The Sending of the Seventy-Two
Topic: Grace Pulpit Passage: Luke 10:1–10:1
The Sending of the Seventy-Two
July 14, 2019
We come to the tenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, entering a new section here in Luke chapter 10, so if you’re not there in your Bibles already, you’re already behind. We’ll begin by reading a significant portion of that chapter. There are two major divisions in this chapter 10 of Luke: verses 1-24, Jesus sends the seventy—and then in 25-37, there’s the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is just fantastic. I’m so eager to preach that. At the very end, it’s followed by Jesus’ visit to the home of Martha and Mary—a little section there—going to Bethany. So that’s what’s coming up in this chapter. Just a little preview of coming attractions.
We’re going to look at our text today, and I just want to give you a quick note as we enter into the text because there is a variant reading in verse 1, which is not uncommon in the New Testament—to have a variant reading—manuscripts saying slightly different things from the massive number of manuscripts that have been gathered over the many centuries.
But in Luke chapter 10, verse 1, you can see there, it says, “After this [or “After these things,” more literally], the Lord appointed”—and then Luke gives us a number. The ESV has the number seventy-two as does the New English translation, the New International Version, the Christian Standard Bible—but some translations, like the King James Version and the New American Standard Version, have the number seventy. The question is what does the original text say? So in the autograph in Luke’s original writing, as he put pen to parchment, did Luke write, “The Lord appointed seventy-two others,” or did he write, “The Lord appointed seventy others”? He either wrote one or the other, right? So which is it?
And this is where the scholarly discipline of textual criticism comes in to analyze ancient New Testament manuscripts to see what the original wording was. And that discipline is to clarify the text itself, to know what was written, so we can know what God actually said. We want to have a basis in a sound text. We find in the practice—the discipline of textual criticism that’s gone on over the centuries—that the more the text is scrutinized and analyzed and pulled apart and studied, the more reasons we find for confidence in the Bible that we hold in our hands. Our English translations are unparalleled in faithfulness to what the text originally said. I’m going to find an occasion at some point to provide you with a primer on textual criticism, but not today. I have way too much to talk about this morning.
And for now I just want to give you the bottom line for Luke 10:1. I believe that “seventy-two” is the correct reading. But if I get to heaven and find out that it was “seventy,” it’s not going to determine whether or not I get to stay in heaven. There is a right and wrong answer—Luke wrote one thing and one thing only—but the right answer is not going to change doctrine, and the wrong answer is not going to damn anyone to hell.
Having said that, though I believe “seventy-two” is the correct answer, you’re going to hear me throughout this sermon this morning say “seventy” quite a lot. The time that I’m going to save by not saying the word “two” after “seventy” probably will save me a few minutes of preaching. You’re like, “Yeah, what you just blew on this long-winded explanation.” Fair enough, all right.
So let’s get started. We’ll read the whole section, the sending of the seventy or seventy two—Luke 10:1-24:
*After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. “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.” The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 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.” Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”*
That is a fascinating portion of Scripture. And that is going to be our subject of study for—I don’t know how long, okay? A while. But it divides easily into two parts. You can do a macro-division, there, but I’ve divided it actually into four parts. But if we divide it into two parts, you can see the seventy really occupies the first 16 verses, and the return of the seventy—17 to 24. If we divide the text into four parts—that’s what I prefer—those divisions are also apparent in the text. You can see the appointment and instructions to the seventy in verses 1-9. You can see judgment upon rejecting cities in verses 10-16. The joyful return of the seventy in verses 17-20, and then the rejoicing of the Lord in verses 21-24.
