the three-year Lectionary for public worship includes readings from Matthew 10, I will not be covering this chapter in my series Forbidden Bible Verses.

That said, Matthew 10 has some of the most memorable Gospel verses. Matthew Henry’s commentary on our Lord’s preparation of the Twelve Apostles helps to illuminate His teaching and purpose for them. Excerpts follow, emphases in bold mine.

Henry’s commentary will certainly prove useful to those teaching Bible or youth classes to those who are new to the Gospel. And this will be useful for parents and other family members teaching youngsters in their household about the Apostles. Henry’s words bring the Twelve and their ministry to life. Personally, I have not heard much deep preaching in church or anywhere else on Matthew 10.

St Matthew used the end of the preceding chapter to set the readers’ expectations for the selection and training of the Apostles — Matthew 9:35-38:

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Authority and the Apostles

Then we read Matthew 10:1:

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.

Henry explains:

Note, All rightful authority is derived from Jesus Christ. All power is given to him without limitation, and the subordinate powers that be are ordained of him … He gave them power over unclean spirits, and over all manner of sickness. Note, The design of the gospel was to conquer the devil and to cure the world. These preachers were sent out destitute of all external advantages to recommend them they had no wealth, nor learning, nor titles of honour, and they made a very mean figure it was therefore requisite that they should have some extraordinary power to advance them above the scribes.

Matthew gives us the names of the Twelve:

2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;[a] Simon the Zealot,[b] and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Henry explains the word ‘apostle’:

apostles, that is, messengers. An angel, and an apostle, both signify the same thing–one sent on an errand, an ambassador. All faithful ministers are sent of Christ, but they that were first, and immediately, sent by him, are eminently called apostles, the prime ministers of state in his kingdom.

They are named in twos because that is how they were sent out:

at first they were sent forth two and two, because two are better than one they would be serviceable to each other, and the more serviceable jointly to Christ and souls[;] what one forgot the other would remember, and out of the mouth of two witnesses every word would be established. Three couple of them were brethren Peter and Andrew, James and John, and the other James and Lebbeus. Note, Friendship and fellowship ought to be kept up among relations, and to be made serviceable to religion. It is an excellent thing, when brethren by nature are brethren by grace, and those two bonds strengthen each other.

Henry discusses the order of their names:

(3.) Peter is named first, because he was first called or because he was the most forward among them, and upon all occasions made himself the mouth of the rest, and because he was to be the apostle of the circumcision but that gave him no power over the rest of the apostles, nor is there the least mark of any supremacy that was given to him, or ever claimed by him, in this sacred college.

(4.) Matthew, the penman of this gospel, is here joined with Thomas (Matthew 10:3), but in two things there is a variation from the accounts of Mark and Luke, Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15. There, Matthew is put first in that order it appears he was ordained before Thomas but here, in his own catalogue, Thomas is put first. Note, It well becomes the disciples of Christ in honour to prefer one another. There, he is only called Matthew, here Matthew the publican, the toll-gatherer or collector of the customs, who was called from that infamous employment to be an apostle. Note, It is good for those who are advanced to honour with Christ, to look unto the rock whence they were hewn often to remember what they were before Christ called them, that thereby they may be kept humble, and divine grace may be the more glorified. Matthew the apostle was Matthew the publican.

(5.) Simon is called the Canaanite, or rather the Canite, from Cana of Galilee, where probably he was born or Simon the Zealot, which some make to be the signification of Kananites.

As for Judas, his presence as one of the Twelve shows us that we should not be surprised if vile, evil leaders turn up in the Church:

(6.) Judas Iscariot is always named last, and with that black brand upon his name, who also betrayed him which intimates that from the first, Christ knew what a wretch he was, that he had a devil, and would prove a traitor yet Christ took him among the apostles, that it might not be a surprise and discouragement to his church, if, at any time, the vilest scandals should break out in the best societies.

Some we know more about than others:

Note, all the good ministers of Christ are not alike famous, nor their actions alike celebrated.

Why twelve?

Henry explains that the number twelve occurs several times in the Bible:

Their number was twelve, referring to the number of the tribes of Israel, and the sons of Jacob that were the patriarchs of those tribes. The gospel church must be the Israel of God the Jews must be first invited into it the apostles must be spiritual fathers, to beget a seed to Christ. Israel after the flesh is to be rejected for their infidelity these twelve, therefore, are appointed to be the fathers of another Israel. These twelve, by their doctrine, were to judge the twelve tribes of Israel, Luke 22:30. These were the twelve stars that made up the church’s crown (Revelation 12:1): the twelve foundations of the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:12,14), typified by the twelve precious stones in Aaron’s breast-plate, the twelve loaves on the table of show-bread, the twelve wells of water at Elim. This was that famous jury (and to make it a grand jury, Paul was added to it) that was impanelled to enquire between the King of kings, and the body of mankind and, in this chapter, they have their charge given them, by him to whom all judgment was committed.

Our Lord’s instructions

Matthew 10:5-15 has the detail of what Jesus told the Apostles to do. Parallel accounts are in Luke 9:1-6, which I wrote about in 2013, and Mark 6:7-13. I find it useful to list parallel verses found in the other Synoptic Gospels as this helps to establish the veracity of the New Testament. Too many mockers and detractors say that accounts in one Gospel are not corroborated by the others. In most cases, this is simply not true.

Henry breaks down these verses in Matthew 10 and calls our attention to the following:

They must not go into the way of the Gentiles, nor into any road out of the land of Israel, whatever temptations they might have. The Gentiles must not have the gospel brought them, till the Jews have first refused it … If the gospel be hid from any place, Christ thereby hides himself from that place. This restraint was upon them only in their first mission, afterwards they were appointed to go into all the world, and teach all nations.


