New covenant warfare (Matthew 10:16-42)

The gospel of Matthew is the gospel of the King. Matthew portrays Jesus as the promised Davidic King, the Messiah who has come to fulfill all of the Lord’s promises to Israel. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus establishes the characteristics of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven and describes the nature of the kingdom itself, declaring that He has come to fulfill the Law and to bring in a righteousness far superior to that of the scribes and the Pharisees. The Sermon, then, gives us the principles of the new covenant.

Now in Matthew 10:16-42, Jesus, like the commanding officer of a great army, tells His disciples about the warfare of the new covenant. This post is mostly about this warfare.

First, however, we need to understand what is going on in this chapter. In Matthew 10:5-15, Jesus sends out His apostles with the message to Israel (10:5-6) that their Messiah has come. “Go announce to Israel that the Lord has now fulfilled all His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Messiah is here! Embrace your King!” Since all the promises of the old covenant have now  been fulfilled by the coming of the Messiah (Romans 15:8), the old covenant can be closed. This is the significance of Matthew 10:5-15. Notice that this message is just for “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and is only for this specific time. In the words of Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” The old is gone, the new has come.

Observe, though, that the message of Matthew 10:16-42 is of a very different nature. First of all, although it is not explicitly stated, Jesus is now addressing a different group of people. As we stated earlier, in this section of the chapter Jesus is speaking as the new covenant King, the commanding general who is addressing His troops. The new covenant has been inaugurated, the war has begun, and Jesus is now talking to all His disciples of all the time between the advents and explaining to them what the campaign will be like. This message is to disciples from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, declaring to them that the war will be long and there will be casualties, but the victory is certain.

The new covenant campaign will also be more costly than the old, requiring more commitment. As in Matthew 5:10-12 in the Sermon on the Mount, so Matthew 10:16-42 makes clear that being associated with Jesus the Messiah will bring upon you the rejection and the hatred of the world. Even before Jesus gives His troops a clear description of their mission, He presents to them the cost of following Him. In essence, He is saying, “If you want to be My disciple, you must understand that I am only accepting those who are willing to follow Me to death. Yes, I have a grand mission for you that will bring you joy and that will end in heaven, but first I need to know if you will submit to Me and follow Me wherever I lead. My mission will require you to be like a sheep in the midst of a pack of wolves. It will involve hostile courts, scourging, death, and being hated by all just because  you love Me. You will need to endure persecution. I am not bringing peace on the earth but a sword, such that My disciples will be killed with the sword of men even as they proclaim to them the word of life. My mission will create many enemies for My disciples, even in their own households, and there will be those who lose their life for My sake” (a collection of the various warnings in 10:16-39).

“Now you have a decision to make. Understanding the cost, will you take up your cross and follow Me? Will you lose your life for My sake? When I receive your reply, we can talk in more detail about the mission to which I am calling you.”

APPLICATION. Although inaugurated two thousand years ago, the new covenant warfare continues essentially unchanged to this day as the church goes out, sheep in the midst of wolves, to call sinners to repentance. Our King is still calling into His kingdom those who will follow Him to death. Jesus’ disciples still accept “tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword” (Romans 8:35) to accomplish our Commander’s Great Commission of making disciples of all the nations.

One day there will be a trumpet sounded and we will hear the voice of the archangel. One day, heaven will be opened and behold, a white horse, and He who sits upon it will be Him who is called Faithful and True. One day, the warfare will be over, and the wolves will be gone forever, and we will be before the throne with other disciples which no man can count praising the Lamb. But until that day, we obey our King as we press toward the prize.

SDG                 rmb                 8/25/2022                   #562

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