What one thing is the true test of a lover’s devotion? We like to experience the passion of young love. Our favorite romantic movies are those in which love is accompanied by intense feelings, danger, and the perfect degree of comic relief. None of these things can measure the fidelity of one’s love for another. A pastor’s devotion to his congregation cannot be measured by his charisma, passion, or friendliness. A Christian’s devotion to his or her church family cannot be seen in a smile, hug, or joke. What one thing is the truest measure of devotion in any arena of life or ministry? What one thing is the truest measure of one’s devotion to Christ?
Jesus has given his twelve disciples authority and sent them out on their first missionary excursion. He has warned them, “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (10:16). In today’s passage, Jesus continues to tell his twelve disciples what they will experience on this first missionary excursion.
But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.
Jesus’s prediction (v. 17-18)
But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.
In the context of this story, Jesus is giving His first 12 disciples the lesser commission. He is sending His apostles (here to mean missionaries) on a short-term mission trip. It seems like the disciples will experience what Christ describes on this particular missionary journey. Jesus tells them what will eventually happen, but He does not give them a timeframe. Christ’s predictions, here, will be fulfilled in the lives of the twelve—but not until later in their lives. We see most of this come to pass in the book of Acts.
Notice verse 18. Jesus gives a reason these persecutions will eventually overtake the lives of the twelve. Things will be this way for Christ’s sake as a testimony to the persecutors and Gentiles. Since this verse explicitly predicts the path of the twelve, it does not apply strictly to every single Christian in every place at every time in redemptive history. Not every Christian will be handed over to courts and scourged in synagogues and brought before governors and kings to stand trial. This was predicted for the lives of the twelve apostles particularly. There is a principle, here, that applies universally. When Christians experience persecution, hatred, or accusation, God means it for Christ’s sake—that we might bring a testimony of Christ to our accusers and to unbelievers.
When we go out, serve others, practice our spiritual gifts well, strive to follow Christ in all things, and preach the Gospel outside the walls of the church, God means persecution for Christ’s sake. How else would the testimony of Christ make it to our accusers or to unbelievers if we were not accused, hated, or persecuted? We would have no chance to engage people who do not believe as we do. Jesus doesn’t hide hurt from His apostles or from us. He is working all things together for the glory of the Father and His own exaltation. What our enemies mean for evil, God means for Christ’s sake—for good.
We are experiencing this truth. There is one church in town that hates the local church I have the great pleasure of serving. The pastor accuses us of not even being saved from the pulpit because we believe the doctrines of grace. For more than a year, now, I have tried to reach out to this pastor in a variety of ways. He ignores every effort. The one time he stopped me on the road as I was walking he said that he could not participate with us in anyway because he did not want to expose his people to our false teaching. I have since listened carefully to his sermons and I know why he believes our teaching to be false—we preach the Bible and he does not. I have shown how here. Throughout the year, we just happened to be at an event or helping friends move and another person in leadership at this church was present. I tried to introduce myself, but, like a ninja, the man avoided me and gave me the cold shoulder. I haven’t done anything but be here and preach Christ crucified. What our enemies mean for evil, God means for Christ’s sake. Just to be clear, I love the people at that church dearly. I hope they know Christ. As far as it depends on me, I will live at peace with them. We are willing to endure accusation, hatred, and persecution because that is what God uses to give us a chance to testify about Him to the whole world. We don’t have to respond by telling everyone else exactly how we believe they are wrong morally or theologically. That is the human-cantered, works-based response. Our desire is to take the opportunity to tell about Christ’s Gospel of grace and nothing less will do. To do this is to swim upstream in the vast world of belief; yes, even against the current of most “Christian” worldviews.
Jesus’s instruction for the future (v. 19-20)
But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.
Jesus gives His apostles instructions for the point in their lives when they would be handed over. They are not to plan ahead of time how they will defend themselves or offer counter accusations. The Spirit will speak in them and through them. Matthew is writing to Jews who have, in large part, hated Christ’s church. We remember that Matthew’s Gospel is an apologetic work. As Matthew writes, he exemplifies What Christ has instructed and proves Christ’s prediction to be true.
