Wrestling With Matthew 10:23

A good friend of mine recently called to ask me about a perplexing passage in Matthew.  We discussed the issue at some length, and I gave what I thought was a fair interpretation.  After some healthy give and take, he was like, “Yeah, I guess that makes sense.”  And that was it. 

But that wasn’t it.  I had that uncomfortable gnawing feeling, as if I had just made the incorrect call as a referee in a ball game.  And it stayed with me.  So I soon found myself pondering the issue while walking the mail, chewing and thinking, mulling over the text over and over again.  “What does it mean?”  I kept asking myself.  Round and round went the thoughts. 

It happened over my lunch break, while eating some oatmeal cookies at McDonalds (3 for a dollar!  Hard to beat!), when the answer hit me.  And it felt right… and it continues to feel right. 

So now I’m here, talking to you, wondering if you’ve ever wrestled with Matthew 10:23.  Perhaps the following explanation will prove helpful.  Or maybe, perhaps, you’ll tell me to keep thinking; to try again.  It would provide a good excuse to keep eating those cookies, at least.

So here’s my thought.

First, the passage.

“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.” (Matthew 10:23)

Now here’s the email I recently sent my friend (with the beginning chopped down, as those details aren’t relevant here).

——

Jonathan, I’ve had a change of mind!

(Stuff is chopped out here).

Here’s what I now think.

The thing that kept bothering me was the connection between verse 23a and 23b, namely, the idea of fleeing to another city and the impending arrival of the Son of Man.  Why say that?  What is the logical connection between them?  The “For” is intriguing, to say the least. 

For example, it would make sense if Jesus said, “And when they persecute you, flee elsewhere, for you should be concerned about saving your neck.”  That would provide an apparent connection between part (a) and (b).  But it doesn’t say that, obviously.  Instead, the idea of the Son of Man coming is linked with fleeing to another city.  But again, why?  What is the connection? 

Two things stand out in my mind.  First, why does Jesus say “Son of Man” here?  And secondly, what message were the disciples supposed to preach (in Matthew 10)?  Regarding the content of their message, they were to preach “that the Kingdom of God is at hand” (vs. 7).  Interestingly, the title “Son of Man” is firmly rooted in Daniel, and it’s inextricably linked with the coming of the kingdom.  Consider Daniel 7:13-14:

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

So how does this relate to Matthew 10?  Imagine you’re a first century Jew following Christ, and you’ve just been commissioned to go out to the sheep of Israel, preaching that the kingdom of God is at hand.  “It’s coming soon!” was the message.  Jesus then warns that you’re going to face opposition.  And when you do, shake the dust off your feet and move on.  Others need to hear.  In fact, the kingdom is so near, stresses Jesus, that the Son of Man will come before you have time to make it through all the cities of Israel!

But wait a minute!  Am I saying that Christ’s Second Coming was in view?  Not exactly.  I think He was stressing the arrival of the kingdom, which is bound up with the concept “Son of Man,” which the disciples would have certainly have understood.  In fact, just think of Jesus’ triumphal entry.  They were waving palm branches and expecting the Messiah to crush Roman oppression.  What they didn’t expect, however, but should have, was that the kingdom was going to be inaugurated through the Messiah’s death!  That truly ushered in the kingdom!  Think Psalm 2 and Psalm 110.  Christ’s resurrection and ascension marked His kingly ascent.  He is King of kings and Lord of lords. 

Think also of the disciple’s ignorance of the Second Coming, as we now understand it.  Before the cross, which of course is true of Matthew 10, they wouldn’t have had the foggiest idea of a Second Coming.  They thought His being there was the final coming.  He was the Messiah, after all.  So for Jesus to be referring to the Second Coming, when He says “before the Son of Man comes,” would be strange indeed.  It makes much better sense to suppose that He would speak in terms they would understand… even if their dullness prevented their understanding it (which certainly happened).  And besides, the Second Coming didn’t happen in the first century. 

So what does “Son of Man” mean in that text?  I think it should be connected with the Kingdom of God.  Given the context, it makes very good sense.  And given the fact that Jesus died, rose again and ascended before all the cities of Israel had been reached, which inaugurated, in a definitive way, the Kingdom of God, it allows us to fully preserve the first century reference, which the context seems to demand.  At the same time, the already/not yet nature of NT eschatology, which is a clear NT doctrine, is likewise upheld.  The Kingdom did come, but it is also awaiting consummation.  

So while I think the destruction of Jerusalem makes very good sense elsewhere, it suffers the same problems as the Second Coming supposition.  I don’t think 70 AD is what Jesus had in mind in Matthew 10:23.    

A few other things could be said, but I think I’ve rambled on long enough 🙂 

In a nutshell, I think this is what Matthew 10:23 is saying:

My paraphrase:  “When they persecute you, don’t waste your time there.  Move on!  Go to the next city.  Time is of the essence.  In fact, the Son of Man is so at hand, which you know means the coming of the Kingdom of God, it’s going to arrive before all the cities are covered.”     

