Matthew 10:16 (Jesus said to his disciples) “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
There is a LOT here. Let’s start with V.16. What does it mean to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”? I think Jesus means that the disciples shouldn’t be naive to think there is no risk in ministering in his name. There are a growing number of people who want to take Jesus out so his disciples can expect similar treatment. To be wise as a serpent is to be street smart, aware of what’s happening around them. To be “innocent as doves” means they’re not to get into the gutter with those who oppose them. As representatives of the Kingdom of God in Jesus’ name they are to avoid the methods of deceit and violence others employ against them.
To keep this short I’ll only speak to one other verse. In v.23 Jesus makes a sort of promise. Yes, the disciples will have it rough as they’re sent out to minister, but it won’t last forever. In fact, they won’t have finished their task of proclaiming the Kingdom of God throughout Israel before Jesus comes again. Well, at least that’s what the verse suggests. Hard to read it any other way, yet we know that’s not what happened. We’re still waiting.
Verses like this have me wondering if perhaps Jesus didn’t know EVERYTHING that was to happen or exactly how/when things would unfold. I’m guessing when Jesus said he would return in the disciples’ lifetimes he meant it. Or when Jesus asked for the Father to take his cup of suffering from him in the Garden of Gethsemane. I think part of being truly human, which Jesus was, is experiencing the element of surprise. Disappointment. Heartbreak.
Thank you Lord Jesus that you know what it’s like to live on this earth as a vulnerable human being, subject to the uncertainties of life. Give us grace to stand firm in the times of our distress. Amen.