The first offer of salvation must be made to the Jews, Acts 3:26. Note, Christ had a particular and very tender concern for the house of Israel they were beloved for the fathers’ sakes, Romans 11:28. He looked with compassion upon them as lost sheep, whom he, as a shepherd, was to gather out of the by-paths of sin and error, into which they were gone astray, and in which, if not brought back, they would wander endlessly see Jeremiah 2:6.

From this we get the term ‘Wandering Jew‘, which I haven’t heard in years. The last time was in the 1980s with regard to the plant, a lovely variegated vine which grows quickly and easily.

The nature of the Apostles’ preaching was to proclaim a spiritual kingdom, not a temporal one:

the kingdom of heaven at hand: not so much the personal presence of the king that must not be doated upon but a spiritual kingdom which is to be set up, when his bodily presence is removed, in the hearts of men.

Today, the message is still the same, despite the divine institution of the Church:

when the Spirit was poured out, and the Christian church was formed, this kingdom of heaven came, which was now spoken of as at hand but the kingdom of heaven must still be the subject of our preaching: now it is come, we must tell people it is come to them, and must lay before them the precepts and privileges of it and there is a kingdom of glory yet to come, which we must speak of as at hand, and quicken people to diligence from the consideration of that.

I’m trying to think of the last time I heard an Anglican priest preach about the kingdom of Heaven. Hmm. I could be some time…

Henry explains that the extraordinary gifts the Apostles were given served as the foundation of the Church. They were to be temporary:

to call for miracles now is to lay again the foundation when the building is reared. The point being settled, and the doctrine of Christ sufficiently attested, by the miracles which Christ and his apostles wrought, it is tempting God to ask for more signs.

On this subject, an atheist told me ten years ago that Jesus was nothing more than a gifted magician! Henry makes it clear that Jesus did not work frivolous miracles and nor did He authorise His Apostles to perform them:

not “Go and remove mountains,” or “fetch fire from heaven,” but, Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers. They are sent abroad as public blessings, to intimate to the world, that love and goodness were the spirit and genius of that gospel which they came to preach, and of that kingdom which they were employed to set up the intention of the doctrine they preached, was to heal sick souls, and to raise those that were dead in sin and therefore, perhaps, that of raising the dead is mentioned for though we read not of their raising any to life before the resurrection of Christ, yet they were instrumental to raise many to spiritual life.

The Apostles were not to accept money because Christ freely embued them with powers that were not of their own making or learning. Therefore, it would be wrong to accept payment for something they were not personally responsible for in terms of knowledge or their own ability:

Their power to heal the sick cost them nothing, and, therefore, they must not make any secular advantage to themselves of it.

There is another aspect to this. Henry draws on the dire example of Simon Magus, the magician in Acts who wanted to pay the Apostles to teach him how to work miracles:

Simon Magus would not have offered money for the gifts of the Holy Ghost, if he had not hoped to get money by them Acts 8:18. Note, The consideration of Christ’s freeness in doing good to us, should make us free in doing good to others.

Henry explains the instruction to enquire in every town who the worthy people were:

In the worst of times and places, we may charitably hope that there are some who distinguish themselves, and are better than their neighbours some who swim against the stream, and are as wheat among the chaff. There were saints in Nero’s household. Enquire who is worthy, who there are that have some fear of God before their eyes, and have made a good improvement of the light and knowledge they have. The best are far from meriting the favour of a gospel offer but some would be more likely than others to give the apostles and their message a favourable entertainment, and would not trample these pearls under their feet.

The Apostles had to stay in one house during their stay because:

They are justly suspected, as having no good design, that are often changing their quarters. Note, It becomes the disciples of Christ to make the best of that which is, to abide by it, and not be for shifting upon every dislike or inconvenience.

Where they were not well received, the Apostles were to leave, shaking the dust from that house or city from their feet, an ancient Jewish custom which has its origins in the Old Testament:

The apostles must have no fellowship nor communion with them must not so much as carry away the dust of their city with them. The work of them that turn aside shall not cleave to me, Psalm 101:3. The prophet was not to eat or drink in Bethel, 1 Kings 13:9. [2.] As a denunciation of wrath against them. It was to signify, that they were base and vile as dust, and that God would shake them off. The dust of the apostles’ feet, which they left behind them, would witness against them, and be brought in as evidence, that the gospel had been preached to them, Compare Jam. v. 3. See this practised, Acts 13:51,18:6.

Jesus told the Twelve that judgement would surely come to the places that rejected them:

The condemnation of those that reject the gospel, will in that day be severer and heavier than that of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom is said to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire, Jude 1:7. But that vengeance will come with an aggravation upon those that despise the great salvation. Sodom and Gomorrah were exceedingly wicked (Genesis 13:13), and that which filled up the measure of their iniquity was, that they received not the angels that were sent to them, but abused them (Genesis 19:4,5), and hearkened not to their words, Matthew 10:14. And yet it will be more tolerable for them than for those who receive not Christ’s ministers and hearken not to their words. God’s wrath against them will be more flaming, and their own reflections upon themselves more cutting.

Any universalist reading this thinking all are saved would do well to brush up on the New Testament. One reading does not suffice. People who reject Christ will not be saved in the world to come. It may sound unsophisticated to the armchair intellectual, nonetheless it is the unvarnished truth as Jesus told it.

More to come on Matthew 10 from Matthew Henry.

Tomorrow: Jesus on persecution