Matthew 10:5-15 — “THE LIMITED COMMISSION”

At one point in His public ministry, the Christ charged His twelve apostles, “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 10:5-7). We also read about this commission in Mark 6:7-13.

The Bible does not use the language “The Limited Commission.” That is lingo which humans have assigned to the above-quoted words of the Master. Why would anyone think that our Lord’s instructions in this instance are “limited?”

In contrast to what Jesus told the apostles after His resurrection, which was to go into all the world and preach to every person (Mark 16:15), in the case of Matthew 10, He told them to preach only to certain people: the Jews, whom He called “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” So, this commission was “limited” in its audience.

It also was “limited” in its duration. The charge of “The Great Commission” is in effect until the end of the world/age (Matthew 28:20), but “The Limited Commission” was temporary.

In addition, while the later command was to go into all the world and teach/make disciples of those of all ethnicities (Matthew 28:19), the Matthew 10 charge was “limited” in its geographic scope. Jesus was sending out the twelve to proclaim God’s word to people in “the cities of Israel” (Matthew 10:23). Thus, “The Limited Commission” involved preaching only in the area which we know as the land of Palestine.

In terms of their preparation and personal conduct, when the apostles went out to preach under “The Limited Commission,” the Christ told them not to take along gold or silver, a bag, two tunics, sandals, or staffs (Matthew 10:9,10). Why should they not take such “normal” things? Jesus’ explanation was: “for a worker is worthy of his food” (10:10). The Lord, through the hospitality of the Jews who would open their homes to the apostles, would provide for their needs (10:11-13). The apostles needed to trust in their heavenly Father to take care of them.

Why preach only to the Jews? Per God’s wisdom, when the Word was in the flesh, He was a Jewish man (John 4:9). Jesus said this about His mission: “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). During His time on earth, the Christ’s activities basically were spent in reaching out to the Jewish community, the same thing He called on the twelve to do under “The Limited Commission.” At a later time, God would get the gospel to the Gentiles through Jewish converts to Jesus.

Jesus called the Jews of His day “the lost sheep” of the house of Israel (10:6). Why would the word “lost” be a fitting description for some of God’s people? They were the descendants of Abraham, but the hypocrites, harlots, and tradition-keepers of the day had disregarded God’s truth. By doing so, they had turned their back on God and needed salvation.

Under “The Limited Commission,” Jesus sent the apostles out “two by two” (Mark 6:7), just as He later did with seventy other disciples (Luke 10:1). We can understand the practicality of this concept: “Two are better than one” (Ecclesiastes 4:9).

When the twelve preached only to the Jews under the Matthew 10/Mark 6 commission, what was their message? “So they went out and preached that people should repent” (Mark 6:12). Jesus and John had been preaching the same thing (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). Let this be clear to all: the path to God involves repentance.

What else did the preaching under “The Limited Commission” include? The apostles declared that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matthew 10:7). Again, John and Jesus had been preaching that, too. The declaration that the kingdom was “at hand” was for that generation only. We should not preach that message today. Why not? If you want to look toward the timing of the kingdom’s establishment, do not look to the future, but rather to the past. The kingdom already came in the first century. The saints of God in Colosse were in it (Colossians 1:13). The promised kingdom was the Lord’s church.

What about those who rejected the apostles’ message under the Matthew 10 commission? Jesus did not mince words: “And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words . . . it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city” (10:14,15).

What kind of miraculous powers were granted to the apostles under “The Limited Commission?” Our Lord told them, “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give” (10:8). That means before Jesus’ death and the beginning of the church (Acts 2), His followers already were doing miracles.

Was “The Limited Commission” a good plan? Knowing that the Lord was its Source, without hesitation we affirm that, of course, it was a good plan!

— Roger D. Campbell