Note that in 10:1 we have the “12 disciples,” and then in 10:2 we have the “12 apostles.” I think that helps us to make a certain distinction between the Twelve and us. The term apostle means “one who is sent,” and can be used as a title on occasion (Acts 13:2). But most often it seems to be used to describe an office: i.e. someone who fulfills a very distinct and specialized role. There seem to be two unique qualifications for those who fulfill the office of apostle. First, they have seen the risen Lord:
1 Corinthians 9:1 “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?”
Acts 1:21-22 “Thus one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time the Lord Jesus associated with us, beginning from his baptism by John until the day he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness of his resurrection together with us.”
And second, they must display the signs of an apostle:
2 Corinthians 12:12 “Indeed, the signs of an apostle were performed among you with great perseverance by signs and wonders and powerful deeds.”
Therefore I believe that the apostolic office was time and situation specific. Revelation 21:14 also seems to support the idea that the Twelve were special and fulfilled a specific role:
Revelation 21:14 “The wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
While the apostles may have been special, we are all called to be disciples. And although this passage contains much that relates to the specific mission of the Twelve (both immediately and perhaps into the era recorded by the book of Acts), there are specific truths that apply to all disciples:
- All disciples are to share the gospel.
- All disciples are to rely on the Spirit.
- All disciples should expect persecution.
And regarding that persecution, Matthew 10:23 causes a lot of discussion and consternation! “I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” Does this refer to then? Does it refer to the end times? Has it happened? Are we still waiting for it? How are we to understand this verse?
One way that people interpret this verse is to speculate that Jesus might not be talking about His literal return, but the “Son of Man comes” may be a description of the coming judgment of God which seems to fall on Israel in A.D. 70 when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. The book of Acts would then be seen as fulfilling the description of events in Matthew 10:16-20.
However, I believe there may be a better way to understand it, if we allow for Jesus’ words to be a little figurative rather than strictly literal. He may be speaking to His disciples in a way that would mean something to them then, but in reality providing hope and encouragement to all His disciples in all ages. He says, “People will dislike you. They will betray you. They may even hate you! You will have to give an account of your faith before authorities. You will face pain, persecution, and death. Members of your own family will even turn against you. But the Spirit will guide you! You will be protected! You will persevere! Continue on mission! Be faithful! Because I am coming back!”
Maranatha! Come quickly Lord Jesus!