But we can tell, just by reading the text, that the mission of the seventy is a specific mission. It’s got a specific, time-bound purpose, and back when we studied the mission of the Twelve, back in Luke 9:1-6, we said the same thing about the specificity of that mission. The instructions to the Twelve back in that text—“take nothing for your journey, no staff, no bag, no bread, no money—don’t have two tunics”—sound very similar to the instructions to the seventy here in verse 4: “Carry no money bag, no knapsack, no sandals. Greet nobody on the road.” Those instructions are specific to the timing, the occasion, the needs of the moment. Okay? They’re not intended to set a permanent statute for all missionaries throughout all time. It’s just as when we saw the sending of the Twelve, the sending of the seventy—Jesus has a specific mission in mind. He intends to accomplish a particular purpose for this time, this occasion, for this place. And so these instructions to the seventy are not determinative for missions today. Having said that, though, what Jesus says here is informative for us. It’s instructive for us. There are principles here that will inform us, convict us, challenge us, and deeply, profoundly encourage us in the work that Christ has called us to do.
So we’re reading here about Jesus the Messiah, and he’s making the announcement about the Kingdom of God, about his own inauguration to the throne of his father David, and that’s why he sends these seventy missionaries or heralds ahead of him. They’re like heralds crying out the presence of the coming King. They enter into cities and towns and villages and little hamlets and everywhere to herald the coming of the King of Israel to his throne.
But as we read this, 2,000 years later, on this side of the Cross, we’re mindful that we live after the Cross, after these events. This all points to the Cross and to the resurrection. We point people back to the Cross and back to the resurrection. Israel rejected her King and crucified him on the Cross, but that didn’t change anything from God’s perspective. His plan is still in motion. That’s evident in the resurrection. That’s evident in the ascension of the King to the right hand of God to rule and reign bodily.
So we need to realize, as we’re reading this text, that the risen Lord Jesus Christ is right now bodily on his throne at the Father’s right hand. He’s reigning from there. He’s directing the churches on the earth. Christ is reigning over this church. You have a very sensitive group of elders, deacons, other leaders in this church who are concerned not about man’s agenda but about looking deeply into the Scripture and praying long and hard to see what is Christ’s agenda, that we might follow that. Christ is reigning over this church by his grace. He’s directing us. He has plans for us to accomplish here at this time, on this occasion, in our place here in Northern Colorado, here in the 21st century.
So while these instructions that Jesus gives to the seventy are for them—for their specific mission, for their time and their place—we’re going to glean some very important instructive principles for our mission, for our time, and for our place. We’re going to see this in the text this morning. I’ll get to it and kind of expand on it in a little bit, but one of the main principles that I want to highlight early on is the principle of joy in the harvest. Joy in the harvest. That’s really how we need to read this entire section. Even in the face of the noted rejection in the text—the judgment pronouncements, the “woes,” we’re going to talk about that, too—but really it’s joy in the harvest that is an over-arching theme, here.
So for the next number of weeks as we work our way through the mission of the seventy—as Jesus appoints them, which we’re going to see today, as he instructs them and sends them out—we’re going to find principles of joy in Gospel mission. That’s what we’re on—the Gospel mission.
I’ve got some “M”-words for your outline points. Two of them are printed in your bulletin outline today, but I’m going to give you all five right now, okay? Mission, mindset, manner, means, and ministry. And that will take us through the first nine verses: mission, mindset, manner, means, and ministry. So Jesus gives them their mission in verse 1. He provides them with the right mindset in verses 2 and 3. He explains the proper manner in verses 4-6. He helps them understand the means in verses 7-8, and finally he clarifies the ministry itself—like, “What are we to do when we get there?”—in verse 9. So for today, we’re just going to have time to look at the mission and the mindset, each of those with a few subpoints underneath them that I’ll try to make clear.
So number one, point one in your outline, is the mission—the mission. What is the mission? Look again at verse 1. Luke introduces us to the nature and the characteristics of this very special, unique, one-of-a-kind mission. “After these things”—pointing to what just preceded in Luke chapter 9—“the Lord appointed seventy [or seventy-two] others and sent them on ahead of him two-by-two into every town and place where he himself was about to go.”
Luke is the only Gospel writer to tell us about this, about this whole event. Apart from this text, we would not know that this ever happened. That’s just telling you that this mission is unique. It’s never again to be repeated. It’s an opportunity for the people of Perea and Judea to pay homage to the coming King of Israel. This is the only time in all of history—never to be repeated—that the King is going to arrive like this, that he’s going to come in peace, that he’s going to take the Kingdom given to him by his Father and then inaugurate his reign. This is never going to happen again; this is a one-time thing.
