Matthew 10:16 Meaning of Sheep among Wolves

Matthew 10:16
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Explanation and Commentary of Matthew 10:16

Jesus has empowered his disciples and has given specific instructions to them. They were to preach, to heal the sick, to proclaim the kingdom of God. But they must take care because he was sending them out into the world ruled by satan. It was dangerous. If they were going to thrive, then they must become a certain type of person, a type of person who is like Christ himself, innocent, and shrewd.

They were to be innocent, or, as some translate it, practice gentleness, a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5 ). They were to commit no evil. They were to love everyone. But lest they think loving their enemies meant something that it did not, they were to be shrewd, or wise. They were to understand, like the Master, that humans are flawed and not to be trusted (Jn 2:24) until they have proven trustworthy.

This instruction applies today every bit as much as in the first century. Christ entrusted himself to no man because he knew what was in the heart of a man, but he gave himself freely. He was shrewd when the religious leaders, his own disciples, or satan himself tried to sway him from his course, but gentle with sinners and those who needed to know the love of God. We should seek to imitate him in this.

Breaking Down the Key Parts of Matthew 10:16

#1 “I am sending you out…”
This is in regard to a particular mission, but Christians should understand themselves as sent people. The great commission, Jesus’ last words to his disciples on earth, proves his intention was that the Church would continue his earthly ministry, empowered by his Holy Spirit (Mt 28:18-20). Whether you are called to be a missionary in a foreign land, or in your own home, you are a disciple who is sent out every day for ministry.

#2 “…like sheep among wolves.”
People as sheep is a common motif throughout the Old and New Testaments. Believers are the “sheep of his pasture” (Ps 100:3). Jesus is the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11), and the Chief Shepherd (1 Pt 5:4). Anyone familiar with sheep herding understands the danger of wolves. A sheep simply has no defense alone against a wolf. Jesus’ warning is to be watchful, wary, and wise because there will be those who come among them to do harm. Do not be surprised or caught off guard.

#3 “Therefore be as shrewd as snakes…”
Since the Garden of Eden, the serpent has been considered evil. Here, he is held up for his shrewdness. Jesus says for them to avoid or combat the wolves, they will need to be just as shrewd. Today, Christians must rely on prayer, study of the Word, fellowship, and standing on the rock of truth to evaluate and deal with what satan and the world throw against the Church as she advances on the gates of Hell (Mt 16:18).

#4 “…and innocent as doves.”
In our minds we are to be shrewd, in our action we must remain innocent. No amount of worldly or supernatural wisdom should give us justification for sin and disobedience to God. Adam and Eve may have sought to be as shrewd as the serpent, but they should have remained innocent as doves and obeyed God. Trust his commands and his righteousness rather than your own shrewdness.

Bible Study on Matthew 10:16

Expert Overview of Matthew Ch. 1-13

Biblical Translations of Matthew 10:16

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

“Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves.”

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”

Matthew 10:16 Meaning and Commentary

Author Bio
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.