Matthew does not tell us how the twelve apostles were appointed. We know from Mark's Gospel, which Matthew probably used, that their ordination took place on a mountain (Mark 3:13-14). Luke adds that this took place after a night of prayer, and the twelve apostles were selected from among a larger group of disciples (Luke 6:12-13).
It must have been a momentous occasion for a hated tax collector (see the comment on 9:9) to be called up to this mountain and appointed among the Messiah's chosen twelve. But instead of elaborating on the ordination ceremony (whatever that was), he goes straight to the task he and the other eleven had to engage in.
10:1 Mark defines the task of Messianic apostles as "to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons" (Mark 3:14-15). What impressed Matthew was the awesome spiritual authority he was given and the ministry of healing he now had to engage in. There was explanation to be given (10:14) and the Spirit would empower his words (10:20), but we might guess that like many modern preachers the preaching ministry was easier for Matthew than dealing with people who were possessed in various ways.
10:2-4 The list of twelve apostles appears four times (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13 with Judas omitted).
The first four apostles were fishermen, and Matthew has told us they were called to be disciples by the sea of Galilee (4:18-22; as in Mark 1:16-20). Peter and Andrew his brother had previously been disciples of John the Baptist (John 1:35, 40-42), and Andrew was apparently the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah (John 1:41). Andrew is not mentioned again in Matthew's Gospel, but Peter, James and John go up with Jesus to the mount of transfiguration (17:1).
10:5-6 At this stage the twelve apostles are not to go outside the very small area of Galilee and Judah, excluding the area of Samaria. And they are to limit their mission to Jews, who are described as "the lost sheep (see 9:36; 15:24; 1 Kings 22:17) of the house of Israel." It is they who must first hear that the Lord who is their true shepherd has come in person (Isaiah 40:11; Psalm 23; 80:1). Later the apostles will go to all nations (28:19).
The contrast between these apparently contradictory commands reminds us that there is a proper sequence in the work of God, and we cannot take a command from Scripture to apply in the same way to all situations. There is a time and a place for each command to be observed (see Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).
10:7 The good news they are to proclaim is that "The kingdom of heaven has come near." Matthew had begun his Gospel with "An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah," and he called Jesus the "Messiah" three more times in the first chapter (Matthew 1:1, 16, 17, 18). It is now time to proclaim that the Messiah has come. So we could paraphrase the proclamation as "The kingdom of the Messiah King has appeared in the person of Jesus, the heir of the royal line of David (see comments on 1:16, 20; 2:1-2, 4).
10:8 The initial proclamation will include miraculous healing, and it will be made without receiving any payment. But evidently the early Christians died more or less at the usual age, so we should not conclude that all the sick are to be cured or all the dead will be raised. Nor does this instruction about not taking payment deny that Christian workers will need to be supported from other sources (10:10; 2 Corinthians 11:9; 1 Timothy 5:18).
10:9-11 For this first Messianic mission the apostles would be totally dependent on people who welcomed them to their homes.
10:12-13 In the Old Testament David instructed his messengers to say "Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace to all you have" (1 Samuel 25:6). In that case the greeting of peace was rejected (1 Samuel 25:10-11), and that would also happen in some homes where the apostles would not be welcomed.
10:14 Shaking the dust off one's feet was a sign of protest used to recognize a city's rejection (see Acts 13:50-51).
10:15 Cities like Jerusalem had a long history stretching over thousands of years, so this cannot be a text about one eternal judgment. At any stage of its long history a city can suffer terrible wrath consequences. In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah the cities were instantly and totally destroyed and buried for ever in a cataclysm (Genesis 19:24-25). The city of Pompeii was destroyed as a result of the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. In one sense the slow terrible siege and eventual destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (24:2) was far worse, but it was not the final end of that city. Similarly Tyre and Sidon (11:21) were destroyed on several occasions, but they are still in existence as Lebanese towns in our day.
10:16-20 The apostles are being sent into very tough situations. They will seem to be like sheep going into a pack of hungry wolves. But the same Holy Spirit that moved and strengthened Jesus would give the right words of testimony and defense.
In recording these words Matthew thinks of himself and other apostles as empowered by the Spirit long before the day of Pentecost. That suggests that the early Christians viewed the Day of Pentecost, not as the empowering of individuals by the Spirit, but as the inauguration and empowering of the universal Church.
10:21-23 Making known the good news is not a peaceful activity (see 10:34-36). It seems that this prophecy looks ahead to the period of tribulations before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 (see 23:34-36; 24:7-10). As that happens they will recognize it as the sign of the Son of Man, and his coming to deal with Jerusalem as Messianic King in that generation (24:30).
