Once Jesus has announced the delegation of his authority, he sets out a manifesto for the mission ahead. The disciples are to take the good news of the kingdom to the lost sheep of Israel. They are to be prepared for persecution, and yet to bear witness with faith and courage. His message to these 12 men has much to say to us as we serve him today.
Having explained the limitations of their mission – to stay among the Jews, proclaiming the arrival of their Messiah – and given some instructions as to how they should behave as they travel, Jesus then focuses (from verse 16) on the opposition they will face and how to deal with it.
Jesus surely had an eye on the more distant future, as well as the immediate mission, as he spoke. The disciples are yet to understand that Jesus will have to die and rise again, and that much worse trials will face them in the years after that than would face them on this first mission. Some of those who names were listed early in this chapter would lose their lives for Jesus’ sake. Many more have lost their lives in the centuries since, and continue to do so to this day.
Jesus encourages his disciples – both then and today – to persevere in spite of rejection and persecution by keeping their focus on God himself. Human beings may have the power to destroy our bodies, but it is better to lose our lives and save our souls, than to lose both in the end.
This is a hard teaching, and it might be difficult to take from somebody who had known no fear and experienced no pain or persecution, but from Jesus, who willingly gave up his own life to the most awful death, these words must be taken seriously. As he said, no servant is above his master. We must not expect to avoid what Jesus himself had to experience, but we can know that when he speaks about persecution, he knows what he is talking about. When he reassures us as to God’s care for us, we can have perfect trust in his words.