And when Jesus rose victorious, it happened. 

See also Daniel 2:44-45.

My two cents,

Austin

26 Comments

  1. dmbaldwin May 18, 2011 at 6:11 am #

    Your explanation makes the most sense to me as well. I was reading this passage in my quiet time this morning and just had to do some research on this perplexing verse and words of Jesus. I think you have it.
    Thank you so much.
    Blessings,
    Dave

    • Austin Brown May 18, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

      Thanks Dave! It’s certainly good to hear that I’m not the only one who understands Matthew 10:23 this way.

      God bless,

      Austin

  2. chuck bean April 15, 2012 at 2:27 am #

    http://www.christiancourier.com/articles/668-what-is-the-meaning-of-matthew-10-23
    Wrestling with this verse tonight, i read this article and what you wrote. This article seems to me to nail it better and by bringing in the passage in Luke, it expands and verifies the way that he is interpreting it.
    It is a difficult passage and it is always good to wrestle with the text. Sad that the preterist view is followed or believed by anyone.

  3. chuck bean April 15, 2012 at 2:35 am #

    http://www.hyperpreteristarchive.com/blog1.php/2008/04/20/matthew-10-23-not-about-ad70

    there is also some good wrestling going on here, you have to love a text, and a God, who would leave something so wide open that almost 2,000 years later, we are still “searching out a mystery”

  4. chuck bean April 15, 2012 at 2:40 am #

    http://jesus-messiah.com/prophecy/matt1023.html

    this guy makes good arguments against what he doesn’t believe, but never says what he does believe..clearly

  5. chuck bean April 15, 2012 at 2:45 am #

    http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/matthew-10-23.html

    Last one, now I am going to bed, John Gill manages to accept 5 different views. You go John!

  6. fritzmadden July 6, 2012 at 3:05 am #

    This scripture was really bothering me the last few hours and I’ve been wrestling with it. I believe your explanation makes good sense. I really appreciate the fact that you pointed out the fact that this event is so early in his ministry, that his disciples couldn’t possibly have any idea that there might be a second coming. So from that perspective, it would make perfect sense that his use of the term “Son of Man” would be referring to the establishment of the Kingdom of God. This is also in line with what others have suggested, in that He may be referring to Penticost in this instance, which some would argue was His official establishment of the “Kingdom of God”. It is also interesting to note (just downed on me actually) that He told His disciples, just before His ascension, not to begin preaching right away but rather to “tarry in Jerusalem” until they received the promise of the Father… that being the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

  7. Ewart Vyhmeister (@ekvcpa) January 16, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    I like your view better than the view that the “coming” is the fall of Jerusalem because Jesus’ instructions were “do not go among the gentiles”, and yet, between Pentecost and the fall of Jerusalem, the disciples were specifically instructed to go among the gentiles.

  8. Judy Shinlever February 1, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    I am another one searching this scripture. Thank you for posting what “feels” right along with making sense. Learning and understanding more about Kingdom principles is essential.

  9. adrian ho February 27, 2013 at 3:13 am #

    But isnt real persecution started only after the day of Pentecost and vs 20 implying the arrival of the Holy Spirit preceded the coming of the Son of Man in vs 23?

  10. Asa June 6, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

    Thank you for helping others understand this tricky passage! I hope that other readers will hear God speaking to them as He has done to you!

    I’ll be heading off to bed now–Thank you and God bless!
    A.

  11. Phyllis Kunz July 30, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    Historians agree that with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, “Something happened”

  12. Vicki Johnson November 26, 2013 at 6:54 am #

    Being, simply, a student of BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) for the past 7 years – I read this passage as saying: There will never be enough time to “reach” every soul born into this world before the “2nd Coming of the Lord”; Therefore, we must waste no time attempting to spread the Gospel where it is not received. Go where The Holy Spirit leads you—-Share the Gospel and move on. Leaving a “seed” is so important.

    • Janice June 7, 2017 at 3:21 am #

      While I believe your words are absolutely true in a larger context, I don’t believe the point you have made is what is being communicated by Jesus in Matthew 10:23. If I am understanding you correctly, and I think I am, what you believe Jesus is referencing is in opposition to what the author of this blog is saying. I have researched this only a short time, but so far the explanation offered by the author of this blog comes the closest to my own understanding of the point Jesus was making to his disciples in this verse. I would like to reiterate my original statement, however, that I believe your words are absolutely correct in a larger and different context.

