THE APOSTLES SENT FORTH AS SHEEP
Matt 10:16-20 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; and ye shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak, for it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father, which speaketh in you.
Previously in Matthew 10:1, we find Jesus sending out His twelve apostles, instructing them to preach to the lost sheep of the house of Israel the message that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. He told them those that heard, believed, and accepted their message would fill their physical needs. He also told them to spend no time teaching those that rejected their message of salvation. But where they were received, they were to preach the gospel of repentance and establish it with miraculous healing by the powers that were bestowed upon them. They were assured that the very nature of the message they would speak and the miracles they would perform, would create much opposition among the Jewish leaders.
In order to warn them of this fact and prepare them to expect many trials and tribulations, Jesus explained it to His apostles in a manner that they could easily understand. He said, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. They would be defenseless and without protection from much physical opposition. The enemies of Christ would be many. They would vehemently oppose their teaching and would attempt to destroy their influence with fierce bitterness and cruelty. In addition to this, Jesus admonished them to be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. The use of serpents and doves as good examples to follow is rare. Serpents are used primarily in the scriptures to describe Satan and his evils, while doves are used as examples of gentle affection. However, serpents are wise, having an innate ability to cautiously avoid and flee from danger. Doves avoid conflict through their innocent and harmless nature, and their ability to fly away from harm. These characteristics, Jesus told His apostles, to emulate in order to defend themselves against any threats of violence they may face as they teach the gospel of salvation among the Jews.
But beware of men. The reference here was primarily to the Jewish leadership; men Jesus compares to ravenous wolves that would prey upon His apostles, who He described as gentle, unprotected sheep. Jesus warns that these men will do all things possible to entrap them, find fault with them, and accuse them of violating the Law of Moses. And when these spiritual leaders think they have contrived sufficient evidence to condemn them, they will deliver you (the apostles of Christ) to the councils, which make up the highest court of the Jews - the Sanhedrin, after which they will scourge you in their synagogues. Not only were His apostles to expect to be brought before the Jewish courts, but Jesus told them that they would also be brought before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. Because of their teaching and miracles they were to perform, the apostles of Christ would be tried in civil criminal courts. We find examples of this in Acts 5:26; 12:1-4; 23:33; 26:1; 26:28-30. Secular historians also record some apostles, such as Peter, John, and Paul, being brought before civil authorities.
From Jesus' warnings, the apostles knew that they would be brought before both Jewish and civil governmental courts. Jesus comforted them by assuring that they would receive spiritual inspiration to guide them in their defense. Having little, if any, formal education beyond that needed for their professions, the apostles would have been at an extreme disadvantage before the legal authorities of the Sanhedrin and the Roman government. Jesus assured them that when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father, which speaketh in you. This same assuring warning Jesus gave His apostles immediately before His crucifixion. But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost (Mark 13:11). No doubt this is exactly what took place against these apostles when confronted by the enemies of Christ. But this we know for sure:The New Testament dispensation was approaching; it would take place in the time established by God; no opposition would prevent it!