Jesus Sends Out the Seventy-two
1After this the Lord appointed seventy-two[a] others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2He told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
5"When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' 6If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. 7Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
8"When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. 9Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.' 10But 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.' 12I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
13"Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. 15And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths.[b]
16"He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me."
I learned many lessons over the years while playing sports but one of the important lessons that I learned is that things change when time is running short. There are a lot of players who can play calm and collected when its early in the game and there is no pressure but the number of players who can still play in the same controlled manner shrinks significantly when the game is in its last few minutes. When the clock winds down things are simply more urgent. You tighten up a little more, things get more intense, and each and every play matters a whole lot more than it did at the beginning of the game. As a game starts it seems like you have all day to make plays and so a failed play or two don’t matter that much but near the end of a game that all changes. A failed play seems huge and can even cost you the entire game because that clock is quite unforgiving. When the clock is up, its up. Actually the whole tenor of a game changes in the last few minutes. Teams play with an intensity and effort that simply could not be sustained for a whole game. In other words, there are actions that are specifically taken when time is running short that you would not necessarily take during normal times.
This all seems like a fairly common-sense idea but it actually does relate to this opening passage in chapter 10 quite nicely. Luke has informed us in 9:51 that Jesus has resolutely set out on a mission of New Exodus to Jerusalem. He has also given clues that this new mission would involve finalizing the verdict on a Jewish nation that was on the verge of rejecting the very Messiah that they had waited for and whom God was now sending. As we follow Jesus on this final Exodus we will notice that he will constantly redefine the people of God around himself and those who reject him will find themselves outside of the family of God. This would be disastrous for the nation that once took their status as the people of God for granted. The definition of what Israel was, was about to be redrawn and this mission was the last-ditch effort to warn the people of Israel that the time was running short. Just as a game changes in the last few minutes because of the urgency of the situation, so would things be different as Jesus sent out his messengers to warn the people of Israel. The situation was urgent and time was quickly running out.
This chapter opens with a bit of a puzzle. There was obvious and intentional symbolism behind Jesus’ choice of the Twelve, as that related to the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus’ seemingly obvious point was that he was forming the new Israel, the new family of God around himself. Now he sends out seventy-two in a mission that is quite similar to the mission that he sent the Twelve on in the previous chapter. So, are we to see a significant symbolism in that number? To make matters more difficult, about half of the manuscripts that we have read “seventy-two” while the other half read “seventy.” So what’s the deal with that? Given the pattern of important symbolism in Luke, it is a fair bet to assume that Luke did see important symbolism in the number of disciples that were sent out. In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT), Genesis 10 identifies the nations of the world as numbering seventy-two. The Hebrew version, the Masoretic Text, however, has seventy listed which probably led to the confusion in Luke’s later manuscripts. What seems to be the most likely scenario, then, is that Jesus was sending out a number that related to the symbolic number of Gentile nations in the world. [Although some prefer to attach the symbolism of this story to Numbers 11:16-25 where Moses chooses seventy elders, plus two “intruders” who were not part of the original group, to lead. In that scenario then, Jesus would be choosing these men as symbolic leaders of his New Exodus. Either option is perfectly acceptable and it is possible that allusions to both scriptural concepts was intended.] The sending of the seventy-two were an important prefiguring of universal mission of the gospel that would eventually take full form in the book of Acts and beyond.
Although this was symbolic of that time, their mission here was specific and temporary. There is no evidence that the early church saw missions like this as a model or paradigm to be copied. No, this was a specific mission. The harvest was plentiful, the fruit was ripe and when the fruit is ripe that means there is usually only a very short time to bring it in before it spoils. Their job was to go from town to town and announce that the time was short. The time for Jesus’ work to come to a completion was rapidly approaching and when it did the door for Israel as a nation to join in on God’s new kingdom movement was drawing to a close. After Jesus’ death, individual Jews could certainly still come to salvation in Christ but the time for the nation of Israel as a whole would be over. In fact, it seems that from here through Luke 18, Luke will intentionally follow the pattern of Deuteronomy to show that one of the major aspects of Jesus’ kingdom message had to do with being the new people of God. There are certain parallels in this passage with Deuteronomy 1-3:22 as Moses leads Israel away from the mountain where they encountered God and began the wandering period of the Exodus as they made their way toward the promised land.
