In the Fulness of Time/Part 58
By: Dr. Thomas Figart
|By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2007|
|In this study of Matthew 10:16-23, Dr. Figart explains that the section has both a “now” and a “later” fulfillment. How were the disciples to be “wise as serpents,” but “harmless as doves”?|
The Opposition to the Ministry of the Apostles. Matthew 10:16-23
This section has occasioned much controversy among the commentators. The fact is that the opposition and persecution mentioned here did not occur during the ministry of the Apostles on this first journey. According to Mark 6:7-13 this is the same journey, and in Mark 6:30 the disciples gather together unto Jesus and report on this first tour. However, nothing is said of such opposition as mentioned in Matthew 10:16-23. In Luke 9:1-10 another parallel account is given, and it shows no opposition. Therefore, Matthew 10:16-23 must be a prophecy which goes far beyond this first tour of the Twelve. Some of the opposition mentioned in 10:16-20 may have been experienced by the Apostles in the accounts given in Acts, but even so, this does not include all the opposition mentioned.
Further, the problem of Matthew 10:23 remains unsolved in such an interpretation. Certainly, after their first tour they did report to Christ (according to Mark 6:30; Luke 9:10), but no mention is made of how few or how many cities they reached. Luke 9:6 merely says, “And they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.” We are prompted, therefore, to compare Matthew 10:16-23 with Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12-19 Matthew 24:9-14, all of which look forward to a time of great opposition which is called The Great Tribulation.
In speaking to His apostles in such a prophetic way, Jesus was not necessarily saying that they themselves would experience these things, any more than when He gave them the prophecy of Matthew 24:1-14, but simply that the sequence of events would be according to His prophecies! It must also be remembered that no dates or definite limits on time were given; this is true of most prophecy. As far as the return of Christ is concerned, it could have happened in one generation and it could have included the fulfillment of Matthew 10:16-23 in the lives of the Apostles. Of course, it is easy to look back, and as some have done, accuse Christ of being wrong, since those things did not occur on that first preaching tour. Yet, He never set dates; as a matter of record, Jesus even said, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels who are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father” (Mark 13:32). Even the terrible destruction which occurred as part of the War of the Jews from 67-70 A.D. does not account for the sweeping statements of Matthew 10:21-23, nor does that War explain the phrase, “till the Son of Man be come (10:23).
Their Position: Sheep Against Wolves. Matthew 10:16
- Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye, therefore, wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”
In this analogy Jesus uses three creatures to describe His Apostles and one to picture their enemies. Not every aspect of each creature is meant to be brought into the discussion; For example, sheep are not wise, so a contradiction might be supposed by admonishing sheep to be wise as serpents. Rather, it is the single characteristic of helplessness which is contrasted with the viciousness of the wolf. In Luke’s account of the Seventy (Luke 10:3), Christ makes this contrast even sharper by saying, “lambs among wolves.” Paul uses a similar analogy in Acts 20:28: “For I know that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock;” and in John 10:12 the helplessness of the sheep is evident when the hireling [hired man] “seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep and fleeth; and the wolf catcheth them and scattereth the sheep.”
The one good characteristic of the serpent which the Apostles were to follow was wisdom, from phronismoi, “wise” (which has the connotation of intelligence and prudence) as well as the characteristic harmlessness of the dove, from akeraioi, “harmless,” (which literally means “unmixed” and is used in the sense of purity and innocence). The viciousness of the wolf must be handled with prudence so that the sheep does not unknowingly allow the wolf to attack, and there must be innocence in not provoking unnecessary retaliation. This is not to say that it will be easy; the Apostles will be walking the chalk line, so to speak, and will have to be on constant alert to the wiles of their enemies. Nor will they always escape persecution, as the following verses assert. But whatever comes in their lifetime, or later, we know that “in the fulness of time” He that shall come, will come, and will not tarry! (Hebrews 10:37)