How Jesus Prepared the Disciples for Ministry at Pentecost and After (A Comparison of Matthew 10 and Acts 1-8)

There is a great deal of similarity (or, perhaps more precisely, correspondence) between what the disciples were taught in Matthew 10:1-33 and what they experienced in Acts 1-8.

To Help Get your Bearings, Here is a Quick Summary of Acts 1-8

Acts 1: Jesus teaches the disciples for forty days after the Resurrection and before the Ascension. There are one hundred and twenty believers in Jerusalem following Jesus at this point. They are told to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2: At Pentecost (or the celebration of the Feast of Weeks), the church is born as a result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Three thousand people believe and become part of the church.

Acts 3: Peter and John are preaching with sign healing at the temple in Jerusalem.

Acts 4: The number of men in the church is five thousand (presumably up to that many women in addition, as well). Peter and John are confronted by the Jewish council. The council—intimidated by the people—merely tells them not to speak in Jesus’ name. Peter and John plainly state that they will listen to God (not men) and continue to speak in Jesus’ name. Peter and John return to the believers and they all rejoice and pray for boldness to continue to speak in Jesus’ name.

Acts 5: This chapter describes the positive example of Barnabas’ gift, that the church is holding needs and property in common, and the negative example of Ananias and Saphira. The apostles are arrested again. This time, the council—still afraid of the people—is “lenient” with them, having them beaten and freed. The apostles did not cease preaching and teaching.

Acts 6:1-7: A problem arises with the needs of Hellenistic widows and the distribution of food. The office of deacon is established.

Acts 6:8-8:3: Describes the ministry of Stephen (a deacon) as he performs signs and wonders at the Freedmen synagogue, is arrested, gives an evangelistic speech, and is stoned as Saul approves. At this point, the gloves come off, so to speak; the council begins to deal severely with the church. There is great persecution and the church is scattered from Jerusalem to the surrounding areas. The apostles stay in Jerusalem to continue preaching.

Acts 8:4-40: Another deacon, Philip, speaks in Jesus’ name—he is among those scattered that preach as they go. He has come to a Samaritan town. Signs are performed that draw attention to the message he preaches. The Samaritans in this town believe and are baptized. Philip also shares the gospel by explaining Isaiah 53 to the Ethiopian eunuch in his travels. These are the first instances in Acts where the gospel is being preached and believed outside of Jerusalem.

How is Matthew 10 Similar to the Experience in Acts 1-8?

The Disciples are Commissioned

In Matthew 10, Jesus sends the disciples out to proclaim his message as he gives them authority to do signs and wonders to validate the message. In Acts 1-8, we see the disciples engaged in that exact same activity.

In Matthew 10…

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction…And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. (Matthew 10:1,7-8a, ESV)

In Acts…

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:4-8, ESV)

The Disciples are to Deliver an Important Message

Their message is, ultimately, the gospel; it is a matter of life or death and salvation or judgement.

In Matthew 10…

And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. (Matthew 10:14–15 ESV)

In Acts…

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38–39 ESV)

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 ESV)

The Holy Spirit Will Help the Disciples Deliver the Message

In Matthew 10…

When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:19–20 ESV)

In Acts…

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy…’” (Acts 2:14–18 ESV)

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders,…” (Acts 4:8 ESV)

And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch…And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. (Acts 6:5, 8-10 ESV, emphasis added)

The Disciples are to Rely on God’s Provision

In Matthew 10…

Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. (Matthew 10:9–10 ESV)

In Acts…

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me;for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” … “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”(Acts 1:4–5, 8 ESV, emphasis added)

The Disciples’ Message is to be Validated by Signs and Wonders

Luke and Acts as a whole presents the idea that the power of the Holy Spirit enables Jesus to do mighty works, which were signs of who he was and of the nearness of the end of the age. That power, to some extent, was demonstrated through the disciples as well. It is important to note how closely the signs and wonders performed through the disciples are related to their testimony and message. “In continuity with the miracles of Jesus, signs and wonders in Acts validate the messengers and their message.”[1] It should be observed that Jesus had the power to perform miracles in his own right and the apostles (and others) performed miracles in his name—not of their own accord. 


