We continue with the same context as in the previous lesson: Jesus gives His disciples a commission to share His haggadah on the Galilean preaching circuit. This is all under the Covenant of Moses, but specifically fitting in with rabbinical traditions of the time. They are bringing a very popular message about the coming Messiah and performing miracles. Still, they should expect hostility. They should undertake this mission knowing there will be trouble sooner or later.
They will be like sheep among wolves. Don’t miss what He says here — the Lost Sheep of Israel have suffered predatory treatment from the political leadership. The gospel of Jesus is a threat to the establishment precisely because it accurately reflects the Law of Moses. The coming Messiah is not going to favor the established ruling class, and there will always be people in the towns and villages who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Therefore, Jesus counsels His disciples to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
A wise serpent is perceptive, crafty and cunning, not a blundering fool; a dove has no harmful intentions. If these men go out fully aware of the threat and keep a sharp eye out for opposition, they’ll be ready to employ a little creativity and peaceful presence to keep the focus on the message and the Father’s glory.
They should expect the worst and be ready to face it with grace. If not so much during this mission, then surely someday in the future, they will face legal threats. Synagogues and local councils had some authority to punish, and it wouldn’t be fair or just. But their hides were not the focus here; it’s the message. Every time they are called before men of authority, it’s a chance to share the gospel with people they could hardly get to hear them under the normal circumstance. Keep in mind that the phrase “stand before kings” for common folks always meant being in hot water.
When the Father engineers such an experience, He also plans for you to get the message across. Don’t worry about crafting a message that will win them over; that’s not necessarily the point. The plan is to make sure they at least hear the message so there is no excuse when they stand before God. Trust the Lord to put words in your heart; your tongue will find them when the time is right. Get used to that.
When the convicting power of God falls on a people, they panic and act crazy. It’s every man for himself. Brothers of one family will betray each other, fathers their own children. People looking for a target to deflect their own sense of guilt will finally unite in one thing: opposing the truth of God. It will become fashionable for people to hate you because of Christ’s message; your peaceful spirit of joy will rub salt in old wounds on their souls.
Hang in there; perseverance is part of the message. Sooner or later persecution has to end because the Messiah will come and assert His authority. When He does, you can be sure things will change. You will retire to service in Messiah’s court.
One last point: The rabbinical elders often used the image of a sheep standing amid 70 wolves to portray the faithful Jewish people persecuted by Gentiles. Jesus turns that around, saying that the Jewish religious establishment is the greatest threat to the Covenant sheep.