The Sending of the Twelve | Mark 6:7-13

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts—but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.

Mark 6:7-13 ESV

If we think of the Gospel of Mark in terms of story arches that together form the overall narrative, this passage serves as a fitting conclusion for the arch that began with the calming of the sea in chapter 4. After teaching the crowds in parables (while explaining everything to His disciples), Christ took His followers with Him as He exerted His authority over the cosmos, hell, sickness, and death. Lastly, He gave them a firsthand look at the hardened hearts within His hometown. After all of these astonishing accounts, Jesus now sends off His disciples to do what He has been doing.

HE SENT THEM OUT // VERSE 7

After teaching about in the villages near Nazareth, Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. Sproul suggests that at least some of the disciples had returned to their homes for a time, which explains why Jesus was calling them back to Himself. However, since we know that Jesus had many more disciples with Him than the twelve, He could have simply been calling them apart from the other disciples just as He formerly did in 3:13. Indeed, we would do well to hear the words of that passage (3:13-19) again.

And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

At that time, Jesus called these twelve disciples apart from the rest in order to “send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons” (v. 14). In other words, He made them apostles in addition to being disciples. To be a disciple, of course, is to be a student and a follower, while an apostle is one who has been sent out as a messenger. Thus, these twelve disciples were particularly set apart by Christ to be sent out by Him. And yet until our present text, they had not been sent out. But the time had now arrived for them to fulfill their titles as apostles.

We should further note that Jesus sent them out two by two. Since Jesus sent them forth to proclaim the good news of the arrival of God’s kingdom, their twofold witness likely gave them more authority to be heard than if they were each sent out alone. Since Jesus Himself is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24), it should be no surprise that He sends forth His disciples according to the wisdom given in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

As we will see in verses 8-11, Jesus did not intend for their work to be light and carefree. They would likely face rejection, and they would need to depend on the provision of the Father the entire time. Traveling out in pairs would help them to encourage one another to bold proclamation and to endure through hardship. The scene from the Pilgrim’s Progress where Christian and Hopeful must walk through the Enchanted Ground is similar.

I saw then in my dream, that they went till they came into a certain country, whose air naturally tended to make one drowsy, if he came a stranger into it. And here Hopeful began to be very dull and heavy of sleep; wherefore he said unto Christian, I do now begin to grow so drowsy that I can scarcely hold up mine eyes; let us lie down here, and take one nap.

Chr. By no means, said the other; lest, sleeping, we never awake more.

Hope. Why, my brother? Sleep is sweet to the labouring man; we may be refreshed if we take a nap.

Chr. Do you not remember that one of the Shepherds bid us beware of the Enchanted Ground? He meant by that, that we should beware of sleeping; ‘Therefore let us not sleep, as do others, but let us watch and be sober.’

Hope. I acknowledge myself in a fault; and had I been here alone, I had by sleeping run the danger of death. I see it is true that the wise man saith, ‘Two are better than one.’ Hitherto hath thy company been my mercy, and thou shalt have a good reward for thy labour.[1]

While either would have fallen asleep alone, together they kept each other awake.

J. C. Ryle applies this principle to missionaries, saying that “it is difficult to avoid the conclusion, that if the rule of going forth ‘two and two’ had been more strictly observed, the missionary field would have yielded larger results than it has.”[2] I believe that he certainly has a point. Even the sending of a whole family into the mission field is not quite the same as sending two-by-two. A family often behaves as one unit, so the sending of two likeminded families together would, I believe, prove to be of tremendous blessing upon the mission field.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR THEIR JOURNEY // VERSE 8-11

In these verses, we find Jesus’ instructions to the apostles for their journey, which we can divide into three parts. First, He instructs them in what they should take and not take. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts—but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.

These verses particularly are often cited as examples of how Matthew, Mark, and Luke contradict each other in their accounts of the same event. Therefore, it seems beneficial for us to take a couple of moments to show again how the Gospels are complementary to one another rather than contradictory. First, let us read the parallel verses from Matthew 10:9-10 and Luke 9:3:

Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.

And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.

The main question, then, is whether Jesus permitted the apostles to have a staff and sandals or not. Mark seems to say yes to both, Matthew seems to say no to both, and Luke says nothing about sandals but says no to a staff.

We should notice that Matthew’s account begins with the word acquire rather than take and concludes with a word about the laborer deserving his food. Thus, Matthew’s account is not emphasizing what the disciples should or should not take with them but rather the kinds of payments that they were forbidden from receiving (probably to keep the glory off of them and onto God, just as Elisha did with Naaman). Indeed, it would have been rather strange for Jesus to send them without sandals at all.

