The first thing these verses say Matthew 10.17-42 is that we can expect opposition. As far as the disciples were concerned, they could expect that in time they would be “hand[ed] … over to the local councils and flogged … in their synagogues.” This is what happened to Peter and other apostles in Acts 5.40 and to Paul on five separate occasions. As far as we are concerned, we can expect to be hated even by members of our own families, and to be severely persecuted even to the point of being put to death.
We should expect persecution because Jesus was treated this way and “a student is not above his teacher.” “If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!” Should we be different? We belong to Jesus, after all.
There will be good results, however. For one thing, persecution in one place will cause us to move to other places that also need the Gospel. This happened to the Christians in Jerusalem as a result of the persecution that followed the killing of Stephen. It was how the gospel spread from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria (Acts 8.1). Again, persecution brought the disciples before governors and kings before whom they bore important testimony. We can think of governors such as Felix and Festus, and kings such as Herod Agrippa I and Agrippa II. Acts documents the disciples’ testimony before these rulers, and testimony such as theirs has continued through the ages as believers have been privileged to testify before local magistrates, justices, despots, tyrants, presidents, and even kings.
Speaking before the powerful people of this world might be intimidating to normal Christians like ourselves. But Jesus tells us not to worry about what we should say since the Holy Spirit will enable us to testify well and wisely when the proper time comes. “When they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
It is worth observing that this is an instruction for martyrs, not for preachers, who give thought to what they will say and how to say it!
The second major theme of Matthew 10.17-42 is that Christ’s followers are not to be afraid as they pursue their evangelistic work, in spite of the hatred and persecution they will face. This is the most emphasized part of Jesus’ instructions; the words “do not be afraid” are repeated three times (vv. 26, 28, 31). Why should we not be afraid? In this section of the address, Jesus gives three reasons.
Jesus told them that truth will triumph. At the final judgment those who have persecuted Christ’s followers will be exposed as the wicked persons they are, and those who have been faithful to Christ will be exonerated. The good they have done will be noted. This theme appears again in Matthew 25, where Christ’s faithful servants are rewarded with Jesus’ commendation: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness,” and where those who have done good to others for Christ’s sake are praised for it: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
If that is the case, then Jesus’ disciples should not be afraid of those who are in powerful positions but should be bold in their public testimony. What Jesus was telling them in private now—things they did not understand fully but would understand after the resurrection—they should proclaim fully and widely then. This is a word for every Christian, but it is a special instruction for preachers, for it tells those who would preach the Gospel three things:
First, they must listen to Jesus, for no one can speak for Jesus until Jesus has first spoken to him. Second, they must speak only what they have heard from Jesus and not something that comes out of their own minds or imaginations. Third, they must speak Christ’s words even if their speaking gains them the hatred of the world.
William Barclay, who makes these points in his commentary on Matthew, tells about an occasion when Hugh Latimer, one of the most outstanding figures of the English Reformation, was preaching before King Henry VIII. He was about to say something he knew the king would dislike, so he held an audible dialogue with himself in the pulpit, calling out, “Latimer! Latimer! Be careful what you say. The king is here.” Then he paused and went on: “Latimer! Latimer! Be careful what you say. The King of kings is here.” Such knowledge gives boldness to Christ’s preachers. They know that one day they will give an accounting to the King of all kings. This is what gave such boldness to John Knox. They said as they buried Knox, “Here lies one who feared God so much that he never feared the face of any man.”
American Airlines pilot, Steven Scheibner was scheduled to fly Flight 11 on September 11, 2001. He was bumped at the last minute. In reflecting on God’s providence in sparing him. He said his life’s objective is “To seek, trust, and glorify God through humble service, through continual prayer, and to raise up qualified disciples as quickly as possible – so that one day I might hear God say ‘Well done my good and faithful servant!’”
Jesus said, “…have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed….Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”