The next time that Jesus comes—the Second Advent—he’s going to come to execute judgment on all of those who have refused his Lordship, refused to bow the knee, all who have scorned him, rejected him. Kings and rulers of the earth, according to Psalm 2, have raged against him. They have conspired together; they’ve plotted together; they’ve refused to serve him. Psalm 2:4 says that God is unconcerned. “He who sits in the heavens laughs, and the Lord holds them in derision.” And he says, “As for me [Like, “If you want to know my opinion on the matter”], I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” Nothing’s changed for God. All the railing and the scorning and the rejecting and the crucifying in the world is not going prevent the outworking and the marching forward of his sovereign plan.
And that’s what’s happening in this text. Jesus is on his way, making his way, on the march to Jerusalem—Luke 9:51. He’s going to ascend Mount Zion—God’s holy hill. He’s calling out to all of Israel, all those living in the regions of Perea and Judea, and in the words of David—Psalm 2:
*Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. [Oh—and that would include all the people of the land as well.] Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.*
And so Jesus appoints these seventy disciples as heralds, messengers of the King. They’re special envoys of his, spreading throughout the whole land a mood of excitement and joy and peace and hopeful anticipation. And Jesus has appointed them. The word “appointed,” there—“anadeiknumi”—in its strictest since means “to lift up” and “to show forth.” So here its nuance is “to lift up and show forth” and to show and appoint, to assign somebody, to set them apart for a special task. So these seventy here Christ is lifting up. He’s selected them out of the wider group of those who’ve associated and followed along with Jesus. These seventy have been strictly vetted. Remember what we were taught last week, following the text there in Luke 9:57-62—you can understand that’s simply an expansion of Luke 9:23, where Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.”
So these seventy are self-denying, cross-bearing, Christ-following disciples. They know what the cost is. They’ve counted the cost, and they’re all in. They have, like Jesus, set their face, they’ve steeled their spine, they’ve set their face like flint—they are followers, they are disciples. These are those who truly will follow Jesus wherever he goes even if it means the end of personal ease and comfort. They’ve cut ties with family and friends—all the interests and worries and cares of life. They’re completely his, totally at his service, ready to do his will. And so Jesus—verses 57-62 of chapter 9—has vetted them already, and he appoints these seventy-two men to go forth two-by-two to herald the Kingdom of God and to prepare the people of Israel for a soon arrival of the King himself. He’s coming to their own city, to their own town, to their village, their hamlet.
If you think about that, it’s remarkable, isn’t it? When was the last time the president made it to your neighborhood? Not mine. I mean, no politician of any note that I know of has ever been anywhere near. I once went and saw George Bush when he was in office; I went to see him, but have any of those people ever come to see us? No. We understand the limitations on people like that. But as we think about Jesus going around to the towns and villages and little hamlets and all that, I don’t want you to read this like an American. This is not a campaign visit on Jesus’ part, where Jesus is kissing babies and handing out lollipops and trying to win hearts and minds and votes for office. This is not that. This is to be read in the context of an absolute monarchy—we might even say a beneficent dictatorship. That’s what the King of Israel is—a theocracy with God and his Christ on the throne. No challengers.
As he is visiting all these little villages, you need to read this as the kindness and compassion of Jesus. This is gracious condescension from the Most High God, the one anointed by God to be the Messiah, the Christ. Before ascending his throne in the great city of Jerusalem, the King wants to visit his people. He goes to see them where they are, where they’re living. He wants to see how they’re situated; he wants to introduce himself to them in their own contexts. Isn’t that incredible? He’s not just some politician, either. He’s not just some king. He’s the Son of God. He’s the ruler, creator, and judge of the universe. This shows that he truly loves these people. Amazing grace!
