Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
Matthew 10:1-4 (NRSV)
In terms of Matthew’s narrative, this is the first time so far we have a reference to the twelve apostles as we know them.
In Matthew 4, Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John – and that’s the group for several chapters. Then we have the calling of Matthew in chapter 9. We do not get specific “calling” stories for the others. We don’t know if they gradually trickled in over time during the other chapters, or this passage is jumping over / summarizing a period of time where Jesus selected more. Some of them, we hear virtually nothing about at all at any point in the gospel.
This is just interesting to me because we often put together a meta-gospel in our heads, and in this gospel, Jesus starts out alone, and then picks up twelve apostles in a chunk. We don’t usually consider that this happens progressively over time with various pieces of Jesus’ ministry occurring without some of these people present.
The most obvious significance of there being twelve is that there are twelve tribes of Israel. These men do not appear to be a single person from each of the tribes, but they are Israelites and there are twelve of them. Having twelve is significant, as we can see from the apostles themselves. When Judas dies, the first order of business is to replace him. Why? Because you need twelve. They are the seed form, the first wave, the firstfruits of the gathering of the elect and the restoration of faithful Israel.
This passage follows Jesus’ observation that Israel needs a lot of deliverance, and he needs more workers. This seems to be the first wave of response. Jesus takes his disciples and gives them authority to heal and cast out demons.
It is important that this is portrayed, not simply as a transfer of supernatural ability, but of authority. Probably the most direct illustration of the connection between Jesus’ authority and his ability to heal is the healing of the paralytic. The healing is a demonstration of the fact that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, and the observers are in awe that this ability has been given to human beings.
Jesus as the Son of Man now delegates his authority to these twelve, and once he does, they are able to do as he does. This gives us further insight into the significance of the healing and exorcism miracles – they are not primarily demonstrations of the supernatural power Jesus possesses but a demonstration of the authority God has invested in him.
And what is that authority? The authority to forgive Israel’s sin and repeal the penalties.
Israel suffers under occupation and oppression because she broke her covenant with God and persisted even after multiple warnings, minor judgements, and prophetic pleading. Her present situation is that curse. She is under an oppressive, pagan nation where even the Temple is under their control. She is dispersed. She is in crippling poverty. And as we have seen in Matthew, the evil spirits and the maladies they cause are the spiritual version of this oppression. The demons and the Empire are two sides of the same coin. All of this comes from the curse invoked by Israel’s sin.
But now, here is a man who claims to be sent from God. This man announces forgiveness of sins to those who are contrite and will repent. This man announces an end to the present system and a new life on the other side of it for all who will follow him in faithfulness. And how do we know he isn’t just another false prophet full of himself? Because the signs follow him. People are healed. Evil spirits are cast out. These are the signs that the forgiveness of sins and the freedom of Israel from her curse has come, and Jesus is the man who is doing it. This is good, good news for the lost sheep.
Everyone from the man who finds himself working land that used to belong to his family for generations but now belongs to a Sanhedrin because of crippling debt – to the little girl who convulses in the grip of mental and physiological forces beyond her control – to the widow who cannot afford to feed her children – to the orphaned young man who has heard in the synagogue of YHWH and wants to be faithful but cannot afford a sacrifice….
Lift up your heads, ye poor and downtrodden, for your redemption draweth nigh! His name is Jesus.
And he gives this authority to his disciples, beginning a cascading chain of deliverance that will crash its way past the boundaries of the gospels, into Acts, and into the ends of the earth.
- When we witness today someone being delivered from sickness, poverty, or spiritual oppression, what does that tell us about God’s disposition toward the world and the role of His servants in it?
- In what way are our good works a testimony? What are we announcing to the world through our service?