The Mission Of The Seventy Disciples

Ordinary 14C

Luke 10: 1 12 and 17 24


Our reflections last week were on Luke 9: 51 — 62 which ends with: "No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God." This was the beginning of a final cycle (5 — 6 months) of evangelism.

Our Lord is probably based in Bethany for this phase of his mission. He has already completed his mission to Galilee and Samaria. Now he sends out disciples into the basically gentile Peraea District.

It is worth noting,"

  • The other Gospels do not mention this mission of the seventy — nor much of what St Luke records of Jesus' last six months.
  • Some scholars claim it is only a retelling of the sending out of the twelve.
  • In Luke, there are real differences between the mission of the twelve and that of the seventy;

                            the twelve were sent out to work and preach independently 

                            the seventy were sent to definite town and villages to prepare for the Lord's visit.

  •  The reading omits verses 13 — 16 inclusive an "aside" from Jesus' grief stricken heart. What is covered falls naturally into four scenes and helps us in our meditations. We have called these —

A. Commission

B. Rules

C. The Return

D. Jesus' Hymn of Praise

Notes on our Text

A. The Commission: Verses 1 3

Verse 1

Following his previous sermon on the costs of following Jesus, our Lord "appointed" seventy disciples (some texts, seventy-two   impossible to establish exactly). The word "appointed" signifies to mark out or appoint to an office by some outward sign. The number seventy had a threefold significance"

- seventy elders were appointed by Moses

- The Jewish Sanhedrin (centre of Religious government) had seventy members

- There were. at the time seventy known Gentile nations.

Jesus sent them ahead of him to prepare for his teaching in places he had already planned to visit. He sent them in pairs following the example of John the Baptist. In this way they would move about in small communities which had distinct advantages such as:

- helping each other in reflection and discussion

- conforming with Jewish Law "In the mouth of two witnesses, every word is established".

- forming small communities of regular prayer and meditation.

It is pleasing to recall how the Church at large has maintained this custom.

Verse 2

At the outset they are given their first priority in prayer: "Ask the Lord of the Harvest to "send" workers". The word "send" is strong and means to send forth with a degree of force. It implies that much prayer is going to be needed to mobilise all the workers which will be required.

Verse 3

"Go!" says the Lord. "Remember always it is I who is sending you. Remember that the dignity of those who are my disciples will remain with you regardless. Do not assume the worldly aggressiveness of the "wolves" around you no matter how vulnerable you feel."

B. The Rules Verses 4 12

Sadly, many using this section delight in quoting it at people without having studied the text adequately. It is important to distinguish between detailed orders, which were necessary at that time but not universally applicable, and principles, which were. (Late Professor Blaiklock). We offer a few comments to assist readers.

Verse 4

Our Lord begins his list with the first rule "Do not take a purse, bag or sandals." His choice of the word "take" meant "carry as a burden"— i.e. "carry in the hands", meaning do not take extra over and above what is needed. He did not prohibit his disciples taking any of the three items named. In correct translations Jesus forbade only shoes, not sandals.

We must be careful not to think our Lord forbade his disciples to greet people as they passed. Scholars agree that what he wanted his disciples to avoid was extended eastern style protocols and ceremonies. It is important, he explained, to deliberately avoid getting involved in situations, which would predictably delay the disciple in his primary task.

Verses 5 and 6

Our Lord gives a rather beautiful instruction on exchanging the traditional Jewish peace-greetings, something of which has continued in Christian worship and daily life. He clearly instructs his disciples, upon entering a house to say "Peace to this house". If the resident is one who shares in and values God's blessing, your greeting will enhance this peace. Perhaps it is worth considering a 19th century bishop's scholarly note on this matter.

"In the Jewish style a man who has any good or bad quality is called the son of it. So here the son of peace is mentioned: and in Matt 11: 19, and Luke 7: 35, are men called children of wisdom. So likewise what a man is doomed to, he is called the son of. Wicked men are children of wrath. (Ephes 2: 3) Judas is the son of perdition. (John 17: 12) So also a man desiring to die is called the son of death. (2 Sam 12: 5)" The expression therefore means, "If a worthy person, or one deserving your good wishes, be there, your peace shall rest upon it." The conclusion of the verse is like the expression in the Psalms, "My prayer returned into mine own bosom". (Psalm 35: 13.)

Verse 7 and 8

"Don't pick and choose where you stay to suit yourself; says Jesus." Make do, and get on with the job.