Let’s just take a look at some of the features of this mission of the seventy—several subpoints. So get ready to write these down. Subpoint A about this mission—what is this mission like, what is its nature, what are its characteristics? This mission is strategically important. It’s strategically important. You may remember back when we studied Luke 9:51—“And Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem”—we pointed out then that Jesus began this final, roughly six-month-long journey to Jerusalem around the time of the Feast of Booths. It’s also called the Feast of Tabernacles, which is early fall. It’s the September-October time frame. You may remember when we went through that, that there was a bit of controversy about Jesus going up to this particular feast—the Feast of Booths.
Just to refresh your memory, I’d like you to turn over with me to John chapter 7 because this is where the controversy was—in the beginning of that chapter. Jesus’ brothers had encouraged him to attend that feast in John 7:2, and at first Jesus rejected the idea because he rejected their strategy, but later he went up. He changed his stated plan, but it was according to his rules, his means, his ways, and all that. Look at John 7, verse 2 and following:
*Now the Jews' Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers believed in him.*
His brothers here are proposing a strategy, aren’t they? They’ve got a PR plan for Jesus. They want to announce his Messiahship. This is a way for them to expand the brand and for him to become more well-known. “Jesus, here’s how you can be embraced by the nation in your bid to fulfill all of Israel’s restoration promises.” For them, the time is now. “Stop messing around in hillbilly Galilee. Now, go. The time is now. Go to the Feast of Booths. There’s a lot of people there.” Their method is to make an impression. “Jesus, go perform some of those miracles. Turn a few heads. Really make an impression and get people’s attention.” And the goal—though it’s not stated here exactly—for them is to win support of the Jewish religious establishment. “Win the leaders—and you’ve got the people, too.” They wanted him to go up to Jerusalem before the face of the world, to get the attention of everybody and get the stamp of approval from the Jewish religious establishment. They wanted them to get their validation—“No only will you get our vote, you’ll have the whole nation behind you as well.” That’s what they’re thinking. That’s their plan and their strategy.
Go back to Luke chapter 10, verse 1 because Jesus already had a strategy in mind, and this is it in Luke 10:1. We’re reading about it. This is how Jesus, who knows how to handle his own publicity campaign, is going to get it done. It’s not going to be according to man’s timing; it’s not going to be according to man’s methods, with their priorities, their concerns in mind. Their goals and ways are not God’s goals or God’s ways. But Jesus does have a strategy in mind. He’s sending out seventy-two preachers to announce the coming Kingdom of God just prior to the arrival of the actual King. He’s on God’s timetable, here. He’s using God’s ordained method, and he’s got God’s priorities and interests in mind. The timing is clear—it’s now. So we’re going to set that aside for the moment.
What about the method and the priority? What is the method and the priority—the strategic mission? The method of Gospel mission—the method of missionary endeavor—is proclaiming. It’s preaching, it’s teaching. And what’s the priority?—Luke 10:1—to go ahead of him, literally to “go before his face.” It’s a reference to preparing the way of the Lord. We saw this emphasis on preaching back in Luke 9:1-2. Jesus called the Twelve together there, gave them power and authority over all demons, to cure diseases. He sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal. The power and authority over demons and disease was necessary for them to be validated as preachers and validate their message so they were listened. But uninterpreted miracles—unhelpful. People need to know the meaning of what’s happening around them. That’s why Jesus commanded them to proclaim the Kingdom of God. It connects the informed Jewish mind to those Old Testament promises of God’s coming Kingdom and the power that attended it, so they could see and make the connection: “This is the one to listen to. These are the messengers. This is the power that was prophesied.”
Same thing in our text as Jesus sends out the seventy. He sends them out ahead of him to every town—every place where he himself is about to go. And what are they to do when they get there? Look at verse 9. Same command to the seventy as to the Twelve: “Heal the sick in that place and then say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you.’” The expectation, according to verse 10, is that people are going to receive the messengers, receive their message, welcome them, receive them, embrace them. And that’s evident—verse 13—by repentance. Repentance.
