Responding to Persecution (Matthew 10:19-20, 23-31)By
Knowing that we are sent on mission in a hostile environment (Matthew 10:16), and having prepared ourselves for hostilities should they arise (Matthew 10:16-22), how are we to respond to persecution when the time comes?
Don’t be anxious over words, but trust the Holy Spirit to recall what you’ve been taught (10:19-20).
Though these instructions deal directly with the twelve whom Jesus is sending out in the Galilean mission (10:5), it is appropriate to hear this promise for a time beyond their immediate mission. After all, the reality of being brought before Gentile rulers for the purpose of witness (10:18) does not occur until after Pentecost. Specifically, the promise is that the Spirit of our Father will guide our words. We too have received the promised Spirit and should find hope in the promise that in the cases when we may be dragged before officials, be they religious or civil, we can trust God’s Spirit to guide our words as well.
This promise does not mean that we are excused from studying God’s word. This promise helps us realize that in some of the most difficult circumstances when we may be at a loss for words, God’s Spirit will guide us and help us recall the word that has taken root in our hearts: the word that we have read and studied and meditated on, in fact, all that we have been taught. Therefore, Jesus reminds us, don’t be anxious when you face that situation; trust God’s Spirit to guide you and present the gospel without fear of man.
When someone does not receive you, trust God’s sovereign grace and providential guidance (10:23).
There are two issues that make this particular verse difficult. First, to what does “all the towns of Israel” refer? Secondly, to what does “before the Son of Man comes” refer? The difficulty lies in that the most natural reading of the Son of Man coming has been the return of Christ in judgment. As to “all the towns of Israel,” the most natural reading would be the immediate Galilean mission. Yet, we know that Jesus has not returned in judgment. Additionally, we know that Jesus’ mission continued beyond Galilee and that by the end of Matthew’s gospel, there is expectation of a Gentile mission (Matthew 20:19-20).
The various possible interpretations are handled well by D. A. Carson in his commentary on Matthew. I’ll just provide one clue. “Son of Man” does not have to refer to the second coming of Christ. See Matthew 16:28 for a similar promise which is commonly said to refer to the transfiguration. For us, however, the principle is clear. When you, as a missionary or witness to Christ, are not received, trust in God, for he is sovereign and wisely guides us by his providence. God will accomplish all his holy will, and he may even choose persecution to advance his gospel. This is what we see in Acts:
Acts 8:1, 4, ESV: “And Saul approved of [Stephen’s] execution. And there arose on that
day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered
throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. . . . Now those who were
scattered went about preaching the word.”
Acts 11:19, ESV: “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose
over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no
one except Jews.”
Don’t be surprised by persecution (10:24-25).
Jesus himself was maligned and ultimately crucified. If we are his disciples, we should expect no different treatment (10:25; cf. John 15:18-25). As the apostle Peter reminds us:
1 Peter 4:12-15, ESV: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.”
So, don’t be surprised when persecution comes; it is to be expected (2 Timothy 3:12). Instead, be surprised we don’t face more persecution! We should ask ourselves why it is that we don’t personally face persecution if we call ourselves followers of Christ. Could it be that we are too comfortable in this world? Could it be that we are too afraid of people, so we remain silent witnesses?
Don’t fear people; fear God (10:26-31)!
If we are afraid of people, we will not witness. Knowing that fear is a natural temptation of his followers, Jesus commands us not to be afraid. Jesus gives us three reasons why we shouldn’t fear people – that is, those who are hostile to the gospel and us and might persecute us:
1. The truth will not be hidden (10:26). So, freely proclaim the good news now (10:27)! In other words, the gospel will be made known, so announce it!
2. The worse thing anyone can do is kill you, but the worse thing God can do is cast you in hell. Therefore, fear God & not man because the only thing they can do is kill you (10:28)!
3. Your heavenly father knows you intimately and cares for you – providence (10:29-31). This promise sustains us in the midst of the most dangerous situations – God loves us, cares for us and our lives are in his hands.
When we fear God, we will be set free from the fear of man which keeps us silent in the face of opposition. Christian, what do you do with 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”? May the Lord grant us the grace to believe his promises.
Listen to the Sermon: Fearless Sheep in the Midst of Wolves (Matthew 10:16-31)