Jesus predicts the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2). The Holy Spirit will give the apostles what to say as a testimony of Christ to their accusers and unbelievers. As believers today, we share the same Holy Spirit. As we practice God’s mission and accusations, hatred, and persecutions result, the Holy Spirit gives us the words of Christ’s self-testimony in that time. It’s not really something we can plan for. Jesus is good enough to warn us of the coming hardships that result from living on mission. Perhaps these do not look exactly like the hardships of the apostles, but hardships will result for Christ’s sake among the nations.
The reason Christians are hated (v. 21-23)
Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.
Because there is such hatred against God and the people of God in the world, Christ predicts that people will respond to His gospel in such a way that even families will divide and murder. They will do this in response to the good works of Christians and their message of grace and forgiveness to the nations. It doesn’t make much sense that people would respond in this way, but we witness it in our own time. Jesus is predicting that the Gospel of grace will be more like a sword in this world (cf. v. 34) and that people will respond with persecution, hatred, and accusation rather than by repenting. This is what we are to expect when we take up God’s mission on this earth. It truly is a miracle that anyone comes to Christ and that any healthy local church experiences any growth at all. The normative response to Christ’s true gospel is hatred and disdain. Yet, we are charged to present the testimony of Christ, not responding in kind.
You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.
Verse 22 reaffirms what we read in verse 18. The people of God, particularly the twelve apostles, are hated by the people of the world because of Christ’s name, or for Christ’s name’s sake. Jesus follows this prediction with a promise. Those who endure to the end will be saved. There are two ways this promise can be interpreted. Those who serve Christ well and do not fall away will receive final salvation. They will not lose the salvation they currently have. Or, those who truly love Christ will endure through persecution to final salvation. What do you think Jesus means?
Since this statement is so vague, we cannot rightly use it to claim either eternal security or the possibility of losing salvation. We can simply know that those who endure are saved and those who do not are not. This verse does not provide the specifics of soteriology. In verse 37, we will see that the issue at hand is love. The greatest measure of love is not good vibes, charisma, smiles, fun, entertainment, giftgiving, or comfort. The greatest measure of love is endurance. That is why Christ will teach, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.” If we love ourselves or anything in this world more than Christ, we will not endure. Love takes the first place. Love drives our endurance. If we do not endure, we show that Christ is not actually our chief love; we do not truly confess Him as Lord.
If we love Christ, then, we endure persecution, hatred, and accusation for Christ’s sake. In a world where and when many things strive to pull us from Christ, from Christ’s church, and from God’s mission, this means much. How often do people fail to endure because they will miss a television show, a ball game, not have time for homework, need to do chores, or need to rest? Even those who do not have their safety threatened or against whom no accusation is being made show that they do not love Christ because they cannot endure even when there is no real opposition. Please don’t misunderstand my claim, here. I am not calling people who claim to be “Christians” to muster up endurance for themselves and GO TO CHURCH! I am calling people to love Christ preeminently. When we love Christ, we choose the things of Christ over everything else naturally.
We don’t only endure through persecution, hatred, and accusation (or through personal preferences and idols…). We endure in something as well. In context, that is God’s mission. Christianity isn’t the sort of worldview that allows us to believe a set of doctrines and stick our heads in the sand. Because Christ is our chief love, we endure in proclaiming His testimony on every platform that God means for Christ’s sake. We don’t back down. We can’t. We love Christ too much.
But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.
When people rejected the Gospel of grace, Christ instructs His apostles to move on. They will not be able to get to everyone before the Son of Man comes. He will come in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. We will see that more when we get to Matthew 24.
We complain about the world for hating and mistreating Christians. We are surprised when people leave a Bible-preaching church. We often wonder why so many people hear the Gospel and never return to a church after visiting or continue on their paths to destruction. Why? Christ said that His disciples would be hated and mistreated for His own name’s sake. This serves a purpose. Even Jesus would see most people forsake Him (John 6:66); why to we expect our lives and ministries to be different than Christ’s? Do we see why it is so dangerous to have a comfortable, privileged, or stupefied Christian? Even though the Gospel is rejected, we are to be telling people about Christ in the face of their rejection. We are to be telling them with much care and grace. This is for Christ’s sake, not ours.