These seventy messengers Jesus sends have a similar role as John the Baptist. You may remember Zechariah’s prophecy back in Luke chapter 1 that John would go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins. That’s exactly what John did when he came preaching in Luke chapter 3. He came as a voice crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. Why?—“So that all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
So preaching is the Lord’s method. Repentance is the Lord’s priority. These preachers are going before Jesus to prepare everyone’s hearts to receive their King, so that they might enter into the salvation of God and the Kingdom of God. So preaching is the method; repentance is the priority.
Now will that result in accomplishing what Jesus’ brothers are concerned about?—Jesus’ notoriety, expanding the brand, becoming well-known, getting a whole bunch of Facebook followers and “likes”? You bet it will. In fact—I won’t take you through it—but if you follow in Luke chapters 11, 12, and 13, you see growing, swelling crowds—dangerously large crowds where they’re actually stepping on each other. Yes, that’s going to happen. But is Jesus aiming at numbers? Is he aiming at notoriety? Absolutely not. Who cares? What matters is, are these people’s hearts prepared with repentance to receive their Messiah? That’s the issue.
Another subpoint here—subpoint B: This mission is geographically immense and chronologically limited. The mission is geographically immense and chronologically limited. For those of you who do not like to write that many syllables, Jesus has a lot of ground to cover, but very little time. He’s got a long way to go, and a short time to get there, right? I think I heard that in a song. Some of you older folks are laughing.
As we said, the Feast of Booths is about the September-October timeframe. There are only about six months remaining before Jesus’ final Passover where he himself is the Passover Lamb, the once-for-all sacrifice, slain for the sins of his people. He’s saturated Galilee with the proclamation of the Kingdom, and now he needs to visit Perea and Judea, do the same thing, give them the same Gospel. It’s a lot of ground to cover. The area of Perea and Judea is approximately 7,500 square miles. By comparison—if I’ve read this correctly—Weld County is just north of 4,000 square miles. So Jesus is covering an area roughly twice the size of Weld County. But keep in mind he’s not doing it in a truck. He’s walking. He’s on foot. And that’s why Jesus chose these seventy—or the seventy-two. He’s facing a huge geographic challenge. He’s got a short time frame. He needs to send out as many pre-approved Gospel heralds as possible because any of those towns that reject them reject him—saves him a little time on the itinerary, doesn’t it?
Think about this. You’ve got seventy-two preachers going out two-by-two, so you’ve got 36 separate teams of preachers, visiting every single town, every place where Jesus himself is about to go. If each team of two went to only one village each and they embraced them, received them, that means that Jesus is visiting—what?—36 villages on his own. If they visited each two villages—seventy-two villages that Jesus has got to visit. Math becomes pretty staggering the more you add. Pretty quickly it becomes an immense amount of travel. Jesus is really, really committed to visiting these people, isn’t he?
What does that tell you about his energy, his stamina, his strength? Incredible on every count, right? But think about this more affectionately, more intimately. What does this tell you about his interest in people? What does this tell you about his interest in even the little people, the people that in the scheme of things—in the world political stage and in Jerusalem’s political scene—do not count whatsoever except maybe to pay taxes. What does it tells you about Jesus’ interests in the insignificant people of the land? And how does that assure you, beloved, in his interest in you? He cares. That’s why we pray—because we know we pray to a kind and loving and compassionate Savior. And when he died on the cross for all of you who believe, he had your name on his mind, and he had your sins on his back. Think about that when you go to him in prayer. He loves you. He cares.
As you might imagine, the number seventy in the Bible raises all kinds of speculation, all kinds of opinions of about why Jesus designated seventy. What’s the significance of the number seventy? There are some biblical numbers that have significance. It’s probably what led to the scribal variations in the manuscripts in the first place, some writing “seventy-two” and other scribes saying, “Whoa! That’s not supposed to say ’seventy-two’; it’s supposed to say ’seventy’.” So the symbolism of seventy is just so compelling for some that all they really want to do is to see some symbolic meaning for Jesus sending seventy disciples.
