Jesus—His Life and Message: The Charge to the Twelve

June 23, 2020

by Peter Amsterdam

All three Synoptic Gospels1 include the account of Jesus sending out His disciples on a mission trip.2 He gave them instructions regarding what to preach, what not to take with them, and where to stay. The focus in this post will be the account from Matthew 10:5–15, with excerpts from the Gospels of Luke and Mark being touched on as well.

The tenth chapter of Matthew begins by naming the twelve apostles. Then we are told that:

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”3

The disciples were instructed at this stage to focus their ministry on the Jewish people and to avoid Gentiles (non-Jews) and Samaritans.

The people of Samaria were originally Jews from the northern kingdom of Israel, but in 721 BC they were conquered by the Assyrians and deported. Some Jews remained in Samaria and intermarried with the Assyrians; thus they were no longer considered Jews, but rather a mixed race. Since Galilee was surrounded on three sides by Gentile territory, and in the south by Samaria, Jesus was basically telling them to remain in Jewish Galilee at this early point of His ministry and to focus on bringing the message to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Proclaim as you go, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”4 

This is the same message that Jesus preached: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and that John the Baptist preached.5 Along with preaching this message, they were to Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. These were the same types of miracles that Jesus had also done,6 as stated in the two previous chapters of Matthew, so we see that the apostles’ ministry was an extension of Jesus’ ministry.

Elsewhere in the Gospels, we read about the apostles healing the sick.

[Jesus] called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.7

They departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.8

They went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.9

In the Acts of the Apostles, we find that both Peter and Paul raised the dead.10

You received without paying; give without pay.11

Jesus instructed His disciples that they were not to charge for their services. In 2 Corinthians, we read Paul’s statement that he didn’t charge money for preaching the gospel.

Did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge?12

He also wrote that we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.13 At that time there were traveling philosophers and teachers who would expect not just food and lodging, but also payment for their teaching. Jesus stated that His disciples were to share the message without demanding pay for doing so. They could, however, accept lodging and food.

Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.14 

The Gospel of Luke says:

Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.15

The Gospel of Mark states:

He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts—but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.16

Normally, when people are preparing for a journey, they pack a bag, take some extra clothes, and bring along some money. Instead, Jesus instructed His disciples to travel light. They weren’t to take any gold, silver, or copper coins, nor any food.

They weren’t to take a bag—whereas normally one would take a travel bag with extra clothes and perhaps extra sandals. Neither should they take two tunics, meaning they should take only the one they were wearing. The tunic was an undergarment worn next to the skin, with a robe over it. They also were not to take along an extra pair of sandals. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke state that the disciples should not take a staff, while Mark says take nothing for their journey except a staff. Commentators give a variety of reasons for this discrepancy, but the most likely seems to be that, along with not taking an extra pair of sandals, they were only to take one staff and not an extra one. In giving these instructions, Jesus was making the point that the apostles were to trust that God would supply their needs through those to whom they were ministering.

Whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.17

Hospitality was important in Jesus’ time. While some towns might have had an inn, they were often avoided due to their unsavory moral reputations.18 Therefore, it was common for people to open their homes to travelers. There are examples of such hospitality in both the Old and New Testaments.19

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.20 

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.21 

Therefore an overseer must be … hospitable.22

Once the disciples had found suitable housing, they were to remain there until they left. There are two reasons that commentators give for Jesus’ command that the disciples stay with those who had offered them lodging and not move to another house during their stay. One was that after being invited to stay in one house, they might later get an invitation to a nicer, more luxurious house. While this is a possibility, it’s not likely this was the reasoning. It is more likely that Jesus was sending the disciples out in order for them to reach a variety of villages and towns, and if they were to every few days move from one house to another, they would tend to remain in the same town for longer periods of time; whereas the goal was to preach the message throughout the land in as many villages and towns as possible.23

As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.24

In the Gospel of Luke we read,

Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace be to this house!”25

When the disciples were offered a home to stay in, they were to offer a greeting/prayer for God’s peace to be on the household. To be the host to God’s messengers is, in a sense, to be hosting the Lord.

Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.26

However, some hosts or households might reject the message the disciples preached, and therefore be unworthy. When that was the case, the blessing of peace which the apostles proclaimed upon entering would not remain with the hosts.

If anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.27

Jesus knew that not everyone would welcome His representatives. Some would not receive them as guests and/or would reject their message. In such cases, the message bearers were instructed to acknowledge this rebuff. As they left the house or town that had rejected the message, they were to shake the dust from their feet.

While it was more likely that certain individuals would reject the disciples’ teachings and turn against them, there is reference in the Gospels to whole towns rejecting Jesus.

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”28

Leon Morris explains:

The Jews held that even the earth in Gentile lands was unclean, and it was their custom when they returned from abroad to shake from their feet the dust they had acquired when abroad. Jesus is telling his followers to treat the unwelcoming Jews as they would treat Gentiles.29

The phrase truly, I say to you, is used to introduce a solemn statement. Those who rejected Jesus’ message given through His disciples would be in a precarious position on the Day of Judgment. The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were known for their wickedness and were destroyed because of it. Jesus stated that the judgment of those who would not listen to or receive the message the disciples were giving would be worse than the devastating judgment on those two wicked cities. The people of Sodom rejected the angelic messengers30 and were judged severely; however, the judgment of those who reject Jesus’ message would be greater because they reject God’s message given directly through the Son of God.

While some would reject the message Jesus and His disciples preached, still the disciples were faithful to go from town to town proclaiming “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Their commission is the same commission given to all of us who believe:

Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.31


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

General Bibliography

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Brown, Raymond E. The Death of the Messiah. 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

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1 Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

2 Matthew 10:5–17, Mark 6:6–11, Luke 9:1–6.

3 Matthew 10:5–6.

4 Matthew 10:7.

5 Matthew 3:1–2.

6 Matthew 8:2–3, 13, 14–16, 28–32; 9:6–7, 18–25, 27–30, 32–35.

7 Luke 9:1–2.

8 Luke 9:6.

9 Mark 6:12–13.

10 Peter in Acts 9:36–43, Paul in Acts 20:9–12.

11 Matthew 10:8.

12 2 Corinthians 11:7.

13 2 Thessalonians 3:7–8.

14 Matthew 10:9–10.

15 Luke 9:3.

16 Mark 6:8–9.

17 Matthew 10:11.

18 Keener, The Gospel of Matthew, 319.

19 Genesis 19:2–3, Judges 19:18–21.

20 Hebrews 13:2.

21 1 Peter 4:9.

22 1 Timothy 3:2.

23 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 249.

24 Matthew 10:12–13.

25 Luke 10:5.

26 Matthew 10:40.

27 Matthew 10:14–15.

28 Matthew 11:20–21.

29 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 250.

30 Genesis chapter 19.

31 Mark 16:15 NAS.