Last time, we looked at Jesus’ instructions to His apostles regarding how they were to endure through persecutions. He encouraged them not to fear those who can only kill the body, but can’t harm our souls. We examined thoroughly the nature of God’s final judgement, eternal torment in hell, and the temporary state of being for the souls of dead unbelievers that the Bible calls ᾅδης hadēs and שְׁאוֹל šᵊ’ôl.
Matthew 10:32-42 – The Costs and Rewards of the Christian Life
Matthew now transitions from the specific instructions and warnings Jesus gave His apostles before sending them forth to Jesus’ teachings for all His followers regarding our lives as Christ followers.
32So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. 34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.Matthew 10:32-42 [ESV]
40“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
32So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.Matthew 10:32-33 [ESV] (Luke 12:8-9)
Our salvation in Christ consists of two phases – justification and sanctification. Our justification is an instantaneous event – our rebirth in the Spirit of God that Jesus spoke of to Nicodemus.
5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.John 3:5-6 [ESV]
Our justification is accomplished by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Having lived a perfectly sinless life in the flesh of the man Jesus of Nazareth, God reconciled sinful man to Himself by becoming the required perfectly spotless sacrifice, and taking the rightful punishment of death for our sins upon Himself when He died on the cross. Thus the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled.
4Surely he has borne our griefsIsaiah 53:4-6 [ESV]
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
If that were the end of the story, the Gospel couldn’t really be called Good News, could it? But having died and been buried in accordance with the ancient prophecies, Jesus was raised up from the dead by the power of God’s Spirit on the third day. Thus Jesus purchased the opportunity for our justification with His sacrificial death on the cross, and offers us the chance to partake of His resurrection from the dead simply by believing in it, as He explained to Nicodemus in the most well-known passage in all of God’s Word.
16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.John 3:16-17 [ESV]
Notice that I carefully stated that Jesus has given us the opportunity to be justified. We are freely given the chance to assume for ourselves the righteousness of Jesus, and through His righteousness to be justified before God on the Day of God’s final judgement. Through belief in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we have the chance to share in His resurrection and be granted everlasting life by His grace alone. But the fulfillment of our justification in Christ is left up to us. We must first choose to believe in the Truth of His resurrection. Then we must profess our belief before our fellow creatures.
This final consummation of our justification is what Jesus is speaking about here in Matthew 10: 32-33. If we acknowledge the Truth of Jesus’ resurrection before people, then Jesus will be our advocate at God’s last judgement. Our own thoughts, words, and deeds will be entirely irrelevant to God’s judgement upon us. Only our belief in Jesus’ resurrection and our profession of faith before other people will matter in determining whether our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Conversely, God has lovingly given us the power to choose to reject His Gospel altogether. But Jesus warns us in Matthew 10:33 of the dire consequences of such rejection.
NOTE FOR EVANGELISTS – This is a good passage to go to when confronted with the objection “I don’t believe in a God who would send people to Hell.” God loves us so much He has empowered us to make our own choice to either accept or reject His Gospel. God created us to love, honor, and worship Him. But He is also wise enough to know that love must be a freely offered choice. No one can force someone else to love her/him – not even God. The next objection to the Gospel will invariably be the question, “Well what about little children who die before they are able to make that choice?” or “What about people in isolated enclaves that die without ever hearing the Gospel?” That’s a very good time for the evangelist to offer up those three little words we find so inexplicably hard to utter – “I don’t know.” But don’t leave the conversation hanging there. Instead point out the neither of those two fringe cases applies to you or me. So since we have heard the Gospel Truth, and we have the capacity to choose, which will it be? Accept and profess the Truth of Jesus Gospel and inherit eternal life through His righteousness, or reject His Gospel and face eternal condemnation from God. The choice is up to us.
Having simply and bluntly stated the parameters of our justification in Matthew 10:32-33, Jesus now begins to talk about the second phase of our salvation – sanctification. Unlike our justification which is a one-time event based upon our acceptance or rejection of Jesus’ Gospel, our sanctification is a continual life-long process of God’s Spirit perfecting us into the image of Jesus. In the very instant of our justification, God indwells the hearts of His followers with His Spirit. He is not only the seal of our justification, but just as importantly He becomes in that instant, our Teacher and Helper guiding us through the life He has ordained as servants of our newly acknowledged Master. In fact, apart from God’s Spirit dwelling within us, our sanctification would be impossible, because even if we genuinely desire to follow after Jesus, in our flesh apart from His Spirit we are utterly powerless to do so even cursorily. Also unlike our justification which overflows with pure joy, our sanctification can be sharply painful, deeply humbling, gut wrenching, and sorrowful as Jesus’ Spirit removes from us those remnants of our sinful selves that keep us apart from His love, and hinder us from being perfected into His image. This is what Jesus begins to speak of now here in Matthew 10:34.
