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When Were the Twelve Disciples Sent Out?


Matthew 10:5 says that Jesus “sent out” the twelve disciples. I thought they stayed with Jesus until after he died and went back to heaven and then they went out spreading the gospel, healing, doing other miracles. So, was it after his ascension they were sent out and the record of it just got placed early in the book of Matthew?  


All the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark (Mk. 6:7, 12), and Luke (Lk. 9:1, 6), record this special ministry done during the Lord’s earthly ministry. After His resurrection, He again sent out the disciples, and ourselves by implication (Jn. 17:20, 20:21), to minister the gospel to the world.

Let’s look at these two evangelistic missions to see how they differ. In addition, each of the gospels puts these missions in different contexts. We will focus on Matthew who presents the mission during the Lord’s ministry and the mission after His resurrection most distinctly.

It is widely recognized that Matthew presents the Lord Jesus as the Jewish Messiah-King. This perspective accounts for the lineage given in chapter one, the visit by the Magi (kings from the East), and the frequent use of the phrase “kingdom of heaven.” These and many other features show the unique character of this gospel. This perspective also accounts for the unique instructions He gave to the disciples when they were sent out.

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. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

Matthew 10:5–7.

The restriction of the mission to the land of Israel is in contrast to the direction at the end of Matthew, as we shall see. The kingdom was “at hand” because the king was there and validated by the previous signs and witnesses. If the king would be received then the kingdom could be established. The subsequent chapters show that the attitude of the nation, as represented by its leaders, would not permit the kingdom blessings to be realized at that time. God’s purposes cannot be thwarted by human failure and will be realized in the future (Rom. 11:26).

It is very important to understand the change that occurs in chapter thirteen. While this is a large topic we can see evidence of this change in Matthew 13.

And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

Matthew 13:11–13.

The word “secrets” here is the same word1 translated “mystery” as in Ephesians 3:3. It designates  something that has previously been unknown and is now revealed. In Ephesians, it is the truth of the Church (or, “Assembly”) which was not known before but is now being made known by the Apostle Paul. Here in Matthew it shows the dramatic change in the nature of  the “kingdom of God.”2 The Lord Jesus Christ (“Messiah”) had been rejected, His works being attributed to the power of “Beelzebul” (Matt. 12:24). Being rejected by the nation, the kingdom would now exist in a mystery form as shown by the parables in this chapter.

So, before this great change the disciples were sent specifically to the “lost sheep of the house Israel” to witness to them that the kingdom was “at hand” if they would receive it. Having refused the God anointed king (compare Matt. 3:16 with Lk. 19:14 and Jn. 19:15) the kingdom now becomes ministered in a far broader way. We have the new way shown to us after the resurrection.

 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18–20.

The scope of the change declared here is momentous! The Lord Jesus in resurrection has now gained “all authority in heaven and on earth.” Thinking of the Lord Jesus as Creator and Son of God, we might not immediately recognize this advance. (Words completely fail to express the magnitude and significance of this change!) We now have a resurrected MAN head over all things (Col. 1:15, 18; 2:9; etc.). Before He was king of the “house of Israel” now He is “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Rev. 19:16). On this basis, He now sends forth His disciples to “all nations.”


1.  Strong’s Greek: 3466. μυστήριον (mustérion), from where we get our word “mystery.” (Ed.) 

2.  The terms “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” are taken as synonymous for our purpose here. The differences are slight and it is beyond the scope of this post to pursue them. See F. W. Grant, The Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven (Sunbury: Believers Bookshelf Inc., unknown).

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