The book of Acts highlights the prophetic (meaning: proclaiming the truth) succession from Jesus to the twelve apostles and to other specially selected individuals such as Stephen, Philip, and Paul. However, the book of Acts does not suggest that signs and wonders were a necessary aspect of the progress of the of the message of Jesus in every context. Signs and wonders seem to accompany the planting of the gospel in new situations for a time, but Acts leaves us with the lasting impression that the work of God is advanced in the world essentially by proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ.[2]

Both Matthew 10 and Acts mention signs and wonders that are to accompany the message.

In Matthew 10…

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons…” (Matthew 10:5–8a ESV)

In Acts…

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:22–24 ESV)

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. (Acts 2:42–43 ESV)

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it…” (Acts 4:13–16 ESV, emphasis added)

Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed. (Acts 5:12–16 ESV)

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. (Acts 6:8 ESV)

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. (Acts 8:4–6 ESV, emphasis added)

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2:5–11 ESV)

The Disciples are to Expect Opposition to their Message

In Matthew 10…

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues,and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles…and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved…A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. (Matthew 10:16–18, 22, 24-25 ESV)

In Acts…

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. (Acts 4:1–3 ESV)

So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. (Acts 4:18 ESV)

But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. (Acts 5:17–18 ESV)

The Disciples are to Fear God and not Men

In Matthew 10…

So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:26–33 ESV)

In Acts…

“We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:28–29 ESV)

How is Matthew 10 Different from the Experience in Acts 1-8?

The Scope of the Commission is More Wide

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’…”(Matthew 10:5–7 ESV)

In Matthew 10:17-18, Jesus alludes to the fact that the scope of their commission will change:

“Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues,and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.” (Matthew 10:17–18 ESV)

Their orders in Matthew 10 are to travel from town to town in Jerusalem only. However, in vv. 17-18, he is telling the disciples that they will face opposition and that in the opposition they will speak in Jesus’ name to Jews and to Gentiles. Jesus here refers to how they will eventually serve—at Pentecost and on.

In Acts 1:8, the restriction (“Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans…”) is lifted:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)

The Signs and Wonders of the Apostles are Recorded (They are Actually Involved in the Signs and Wonders)

The striking difference between Matthew 10 and Acts 1-8 is in who performs the signs and wonders. Matthew (and other instances of Jesus sending the disciples to preach and perform signs) gives no report of how the disciples fared—there simply aren’t records of the disciples involved in performing signs and wonders. However, every other chapter in Acts 1-8 (as you have seen in the “The Disciples’ Message is to be Validated by Signs and Wonders” section above) shows the apostles (as well as Stephen and Philip) performing signs and wonders as they speak in Jesus’ name. It appears that what Jesus sent the disciples to do in Matthew 10 (proclaim the message and performs signs) is not realized until Pentecost.

The Opposition Encountered by the Apostles

The Gospels don’t record any capture or flogging of the disciples as they go from town to town—they don’t experience that until after Pentecost. Again, in Matthew 10:16-22 when Jesus says, “They will…,” it seems that he is referring to the opposition the apostles will face after Pentecost. By the time the events of Acts 1-8 roll around—aided by the Holy Spirit and the teaching and experience of Matthew 10 (among other instances in their three years with Jesus)—they handle the opposition and persecution faithfully.

So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18–20 ESV)

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them,…look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:23–24, 29-30 ESV)

And when they had brought them [the arrested apostles], they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. (Acts 5:27–33 ESV)

And when they [the council] had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. (Acts 5:40–42 ESV)

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. (Acts 7:54–58 ESV)

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. (Acts 8:1–4 ESV)


Footnotes:

  1. David Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, Pillar New Testament Commentary , Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing, 2009, pp. 83-87
  2. These two paragraphs are either quoted, paraphrased, or lightly adapted from: David Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, Pillar New Testament Commentary , Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing, 2009, pp. 83-87

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