"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved."
Some of the content of the verses just read appears to be referring to how the apostles would be treated under the commission that would be given to them when Jesus ascended into heaven (cf. Matt. 28:18-20). It seems unlikely that this brief evangelistic journey would result in them being scourged and brought before kings. Also, an actual fulfillment of this sort of persecution is not recorded until the book of Acts. Matthew shows Jesus to be honest and open as a prophet. Our Lord knew the future persecutions that awaited His faithful servants (cf. II Tim. 3:12), and He would not hide it from them. In order to be successful and not become disheartened, they would need to know that serious persecutions were coming. Of course, it is the custom of many leaders to beautifully describe their cause and hide the darker side of the picture. But, Jesus faithfully presents the whole picture to His disciples, even the fact that such persecutions could lead to their death.
"I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves" - Jesus portrays His apostles as sheep (i.e., harmless and gentle), while the wolves represent the world (i.e., unfriendly and cruel). His disciples were to be wise and cautious as serpents, yet innocent and harmless like doves. He wants them to avoid danger whenever possible and not provoke anyone intentionally. It is interesting to note that the serpent is the bodily emblem of Satan (cf. Rev. 12:9), and the dove is the bodily emblem of the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 3:16). Thus, it is accurate to say that Jesus wants His disciples to be shrewd like Satan, yet pure like the Holy Spirit.
In Matthew 10:17, Jesus spoke of what the Jews would do to them - "Deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues." In the next verse He mentioned that they would be "brought before governors and kings." This refers to the Gentile powers. Although the intended audience of the gospel was restricted for a short time, soon it would be for all the world--both Jews and Gentiles! When the apostles were brought before Jewish and Gentile rulers, they were to trust God and depend upon His aid. They were not to worry about what to say. "For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you" (Matt. 10:20). It would be difficult to find a more explicit declaration of the complete verbal inspiration of the apostles under the circumstances described.
In Matthew 10:21, Jesus described the intense religious intolerance that His disciples would later encounter--even to the point of death. He plainly told them that they would be hated because of their allegiance to Him. It is naive to think that a person can seek to teach others the truth of the gospel and have all men speak well of him. Surely if there was a way to faithfully serve the Lord and not be hated by men, then the apostles would have pursued that course of action. The fact is that such was not possible then, and it is still not possible today (cf. Luke 6:26). Let us always remember that "He who endures to the end will be saved" (cf. Rev. 2:10). Since a disciple may be persecuted unto death, then his faithfulness must also be unto death.