In our last essay we studied Luke 9:51-62, the first unit in a lengthy section, which contains Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem to die. We also discussed the travel section as a whole. In this essay we are studying 10:1-24. This segment begins with the mission of the seventy. Back in chapter nine, we read about the mission Jesus assigned to the Twelve, when he sent them out two by two to minister. Now here in chapter ten, in the context of Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem, we see a similar mission assigned to seventy of his disciples.
As the various English translations indicate, there is a problem with the number of disciples in verse one. Some Greek manuscripts read “seventy,” and others read “seventy-two.” We aren’t going to worry about which is correct. We will follow the NRSV and use the number “seventy,” but “seventy-two” is a possibility.
Since Luke told us in 9:52 that Jesus sent messengers ahead to prepare for his coming to the various towns, we must assume that such preparation was part of the mission of the seventy. But the context indicates that their mission went far beyond that. As verse nine tells us, they also were to heal the sick and preach the kingdom of God. Indeed as we shall see, Jesus’ instructions to the seventy were similar to the instructions he gave to the Twelve for their mission.
Notice that verse two contains a saying of Jesus about the coming “harvest.” . In connection with his parable of the weeds, Jesus said, quote, “the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels” (Mt. 13:39). Thus the “harvest” refers to the end-time harvest. Since the end-time was inaugurated at the first coming of Jesus, the ministries of the Twelve and the seventy, and the ministries of all of us who have come since that time, are connected to the end-time harvest. Even in Jesus’ day, when the world’s population was much smaller than it is today, there were too few harvesters, or reapers for the job. Thus he says that we not only are to be laborers, we are to be praying for more laborers to go out and reap.
It is the missionaries on the front lines of missionary work who are most conscious of the need for more workers. As Jesus said, in John 4:35, “the fields are white for harvesting.” Thus missionaries always are keenly aware that there never are enough laborers for the job.
In verse three Jesus sends the seventy out “like lambs into the midst of wolves.” Thus Jesus clearly communicates to the seventy the dangers of the work to which he called them. Although Jesus didn’t call the seventy “apostles,” he did use the verb from which the noun “apostle” is derived. It is the verb that means, “to send with a commission.” Thus I believe it is fair to say that their mission was an apostolic mission.
Verses four and following contain instructions similar to those given to the Twelve when Jesus sent them out to reap. They were not to take supplies or provisions, but were to rely on whatever hospitality was provided by those to whom they ministered (v. 4). Luke also says that they were not to greet anyone on the road. This last prohibition seems a bit strange to us. But if we remember that eastern greetings were long, complicated, and time-consuming, we will understand that Jesus wanted the seventy to spend their time in ministry, not in casual socializing. The reason was the urgency of the mission. The fields were white to harvest, and the laborers were few.
In verses 5-6, Jesus tells the seventy to find a house in each town that is open to their presence, and then they are to pronounce peace on that house. If “a son of peace” (NIV “a man of peace”) is in the house, then “peace will rest on that person,” or on that house. Unfortunately, the NRSV translators did a terrible job of translating the first part of verse six. Matthew’s parallel is helpful here. Matthew records Jesus as saying that they were to look for someone who was worthy, which would lead to a worthy house. Luke’s version combined with Matthew’s suggests that the worthiness Jesus had in mind consisted of an openness to God’s gospel peace. If such openness were not found, the blessing of peace would return to the member of the seventy who pronounced it. The idea was not that the disciple would enjoy the blessing instead of the person in the home, but simply that the intended recipient forfeited it.
Verse seven taught the seventy how to conduct themselves in the homes that offered hospitality. First, they were to remain in the home that originally offered hospitality; that is, they are not to “move about from house to house.” In other words, they were not to yield to the temptation to move to another house where the accommodations might be better. Second, they were to eat what was set before them. Interestingly, this command is repeated in verse eight. Notice that it is at this very point that Jesus says, “the laborer deserves to be paid.” Therefore Jesus was concerned not only that the disciples not be picky about the food offered to them, but also that they should not have to pay for the food. The spiritual services they were rendering were more valuable than the food. Paul said something very similar in Gal. 6:6, which reads, “Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.”
In verses 8-9 we see the mission described in terms of the towns instead of individual homes. After receiving hospitality in a given town, they were to heal the sick and preach the nearness of kingdom of God. As with the mission of the Twelve, the seventy were to carry on the ministry of Jesus.
