Chapter 7: The Messengers

Scripture: Matthew 10

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town.

‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

‘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 one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’


In previous chapters, Bonhoeffer has laid out the relationship of the disciple to Christ, the relationship of the disciple to the world, and even the relationship of the disciple to the neighbor. In this chapter, he moves his attention to the relationship of the disciple to the work of mission through his interpretation of Matthew 10.

As disciples, we are sent by Christ into the world to meet the suffering of the people, suffering that Bonhoeffer argues is at the hands of so-called ministers of God’s word. As such, the work of the disciple will be despised and they will be the objects of abuse at the hands of the powerful and those who find themselves threatened by discipleship. The disciples, in participating in the work given by Christ, will find themselves enduring suffering even as they seek to ease the suffering of others.

However, this is not reason for despair. Bonhoeffer finds hope in Jesus’ words of warning and assurance to the disciples being sent out. For though they will suffer, they will suffer with God. And though they may find themselves abused in body, even unto death, in their discipleship to Christ they have eternal life that no power on earth can touch.

Contextual Clues

  • Messengers: The title of this chapter nods to the reality of the Confessing Church in the Third Reich and the practice of sending out teams of preachers into the villages and small communities around Germany. These teams, which mirrored the work described in Matthew 10, included seminarians from Bonhoeffer’s seminary.
  • Ministers of the Word: Bonhoeffer speaks of the culpability of “Ministers of the Word” in the suffering of God’s flock through misuse of God’s own word. This is a reference to the practice of ministers in the Third Reich using scripture to justify the activities and ideologies of the National Socialist Party. Particularly emblematic of this was an adaptation of the Sermon on the Mount by Reichbishop Ludwig Muller, in which he wrote, “For you, my fellow Germans in the Third Reich, I have not ‘translated’ the Sermon on the Mount, but ‘Germanized’ it.” [DBW Vol 4, chapter 7, note 5]
  • Zealots: Bonhoeffer makes mention of the Apostle Simon, describing him as a “zealot, who struggles for justice and law against heathen opposition.” This is a nod to the lawyers who worked in and alongside the Confessing Church to fight for justice and law against the National Socialist Party.

Reflection Questions

Where do you see the People of God being abused by “Ministers of the Word?” How is the church today complicit in the subjugation of individuals and/or minority groups?

What does it look like for us to go out into the world as disciples who are sent with the instructions, “You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food.”?