What Does “Shake the Dust off Your Feet” Mean?
To answer this question, let’s go to Christ’s instructions to his twelve disciples when he sent them out to various towns to minister:
Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
This is the opposite situation to what John addressed in 2 John 1:10-11. John instructed believers to not welcome people into their homes who contradicted the essentials of Christianity, whereas in this passage Jesus instructed believers to disassociate from the people who refused to welcome them in their homes and towns. The same principle applies to both.
Before examining this text it’s important that we take into consideration the historical context of the Messiah’s instructions, otherwise immature individuals may be tempted to go off half-cocked condemning anyone who merely disagrees with them. Jesus was sending his disciples out to the villages of “the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24), which consisted of people already technically in covenant with the LORD and therefore generally familiar with the Scriptures and the things of God. Christ’s “tough love” instructions were appropriate here since, after “400 silent years,” these Israelites should have been receptive to an incredible move of God, to say the least.*
* “400 silent years,” refers to the absence of Divine revelation between the Old and New Testament eras.
While this approach may be called for in similar situations today it’s obviously not appropriate in others. For instance, if you’re ministering to a culture that generally rejects the ideas of God and absolute truth (e.g. modern Western Civilization), you’ll have to be more patient, compassionate and gentle. As always, you have to be led of the Spirit, which means you must be tight with God.
With this understanding, let’s consider what the Lord said in the passage. In verse 14 he instructs his disciples to “shake the dust off” their feet when they leave a home or town that doesn’t welcome them. What’s the significance of this? When Hebrews would return to Israel from foreign lands they would shake the dust off their sandals and clothing to keep from defiling the Holy Land. Hence, shaking the dust off their feet delivered this warning: “If you reject the message of Christ you will face the same judgment as unbelieving foreigners.”
Jesus gave similar instructions to 72 other disciples when he sent them out:
“But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’ ”
Christ encouraged his disciples in these cases to make a judgment concerning the fruit of the people to whom they were ministering. Fruit comes from the heart, whether good fruit or bad fruit. The Messiah taught, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart” (Luke 6:45). The fact that some Israelites were going to reject the truth of the gospel revealed the condition of their hearts – they were stubborn, arrogant, resistant, selfish, and lacked hunger for God and truth. In such cases Jesus didn’t instruct his disciples to be non-judgmental and lovey-dovey but rather to righteously judge the bad fruit and issue a proclamation of condemnation in no uncertain terms.
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