The brackets have been set. The bracketologists are waxing eloquent. We’ve posted previously that Matthew the apostle has his own bracketology worthy of our attention, especially as we consider Christ’s mission through the church.
Previous posts can be found here and here: here: Matthew’s missional bracketology: Christ’s mission is our mission (Part 1), Matthew’s missional bracketology: Christ’s mission is our mission (Part 2). Jesus Christ’s “Missionary Discourse” is bracketed off from preceding and succeeding sections in the book of Matthew. The apostle Matthew uses a literary device (what we’re calling “brackets”) to highlight what is important for the original audience, the early church, to understand, believe, and do in this section of his book.
We have previously noted that there are similarities between Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35, and Matthew 11:1:
Matthew 4:23: “Jesus was going all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.”
Matthew 9:35: “Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.”
Matthew 11:1: “When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns.”
Each summary statement notes Christ’s preaching and teaching (of the kingdom of God), his healing of the sick (minus a mention in 11:1), and his movement from town to town with His gospel message and ministry. The apostle Matthew uses these summary statements to highlight for the early church to whom he is writing the nature of Christ’s ministry as the Unexpected Messiah proclaiming an Upside-Down Kingdom.
It is fair to ask: why are Matthew’s “brackets” important? Even more to the point: why bother with the discussion at all? The answer lies in the reason Matthew has placed these literary markers where he has in the overall setting of the book of Matthew. His structure of the text is a major clue for understanding what he intended for the early church to know, believe, and do.
We’ve already noted that Matthew 9:35 and 11:1 provide the beginning and ending points for what has been called Matthew’s “Missionary Discourse”. This mission text thus looks like this:
“Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.” (Matthew 9:35)
Narrative and discourse (Matthew 9:36-10:42)
“When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns.” (Matthew 11:1)
What follows the summary statement in Matthew 9:35 is Christ’s commission and sending of the twelve disciples in Matthew 10:5, a commission that mimics Christ’s mission. Christ’s sending (apesteilen) of the disciples is anticipated in the “summoning” of the twelve apostles (apostolon). These Christ sends (apostello) as sheep among wolves just as Christ has done previously and will continue to do throughout the book of Matthew.
All of the elements of those Matthean summary statements (4:23, 9:35, 11:1) are here in the commission of chapter 10. The disciples are to “announce” (preach and teach) the kingdom (vs. 7). They are given authority to heal and cast out demons (vs. 1,8). The disciples are to carry out this activity in the “towns” of the Jewish people in Israel (vs. 5-6). Eventually, they will be bearing witness of Christ to the nations, an indication that their mission will someday include Samaritans and Gentiles (vs. 18). For some of these disciples, the mission will cost them their lives (vs. 16,21). These elements of activity, place, and message inherent to the apostles’ mission (healing, proclamation, “towns”, kingdom) are themes found in Matthew’s summary statements of Christ’s mission in Matthew 4:23 and Matthew 9:35. And the common language being used in these passages means Christ’s commission and sending of the disciples in Matthew 10:5-8 is parallel to Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35, and Matthew 11:1, with Matthew 9:35 and Matthew 11:1 being used as brackets for the entire commissioning section in the great mission chapter (Matthew 10).
Christ’s mission becomes the mission of the apostles. The disciples become the answer to the prayer of Matthew 9:38: Pray that the Lord of the harvest ekballo (propel, thrust) workers into His harvest. The Lord of the harvest does precisely that with the apostles in chapter 10, but they will accomplish much more than is first expected. They begin on mission to Israel, but it does not end there. Theirs is a mission that will spread Christ’s glory to all nations over the expanse of the globe.
What does any of this have to do with missionary activity, reaching the unreached, or carrying the gospel message to remote corners of the world? We will finish this series by answering that question next.