Matthew 10:16-33 {Sheep among Wolves}

Bible Passage: Matthew 10:16-33

Big Idea of Message:

Expect persecution and don’t live in fear.

 1   Recap

This is the 2nd major teaching from Jesus that Matthew records, the first being the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus previously sent his disciples out on a short-term mission, with specific instructions. Here, the instructions continue but seem to drift into the long-term mission for his disciples, which makes the interpretation tricky.

Key Questions to ask:

How do we apply this? Who is the audience? When will this happen?

Chapter 10 tells us, (1) it was happening, (2) it has happened, (3) it will happen.

The words here are telescoping – a telescoping prophecy. Meaning (1) Persecution was happening to them, (2) Persecution will happen to them more, (3) Persecution will continue to happen to His disciples. Jesus envisions a long period of time when His disciples would be persecuted, and yet witness to the Truth.

  1. He starts with speaking about this mission that the 12 are about to go on, then he includes all believers, and even the Great Tribulation. (ASK, WHAT IS THIS?)
    1. Jesus forecasts the global holocaust that is coming upon His Church and His disciples.
    2. Telescoping prophecy is common in scripture, where the writer will prophecy two events at the same time.
  2. The point of Jesus message is singular: Expect persecution, and don’t live in fear.

 2   Expect Severe Persecution (10:16-25, 34-36)

The main point here is simple: We are like sheep among wolves.

The sheep metaphor:

  • Normally, a shepherd would protect sheep from wolves, but Jesus is sending His sheep into the wolf pack. This is a call to the cost of discipleship. Be prepared to live like a sheep among wolves.

Acts 20:29

29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.

Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), Ac 20:29.

Matthew 7:15

“Be on your guard against false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves.

Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), Mt 7:15.

Jesus sends them out as defenseless sheep among evil, wicked, vicious, God-haters. (ASK – isn’t God a good, loving, father? How is this good?)

This was a promise of difficulty and tribulation and persecution. Jesus is promising that life as a disciple of His, would be like a sheep amidst wolves. Between the first and second comings, things will be bad. The promise of persecution was actually made many many y ears ago.

  • Daniel predicted successive governments that would get worse and worse until the Christ comes back. Jesus refers to this time as “the time of the Gentiles.” where Gentiles, not Jews would be large and in charge.
  • The times of the gentiles would be marked by a tension between State and God’s people
  • In Daniel, Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego illusrates this:
    • Three guys are commanded to bow down and worship a statue, which represented the state.
    • They refuse, and are persecuted. They are thrown into a fiery furnace. Is this an illustration for what life will be like for God-fearing people until Jesus comes back?
    • The King is coming back, but in the meantime, things will not go well for followers of Jesus.

So, how do we live now, in a hostile world?

  • “Shrewd (wise) as serpents”
    • Wise/shrewd = phronimos. Knowledge, discernment, opposite of foolish. Good judgement. (Same word as used in Genesis 3, the term used in scripture as what hearers of God were supposed to emulate. (Proverbs 12:23, 13:16, 14:8, 14:15, 22:3, 27:12).
  • Serpents:
      • A fearsome creature of both land and sea. In ancient Near Eastern cultural contexts, the serpent is a symbol with both positive and negative valences. In the Bible, the serpent is a venomous creature whose physical characteristics easily become the basis for a complex array of symbolic and metaphorical connections. In the ANE, the serpent was a metaphor for a vast complex of meanings, including life, fertility, wisdom, chaos, and death.
  • We are to be prudent, sensible, not naive. Not inflammatory. We are to avoid conflicts and attacks. In other words, don’t be an idiot.
  • We are to be as innocent as doves.
    • Innocent – pure, guiltless, “unmixed.” In other words, be different from the world. Holy.
    • To be of doves and serpents would mean that when missionaries go into a hostile situation, they need to live upright moral lives, while not necessarily divulging their motives to see people saved from their sins with the Good News of Jesus.

Bottom line – we want people to be won for Christ. 1 Cor. 9:19 – For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.”