  13. Thomas Gafford March 28, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    I believe that Jesus is referring to His resurrection as well. The term Son of Man is linked to the Kingdom of Heaven through Daniel 7:13-14. Daniel speaks about Christ being presented before the Ancient of Days. Also, the greek word “erchomai” is used by Matthew for the word “come”. That is the same greek word for “come” found in the Septuagint in Daniel. If Jesus had meant His second coming I think that He would’ve used the word “parousia” which means “advent”.
    One man translated Matthew 10:23 like this: You will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man be revealed by His resurrection. The Kingdom of God is now. You know, already/not yet. The kingdom was inaugurated with the ascension and presentation of Jesus Christ to the Father and will be consummated at some time in the future. Remember, His Kingdom is not of this world. It is now a spiritual kingdom that exists in the hearts of born again believers.

  14. Mike June 28, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

    Matthew 10:23:
    But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.

    Count the cities in Israel. Do you think there was ever a time since Christ where all of them heard? Also, new people are born everyday, they have to hear too. How many cities are there in Israel? Here we are 2 thousand years after Christ and have all the cities in Israel heard the gospel? What about those who have yet to be born, they need to hear too. What is amazing is that Jesus spoke about this 2 thousand years ago and Israel still exists. Will Israel exist when Jesus comes back in the future? Yes. Have all the people in these heard the gospel?
    Probably not. The job of each believer is to share the gospel. There are people in Israel today that have not heard, and there are people born in Isreal every day that still need to hear.

  15. Nana Baafi Ghana June 22, 2015 at 4:15 am #

    Good answer, and the comments are fantastic. God bless you all.

  16. Tracy January 7, 2016 at 9:34 am #

    Why would you not accept it meaning that Jesus did come back in 70AD? That makes more sense to me. I feel it is like we fight with the Bible to mean what we want it to mean and not what it states. Just like the disciples thought the Kingdom of God would look like the days of King David. We think the arrival of Jesus is something different and not what the Bible states what would happen. All that Jesus said in Matt 24 happen in 70AD. Is Satan deceiving us to think Jesus did not come back so we will not take the authority that was give to us to kick him off of earth? I feel we are in the Kingdom age now and our job is the one God assigned at the beginning. Rule the earth and kick out evil. We as a church have a lot of work ahead of us. It would happen quicker if we realized what Age and Season we are in. THINK evil was on earth at the beginning when Adam and Eve where in the garden.. evil snake was there as well. That perfect garden had evil in it.. WE had connection to God so it was okay. We lost that connect but now we have it back. Evil is still here BUT we have authority through Jesus to deal with it. Like in the beginning. Think the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed which grows into the largest of Trees.. the rock cut out of the stone grew into a mountain and filled the whole earth.. Kingdom of God is GROWING.. ..

    • Bee March 24, 2016 at 1:09 pm #

      We can’t be in the millennium kingdom. David is not King today… there is no mention of the prophesies of old coming to pass. Like Gog and Magog, the psalm 83 war or the great middle eastern war. We are not all transformed into our new bodies…. however The day of Pentecost came and the Spirit came. This passage in Matt 10 May have more than one prophetic meaning as well. Also the earth is still in decaying form. It has not been healed of the curse as far as I can tell. And Israel is still in blindness. That’s a big one.
      The Kingdom of God I think is referring to Jesus resurrection, and day of Pentecost where we are given the Spirit and thus brought back into communion with God. It is where “Christ won the Battle!” It is within our hearts. The manifestation of The Kingdom of Heaven is yet to come.

    • tbum October 15, 2016 at 11:08 am #

      Check out this link:

      http://defendinginerrancy.com/bible-solutions/Matthew_10.23.php

  17. Robin Jones February 29, 2016 at 5:17 am #

    Thanks, I was also struggling with it and I like the direction of your thoughts

  18. Tsegaye September 29, 2016 at 11:06 pm #

    Very good! My problem is Jesus, elsewhere , told us that the Kingdom was already there (Mathew 12:28).

  19. Clif Armstrong January 7, 2017 at 9:39 pm #

    I haven’t seen this anywhere and leave it for your consideration. The prophecy in Zachariah 9:9
    which says, : Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. This was fulfilled in Mathew 21:1-11.
    It clearly uses the term “comes”.

  20. Uzezi April 18, 2017 at 9:40 pm #

    Thank you for your thoughts, when we view the bible with the idea of the concept of “Platos cave”, we will understand that the bible is more deeper than we humans can understand and Jesus was brilliant in finding ways to explain concepts of Gods kingdom in ways that we “the blind” in the cave would normally never understand.
    I also believe that Jesus resurrection estblished Gods kingdom on earth, He took the title deed of earth back from the devil (as written by john in revelations 5) and this was what our saviour tried to tell He’s disciples. God bless you all and thank you for this post

  21. Bruce Thevenot September 2, 2017 at 6:04 pm #

    It is possible that Matthew 10:23 is not directly connected to the Olivet Discourse, but it is hard to believe that it is disconnected. The judgment upon and dissolution of the Mosaic economy is clearly indicated in the Olivet Discourse and described in terms that clearly represent the promised Parousia. So while other “comings” can be entertained and have, it seems better to aggregate them in Kingdom terms culminating in the 70 A.D. consummation of the former age.

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