In Matthew 10:16, Jesus says to his twelve disciples, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
This verse comes in the context of Jesus commissioning his disciples to go out and proclaim the kingdom of heaven to the towns of Israel.
Jesus knows that they will face opposition and persecution for preaching the gospel, so he warns them that they will be like sheep among wolves – defenseless and vulnerable.
Jesus was preparing his twelve disciples for ministry before his own crucifixion and resurrection. They would soon take on the monumental task of spreading the gospel across Judea, Samaria and beyond.
This commission came with overt persecution not just from the religious leaders, but eventually from the brutal Roman authorities as well. The disciples would be vulnerable as lambs heading into packs of ravenous wolves.
But Jesus in his own coming sacrifice would model both the role of the lamb and the shepherd. As the perfect Passover lamb, he did not flee or defend himself when led to the slaughter.
Yet as the good shepherd, he willingly laid down his life to save the sheep.
This foreshadowed how the disciples should respond to persecution – not with retaliation but with faith in God’s protection. Christ would walk with them through the valley of death itself.
The wolves represent those who will oppose and persecute the disciples. They are dangerous predators who can devour the unprotected sheep.
Jesus uses this metaphor to make it clear to the disciples that as they go out, they will face hostility and danger from those who reject their message.
Just as wolves prey on sheep, there will be people who seek to destroy and silence the disciples as they preach about Jesus.
So what does it mean for the disciples to be as sheep in the midst of wolves?
It means they are sent out without any physical defenses – no weapons, no power, no status.
As followers of Jesus, their only defense is their faith and dependence on God. They have to be willing to be vulnerable as they carry out their commission, relying on God’s protection and the power of the Holy Spirit.
In calling the disciples sheep among wolves, Jesus invoked a metaphor that would have been familiar to his followers.
He is the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies – the ultimate servant of God described in Scripture as both lamb and shepherd. As John the Baptist declared, Jesus is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Yet Jesus is also the good shepherd foretold by the prophet Ezekiel, who gathers and tenderly cares for the sheep (Ezekiel 34:11-16).
The disciples were being sent out into a dangerous world, yet they could take courage knowing they followed the sacrificial lamb who willingly surrendered to death for their salvation.
They could trust their lives to the shepherd who defends the flock at all costs. If they responded to persecution with faith rather than retaliation, they would be disciples worthy of the name.
Jesus follows this warning with counsel – he tells the disciples that they must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Serpents are known for being shrewd and cunning. Doves represent purity, peace and humility.
Jesus is saying that the disciples must find a balance – being wise enough to avoid danger and outsmart their enemies, while still remaining blameless, holy and peaceful.
As sheep among wolves, they are to use discernment to steer clear of peril when possible while continuing to operate in gentleness, integrity and purity as they carry out their mission.
Later in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus uses similar “sheep among wolves” imagery in Matthew 10:22 when he warns the disciples, “and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.
But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Here, he reiterates that the disciples will face fierce opposition because they follow Christ and represent him.
But he encourages them to stay faithful through it all, enduring the hatred without compromising their mission. Those who endure stand to receive ultimate salvation.
So in summary, Jesus uses the metaphor of sheep among wolves to forewarn his disciples that they will face opposition, hatred and persecution as they spread the gospel.
They are like defenseless sheep being sent into hostile environments, vulnerable to attacks from those who reject Christ. But rather than responding with force or aggression, they are to remain gentle, pure, faithful and discerning – relying on God’s protection rather than worldly weapons.
This vivid imagery would have prepared the disciples for the hard road ahead as they shared the good news with a world often hostile to its message.
Now let’s look at Matthew 22:14, where Jesus says, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” This verse comes at the end of the Parable of the Wedding Feast. In this parable, a king has prepared a wedding feast for his son, but the original invited guests all decline, refuse or ignore the invitation.
So the king commands his servants to go out and invite anyone they can find – both the good and bad – and bring them in to fill up the wedding hall.
One man who attends is not dressed appropriately for the occasion, so the king has him cast out. Jesus then concludes the parable saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
At first glance, it may seem that this verse has nothing to do with the sheep and wolves analogy in Matthew 10.
The parables were powerful stories Jesus employed to conceal truth from unbelievers while revealing it to his faithful flock.
Often shocking and disarming to audiences, the parables overturned conventional thinking about God’s Kingdom.
Who could predict that a shepherd would abandon 99 sheep to find just one? Why would a father lavish love on a disloyal son?
Of course, the parables were meant to challenge and draw listeners in. At the wedding feast, the garment representing righteousness highlights the importance of responding rightly to the Kingdom call.
Not all will welcome or receive the gospel, but those who do must be clothed with repentance, faith and obedience.
However, there are some key connections between these passages in the overall context of Matthew’s gospel:
- Both passages refer to the mission Jesus has called his followers to. In Matthew 10, Jesus commissions his twelve disciples to preach the good news of the kingdom. In Matthew 22, the wedding feast represents the kingdom of heaven and the invitation to be part of it.
- Both passages imply difficulty and rejection. The disciples will face persecution and hostility from “wolves” as they carry out their commission. The wedding guests refuse, ignore or make light of the invitation.
- Both passages exhort perseverance and faithfulness. Despite the opposition, the disciples are to endure to the end. The man without proper wedding clothes represents those who do not take the invitation seriously and are unprepared.
- Both passages convey the idea of few being chosen. Jesus says many are called but only a few are chosen in Matthew 22. In Matthew 10, the implication is that while Jesus sends out all twelve disciples, some may fall away when persecution comes.
So in both passages, Jesus conveys the broad invitation – whether to the feast or to follow him and carry the gospel.
Yet many who hear this invitation and are “called” will reject it or fail to be properly prepared. They fall away when hardship comes. But the faithful few who do endure to the end, taking the invitation seriously, will be “chosen.”
Jesus knew that just as there would only be a few faithful among the original twelve disciples, there would only be a small minority in the broader world who would accept his invitation and walk the narrow path leading to life (Matthew 7:13-14).
Many would be called – either by hearing Jesus’ direct call like the disciples or invited through preaching – but only those who were wholeheartedly faithful would be among the chosen “sheep” of his flock, persevering all the way to final salvation despite the surrounding “wolves” seeking to devour them.
Both passages remind disciples throughout the ages that the road is hard and rejection likely. Persecution and sacrifice will come.
But like the first twelve, we must stay the course. Jesus has gone before us to prepare the feast and secure salvation. He walks with us through trials and equips us to endure.
As sheep in the midst of wolves, we must hold fast to him – the faithful Shepherd who laid down his life for us. For the chosen few who trust in him fully to the end, eternal blessing awaits.
The exhortation to follow the shepherd’s voice and cling to the strength he provides is just as relevant today. Christians in many nations face persecution, hardship and even death for pursuing their faith.
Yet modern day sheep boldly walk through the valley shadowed with death because their Shepherd is there – the same one who defeated the grave. Their steadfast hope silences the growls of wolves.
From Nigerian believers refusing to deny Christ to Chinese pastors enduring prison for the gospel, sheep stand firm in the flock, trusting the Great Shepherd to bring them home.