These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat. And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. And when ye come into an house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.Matthew 10:5-15
And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse: But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats. And he said unto them, In what place soever ye enter into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city. And they went out, and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.Mark 6:8-13
And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. And he said unto them, Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money; neither have two coats apiece. And whatsoever house ye enter into, there abide, and thence depart. And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them. And they departed, and went through the towns, preaching the gospel, and healing every where.Luke 9:2-6
Perhaps the most important thing to notice in these passages is to whom the Lord sent these twelve disciples. They were sent to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The fact that the disciples were not supposed to carry any extra clothes or provisions proves that this was going to be a short trip in both time and distance. This also means the messages they preached, including the warnings, were the specified audience to whom they were sent. Applying these warnings to other settings is an error.
Further, you cannot be a lost sheep unless you are a sheep already. Jesus is not sending these men out to make children of God. They are sent out to find God’s people who have been trodden down and scattered by the evil world around them.
Those that are “worthy” are the ones who heard what the men were preaching and gladly received them. This does not describe the righteousness or the wealth of the households. It simply means they were believers.
The warnings given to those who do not receive the message from the disciples are very strong but, again, they are limited to this audience of “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The destruction to come by the judgment of God in this context is not talking about eternal condemnation. It is pointing toward 70 AD when the Roman armies sieged and destroyed Jerusalem. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was devastating but quick. The destruction of Jerusalem was equally devastating but it was painstakingly slow over several months. And thus much worse! Those that believed the gospel message, became part of the church. Later, before 70 AD, the church members were told to flee from Jerusalem. This saved them from the destruction. Jesus speaks of this same event in the gospel of Luke:
And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto.Luke 21:20-21
If these warnings are about the end of the world, then what good would it do to flee to the mountains? They will be destroyed as well!
This initial sending out of the twelve was limited in scope both of geography and audience. Jesus had a very specific task for the disciples. They were to warn the children of God in Jerusalem to turn to Jesus and believe so that they would be saved from the judgment coming upon natural Israel. In Acts Chapter 8, we see that those that believed left Jerusalem, spread the gospel, and established churches outside of Judea.
Even though Jesus’ first charge to the disciples was limited, the same principles apply to the preaching of the gospel today. The gospel does not make children of God. The gospel is the message to the “lost sheep” of God to save them from this present evil world.