Why Did Jesus Use Animal Metaphors to Prepare His Disciples for the Mission of God?
Jesus calls us to learn about our enemies and about ourselves—and to spread the aroma of Christ through the world by the ministry of the word for the salvation of the elect. To this end, he bids us understand that we are like sheep in the midst of wolves, so that we will seek to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.
One of the remarkable features of Jesus’ teaching is the way in which he drew simple analogies and metaphors from the world around him in order to instruct his disciples about the most profound truths of the kingdom of God.
Jesus spent much time reading the book of nature. He could point to a simple flower in order to explain to his disciples the mystery of God’s providential care and provision for them (Luke 12:27). Some of Christ’s most impactful illustrations came from the agrarian culture in which he lived and traveled. He expended prolonged periods of mental energy meditating on the birds of the air and the livestock that flooded the Palestinian landscape. At the inauguration of his missionary enterprise, Jesus gathered the twelve to himself and said to them,
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Jesus is preparing his disciples for spiritual warfare in Matthew 10:16-20.
In a day when Christians have all but lost the culture war in America—and the prospect of the persecution of true believers is imminent—it is incumbent on us to listen carefully to what the Savior told his disciples upon their first missionary journey. In the ancient wartime manual, The Art of War, Sun Tzu explained,
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
In Matthew 10:16-20, Jesus is essentially giving his disciples his manual of spiritual warfare for the mission of God. The danger of the task that lay before the disciples required a clear illustration from the Savior regarding the way in which they should prepare themselves for the opposition they would encounter.