Persecution – Jesus tells us it will come from four areas:

  1. Persecution from religion (10.17) – They will flog you in their synagogues. Jesus was persecuted from the religious people. Religious people put him to death. The early church was persecuted by the Jews for the first few decades almost exclusively. In Acts 19, Paul is persecuted by idol makers, for running them out of business.
  2. Persecution from Government (10.18) – You will be dragged before governors and kings… MacArthur – “Government is ordained by God but manipulated by Satan.”
    1. The world will hate Christians because the world hates Christ. If you claim Christ, you make yourself a target. John 15:18-19 says “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
    2. How can we expect the State to persecute us? Paul tells us to pray for freedom and peace, but if the Lord instead chooses to judge our nation, there will be persecution in the courts. There will be reckless laws passed. Tax-exempt status’s for churches and charitable giving will be denied. Hate crimes will be applied to preachers who condemn the sin of homosexuality.
    3. The Holy Spirit will direct us as we go.
    4. But with our American freedom, are we prepared not to bend the knee to the state, if the State ever asks us to go against our conscious and the Word of God? The day will come.
  3. Persecution from Family (10:21-22, 34-36)
    1. This may be the most difficult kind of persecution. Conflict will come on account of Jesus.
  4. Persecution from Society (10:22)
    1. You will be hated by all. He isn’t implying all people, he saying society as a whole, you will be hated.

Christians will never be the cool kids.

But how do we respond? We do not play the victim. We do not cry foul, we do not pout, but we proudly bear the name of Christ. We are thankful that we are considered worthy to suffer for His name. Our suffering is nothing compared to the suffering going on in the rest of the world. Why become alarmed that American culture is going down? This was never meant to be the utopia.

Vs. 23 tells us that the one who endures will be saved. Also see 1 Cor 15:1-2; Heb 2:1.

When persecution happens, what do we do? Flee (vs 23). Don’t take it like a man, but run. You are not obligated to become arrested. Even Paul, when the persecution became too intense, he left for another region.

Vs. 25… If they called the head of the house Beezebul, how much more the members of his household! Beezebul means head of house, but it also was a name for Satan. Jesus was called Satan and was criticized for casting out demons by the power of Satan. We should expect nothing less than to be accused.

Here’s the point: You will be persecuted, don’t be surprised. You are like sheep amongst a pack of wolves.

But, vs. 26-33 tells us how we are to live in spite of that: Don’t live in fear.

  • The statements about persecution – they probably freaked the disciples out. But fear is not the response. Jesus calls his disciples to be fearless, but not foolish.
    • Don’t seek out persecution – that’s foolish. Don’t be provocative -, but be prudent, wise as a serpent. Don’t fear, rest in the truth. Don’t fear people, God is more powerful than man (vs 28). They can take your body, but they cannot take your soul.

Proverbs 9:10 – “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

  • Fear God, not man.
  • Fear God, not government.
  • Fear God, not legislation that persecutes.
  • Fear God, not family that hates you.
  • Fear God, not society
  • Fear God, and that’s wisdom. God is sovereign. (vs. 29-32).

The dust in the air!  The flight of the sparrow.  The cry of the baby.  The division of cells.  The rotation of the sun.  The growth of cancer cells.  The election of a President.  The loss of a job.  The path of a tornado.  The flight of an asteroid.  All do not take place without the knowledge and decision of the Lord.

Proverbs 16:33: The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

Proverbs 21:1: The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord, he turns it wherever he will.

Exodus 4:11 – The Lord said to Moses, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?

Jesus says you are more valuable than sparrows – God cares about birds, and you are more valuable than birds. We should have confidence, especially when we are like sheep in the midst of a pack of wolves.


“God created the sparrows; this is why not one of them will fall to the ground without His will. God not only created human beings but also let His Dear Son suffer for them. Therefore He will and must care for them far more than He does for the worthless sparrows.”

Martin Luther,


Expect persecution. Don’t live in fear.

What does it mean for us today to not live in fear? Stockpiling and self-defense classes? Pray for boldness, clarity, conviction, compassion.


Studdard Kennedy was a chaplain during World War II. He was often thrust into the frontlines of battle, ministering in the places of danger to his life. One day as he was going through France, he wrote a letter to his son, who was about ten years old.

a. “The first prayer I want my son to say for me is not, ‘God, keep Daddy safe,’ but ‘God make Daddy brave. And if he has hard thing to do, make him strong to do them.’

b. Son, life and death do not matter. But right and wrong do. Daddy dead is still Daddy still, but Daddy dishonored before God is something too awful for words. I suppose you would like to pray for safety too, and Mother would like that, I’m sure. Well, put it in afterwards, for it really doesn’t matter nearly as much as doing what is right.”


Vs. 32-33. Whoever denies me before men, I will also deny before my Father who is in Heaven.

The Gospel