Called, Commissioned, and Turned Upside Down: Jesus’ Mission and the Redefinition of Power

Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions: “Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town. Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, announce this: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons. You have received free of charge; give free of charge. Don’t take along gold, silver, or copper for your money-belts …” (Matthew 10:5-9)

With these words, a significant shift in the gospel of Matthew takes place. As we saw in the last post in this series, with the calling of the 12 apostles Jesus launched the mission of the church.

With that launch comes a marked change in tone and trajectory for the entire book. In Western narrative terms we might say that Act 1, the Set-up, is now over; chapter 10 opens Act 2, the longest part of the story, where everything gets hard.

In any story, Act 2 is the part where the heroes leave home and face a series of trials, small triumphs, and devastating reversals; where defeat is always hammering at them even as need and destiny urge them forward.

It’s doubtful that Matthew deliberately structured his gospel using three-act structure, and yet here it is — this is undoubtedly the moment in this story when things get hard, and the journey from chapter 10 to chapter 20 has a definite “Act 2” kind of character.

And in response, of course, the call only grows stronger.

Called and Commissioned

Called by Jesus in verses 1-4, the apostles are commissioned in verse 5 and on. The commission is very specific: Don’t go here or there. Go only to these, the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It’s a reminder that after all, there is a Lord of this harvest, and he has a specific way he wants things done..

As they go, they are to exercise their newfound power and authority against the powers of darkness and disease. “Heal the sick,” Jesus tells them. And so much beyond that: “Cleanse the lepers. Drive out demons. Raise the dead.”

The power to do all of this is given to them as part of their commission. The miracles are to accompany their proclamation: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”

There’s to be no doubt whose authority they operate under; there’s to be no doubt that the kingdom of God, the reign of the realm of heaven under the King himself, is here.

Turned Upside Down

But this incredible commission is followed by a startling and surprisingly limitation: yes, the apostles are to exercise power against the forces of darkness, disease, and death — and that is all.

They are not to do what the followers of hopeful messianic claimants before them had done: amass money, stockpile weapons, plot the overthrow of their human enemies while gathering passionate and powerful allies.

In fact, Jesus strips his apostles of anything resembling ordinary human power before sending them out. They are not to take money with them. They are not to carry extra supplies — not so much as a traveling bag or an extra pair of shoes.

They will go into the countryside poor as beggars and completely dependent on the goodwill of their countrymen for food, shelter, and protection.


It’s worth noting that this wasn’t a once-and-for-all command for the church. In later years, Paul certainly traveled with supplies, and even worked to avoid being dependent on his converts. Jesus’s instructions were specific to this time and place, to this specific commission to go to the lost sheep of Israel.

Redefining the Plan

In future posts we’ll go deeper into Jesus’s instructions to the apostles in this passage — but for starters it’s important to remember that there had been messianic claimants before Jesus, and they operated in the mold Israel expected. They were rebels and warriors with a military agenda against Roman occupation.

Jesus had come claiming to be the promised Messiah, the Son of David who would sit on the throne of Israel and one day judge the whole world. So it was only natural for his followers to assume he would eventually take on this military character as well.

His displays of supernatural power and wisdom were impressive, but they weren’t the whole picture of the kingdom as promised in the Old Testament … yet.

Surely NOW, with Jesus commissioning others to begin spreading his message, was the perfect time to unveil the rest of the plan.

Instead, Jesus gave his apostles unbelievable supernatural power as well — and then, humanly speaking, placed them in a position of absolute humility and dependence. They could drive out demons. They could challenge death and win, snatching people back from the grave.

But they couldn’t buy a hot drink without a handout.

Again I have to ask … why?

The Great Reversal

In fact, I think that in Jesus’s wisdom, he was unveiling the rest of the messianic plan. He had truly come with power, but not in the way people expected. His movement would outlast Rome and transcend it. It would bring down empires. It would transform the entire world.

But it would do it all in a subversive, upside-down, unexpected way — through the working of love, clothed in humility and empowered by trust in the Fatherhood of God.

It was only right that his apostles help him show the people of Israel what this could and should look like.

In a famous passage in Philippians 3:5-8, Paul shares what may be a very early Christian hymn reflecting on the nature of Jesus’s coming.

“Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,” he says,

Who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God as something to be used
for His own advantage.
Instead He emptied Himself
by assuming the form of a slave,
taking on the likeness of men.
And when He had come as a man
in His external form,
He humbled Himself
by becoming obedient to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.

Jesus assuredly knew what he was doing when he asked his apostles to strip themselves of human power and resources and go to their people in humility and need.

Yes, they would carry the kingdom of God with them, its raw creative power infusing their hands and their voices. But they would carry that kingdom in a way that kept them level with their brothers and sisters, reaching out horizontally and not condescending from above. They would model trust in the Father. They would drive out demons, raise the dead, and conquer the darkness with love.

From this point in the gospel of Matthew, as I’ve said, the tone shifts. Now rather than simply offering healing and acceptance, Jesus begins to underscore the cost of following him — of joining in the kingdom work. Along the way he redefines power, family, and the kingdom itself.

That’s where we’re going next in this study.


I would love to hear from you. Scroll down to leave a comment below!

This is Part 138 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


This blog, Revelatory Creative, is a labor of love. My goal is to spend time studying and writing about the kingdom of God so that the church—you and me—can find our place within this largely forgotten but central Bible message.

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2 responses to “Called, Commissioned, and Turned Upside Down: Jesus’ Mission and the Redefinition of Power”

  1. Jacqueline Wallace Avatar
    Jacqueline Wallace

    I’m enjoying these posts on Matthew. Although I know is a way off yet I look forward to your book on Matthew coming out. The Lord blessing you as you study and write.

    1. Rachel Avatar

      Thanks, Jacqueline! That first Matthew book can definitely use your prayers … I’m very challenged to get it done.

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