Jesus spoke these words to his disciples as a warning to persecution they would face in sharing the Gospel. It applies to believers today as we face ridicule and persecution wherever and whenever we share our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In the ancient Near East, the serpent was regarded as the wisest of beasts. A cautious wisdom was needed in order for the disciples to deal with the fierce opposition they would meet.
"Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." Matthew 10:16