Summary: Jesus openly warns that the missionary aspect of the mission of His followers would be countered with serious & even deadly opposition. Yet Jesus also knew that danger & even threat of death could not defeat a soul set ablaze by His eternal love.
MATTHEW 10: 16-23 [THE MESSIAH REVEALED]
PERSISTENCE THROUGH PERSECUTION
Previously the Twelve's mission had been depicted as being received in a relatively friendly manner. In this passage, the disciples were warned that many who rejected the Kingdom message would not leave it at passive unbelief. They would take active steps to reject and persecution the messengers of the Kingdom. These verses look beyond the immediate mission of the disciples to the future missionary mission of the church.
Jesus had no visionary dreams of quick or easy success. He does not speak of warm reception and success but of disappointments and heartaches. He prepares His followers for a long, difficult battle. He openly tells them that the missionary aspect of the mission of His followers would be countered with serious and even deadly opposition. Yet Jesus also knew that danger and even threat of death could not defeat a soul set ablaze by His eternal love (CIT).
Suffering is an unavoidable part of missionary activity. How much suffering did Christ expect us to be ready to endure in His service? Let's look and see.
I. NATURES CONTRASTED, 10:16.
II. BEWARE AND BE CONFIDENT, 17-20.
III. ENDURE TO THE END, 21-23.
The Lord’s words concerning response to the ministry are not encouraging. Jesus though knew the spiritual battle in to which He sends them so in verse 16 He begins telling His disciples what to expect. “Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”
The I is emphatic. Jesus who sent them was not only the source of the mission and the power, but the reason for the trouble. Hostility is the general attitude of the world (Titus 3:3), especially toward the gospel. To make clear the dangers involved in the mission of the Twelve, Jesus uses four types of animals. He sent them out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Wicked men are like wolves: violent, clever, aggressive, and skilled at stalking and attacking [because they love to devour and destroy]. God’s people, especially His ministers, are like sheep among them. Because of their changed nature and disposition, they would be non-aggressive and defenseless. Yet by faith in the Good Shepherd's ability to protect, defend, and provide for them, they were to go, for some of these wolves would become sheep.
Since they must go It would be essential for them to “be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” The serpent is wise or keen in avoiding danger (Gen. 3:1; Ps. 58:5). They are wary, prudent, and sharp of senses in regards to their safety. The disciples were not to be biting or deceptive though, but pure or innocence as doves or not forcibly opposing the enemy. The dove is the emblem of peace and purity (Song 5:2) intent (Rom. 16:19). Doves are also symbols of good tidings. Not only, do no one any hurt, but bear no one any ill–will.
[“Innocent” translates akeraioi, “unmixed, pure”(Romans 16:19 and Philippians 2:15).] They were to avoid all things which gave advantage to their enemies, all meddling with worldly or political concerns, all appearance of evil or selfishness, and all underhand measures. Christ foretold troubles, not only that the troubles might not be a surprise, but that they might confirm their faith.
It looked unkind for Christ to expose to so much danger those who had left all to follow Him. Yet He knew that the glory reserved for His sheep, when in the great day they shall be set on His right hand, would be a recompensed sufficient for sufferings as well as services. [Henry, Matthew: Matthew Henry's Commentary: On the Whole Bible. electronic ed. Peabody : Hendrickson, 1991, S. Mt 10:16.]
II. BEWARE AND BE CONFIDENT, 17-20.
In verses 17 & 18 Jesus informs them that persecution for the sake of Jesus and His Kingdom would become an opportunity for further testimony.  “But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues  and you will even he brother before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentile.
Christ gives them a warning to beware of men (Jn. 2:24-25) for [they were few and] men as a whole would be against them. They will be opposed by Jewish leaders (17) and by Gentile authorities (18). Their fellow men will betray them over to local councils where they will be whipped or flogged. The disciples will also be dragged before governors and kings. They would be judged and punished by religious people and also by the secular world.
The reason God permits or purposes opposition is to make His disciples witnesses. God designed these persecutions as opportunities to bear witness. Their willingness to endure persecutions for the cause of Jesus Christ bears forceful witness to it's truthfulness as do their words of hope and faith. Note that the punishments came for “My” or Christ's sake.