One of the most powerful rhetorical devices to rally the troops around the church’s flag has been its language of martyrdom. Everyone is out to get them, and they love to talk up how much they’re hated and persecuted by “the world” and their non-SCOC family members.
But at least they know to expect and prepare for this kind of unfair treatment; Jesus predicted it, didn’t he?
Matthew 10:34-36 – Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. (ESV)
Except he didn’t, really. Would it surprise you to learn that this is just another passage taken wildly out of context? I didn’t think so.
In fact, if Stanton were to repeat back to Jesus in their own words what they think he said in that speech, he’d be face palming and shaking his head in bewilderment. God designed the family unit so that the precious gift of children would be raised in a secure and loving environment by two caring adults. You know, “what God has joined together,” and all that. Rest assured, God didn’t send Jesus to destroy the households of Christians for the next two millenia. What an unbelievably ignorant and immoral exegesis.
Does anyone think for a minute that the God of Heaven, in His infinite wisdom and boundless love for His creation, would come to Earth to destroy the family unit—the very institution designed to protect and nurture the most vulnerable in society, children? Any fair reading of scripture shows that’s ludicrous on its face. Did no one at Stanton consider that maybe there’s a better understanding of what Jesus was really trying to say?
Let’s walk through Jesus’ speech, and in the process, crush Stanton’s martyrdom complex. No, Jesus didn’t come to divide households for all eternity. Not even close.
Context has to do with three things: understanding the speaker, the audience he’s speaking to, and the historical context he’s speaking in. Only with those three things clearly in view will the meaning of these passages become apparent.
This may seem obvious and not worth pointing out, but it’s very important to notice that Jesus is speaking here. This isn’t an isolated chunk of text from Jesus, it’s real history. It’s what Jesus actually said to a real audience assembled before him at a specific time for a specific purpose.
Audience: The twelve
It’s important to realize that Jesus’s audience is his core group of twelve disciples. He is giving a pep talk to them—a keynote address, of sorts—as he is sending them out to become his apostles (messengers). Some people call this Jesus’ Missional Discourse, because he’s sending them out into the mission field. They were being sent into Judea to preach Jesus to their Jewish brethren.
Historical context: Sending them out to preach to their Jewish brethren
Here’s where the rug gets pulled completely out from under Stanton’s argument that all Christians for all time should expect severe persecution from their own family members. First, read the full context of Matthew’s account in chapter 10. If you want to be thorough, here are corresponding accounts, although much shorter, from Mark and Luke. Done? OK, now let’s walk through the Matthew account. Take note of the following facts:
1. The apostles are being sent on a mission to their Jewish brethren, not the Gentiles.
Matthew 10:5-6 – 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. (ESV)
The twelve were not being commissioned to go out into the entire world. The Gentiles had not yet been invited to follow Jesus. The offer was first to the Jews, Jesus’ own people. Only when he was rejected would his message be routinely preached to the Gentiles.
2. Jesus gave these twelve disciples miraculous gifts to prove that their message was from God.
Matthew 10:1 – 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. (ESV)
Matthew 10:8 – Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. (ESV)
This is very important. When we preach, we ask people to reason about the Biblical record and the world around them. That generation had a very different standard of evidence. They had miraculous proof that the apostles were sent from God. This gave the hearer of the message no excuse for rejecting it.
3. Jesus knew in advance that his people would reject his message.
The theme of Jesus’ rejection by his own people is a constant throughout his preaching. His rejection specifically by the generation of Jews living during his time on Earth was a matter of prophecy, and came with intense rhetoric about judgment and wrath being poured out upon his people.
Luke 17:25 – But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. (ESV)
In fact, the rejection Jesus faced was most intense from his own townsmen and countrymen.
Mark 6:4 – Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” (NIV)
Matthew 8:34 – 34 And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region. (ESV)
4. As a result, Jesus frequently pronounced God’s judgment (wrath) on “the house of Israel.”
Jesus brings into this speech his trademark language of judgment against those who would reject the message of the apostles:
Matthew 10:14-15 – 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. (ESV)
This is not a new thing. If you read the gospel accounts, you find many instances of Jesus talking specifically to the generation of Jews then living; the actual people who were guilty of rejecting God in the flesh.
Matthew 12:42 – The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. (ESV)
This is far different from pronouncing judgment on those who are skeptical of believing OUR preaching, OUR non-member class, or OUR message while door-knocking. My point is that there is a very specific historical context to these verses, and of this foray into mission work. It is far different from the situation we find ourselves in today. This is a speech about the twelve apostles being sent to their brethren in Judea, who were going to reject them. Period.
5. This period of Jewish history was politically volatile.
Volumes of history have been written about this time period. We know a lot about it from the Bible, contemporary historian Josephus, and even writings from first-century Romans like Tacitus. The Jews in the first century lived under the sometimes heavy hand of Rome. There was a strong political movement to fight back and overthrow Roman rule, but the rabbinical class (Pharisees in particular) generally cooperated with Rome in governing the people to tamp down rebellions (like the insurrection of Barabbas).
This is one of many reasons they despised Jesus; he represented a threat to the power granted them by Rome to act as a go-between for Rome and the Jewish people. It was also their pretext for having him crucified; they pitched it to the Romans that Jesus was the greater threat than Barabbus, because Jesus was claiming to be “King of the Jews.”
This political volatility did indeed divide brother against brother and split families. Some wanted to overthrow the Romans, and some wanted peace, which meant acknowledging the authority of Roman rule. Then along comes Jesus, who, though misunderstood as a political rebel, was really a spiritual rebel. He acknowledge Roman political rule, but did not acknowledge the rabbinical class’s spiritual rule for the new spiritual kingdom he was ushering in. Though a spiritual kingdom, many people, including his own disciples at times, misunderstoood it to be a political kingdom.