34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.Matthew 10:34-36 [ESV] (Luke 12:51-53)
Almost all born-again Christians feel a pang in the depths of our hearts every time we read this passage. We can avow and attest to the deep divisions between people the Gospel brings with it. The Gospel requires a decision to either accept or reject its Truth. Accepting the Gospel requires us first to believe the resurrection of Jesus in the very depth of our hearts. But that acceptance is only the beginning. In order for us to truly be born again of God’s Spirit, we must commit ourselves completely to following Jesus as our LORD and Master. Serving our new Master must become the very central, all-consuming focus of our new life in Him. That means we must repent of our sins which grieve His Spirit. That repentance requires us to turn away from the things of the world and follow after Jesus to the best of our ability. What makes this so painful is that to truly and faithfully follow Jesus, we have to separate ourselves to some extent (and in many cases totally separate ourselves) from the people closest to us. That’s why the Gospel brings us heartache along with the joy of salvation. But let’s not dwell on the pain this separation causes in our hearts. Instead, let’s take a closer look at this passage itself.
Unlike His satanic counterfeit – Muhammad – Jesus didn’t come in the flesh as a warrior. In fact, most of His people Israel rejected the idea that He is their awaited Messiah for that very reason. The Jews of Jesus’ time expected their Messiah to come as a political and military leader who would overthrow the hated Roman occupation. The sword Jesus speaks of here in Matthew 10:34 is the Sword of His Spirit – the Word of God. The Bible contains many passages symbolizing God’s Word as a sword. Paul’s familiar statement in his letter to the Hebrews springs to mind.
12For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.Hebrews 4:12-13 [ESV]
ASIDE – The book of Hebrews contains no internal identification of the letter’s writer. I personally believe the book was written by the apostle Paul, but the matter remains the subject of debate among Bible scholars. For a more thorough treatment of this question, see the introduction to my Hebrews studies here.
The Word’s piercing of division of joints from marrow goes to the very center of our being – the very foundation of our sense of self. With that piercing comes the Holy Spirit’s conviction in the heart of every wretched sinner like you and me that Jesus spoke of to these twelve apostles in the upper room on the night He was betrayed.
8And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.John 16:8-11 [ESV]
This is why Jesus speaks of His Sword bringing division. His Spirit’s conviction brings pain and deep discomfort. People don’t like to be reminded of our shortcomings – especially by those closest to them. Thus Jesus speaks of our enemies being those in our own households. As previously mentioned, Jesus’ Gospel proclaimed by His Word requires a clear cut choice to either accept it or reject it. That this choice would cause division and even enmity between those who choose to believe and proclaim the Gospel and those who reject it should come as no surprise.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul lists God’s Word as one of the elements of a Christian’s spiritual armor – calling it the Sword of the Spirit.
13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,Ephesians 6:13-17 [ESV]
The truly awesome Truth about this Sword of the Spirit is that the Word of God is none other than Jesus Himself. Thus, when He says that He brings not peace but a Sword, He is speaking symbolically of His Gospel message, but also quite literally of Himself.
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.John 1:1-14 [ESV]
6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
9The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
11Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.Revelation 19:11-16 [ESV]
37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.Matthew 10:37-39 [ESV]
I love how Jesus uses shocking, often seemingly contradictory statements like these to grab our attention and get us to seriously consider exactly what He is trying to teach us. Of course, Jesus isn’t telling us not to love our parents or children. What He is saying is that our commitment to following Him must take precedence over all the other aspects of our earthly lives – including our families. Nor does following Jesus require us to abandon our earthly pursuits, but we need to make them all subservient to His Lordship. Jesus already knows what we must still learn – that by serving His Kingdom with our entire hearts and strength, our families too will be better served. As God’s Spirit leads us out of our former lives of selfish pursuits into our new lives of humble service to Him, at the same time we are enabled to love and serve our families better.
What does Jesus mean by saying we must take up our crosses? Does He mean that we should seek to be killed for the sake of the Gospel? Absolutely not. Some Christians are and will be killed for their profession of the Gospel Truth. Recall that earlier in the chapter Jesus had warned the twelve apostles about this. Luke records that in answer to the apostles’ question regarding the signs of the end of the age, Jesus made a somber prediction.
You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death.Luke 21:16 [ESV]
Many of Jesus’ disciples since He ascended to His Father have been delivered over to death for the sake of the Gospel – some by their own families. Today, this happens frequently in Muslim countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan where it is a crime punishable by death under shariah law for a Muslim to become a Christian. But Jesus doesn’t call every Christian to martyrdom for His Name’s sake. What Jesus is referring to as “crosses” are the specific missions He calls each of His followers to take up. In some cases, Jesus simply calls upon us to perform some act of kindness for someone. Others are called to speak the words He gives them to the people He sends them to. In every case though, along with the specific calling, God’s Spirit within our hearts gives us the authority and power to carry it through. The apostle Paul spoke of this in the context of his dissertation to the Corinthian church regarding spiritual gifts.