Verse 9 12

The Lord gives authority to heal and teach but only if the people welcome this work. The disciples are to reserve the Lord's blessings for those who make a worthy response!

C. The Return of the Disciples Verses 17 20

Verse 17

We do not know for certain how long the seventy were away. Generally, it is believed to have been a short duration. When they report to our Lord they are very joyful and can't wait to tell him. "Even the demons submit to us in your name." This is easily interpreted as showing the disciples to be a little full of their own importance. In actual fact they are not over-stating their effectiveness but are, appropriately placing the emphasis on the name (of Jesus) by which they achieved great things.

Verse 18

Jesus replies, "I saw (was beholding) Satan fall like lightening from heaven." There are two quite different interpretations of this verse:

a) Some think that our Lord is speaking of what He had witnessed when Satan and his angels fell from heaven, and were cast down into hell, because they kept not their first estate: "There was a time when I saw Satan, great and mighty as he was, fall suddenly from his high position, and become a lost spirit." (Ryle)

b) Others think that our Lord is speaking of the effect produced on Satan's kingdom by the preaching of the seventy disciples: "I saw in spirit, or with my mind's eye, Satan's power declining, and himself rapidly losing his dominion over men in consequence of your ministry." (Ryle)

The first of these was held by the great scholars of the early Church. The second has been more commonly held over the past century. Which ever one chooses to follow there is also an inherent warning from Jesus, "Marvel not that the devils are subject to you for I beheld their prince fall, and it is no wonder that his servants now fall before you." Many scholars consider that our Lord's intention was to warn the disciples against vain glory: "Do not be puffed up because the devils are subject to you. Remember that Satan fell through pride as I myself saw".

Verse 19

Our Lord then makes a rather startling declaration to his disciples. "I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions." Those who demand adhesion to a literal interpretation will face their own challenges of faith. Our Lord commonly used the popular symbols of the day in his colourful speech. He is referring to spiritual enemies, and he is quite clear in his instruction: "You are to walk on and through them — not around them! You are not to evade or ignore them — you are to deal with them!" Spiritual enemies, though very much more dangerous than snakes and scorpions, will not be able to harm you."

Verse 20

"Important though that is", suggests Jesus, "and it is important to rejoice over the subjugation of demons, keep your focus rather on a much greater spiritual reality".

"That is rejoice that you have been chosen to enjoy God's mercy and be a bearer of it to others. This is a very great honour. That is what it means to have you name written in Heaven."

"Rejoice that in my name you are among those who have been freed and restored to the life all are meant to enjoy. Take no pride in it, but be humble. and extremely thankful. May it stir you to forget yourself and give up anything I ask so that I may send you out to bring others into this same beautiful freedom and enhanced life that my Father desires all to enjoy."

D. Jesus' Hymn of Praise Verses 21 24

Verse 21 Jesus then models the rejoicing he has been talking about. The more correct translations say, "he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit". The unmistakeable meaning of this is that it was "exceptional rejoicing and exaltation" (Geldenhuys). This verse illustrates the beautiful inter-relationship of the Holy Trinity.

Our Lord's joy is so profound he pours forth his hymn of praise aloud for all to hear. The first verse of his hymn (v.21) praises the Father that insight into the affairs of God is given, not to the self-exulted (leaders of the day), but to those in child-like simplicity and humility who know their dependence on God and accept what God reveals through him as Messiah.

Verse 22

In the second verse of his prayer Jesus states, "All things have been committed to me by my Father." Then in what seems to us a complicated Jewish way of saying it, declares that no one will even know any of these spiritual treasures unless the Son chooses to reveal them. In fact it is his way of including all his disciples down the ages who follow him faithfully: they too will be part of this great manifestation of God's love and mercy; they too will be expected to help prepare the way for our Lord's continuing mission in the world.

Verse 23

The record of our Lord's teaching to his disciples closed with his prayer in verses 21 and 22. Jesus now turns aside to the disciples who had returned from their mission endeavours and has a private word for them. Perhaps, to capture the intimacy Jesus had with his disciples, it is best expressed in a modern colloquial manner:

"Well done guys, I'm proud of you! You did a great job. Just remember how much our great prophets and Kings were looking forward to this day — and now it is yours!"

In this way our Lord emphasises the great value he puts on his disciples treasuring the Faith handed down to them — and their work in ensuring it is passed on to generations of future disciples. St Luke has carefully crafted his account to demonstrate to his readers that they are to form an organic link in this process. And so to our times, and to us.

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