10:24-27 As the Holy Spirit works in and through them enemies will ascribe the power of the apostles to the Canaanite god Baalzebub, the lord of the flies (2 Kings 1:2). But they are not to fear the lies of their opponents because in due course the truth will be revealed.
10:28 We might paraphrase the first half of this verse as: "Do not fear those who can kill a person's body but cannot kill the person." The interpretation of the second half of the verse depends on the meaning Matthew wanted to give to the word gehenna. Rather than translate this by the word "hell," which suggests eternal damnation, it would have been better to leave the meaning open and keep gehenna as the transliteration of the Hebrew ge hinnom, which is the Valley of Hinnom below the south wall of the city of Jerusalem.
The garbage of the city used to be pitched into this deep gehenna valley (since then it has filled and been leveled). On a hot day the foul garbage and night soil would be burning, and during the rainy season it would be crawling with maggots ("where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched," Mark 9:48). Being thrown on to this burning garbage dump was therefore a terrifying thought (like the worthless servant thrown out over the wall into outer darkness (22:13; 25:30). And when this happens there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (8:12; 13:42; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). Gehenna was therefore a specific place, but it was given various metaphorical meanings.
If Matthew intended to use the word gehenna as a metaphor of the fires of eternal damnation, then this verse (10:28) would tell us to be afraid of behavior which would result in God sending us to a literal hell. If it is a metaphor of being destroyed or trashed in this life (as we might say "get lost, "he will end up in disaster," or "he made shipwreck of his life"), then Matthew is thinking of behavior which will have disastrous wrath consequences for our soul and body in this life. In our world we might think of the disastrous consequences of drug abuse, sexual immorality, sexual abuse, working for the Mafia, alcoholism, compulsive gambling, etc.
Matthew uses the word gehenna six times in his Gospel (5:22, 29; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33). The last of these should be translated "You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape the judgment of gehenna?" And the text ends with "All this will come upon this generation" (23:36) which refers to the destruction of the religious establishment of Jerusalem (see chapter 24). That suggests that Matthew used the term gehenna for the wrath consequences that God assigns in this life. We can certainly learn from all the good and bad experiences of our world, but nowhere in this Gospel does God use the fear of burning in hell to persuade us to love. In the chapter on parables we will deal with the imagery of burning the evil weeds and the bad fish (13:30, 42, 47-49).
It is hard to see how all those who have treated others as complete fools, or committed adultery, or stumbled a little child will automatically go to a gehenna of eternal damnation (5:22, 29; 17:6, 9). As in the Old Testament, God certainly assigns terrible wrath consequences for nations, cities, churches, and individuals in this life. But God's wrath is always a subsection of the love of God with a view to our enjoying the light and love of heaven (John 3:19).
So the point of the verse is that we should not fear persecutors who can harm our body, but we should fear the wrath consequences of behavior which can destroy us. God can help us avoid that kind of disastrous evil (see the prayer in 6:13), but even if things go badly wrong God still loves us, can help us pick up the pieces, and keep us in his love.
10:29-31 The good news is that God knows and cares about every sparrow (see 6:26). So the apostles should remember that even in the dangers and disasters of their ministry, God still loves and values them (as in 6:26; 7:11).
The final section of this chapter points out the cost and rewards of serving in Jesus' Messianic mission. We might compare the person who is drawn into the challenge of mountain climbing. No one is forced to take up the cross of the training required and the hardships that are involved for mountaineers, but they are an inevitable part of the joy to be experienced.
10:32-33 The first requirement for servants of the Messiah is a willingness to be named as part of Jesus' mission team (see Peter's denial in 26:69-75). If we are ashamed of that, we cannot serve the Messianic kingdom.
10:34-37 The second fact to be faced is that members of one's own family will be angered and will oppose our commitment to our mission.
10:38 Some have objected that cross bearing could not have been used as metaphor for the cost of discipleship till after Jesus had been crucified. But criminals carrying their own cross to the place of crucifixion was a common sight in the Roman Empire, so the metaphor was probably in common use (see 16:24 for an explanation of what might be involved in taking up one's cross).
10:39 It is also a plain fact that life is pointless and empty for people who coddle themselves and avoid the challenge of costly service. But there is tremendous satisfaction in serving the Messiah in his mission (see Paulšs' comment in Philippians 3:7-9).
10:40-42 Those who welcome an ambassador also honor the king who sent him. And those who welcome one of God's prophets or one of God's saints have the same reward as those servants of God (as in 6:1-2, 5, 16-18 the reward is not special places in heaven, but God's personal recognition). The disciples of a rabbi were often called his little ones. So even a small kindness for a disciple of the Messiah is also noticed and rewarded.