As we continue on in our study look at the kingdom of heaven/kingdom of God we come to the story of Jesus sending out the twelve disciples in the Gospel of Matthew 10:1-15. We find this same story recounted also in the Gospels of Mark (Mark 6:7-13) and Luke (Luke 9:1-6).
Matthew 10:1-15 (TNIV)
1 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9 “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for workers are worth their keep.
11 Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at that person’s house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (emphasis added)
1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3 He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. 4 Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5 If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” 6 So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere. (emphasis added)
It is important to note here that this recounting is the the beginning of a continuing story, the story of Jesus sending out the disciples or apostles. The story begins here with Jesus telling the disciples not to go among the Gentiles, or the Samaritans. This verse at first perplexed me.
I have learned that we must always look at context and at the complete picture before drawing hard and fast conclusions. Who among us doesn’t realize that in today’s world. We always see trouble when a person’s words are taken out of context, and often, the thought changes dramatically when put in context of what the person was saying/doing. Anyway, such is the nature of this verse.
First, let’s look briefly at the Gentiles and the Samaritans. A “Gentile” was anyone who was not a Jew. The “Samaritans” were a race of people that resulted from the intermarriage of Gentiles and Jews. Jesus was not opposed to evangelizing these people, for He had already driven our demons among the gentiles (Matthew 8:28-34) and the apostle John tells us about Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4.
So, Jesus wasn’t opposed to going to these people, but the “near term mission” He commissioned the disciples to do, was to work among the Jews in Galilee, “the lost sheep of Israel”. I would note that the Gentile region was to the north of Galilee and the Samaritan region was to the South. Clearly, later in Matthew 28:19, Jesus commissions them to go to all the world. The apostle Paul tells us in his epistle to the Romans (Romans 1:16) that Jesus came not only for the Jews, but He did come to them “first”. You see, first they were to go to the lost sheep of Israel because God chose them to tell the rest of the world about Him.
In this story lies the first clue that I see that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are synomonous. In Matthew, the Gospel for the Jews (The Jews were the intended audience), the terminology “kingdom of heaven” is used because they would readily understand this concept. They were looking for the kingdom in the coming of the Messiah. While the Gospel of Luke, directed toward a Gentile audience, the term “kingdom of God” was used as they had no or little concept of the Jewish “kingdom of heaven”.
And I wonder about the thought that Jesus tells them to go out and preach, “the kingdom of heaven is near”. Is he saying that the “place”, heaven, is near? Or might He be saying that He, Jesus, was establishing His kingdom here on earth (as it is in heaven?), in the hearts of His followers and that one day the kingdom would be fully realized in heaven (the place).
The story goes on to recount instructions to the disciples. Of special note is Jesus’ thoughts in Matthew, verse 8: “Freely you have received, freely give.” Jesus is telling them that they have received salvation and the kingdom without cost and that they should give their time the same way. Because God has freely blessed us, we should give generously to others of our time, love, and possessions.
Today’s CLUE: We see by its use in the same story as told by Matthew and Luke that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are synomonous. Jesus tells the disciples to preach this message, “The kingdom of heaven has come near” and to preach “the kingdom of God”. John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus’ Kingdom by preaching “the kingdom of heaven is near” and Jesus began His earthly ministry with the same message as recounted in Matthew 4:17. In this sense, it is hard for me to see the “kingdom of heaven” strictly in a sense of a “place”. This phrase seems to point more toward the fact that Jesus, was establishing His kingdom here on earth (as it is in heaven?), in the hearts of His followers and that one day the kingdom would be fully realized in heaven (the place).
A friend of mine, Todd G. , asked this question:
“I agree with you – when you take everything in context (same story, multiple places), it looks like “the kingdom of heaven” and the “kingdom of God” are one and the same. Maybe you covered this before and I missed it, but why would He say “the kingdom of heaven is near” and not “is here”? Since Jesus was establishing His kingdom in the hearts of His followers like you said, and there He was in the flesh, it would seem He would have said the later. Does the “is near” signify something else? Or does it just mean that the kingdom of heaven is near until they make the decision to follow Jesus, and then it’s “here”?”
You raise a great question. In my mind, you also answered it. Until one makes a decision to follow Christ, the kingdom is only near. Another clue to the answer to this question (which I think you nailed on the head) is found in Luke 17:20-21: “20 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed,
21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” [or “is within you“]