But what about Jesus forbidding a staff in Luke’s account? A common answer is that Jesus may have been forbidding a staff for self-defense, whereas in Mark’s account Jesus was permitting them to take a staff as a walking stick. This seems to fit the heart of the passage since Jesus sent His disciples without provisions in order for them to see the provision of God. Thus, they were likewise forbidden from having a rod to defend themselves; instead, they needed to trust God for their protection.

Again, what these three passages ultimately show us is the complementary portraits painted by each Gospel writer. Matthew’s Gospel highlights the importance of the apostles not being compensated with gifts for their teaching and miracles. Luke’s Gospel emphasizes their need to rely upon the Father during their journey. Mark’s Gospel makes specific mention of their staff and sandals lest we envision the apostles as barefoot beggars rather than ambassadors of the God’s kingdom.[3]

Bringing our eyes squarely upon Mark again, the point of the apostles traveling without bread, money, or two tunics was for them to be dependent upon the Father to meet their needs. This was their crash course in living out the truth of Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Second, Jesus instructed them about how they would lodge along their journey. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there.” Jesus did not permit them to take a second tunic, which would have been used as a blanket while sleeping outside, because they were going to find places of hospitality along the way. The command to stay with whomever welcomes them until they leave that village is probably to keep them from leaving a poorer person’s home if a wealthier person later offers their home. They were not only to expect the Father’s provision but to be content with the provision given.

Third, Jesus instructed them on how to deal with rejection. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them. They must not only be ready to receive the Father’s provision but also the rejection of men. If you have been waiting on pins and needles for me to explain why I believe it was significant for Jesus to bring His disciples with Him to Nazareth, here it is: Jesus wanted to give them a firsthand look at rejection before He set them to be rejected themselves. He walked directly into the scorn of His hometown because He did not expect His disciples to endure anything that He Himself was not willing to endure, and He knew that they would certainly have rejection to endure. In Matthew 10:24-25, Jesus warned that “a disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant to be like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” Like the Lord, the disciples needed to be prepared for rejection, for many will stumble over the scandal of Christ.

Their response to such rejection was to shake off the dust that is on your feet, as a testimony against them. The practice of shaking the dust off of one’s feet was common for Jews of Jesus’ day as they left Gentile regions. It was a sign of refusing to carry the uncleanness of the Gentiles with them into the land of God’s people. It was a mark of distinction. Now Jesus told them to apply the practice to Jewish villages that rejected them. As the apostles proclaimed the gospel, they were essentially declaring the words of Moses anew: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19). And so it is with every declaration of the gospel still. Each time the good news is made known hearts are pulled toward Christ or pushed further away; there is no neutral reaction.

This, of course, gave the direct implication that those who reject Jesus’ gospel were no better than the Gentiles. Indeed, if Jesus truly brought the arrival of God’s kingdom, their rejection of such good news could only mean that they had rejected God Himself. We find here a glimpse at what Paul would go on to expound more explicitly in his epistles, namely, that belonging to the people of God is now dependent upon belief in Christ. Of course, under the old covenant we should remember that not all in Israel belonged to true Israel, to God’s people. Belief, not heritage, has always been God’s standard, yet the arrival of Christ made that distinction very clear.

If your Bible version of choice is the KJV, NKJV, or a handful of others, you might find these words under verse 11 as well: “Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that day!” King-James-Onlyists will say that this sentence’s exclusion from most modern translations reveals their inadequate status as God’s Word. The evidence when comparing the ancient manuscripts, however, seems to indicate that the sentence in question was added later by a well-meaning scribe and was not a part of Mark’s autograph.[4] Indeed, its inclusion in Mark makes verse 11 parallel Matthew 10:14-15. Therefore, the question is ultimately not about whether that statement is true or not; Matthew’s Gospel unequivocally affirms that it is. The question is simply about whether it was originally found in Mark’s Gospel as well, and the answer appears to be ‘no.’

Before we move on from this verse, we should consider carefully a warning that Ryle makes:

Let us never turn away from a passage like this without asking ourselves, what are we doing with the gospel? We live in a Christian land. We have the Bible in our houses. We hear of the salvation of the gospel frequently every year. But have we received it into our hearts? Have we really obeyed it in our lives? Have we, in short, laid hold on the hope set before us, taken up the cross, and followed Christ? If not, we are far worse than the heathen, who bow down to stocks and stones. We are far more guilty than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. They never heard the gospel, and therefore never rejected it. But as for us, we hear the gospel, and yet will not believe. May we search our own hearts, and take heed that we do not ruin our own souls![5]

IN HIS STEPS // VERSE 12-13

Our passage ends simply enough: So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. They did what Jesus commanded them to do. They went forth and did what Jesus did. They called people to repentance, just as Jesus did. They cast out demons, just as Jesus did. They healed the sick, just as Jesus did. They walked as their teacher and master walked. They followed in His footsteps, as ambassadors of His kingdom.