So according to Genesis chapter 10, there are seventy Gentile nations, so the seventy messengers of Luke 10 are perhaps supposed to foreshadow Jesus’ interest in evangelizing the nations. Remember, Jesus is here not sending these guys out to preach to the Gentile nations. They’re going to towns and villages in Perea and Judea. Besides, the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament—lists seventy-two Gentile nations. Oooh, what are we to make of that?
According to Exodus 1 verse 5, there were seventy Israelites who went into Egypt. They became the seed of the future people of God. Perhaps that means these seventy heralds are sowing the seeds of God’s people to God’s people. Or perhaps you’ve got another idea—who’s to know, right?
After the Exodus from Egypt, when they came out of the land of Israel, Moses brought Israel to Elim. Exodus 15:27 says, “Elim was where there were 12 springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water.” There you go, right? Twelve springs of water—Twelve Apostles. Seventy palm trees—seventy preachers.
Oh—Moses appointed seventy elders for Israel—Exodus 18. They received a portion of his prophetic spirit—Exodus 24. Numbers 11:25—maybe that’s what this is supposed to signified—oops, unless you add Eldad and Madad, in which case you get seventy-two. So back and forth we go. Seventy men who were members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Council…until you add the high priest who presides over the Sanhedrin, breaks a split decision, casting the 71st tie-breaking vote. So maybe the seventy are like Jesus’ seventy—that’s his Sanhedrin. No, not likely.
What about the seventy-two translators who published the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament? Surely, that translation indicates an interest in evangelistic outreach to Greek-speaking, non-Jewish people, right? That would favor seeing seventy-two in the text and not seventy.
Look, I just took you through that, folks, not to weary you, but just to say be very cautious about trying to find symbols and meanings in symbols in the Bible because if you want to find symbols in the Bible, believe me, you’ll find them everywhere. You’ll find gold hidden in the numbers and all kinds of stuff. You’ll be making pilgrimages to Jerusalem, and digging, and looking for stuff—and pretty soon you’ll become a Jew—kosher meals, weird underwear and all that kind of stuff. You’ll be all kinds of “off.” You’ve got to be careful. Symbolism is a very poor interpretive framework for reading the Bible. Symbolic meaning can often be at the mercy of the cleverness of the interpreter. So listen—unless the Bible tells you something is symbolic—and it has ways of pointing that out—don’t assume it is. Take the literal, plain meaning of the text.
In this case, seventy or seventy-two means—seventy or seventy-two. It’s giving us a number of people who went out. So we want to know, is it seventy or is it seventy-two? Interpreters are making that choice based on what they think the number signifies—Gentile nations, and Israelites entering Egypt, abundance of the springs of Elim, elders of Israel, members of the Sanhedrin, translators of the Septuagint—is that what Jesus really had in mind?
Perhaps we should consider what this looked like at the ground level. If you’re in a village in Perea or Judea, and some of these guys come, seventy aren’t coming to you, are they? Two are coming to you. So you see two coming into the village—Jesus sent them out two-by-two. Now that’s significant—we’ll come back to that in a moment. But you’re not getting seventy people and saying, “Ah! Sanhedrin!” You’re not seeing that. You’re seeing two people come.
So as I mentioned at the beginning, I tend to think that the number is seventy-two. There are a number of conservative textual scholars who lean that direction for technical reasons. As I said at the beginning, we don’t have time for that right now. But I also believe that if it is seventy-two, the Lord could find very useful the number seventy-two in order to organize this delegation of preachers.
Before I mention that, in light of Luke 9:57-62—in Jesus’ challenge to those would-be disciples—you have to know that when he chose these preachers and sent them out, he chose only those who were vetted—ready, prepared for the task, all in, denying themselves and taking up their cross and following him, right? So the number couldn’t have been higher than seventy-two because he says, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out more.” So if the number was 80, would he not have sent that 80? In light of verse 2 as well—plentiful harvest, need for laborers, the call to pray for more—if more than seventy-two were available, he would have probably sent them, too. Is he going to restrict the number for the sake of symbolism? Well, maybe. Maybe we’re just not seeing it. Seems to me, though, that focusing on symbolism is just an exercise in missing the point. I believe that Jesus chose seventy-two because he vetted seventy-two. There were seventy-two disciples who were qualified, ready to go.
