Matthew 10:16-25 (ESV)

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. 24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

Jesus teaches another tough message in this text. As the disciples did what he charged, they would be like sheep in the midst of wolves, implying exposure to constant danger. In response to the trouble they would face, Jesus cautioned them to be “Wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” What did Jesus mean when he asked them to be like serpents and doves? Although Jesus previously called them sheep, which are defenseless, they aren’t asked to be stupid. Being as wise as serpents means they must be careful and thoughtful when they come face to face with tough situations. At the same time, they are to be like the doves, considered gentle and kind. What a tough balance the Christian is called to! We need the empowerment of God’s Spirit to aid us in our weaknesses as we employ wisdom and kindness in all that we do. In verse 23, Jesus makes a statement that has been the source of much controversy. When he said his disciples would not have gone through all of Israel before he returns, he probably meant that after his ascension to the Father, he will return again before all the Jews have been evangelized. In other words, the followers of Jesus have much work to do as many souls (in this context, many of God’s special people, the Jews) are in need of salvation.

Despite the strong warning in this passage, Jesus gave the disciples encouragement. Even if they ended up facing rejection from their own family members (v. 21) or extreme hostility (v. 22), they were to remain confident, as their salvation and eternal protection were secure. Another layer of hope exists here as well. Although the followers of Jesus will suffer much difficulty for the gospel, God was and is already aware of every detail and had factors each trial into his predetermined plan. Nothing escapes his knowledge! The call to stand up for Christ in an unreceptive world is truly a high charge. The believer is to be thoughtful and smart, yet gracious and merciful, even in the face of rejection and hostility. How are you doing at handling the persecution God has allowed in your life? Are you overwhelmed by the pain and choosing not to see his grand design in all things? Or are you using every opportunity to speak the truth in love? Let’s determine to press on today in the work God has prepared for us to do, remembering that even if we are despised, we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.