In verses 10-13 Jesus turned his attention to the towns that would not offer hospitality. His instruction is basically the same as it had been for the Twelve. In order to symbolize the unworthiness of towns that refused hospitality, they were symbolically to shake the dust of those towns from their feet. And he gave the seventy an additional instruction to announce in the streets that the kingdom of God had come near, or was at hand. Verse 12 is an extremely strong statement. The kind of rejection of the message of God’s kingdom seen in those towns that refused to hear it is even more serious than the sin of the city of Sodom. No one would have misunderstood this, because the sin of Sodom had become proverbial.
In verses 13-16 Jesus continued by mentioning some Galilean towns that had failed to be receptive to the kingdom message. As you see, three towns are mentioned by name: Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. All three towns were located on or near the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had performed miracles in those towns during his ministry, but they had not been very responsive. Capernaum was especially guilty, because Jesus had made Capernaum his home base for that part of his ministry. At any rate, Jesus declared here that had those miracles been done in Tyre and Sidon, the people in those mostly Gentile cities would have repented long ago.
Tyre and Sidon were Phoenician coastal cities north of Galilee. Tyre was about thirty miles, and Sidon about fifty miles, north of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was not saying that Tyre and Sidon would be free of judgment. Rather he was saying that their judgment would be less severe than that of the Galilean towns that had seen powerful acts of God and had not responded positively.
In verse 16 Jesus told the seventy that whoever would reject them during their mission would be rejecting Jesus, because Jesus sent them; and who ever rejects Jesus, rejects the one who sent him (the Father). In other words to reject the messenger is to reject the message and the one who sent the messenger.
Now then, in verses 17-20, no account of the seventy’s mission is given, but their return and report to Jesus is recorded. They “returned with joy,” because their mission had been a success. Even the demons had submitted themselves to the seventy. Jesus responded by saying that he had seen Satan fall from heaven. There is some debate as to whether Jesus was reporting an actual vision, or he was symbolically expressing the idea that victories over the forces of evil on the earth are signs of the ultimate defeat of Satan. Most scholars believe the latter.
In verse 19 Jesus reminded the seventy that they still had the authority over evil and that he would protect them from the evil one. Yet in verse 20 he warns them that the authority has little meaning if they are not themselves saved. The joys of exercising Jesus’ authority must be undergirded by the joy of salvation if we are to be truly effective ministers of Christ.
In verse 21, we find Jesus rejoicing over the fact that the Father had revealed things to “infants,” that is to the disciples, that he had not revealed to “the wise,” meaning the educated and the religious professionals. The disciples had seen the Holy Spirit at work, defeating the demonic powers. The wise were not so privileged, not because they were incapable of seeing it, but because they didn’t have the faith to see it.
There is in Jesus’ words an implicit condemnation of the Jewish religious leaders of the day, because despite their wisdom, they had failed to gasp the true nature of God and his will. The childlike disciples on the other hand, did grasp those things. And Jesus was thankful.
Immediately following his outburst of praise, Jesus, in verse 22, told the disciples privately that they were blessed by what they had seen. They were blessed, first, because the Father had handed all things over to Jesus, the Son. And they were blessed, second, because the Son, who is the only one who knows the Father in an immediate sense, has the authority to bring them (and all human believers) into an intimate relationship with the Father. Finally, in verses 23-24, Jesus blessed the disciples, because what they had seen and heard was not possible even to prophets and kings in previous ages.
Turning to application, one matter that deserves mention is the truth seen in verses 13-16. It is dangerous business to see the miracles of God and then reject him. But I believe the key element for us in this passage is the theme of Christian joy. First, we see the joy of successful service. When the seventy returned, they did so with joy, because they had seen God overcome the demonic (vv, 17-19).
Second, in verse 20 we see the joy of salvation. Jesus teaches us that rejoicing over our salvation is more significant than rejoicing over our successful service, because successful service has meaning only in a context of genuine salvation.
Third, there is the joy of Jesus in verse 21. When we believe and serve Jesus successfully, we bring joy to our Lord.
And finally, fourth, there is the joy of being blessed in ways that even prophets and kings could not experience before the coming of Christ, verses 23-24.