And conveniently, the appointment of seventy-two preachers sent out in two’s facilitates the organization and management of these missionary teams. How many times does seventy-two divide evenly by 12—Twelve Apostles, right? How many times does seventy-two divide evenly by twelve? Six. Seventy-two divided by 12 equals six, and that makes six of those preachers for each Apostle, which means one Apostle can oversee three teams of missionary pairs—six men. So organizing these missionary pairs into missionary teams—teams of three—each Apostle could more easily manage his own team of three pairs. So when they return, he could help to refuel them and establish them and conduct a good debrief, give that information to Jesus, plan accordingly, adjust the itinerary according to who received and who rejected. That makes sense. It just helps with efficiency and effectiveness. So be that as it may—that may be speculative, too—if the number is seventy.
So the nature and character of the mission—we’ve seen that it’s strategically important to prepare the people through preaching and repentance. Mission success here means covering a vast geographic area in a limited amount of time. It called for dozens of well-organized preachers and teams of Kingdom heralds.
And just briefly, not only was this mission strategically important, geographically vast, chronologically limited in its time frame—subpoint C: We can see the mission is judicially significant. It’s judicially significant. There are practical and tactical reasons for sending these heralds out two by two. Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil.” They help each other in times of trouble, provide warmth, support, protection for each other when traveling. Those are practical, tactical reasons.
But more importantly, sending out a pair of preachers is judicially significant as well. Together the two of them provide a corroborating testimony to the truth they are preaching, and together they can render corroborating judgment upon that town.
You may remember in John chapter 8 the Pharisees tried to invalidate Jesus’ testimony. They said, “You’re bearing witness about yourself, so your testimony itself is not valid.” How did Jesus reply?—“Oh, that’s not the right principle”? No. He didn’t deny that principle at all. In verse 17 he said, “In your law it is written that the testimony of two people is true.” He’s referring to Deuteronomy 19:15, which stipulates that “only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be established,” and it was especially important in a capital offense, a capital case. You can’t be condemned to death on the basis of one guy who wants you dead. It’s a good thing. So in John 8:17, he didn’t deny the principle. Then in 8:18, he said, “I’m the one who bears witness about myself”—that’s one—“and the Father who sent me also bears witness about me”—two. Two very solid, sound testimonies and witnesses on his behalf. So what does that mean for the Pharisees? “Better repent and embrace Jesus Christ, or else the charge of your guilt is also established by those two witnesses—the Father and the Son together.”
Well, it’s the same thing here. Not only do these preachers go out two by two, corroborating testimony, validating the words and the works of Jesus Christ, but they also go out preaching the Kingdom and preaching repentance and preparing the people for Jesus’ arrival. They also provide corroborating testimony to any town that rejects Jesus. Their guilt is going to be established on the basis of these two witnesses. And more on that when we get to verses 10-16.
Let me just give you a few principles here out of this first point on the mission itself by way of application. All right? First, the seventy-two were sent on a unique, one-of-a-kind mission. But their strategy is our strategy as well. Preach and teach the truth. That’s the strategy. Preach the truth, teach the truth. Proclaim the Kingdom of God. What is the Kingdom of God? It’s God’s sovereign rule over all. And not just over the flowers and the trees and the birds and the bees. The rule is over hearts. The rule is over decisions. The rule is over thinking, over imagination, over priorities, over plans.
And so when we go out as Gospel preachers, we proclaim the Kingdom of God, and we call people to bow in repentance before the King Jesus Christ. We prepare them to embrace Jesus Christ by preaching law and Gospel. We tell people that they are sinners in need of salvation, and we tell them that there is salvation by the grace of God in Jesus Christ if they put their faith in him. That’s what we tell people.