We too “are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20); however, we should take care how we apply Christ’s words to the apostles to ourselves today. When setting out to do mission work for example, this passage becomes particularly relevant. Yet while we can draw upon principles and wisdom from this passage (like going out two by two or relying upon the Father’s provision), we should take care not to prescribe what was meant for this particular mission of the apostles. Some like George Mueller may conduct their ministries in a similar style; however, it is not sinful for missionaries and ministries to have resources today. Of course, the heart of the passage certainly still applies. We must certainly exercise wisdom in how we use ministerial funds and resources, yet we should always be wary of limiting ourselves according to prudence alone.

Finally, let us consider the placement of this passage. Jesus has sent out His apostles to do as He has done, to be living replicas of Him. But while the disciples were upon the sea that Christ calmed, they were still wondering themselves who Jesus is. Jesus even pointedly asked them if they still had no faith. The end of chapter 6 is going to prove that that moment was not an outlier, for Jesus is again going to do a miracle upon the sea and the disciples are going to be bewildered again. But Mark 8 will make the apostles lack of understanding very clear. Even after Peter (presumably in agreement with the other apostles) finally confesses Jesus to be the Christ leaving us to think that they finally understand who Jesus is, Peter shows his vague vision by rebuking Jesus’ intention to be killed and then rise back to life. Thus, the apostles were sent out proclaiming a gospel that they did not fully understand. They commanded demons in those villages who had a far greater clarity of who their Teacher was than they did. Still, Jesus gave them His authority.

There is a point here for church leaders to consider in the passing out of responsibility and authority. The natural impulse is to only give responsibility and authority to those who display sufficient maturity, yet we must take care how we define sufficient authority. Responsibilities are, after all, almost always the catalyst of maturing. Indeed, how many of us were ready for marriage or children, even though those are our highest responsibilities? Of course, no church leadership should be cavalier in dispensing responsibilities, yet they should not be stingy either. Jesus did not send out the apostles here to write the New Testament nor to preach to the ends of the earth; rather, He sent them to nearby villages. He gave them responsibility appropriate to their maturity, even though it was beyond their maturity.

Of course, church leaders are not alone here. Much parenting in the West seems to revolve around the concept of giving children very little responsibility in the home and then expecting them to magically mature into an adult at 18. Instead of gradually teaching them throughout their childhood to embrace greater and greater responsibility, many parents sabotage their children by longing to keep them little forever and becoming surprised that they still act like toddlers as teenagers.

Employers can, likewise, learn from our Lord here in raising up new leadership.

But even though the apostles did not yet fully understand the identity of Jesus Nor the meaning of the gospel, they were committed to Him. As the callings of Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew revealed, they left behind their lives as they knew them in order to follow Christ. Thus, what they lacked in maturity, they contained in devotion. And even though they were nobodies from Galilee, our Lord gave them command over illness and hell and would soon use them to quite literally change the world. They had nothing to offer Jesus but open hands and a resolve to follow Him, and that was sufficient.

None of this should surprise us, since it has been God’s pattern all along. Even though Saul was the most kingly man in Israel, he was cast off, while the shepherd boy, David, was given an enduring throne. Moses admitted that he could not speak well, yet he became so great a prophet that the Christ was prophesied to be a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18).

Devotion is far more important in our walk with Christ than nearly anything else that we may bring. If we think that we will be a tremendous asset for the kingdom of God because of our great skills, we should remember that it is the Spirit that gives out gifts and empowered the craftsmen in their construction of the tabernacle and temple. Or perhaps it is our wisdom and insight that we believe to be of value. Ah, but remember that God’s wisdom is not man’s wisdom. Whose natural wisdom would have chosen these apostles to begin Christ’s church? Indeed, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28).

Let us stop thinking in worldly terms and according to worldly principles. Do you long to be used for our Lord and for the kingdom of God? Then seek first the kingdom. Skills, talent, giftings, understanding, these are all things that we will be given for whatever task is at hand. Our Lord uses out those who love Him and who follow and go at His command. The apostles were simple men like us, until they swore their fealty to King Jesus. May we follow in their path.


[1] John Bunyan, The Works of John Bunyan Vol 3, 152-153.

[2] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark, 90.

[3] Vern Sheridan Poythress’s chapter on the “Commissioning the Twelve” from his book Inerrancy and the Gospels is very helpful for processing through these three passages.

[4] An autograph refers to the original copy (or copies) written by the New Testament authors.

[5] Ryle, Mark, 91.

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