Jesus was radically reconstituting what it meant for Israel to be God’s people. He was redefining the boundary markers that identified the people of God and he was reconstituting their hope for the coming of God’s resurrection age. Much of Israel was waiting for war. They were waiting for a great military leader that would lead them to throw off Roman oppression. That’s who they wanted for a Messiah. That’s who they saw themselves as the people of God. But Jesus’ way was different. It was a way of peace. It was an Exodus, not from a political oppression but from sin. It was the defeat, not of the enemy of Rome, but of the enemy of death. This New Exodus would not end in some great historical moment like the crossing of the Jordan and entrance into the promised land. It would end in Jesus’ death and those who wanted to follow him going to their own peaceful deaths in baptism and entrance into his life.
The emissaries of this mission should go out two-by-two so that they would provide a biblical witness (Lev. 19:17; Deut. 19:15). This would not be a mission of pure victory like the previous mission of the Twelve seems to have been (Lk. 9:1-10). This was a mission of pronouncing the peace of God through the Messiah, but this message would be largely rejected. They would be like lambs among the wolves so they shouldn’t think of this as a mission where they were going to go out, be well-received, and make a living by moving from place-to-place. They would rely on God to provide as he provided through the few who did embrace their message. If they were embraced in their message that the kingdom of God was perilously near for those who rejected it, then they would be able to unleash a sampling of the kingdom by healing and bringing the wholeness of biblical peace to those who welcomed them. But those who rejected Jesus by rejecting their message would receive the symbolic act of judgment as they dusted off their feet and moved on.
This was not a gentle invitation into a new religious option. This was a last-ditch effort to get people to turn to the Messiah and away from Israel’s path to ruin and destruction. They were going the way of destruction, the way of Sodom. Sodom had refused to properly welcome God’s messengers and chose instead to cling to their evil lifestyle and was rightly judged by God as fire and brimstone rained down on the city. The ultimate destruction of Israel rejecting the Messiah and choosing the way of violence would end, not in fire from heaven, but in the utter destruction of the Temple and the entire city of Jerusalem at the hands of the Roman army in 70 AD (a topic which Jesus will specifically warn of and prophesy about in chapter 21).
Jesus’ disciples were carrying a message of invitation and warning. Those who would accept would be welcomed into the family of God but those who rejected it were courting disaster. To reject this message would be to head in the opposite direction of God’s kingdom. If towns like Korazin, Capernaum, and Bethsaida continued in their rejection of the kingdom message of the Messiah’s people then they would find themselves in worse shape than Sodom. Even the classic examples of cities opposed to God, Tyre and Sidon, would have repented had they seen the miracles that Korazin, Capernaum, and Bethsaida had. If the people of Israel wanted to act like the enemies of God then they would be treated like the enemies of God, or even worse. Jesus was walking straight into a final showdown to make war on the forces of evil. To reject his messengers now, was to reject him, and to ultimately reject God and take up sides with the forces of evil.
We are not part of the same urgent message to Israel to turn from their path of rejection of the Messiah, yet we do have a message that is just as urgent. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:14-21) to call the world back to the family of God by having faith in the Messiah and entering into his life. This message is just as urgent in many ways and to reject it is just as dangerous. We are to call the world to be part of God’s great reconciliation project. This is a challenge to those who want to reduce salvation to an individual experience and then think that they have all the time in the world. God wants each of us to pick up the transforming work of his kingdom now and take part in the reconciliation of the world through Christ. This message is urgent and the workers are few. There is no time to waste.
Do you view the message of the gospel as being an urgent one for your friends, family, and neighbors to hear? Do you approach the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ as something that needs to be heard by all urgently? How can you go about being more urgent in your evangelism?