doubt encourage our persecution. At this time, when many believers "shall be offended" (spiritually stumble) and "the love of many (true believers) shall wax cold" (Mt. 24:10,11), the "Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Mt. 24:14)- i.e. the full establishment of the Kingdom. This in itself indicates the broad spiritual diversity there will be in the latter day body of Christ; a mixture of red hot zeal for witnessing and fellowshipping of our Lord's sufferings at one extreme, to cold indifference, lack of love and doctrinal unsoundness at the other.
"Ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake; but he that endureth to the end shall be saved" (Mt.10:22). The Greek phrase "the end" is often used in the New Testament, and always in the Olivet Prophecy, regarding the second coming.  This verse therefore has a distinctly literal application- he who spiritually survives the tribulation until the second coming will be saved fully, by receiving eternal life at the judgment. "It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you" (Mt.10:22) is an indication that the miraculous gifts may be evident around the time of the last day tribulation.
There are many other details in Mt.10:16-39 which fit in with our persecution thesis.
v.23 "When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another... ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of man be come". The coming of the Son of man must have reference to the last days as well as to AD70. His coming will be at a time of high speed witnessing, fuelled by persecution. The reference to the cities of Israel may imply that there will be a group of believers within the land, perhaps in the role of the Elijah ministry, witnessing the Gospel to the Jews.
v.27 "What ye hear in the ear (in quiet halls at the moment), that preach ye (then) upon the housetops". This seems to be giving special encouragement to persevere in preaching during the tribulation. There is a connection here with Mt. 24:17, which advises those upon the housetops to go with Christ at the time of his coming. This implies that at the moment of Christ's coming there will be zealous "upon the housetops" preaching by the faithful. It is only persecution  that will fire our community with that kind of zeal for evangelism, so that men may say of us that we have turned the world upside down by the power of our preaching, making us "the sect everywhere spoken against". These descriptions of the early church are yet to become true of its latter day counterpart.
v.28 "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul" - some of us will perish in the tribulation. "Some of you shall they cause to be put to death" (Lk. 21:16). "He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (v.39).
v.31 "Fear ye not". The faithful will have peace within them as they both consider and experience these things.
v.32,33 "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men... but whosoever shall deny me". This may imply that those who do not participate in the world-wide witness will declare themselves unworthy. However, the Greek for 'confess' really means to assent- as if it will only be by an apparently nominal indication of our faith that we fly our colours- cp. 'only' having to burn a pinch of incense to Caesar to avoid death in the first century. In the light of this, there is a need to keep our conscience finely tuned so that we are ready to make or refuse the apparently insignificant action or statement which will result in the world rejecting us. Similarly, a 'mere' confession of belief in the name of Jesus in the first century resulted in being cast out of the synagogue and socially ostracized (Jn. 9:22). This idea of denying Jesus is picked up in 2 Tim. 2:12, again in a persecution context: "If we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us". This parallels not denying Jesus in the tribulation with dying with him; another example of our tribulations then being described in terms of Christ's sufferings.
v.34-36 "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth (i.e. in this life)... I am come to set a man at variance against his father... a man's foes shall be they of his own household" . This is not really true today to such a degree. It may just be possible that the Greek tenses here mean 'I am coming to set a man at variance...', implying that in the period of Christ's return there will be betrayal within Christian families, as made explicit in Lk. 21:16.
v.37 "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me" - apart from betrayal by family members, the persecutors will also put pressure on the relatives of believers as a blackmail to make them renounce their faith. The consequences of all this, given the close-knit nature of Christian families, are horrendous. But how can we skip over the verses we don't like the sound of?
v.38 "He that taketh not his cross and followeth after me is not worthy of me... he that receiveth a prophet... shall receive a prophet's reward". This is further proof that during the tribulation there will be an especial fellowshipping of the Lord's sufferings on the cross. The reference to receiving itinerant preachers fits in to the picture of a major world-wide witness. Those who assist us during the tribulation preaching will be blessed- as those who blessed the persecuted Jews of the 1940s were blessed.
Israel's suffering in Egypt is the prototype for our tribulation. Their sufferings eventually resulted in a "mixed multitude" leaving Egypt with them, presumably as a result of their preaching to them. There appear to be two stages to the coming of Christ. The virgins were told by the cry at midnight that the bridegroom was coming; there is then a delay, before they finally meet Christ (Mt. 25:1-10). Song 5:4,7 describes Christ knocking on the door, the bride (the saints) rising to open, but being confused at finding him vanished (cp. the virgins finding the unexpected delay). On account of her preaching about the bride (Christ), the woman (the saints) was then severally persecuted: "The watchmen... found me, they smote me, they wounded me". It is likely that this 'delay' period will be the 3.5 years of persecution. We should therefore not think that because the tribulation has not started, Christ cannot come today. The news that 'He's back!' may be the beginning of the tribulation period.
Such a 3.5 year gap between being told Christ is about to come and his actual return would provide ample opportunity for many to fall away- "Where is the promise of his coming" which had been made a year or two ago? The midnight coming of the Lord to the harassed disciples on the sea of Galilee / nations may well be typical of his second coming. In a seemingly hopeless position, lashed by the sea of nations, the disciples will suddenly find themselves in their desired haven. The Lord saw their toil and took pity, as God looked down and saw the toil and affliction of Israel under persecution in Egypt, and then 'came down' to deliver them. Careful analysis of this incident provides us with a two stage model: a midnight coming of Christ to his persecuted, spiritually weak brethren, and then the wind (cp. persecution) ceasing a short while later when the Lord actually came into the ship (Mt. 14:32). Jn. 6:17 implies that Christ's appearing was later than the disciples thought He had promised; which even more exactly fits our position. As they were tempted to doubt Him, so are we in the last days. "O (we) of little faith!".