Why is this important? Because the rabbinal teachings of the time had prepared the Jewish people for a coming Messiah. Many were ready for revolution, and saw the promise of the coming Messiah as their opportunity to break free of Rome. Jesus’ message comes in that context. Yes, it would wreak havoc with the political/rabbinical class, who had their power and prestige as a result of their sort of power sharing agreement with the Romans. It would also wreak havoc with the Jewish rebels, who were trying to build alliances to wage war against Rome. Jesus’ message would not be well-received to either side of that conflict.
6. Jesus’ speech is steeling his apostles against actual, not just imagined or rhetorical persecution:
Matthew 10:16-23 – “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 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. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 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. (ESV)
When I hear Stanton talk about being persecuted for their beliefs, my first thought is that they have no idea what real persecution even is. What they call persecution (a family member questioning them about their church’s practices, for instances) is laughable. It’s a first world problem in comparison to the problems of believers around the world who are facing actual persecution for the cause of Christ. Right now. Today. Not 2,000 years ago.
The persecution Jesus is referring to in Matthew 10 was real, not imagined or fancifully exaggerated. He is preparing his apostles for going out into the midst of real danger. The Jewish political establishment, in their efforts to protect their power-sharing agreement with the Romans, would indeed flog them in the synogogues and drag them before governors and kings. Family member would turn against family member. Brother would deliver over brother to be put to death. Children would rise against their parents.
That’s not Jesus preaching against the family unit (we’ll get to that in a minute), that’s Jesus trying to prepare his first century followers for the intense political firestorm that was about to come their way. The zeitgeist of the first century culminated in a war, by the way. It was called the First Jewish-Roman War, and it culminated in about 70 A.D. with the complete destruction of Jerusalem, a matter of profound Biblical importance (and prophecy). But it was the endurance of those first century believers that paved the way for the survival of Christianity so that it could continue to preach peace to the nations today, two millenia later.
But here’s something interesting. When they were persecuted in one town, Jesus told them to flee to the next. Does Stanton do that? Of course not, because they don’t face real persecution. They don’t put themselves in harms way by sending missionaries into totalitarian communist countries, radical Islamic territories or indigenous tribal regions of the world to preach the gospel. No way, that’s too dangerous. How long will you sit in your comfortable houses, Stanton, while the real believers—the ones who are sacrificing their very lives—are out on the front lines? I guess even Mexico’s not good enough (or safe enough, I’m not sure which) for Stanton’s mission work anymore.
The truth is, Stanton doesn’t even face real persecution. At all. Zip, zero, nada. Certainly not anything close to what Jesus was preparing his newly appointed apostles for in Matthew 10. Meanwhile, believers are dying at the hands of real political and religious persecutors simply for meeting in an underground house church in China, or refusing to convert to Islam.
In an odd sort of way, Stanton’s persecution complex is similar to North Korea’s. As a closed society, North Korean citizens have no choice but to believe the scraps of disinformation they hear from their Dear Leader. They can’t read blogs like this, or any kind of news source freely. And so the people believe that the entire world is parked outside their borders, ready to invade. The only thing saving the masses from the evil maurauders camped outside the gates is—you guessed it—the leaders of the people. Dear Leader himself, Kim Jung Un. Or for that matter, [insert your favorite teacher/preacher/evangelist].
7. God designed the family unit to protect and nurture children, and he meant it. We can be sure that Jesus didn’t come to destroy it.
1 Timothy 5:8 – Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever…
Ephesians 6:1-4 – Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” 4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Exodus 20:12 Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
Psalm 127:3-4 – Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him. 4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.
Proverbs 6:20 My son, keep your father’s command and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
Proverbs 22:6 – Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
Proverbs 11:29 – Whoever brings ruin on their family will inherit only wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise.
Proverbs 31 – … 10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. 11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. 12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. … 27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her ….
He hates divorce, adultry, or anything else that would divide the family unit He created.
Malachi 2:10 -“Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers?
Proverbs 6:32 – But a man who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does so destroys himself.
And I believe God despises these attacks on the family unit precisely because dysfunctional adults have the ability to mess up the lives of children who grow up without a mom, or without a dad, or with a dad who has been castigated and broken down by his wife and the church.
Matthew 19:14 – but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (ESV)
The family unit is sacred, even when a marriage is between unblievers, or between a believer and an unbeliever.
Mark 10:9 – What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (ESV)
For these reasons, I believe anyone who teaches that Jesus came to divide families, and acts on that belief, will be judged harshly because of this doctrine’s impact on children. My wife and I are foster parents. We see the real-life, lifetime impact on children who never saw anything other than dysfunction at home. Family dysfunction sends shockwaves through subsequent generations, and it’s really difficult to stop the cycle so it doesn’t repeat itself.
But Stanton, while fanatic about painting a picture of perfect church unity, cares nothing about family unity. Their doctrines keep repeating the cycle of family dysfunction. Emasculate dads, withdraw from them for doing what God designed them to, which is spiritually lead their families, castigate them in front of their kids still in the church, or in front of their wife and family members still in the church. Then their children get baptized and sucked into the dysfunction, and repeat it with their own new families. Those boys become men, and eventually get withdrawn from themselves, with their own children now being indoctrinated against their will. Rinse and repeat.
Stanton needs to own up to the fact that its doctrines have been destructive to the family unit God created, and set out to re-establish the sanctity of the family. Did Jesus come to divide what he so lovingly created? Not. Even. Close.