Jesus choose twelve men to be his disciples and he gave them authority that no one since these twelve have had. Jesus is God in human flesh; therefore, he went about Judea proclaiming the kingdom, casting out unclean spirits, healing all kinds of diseases and every kind of sickness. (cf. Mt 9:35) He gave this same authority to his twelve chosen apostles.
Each of these men are named in groups of two. They were sent to the lost sheep of Israel in pairs. One of these men, Judas Iscariot, would betray Jesus.
The remainder of this chapter is instructions given by Jesus for the twelve when he sent them out on a special mission to announce the coming of the kingdom of heaven to Jewish cities in Galilee. This mission is not to be confused with the great commission. (cf. Mt 28:19, 20) However, many of the things that Jesus teaches the twelve in this chapter have lasting value in missions today. But we should keep in mind that he later revoked some of the things that he said in this chapter. In Mt 10:9 he tells them to not go out with money belts but to live off what the people of that city give. But when Jesus is about to be crucified, he revokes this clause. (cf. Lk 22:35, 36) This temporary mission was to the lost sheep of Israel and they were not to enter into the way of the gentiles.
“Way of the Gentiles” probably means a road leading only to one of the pagan, Greek cities in Palestine; Jewish people normally avoided roads that led into such cities anyway. Galilee was surrounded by Gentile regions except in the south, where it shared borders with Samaria. (IVP BBC NT)
After giving them this initial instruction, Jesus then divulges instruction that will be applicable during the great comission. They should be wise and harmless. They are warriors being sent out on a mission; however, the battle is spiritual in a physical world. Their weapons are spiritual but the enemy uses the physical to fight them. The follower of Jesus Christ is to announce the coming kingdom of heaven but when the world persecutes the disciples is not to fight back physically. He is to be harmless like a dove but he should be wise like a serpent. The disciples should not give needless offense and enter compromising situations. Jesus warns the disciples about the persecutions that they would endure for the sake of the kingdom. Even their families would betray them. This is a test for true discipleship in the face of an unbelieving family. Is the disciple going to chose his earthly family or the kingdom of heaven? The disciple is not to fear what the unbelieving world may do to him because it is the soul that will inherit the kingdom. The true test of discipleship: Will the disciple fear men or will he fear God? Will he confess Jesus before men or will he deny him before men? Jesus’s first advent was not to bring peace to the earth. Yes, his death on the cross brought men peace with God but his first advent started a war on the earth. Remember that this war is spiritual but unbelievers fight with the physical. They can kill the body but they cannot kill the soul. The disciple of Jesus is not to resist an evil person. (Mt 5:39) He is to remember that his reward for service is not in this world but in the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is already but not yet. The disciples reward will come when Jesus returns to sit down on his glorious throne.