IS IT right for just anyone to pick one verse of the Bible and begin to argue against the infallibility of the Word of God? Does it make sense to build an argument on one verse of the Bible and ridicule the existence of Christ Jesus and genuineness of Christianity? Is it fair for people to build theories around one scriptural verse and make damning statements about the Church without considering its context?
Many people do these things and think that they are right and their actions are justifiable. But that is self-deception, because their actions portray them as lacking sound scriptural knowledge and understanding. Firstly, a person needs the Spirit of God to understand the things of God. Secondly, a biblical text should be read and interpreted in context and in comparison and contrast with other texts.
In two previous articles, we sought to discuss two biblical verses which have been misinterpreted and distorted to impugn the integrity of the Bible. In those two articles, we studied Matthew 16:27-28 which reads: “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
However, in this article, we are discussing Matthew 10:23, another controversial verse which many have taught out of context, resulting in the unfortunate derision of the Bible and its God. The verse reads: “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”
Many have erroneously interpreted the passage of Scripture above to mean that Jesus Christ promised His disciples that He was going to die, ascend to the Father and return from heaven to judge the world before His disciples whom He had sent could finish preaching in the Jewish towns.
But is this interpretation correct? Certainly not! It is erroneous and must be corrected. It is not proper to take a portion of Scripture and explain it out of context. It is necessary that we read the whole chapter or even more and compare and contrast with other passages of Scripture to be able to have proper insight and understanding.
Consequently, the first verse we must begin our studies in order to understand the text is Matthew 10:1 through to verse 42 and then we must continue from Matthew 11:1 forward. In Matthew 10:1, it is written: “And he (Jesus) 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…These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go…to the lost sheep of Israel.”
In verse 23 of Matthew Chapter 10, Jesus said: “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” This is the basis of this article. We must pay attention to the clause: “…you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel…”
The clause above indicates that Christ was speaking directly and specifically to the 12 apostles He sent. Remember that in verse 5, it is written, “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.”
So, Jesus told them: “you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” These words of Christ to His disciples are the origin of the whole controversy surrounding the verse which erroneous interpretation has contributed to the questioning of the honesty of the Bible.
Now, there are two basic questions to ask if we are to clearly understand the text. Firstly, where did Jesus Christ tell His disciples He was going to? Secondly, where would He come from? Answers to these questions would help us to set the interpretation in its proper perspective. We know that in the scriptural passage above, Christ Jesus did not talk about His death, burial or resurrection let alone talk about going to heaven. So, exactly where did the Saviour of the world say He was going to, and where would He come from after sending His 12 apostles?
It is not proper to rush in making unsubstantiated claims that Matthew 10:23 was either fulfilled in the first century or that Christ would not come back considering the fact that all the disciples who Christ Jesus instructed had died centuries ago. Many just communicate this inaccurate teaching, encouraging people to chill around and have fun thereby promoting hedonism or self-indulgence.
As I stated earlier, a person who decides to teach from the Bible must not just quote a verse out of context and make definitive claims. There is always the need for wider reading of chapters and verses to be able to make meaning out of a verse. An avid reader of the Bible and more importantly the Gospel of Matthew would know the right answer to the two questions asked above.
It is clearly stated in Matthew 11:1 which reads: “When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.” But in which region were those cities? The New International Version of the Bible described them as “towns of Galilee.” It is now abundantly clear that Christ Jesus did not ascend to heaven after instructing His 12 disciples to go and preach the gospel. Thus, certainly He would not come from heaven, but He would actually come from those cities after preaching there.
By James Quansah