27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.1 Corinthians 12:27-28 [ESV]
Taking up our crosses means seeking out God’s specific calling upon us each day, and being obedient to that call without doubt or question. This is tough for me personally, not (usually) due to disobedience or doubt, but most often because I allow the things of this world to so consume my time and energy, I can’t discern God’s true calling upon my day through all the Earthly noise and distraction.
In verse 39 Jesus uses a seeming contradiction to make a subtle point. What He is speaking of here is our conscious choice to either attempt to forge our own way through life under our own imagined strength and wisdom, or to surrender sovereignty over our lives to Him allowing His Spirit to guide us in the way He has chosen for us to go since before the beginning of time.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.Ephesians 2:10 [ESV]
One critical aspect of our taking up our crosses in obedience to Jesus’ call upon our lives is this matter of trust – knowing that God ordains all things, that He loves us truly and unconditionally, and that He has promised to enable our missions in His Name by the power of His Spirit. If we are willing to “lose” our lives for His sake in this way, we will find in His calling our true lives driven by the purposes He has ordained for our lives in Christ since before the beginning.
5Trust in the LORD with all your heart,Proverbs 3:5-8 [ESV]
and do not lean on your own understanding.
6In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
7Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
8It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.
40“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”Matthew 10:40-42 [ESV]
I have always found it difficult to parse this passage. As I delved into it in preparation for this study, I found the commentaries I searched and the messages I listened to of little use in helping me to understand it. In particular, I was confused by the phrasing of verse 41 – specifically the phrase “because he is.” I wasn’t sure whether to take the “he” as the person doing the receiving or the person being received. Looking at the Greek text wasn’t that helpful either since I am woefully ignorant about Greek grammar. In the Greek, the verse reads something like – he receives prophet in name prophet receive prophet reward.
Eventually, I realized that verse 41 can only be properly understood in the context of the entire passage (verses 40-42). First let’s take a look at some of the Greek words in these verses. In verses 40 and 41 we find the Greek word δέχομαι dechomai five times. In the context of verse 40, it means to receive favorably, give ear to, embrace, make one’s own, approve, not to reject. While in the context of verse 41 it means to receive or grant access to a visitor, not to refuse intercourse or friendship. In the sense of verse 41 it might also mean to take upon one’s self, sustain, bear, endure. It is distinct from the Greek word λαμβάνω lambanō found twice in verse 41 translated as “will receive.” It means to claim, procure for one’s self, gain, get, obtain. Finally we find the Greek word ὄνομα onoma twice in verse 41. It means name. But in the sense of verse 41, it means not only someone’s or something’s name, but also the characteristics or nature of that person or thing, including the thoughts and emotions aroused within the hearts of others by the name.
Taken in sum then, perhaps the NLT most properly renders into English verse 41.
If you receive a prophet as one who speaks for God, you will be given the same reward as a prophet. And if you receive righteous people because of their righteousness, you will be given a reward like theirs.Matthew 10:41 [NLT]
So what is Jesus trying to teach us in this passage? First in verse 40, He says that those who receive and accept the Gospel Truth told to them by His apostles are in essence receiving and accepting Him, and because He – God the Son – is part of the Holy Trinity of God, they are also receiving God the Father and God the Holy Spirit along with Him. Next in verse 41, He extends this concept to include not only the apostles to whom He was speaking but also any prophet or righteous person. Finally, in verse 42, He further extends the idea to include any of His disciples (including all Christian evangelists). Furthermore, He says that the hospitality and acceptance we extend to these disciples need not be anything extraordinary, but even offering them something as simple as a drink of water to serve their need.
Finally, let’s look at what Jesus meant by the reward He speaks of in verses 41 and 42. It is none other than the eternal life in Him that He spoke of to Nicodemus in John 3:16-17. What Jesus is saying in this passage then is that the apostles (and prophets and righteous people, and disciples) that He sends forth to proclaim the Gospel, can become through their Gospel testimony the agents through whom those who receive and accept the Truth in faith may receive eternal life in Christ.
This is a great encouragement to Gospel evangelism by Christian believers. Not only does our proclamation of the Gospel honor Jesus’s command given in His great commission in Matthew 28:18-20, it also allows us the opportunity to be the mechanism by which God calls others to Himself, and by His grace through their acceptance of the Truth of the Gospel we proclaim to them, He gives them the reward of eternal life in Him.
Next time, God willing, we will continue our study in Matthew 11 with Jesus answering a vital question from the imprisoned John the Baptist.