PassageIn the last passage it was mentioned that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, and in this passage he continues his journey. However, he appoints seventy-two of his disciples to be sent before him, in pairs, to every town he’s about to enter, to heal the sick and preach that the kingdom of God is about to come. He gives them instructions on how they’re to go about it—they are to take no money and no extra clothes, they’re to stay at whatever house accepts them first, if they’re not received well they’re simply to shake the dust of the town off their feet and move on (but they’re still to tell the denizens that, nevertheless, they should still know that the kingdom of God is near)—but the main reason that he’s sending them is that, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few” (verse 2 (ESV)). His instructions are covered in detail in verses 1–12 (ESV).
As Jesus is giving these instructions, he makes an aside to call out the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida, saying that if the mighty works he’d done there had been done at Tyre or Sidon, instead, they would have repented long ago—and that, therefore, it will be more bearable for them on the day of judgement than it will be for Chorazin and Bethsaida. But after this aside, he addresses the seventy-two again, to remind them that they’re being sent on his behalf:
“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (verse 16 (ESV))After this the seventy-two go out, and as they return to Jesus they’re overjoyed: even the demons are subject to them, in Jesus’ name! He responds that he saw Satan fall from heaven, and confirms that yes, he’s given them authority to walk over snakes and scorpions, and even over the power of the enemy, without being harmed. However, he reminds them that this is not the part they should rejoice in; instead, they should rejoice that their names are written in heaven.
Jesus then prays to the Father, thanking Him that He has hidden these things from people who are “wise and understanding,” and instead revealing them to “little children” (verse 21 (ESV)). And then he says this even more strongly:
“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (verse 22 (ESV))Finishing his prayer, he turns back to the disciples and tells them that they are blessed, because they’ve been privileged to see and hear some things that many prophets and kings desired to see and hear—frankly, the entire Old Testament had been leading up to Jesus’ work, so yes, every Old Testament prophet, every [good] king, every priest… anyone who studied the Scriptures, up until Jesus’ day, would have longed to have seen the Messiah, and to have seen the prophecies of the Old Testament coming to fruition.
ThoughtsBecause the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers few, Jesus starts sending his disciples out ahead of him, to prepare his way before he arrives at any given town or place. In other words, there is enough “harvest” that one man—even Jesus himself—can’t do it all himself, so he sends out the disciples. And if that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s still how things work today: God sends us to spread His Gospel to those who are in spiritual need; He doesn’t simply “zap” someone into believing in Him, He gives us the work, and we do it on His behalf. Could he “zap” someone into believing in Him? Yes, I think He probably could, speaking purely theoretically, but that’s not the way He works. Any time I’m hearing from people who are doing missions in the Middle East among Muslims, I’m hearing lots of stories about Muslims who are having dreams in which Jesus speaks to them directly, but even in those cases, there are still Christians around somewhere, too, who are preaching the Gospel to them—even if it’s somewhat in retrospect, after the dream.
It’s worth remembering that, at this time, travel took a long time, and it sounds like Jesus was staying in each town/place for a while before moving on, so that’s why these instructions are necessary to the seventy-two: when they arrive at a new place, they’ll probably be there for a while, before Jesus arrives. That will give them plenty of opportunities to preach the Gospel, before he does.
In a sense, when Jesus calls out Chorazin and Bethsaida, he’s really calling out all of the Jewish people. Jesus’ mission is primarily to them (later on, especially in Acts, the mission gets greatly expanded, to include all peoples everywhere); God is calling out to His own people, and some of them are believing in Jesus, but by and large the Jewish people are rejecting him. Chorazin and Bethsaida are cities in which Jesus has performed many of his miracles, so it’s doubly condemning on them for not believing—which is Jesus’ point. The people in Tyre and Sidon don’t believe in Jesus, but why would they—he hasn’t even preached there! They’ll be judged for their sin, as will all peoples, but when it comes to judgement for the unrepentant people of Chorazin and Bethsaida, who had much more information about Jesus, and his miracles as proof of his claims, the judgement will be even harsher, because they should have known better. The same would apply in today’s world, for people who grow up in the Church without believing, as opposed to people who have never heard the Gospel in the first place.
I should probably talk about Jesus’ words in verse 18, when the seventy-two return and are rejoicing that the demons are subject to them (in his name):
And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (ESV)What does this mean? Is Jesus talking about Satan’s original fall from Heaven? Or something else? Based on the commentaries that I’ve read, it doesn’t seem that most commentators think he’s referring to that; rather, they believe, Jesus is saying that because of the authority given to the disciples by him, Satan’s grip on this present world is no longer as strong as it was. (The “like lightning” part simply emphasizes how quickly the fall was.) I don’t even have enough knowledge to form my own opinion on this, so I’ll assume that they probably know what they’re talking about. I do find it interesting, however, that this comes in the context of the disciples reveling in the fact that they have authority over demons, and Jesus seems to be referring to a change in Satan’s hold on the world—could Satan’s fall relate to why we have so few demon possessions in modern-day North America? Am I stretching things too far? I’m probably stretching things too far.
But there’s no confusion about Jesus’ main point: it’s all well and good that these seventy-two were able to do some amazing things, and it’s all well and good that some of the Old Testament prophets were able to do amazing things, but at the end of the day, that’s not what they should have been rejoicing in, and if we do amazing things that’s not what we should be rejoicing in either: we should be rejoicing that our names are written in Heaven. We have a relationship with God that will last throughout all eternity, and eventually we’ll be able to see Him face to face. That’s what we should rejoice in.