The Time of Visitation: Dusty Feet, Judgment, and Peace in the Mission of Jesus (Part 2)

Greet a household when you enter it, and if the household is worthy, let your peace be on it. But if it is unworthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that house or town. I assure you: It will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. (Matthew 10:12-15)

In their double-edged gospel mission of announcing the kingdom and exposing hearts, Jesus’s apostles were to give the blessing of peace to those who received them and withdraw it from those who did not.

The “peace” in question was a common Jewish farewell blessing: “Shalom,” which essentially means “I wish you peace, wholeness, and welfare.”

But the apostles were not just carrying a common peace with them, and it wasn’t wishful thinking. Their blessing was empowered — able to confer the peace of which they spoke. They were carrying the eternal peace of the kingdom of God, and they were able to bless the people with it.

As we’ve seen, Jesus was the Son of Blessing, the one prophesied to bring peace and blessing to all the nations of the world. His apostles were carrying this peace — the peace of the kingdom of God, found in the one called “Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

But just because peace was on offer didn’t mean everyone would receive it.

Way back in Moses’s era, God extended a choice to his people:

See, today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and adversity … I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, love the LORD your God, obey Him, and remain faithful to Him. For He is your life, and He will prolong your life in the land the LORD swore to give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19-20).

Jesus and his apostles offered the same choice. Grace and judgment have always been two sides of the same coin. The coming of the kingdom must either be accepted, allowing grace to flood our lives; or rejected, which brings judgment.

The Abundance of Grace

The disciples were to begin their sojourn in any town by automatically conferring the blessing of peace. This unusual action — the blessing was normally given upon leaving, not arrival — demonstrates again the greatness of God’s grace.

The kingdom was a gift, abundant and overflowing from the start. It would immediately and automatically bestow goodness and peace to those who even remotely encountered it. Rather than waiting until they departed, the apostles blessed the households that welcomed them as soon as they arrived.

But if they and their message were ultimately rejected — if the households proved “unworthy” after all — their peace would return to them.

In this case they were told to “shake the dust off your feet when you leave that house or town. I assure you: It will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.”

The Judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah

Even a modicum of familiarity with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah should help us realize what a harsh judgment Jesus pronounced here. The very names of these twin cities have gone down in history as representing the worst of human sin and the most extreme form of divine judgment.

For Jewish people, to be compared to Sodom and Gomorrah was horrific and unthinkable (though not without precedent — Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel all did it while denouncing the nation’s apostasy). The inhabitants of Judea would have been appalled and offended at Jesus’s comparison.

Yet it was apt. Rather than focusing on the sexual sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, as we have tended to do, Jesus’s emphasis — as scholars in recent years have pointed out — was on their total failure to show hospitality to the two angels who visited them prior to the judgment.

Heaven came near to these two cities, offering them the possibility of repentance and forgiveness, but they completely failed to recognize the angels for who they were or respond to their presence appropriately.

As a result, Sodom and Gomorrah were completely and eternally demolished.

This idea of visitation is what makes the comparison between Sodom and Gomorrah and the towns and villages of Judea appropriate. Angels visited Sodom and Gomorrah and were rejected, bringing judgment. Now the Son of God had come, bringing the very presence of Yahweh into the midst of his people and announcing his kingdom.

When Jesus said the judgment of these small Israelite towns would be “worse” than that of Sodom and Gomorrah, he was inferring that the apostles carried a presence, a power, and a message superior to that of the angels. They had been anointed and sent by the Son of God himself, and to reject them was to reject the Son.

The sin was therefore worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the judgment would be appropriate to the sin.

We Must Pay Attention

The writer to the Hebrews revisited this idea in the opening of his epistle:

Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and different ways. In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son … for to which of the angels did He ever say, ‘You are My Son …?’

We must, therefore, pay even more attention to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away. For if the message spoken through angels was legally binding and every transgression and disobedience received a just punishment, how will we escape, if we neglect such a great salvation? (Hebrews 1:1-2, 5; 2:1-3)

When the angels visited Sodom and Gomorrah, they looked like ordinary men. They didn’t come in glory and power — but for anyone who paid attention, their identities were clear.

When Jesus and his apostles carried the gospel of the kingdom throughout their country, they too looked like ordinary men — but the truth of the Son was evident to anyone who would stop, look, ask, and listen.

Now, two thousand years later, the kingdom still comes in ordinary packages. The peace of the kingdom is still available to us, and the only sin capable of separating us from God is the sin of rejecting God and refusing him when he approaches.

Because God took the initiative to enter the world and bring his kingdom without our earning it, we really only have one choice to make: Receive him, or don’t receive him. Open our hearts and lives and show him hospitality and honor, or stay closed and keep him out.

Pay attention — learn who this is who is visiting us and respond appropriately — or brush him off and look the other way.

The blessing of peace — of ultimate wholeness and welfare, quiet and prosperity — can rest on us eternally. Or we can experience the curse of Sodom and Gomorrah: to be lost, judged, and eternally forgotten.

Whether the people received the peace of the kingdom or were marked by judgment depended entirely on their reception of the Messenger.

We too must pay attention.


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This is Part 143 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


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