In the Fulness of Time/Part 54

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2007
Dr. Figart reveals that Jesus’ plea for laborers for the harvest is an example of Christ’s compassion toward the lost.

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Christ’s Authority Over His Twelve Apostles Matthew 9:35-10:42

His Compassion and Call. 9:35-38

His Compassion on the Multitudes. 9:35-36

Matthew 9:35 “And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.”

While this is a summary of His ministry, and is almost identical with Matthew 4:23, it is also another manifestation of Christ’s compassion toward the great numbers of people to whom he ministered. Like 4:23, here He continues to preach “the gospel of the kingdom.” The message is given in connection with many miracles, since He is presenting Himself as their Messiah/King and proving His words by His works. When He commissions the Twelve Apostles in the next chapter, it will be with the same message and the same authority over disease, demons and even death, in order to prove the validity of their message as well.

Matthew 9:36 “But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them,because they were faint, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.”

The long Greek word splangchnidzomai is the strongest one for expressing compassion. It refers to inner organs of the body such as kidneys, liver and intestines, since this is where the Greeks believed the seat of the emotions to reside. Not only in this verse, but in 14:14 and 15:32 it is repeated to show Christ’s concern for the multitudes. On other occasions the same word expresses His feelings toward the leper (Mark 1:41) and to the widow of Nain (Luke 7:13).

The multitudes of Israel were like sheep “exhausted by their troubles and their long, aimless wanderings, and had thrown themselves to the ground in an utterly prostate condition” (Kenneth Wuest’s Translation of the New Testament, p. 23). Israel had plenty of leaders but no real shep­herd. Jesus describes them as “lost sheep” in Matthew 10:6; He wanted to be their Shepherd (cf. John 10) but His own people refused to receive His help!

His Call for Harvesters. 9:37-38

Matthew 9:37-38 “Then saith he to his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray ye, therefore, the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest.”

The word “harvest” (therismos) is used in different ways depending on each context. In its final sense there is the harvest of God’s judgment, as prophesied in Joel 3:11-14, or even in Matthew 13:30, “at the end of the age” when the wheat and tares are separated. But in John 4:35-38 an entirely different picture is presented, one of reaping fruit “unto life eternal.” Jesus says, “I sent you to reap that on which ye bestowed no labor; other men labored, and ye are entered into their labors.”

It would seem that such a positive harvest is meant here in Matthew 9:35-38, because it is “plenteous” (polus) and laborers are needed to reap the harvest. How could this refer to a harvest of judgment sometime in the future? This is also closely connected to chapter ten where Jesus commissions His twelve Apostles, and they are being sent out to reach the multitudes of whom Jesus spoke, who are the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Their message is still to be “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (10:7) which is the “gospel (good news, not bad news) of the kingdom.”

While it is true that those who reject Christ will eventually face the final judgment, this harvest is in the context of the compassion of Jesus Christ toward harassed and helpless sheep. He does not pronounce woes upon the cities where He performed His mighty works until Matthew 11:20-24. Then it is clearly a message of judgment, because they repented not; here in 9:37-38 the workers are to go into the harvest field with the good news that their Messiah/King is here and the “kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In the fulness of time, when He returns to earth, then the message of judgment will fall upon all who rejected Him!!

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