So the strategy hasn’t changed. It’s the same from testament to testament. It’s the same from the apostolic days until now. It’s not just about going and “letting your little light shine” even though that’s really, really important—that your manner of living, your manner of speaking does not contradict the message that you preach. But you cannot set aside the preaching of the message. Teach people the Gospel. Some of you say, “Well, I’m not a preacher; I’m not eloquent.” Moses said the same thing, and God said—what? “Who made the mouth?” Listen—if you’re so tongue-tied, pull out a Gospel tract and give it to them, and let someone who’s written it down for you do the preaching for you. You sit there and read it with them, guide them through it. Listen—if you know enough to be a Christian, you know enough to tell somebody else about salvation. Get out there and do it, right?
Second thing: These seventy-two are true disciples. They’re vetted first by Luke 9:57-62, and even before that they’re vetted by Luke 9:23: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Listen—if you’re a disciple, you’re all in. You are all in. You are self-denying, cross-bearing, ready to die in following Jesus Christ. We need to be clear about the doctrine of conversion, right? We need to be clear about the doctrine of conversion. We need to clarify the church—that the church is a congregation of redeemed people, regenerate church membership. We’ve got to clarify conversion, so we know who the true disciples are and whom we need to evangelize.
So being “fruit inspectors” and all that—that’s not unkind. That’s the kindest thing you can do. If someone professes to be a Christian, and there is absolutely no fruit, they may be in danger of going to hell. And for you just to say, “Ah, but they said they’re a Christian”—my friend, you’re ignoring the smoke pouring out of their burning house. You need to go and tell them, “Your house is on fire. There’s bad fruit and bad works in your life, and you need to be repentant. You need to come to Christ. You need to find salvation.”
So true Christians—truly converted, real disciples of Jesus Christ—they’re committed to follow Jesus as Lord, and that’s the fruit that comes out of their life. Fruit that is fruit because it’s grown, and it’s grown because it’s dependent on the vitality coming out of the root of the tree. What’s the root of the tree? Christ. What’s the vitality in the tree? The Spirit. That’s why it’s called “the fruit of the Spirit.” It’s Spirit-produced fruit; it can’t be reproduced by anybody faking it. So any of these seventy-two disciples are true disciples. They’re vetted. They know the Gospel message, and they teach it to others.
The third principle by way of application, here: Whether we’re sending out seven, or twelve, or seventy, or seventy-two, we would be wise as churchmen, we’d be wise in the church to organize the effort, to provide oversight, to provide leadership, to provide accountability. We do ministry in pairs or teams. We do counseling that way, we do discipleship that way, evangelism, eldership, the diaconate—all of it is done by pairs, teams. There’s no biblical warrant for lone-wolf ministry. I find this all the time. I get requests in the office—through email, phone calls—people even stopping by and saying, “Hey, God told me I’ve got this special ministry, and I want to come share with your church.” I’m like, “Who are you, and what horse did you ride in on,” you know? I have no idea. Then I start talking to them, and I don’t know if this person knows anything about the Gospel or the Bible. They just know enough to say, “God spoke to me,” and then they tell you, “That’s enough for you to receive me.” How arrogant, honestly. They come more often than you know, flooding into our office, saying, “We want time with your people.”
Look—that’s a lone-wolf ministry, and you do not find that in the Bible. We do this together. We do it together. That not only keeps us safe, but it heightens the strength of our witness. It’s encouraging to do ministry together. It also emboldens us, strengthens us as we go out. And you know what happens as well? It also increases the scale of the seriousness and sobriety of the message that we bring when there are two or more coming and saying the same thing to people. It’s very, very important that we do this together.
So look—what’s the strategy? Preach, teach the Gospel. Preach law, preach Gospel. Preach sin and righteousness. Preach judgment and preach grace and salvation. But preach the Gospel. Also, we’ve got to clarify our doctrine of conversion, knowing who the true Christians are, and who we need to evangelize—very clear, very obvious. And then however we do our evangelism work, let’s organize it. Let’s be clear about organizing the work, so that we’re not doing it as a bunch of lone wolves, going out solo, but we do it in teams—pairs, teams, however—we do it together.
Well, let me close there, and you’ll get the rest of all this really good stuff in my notes next time, okay?
Heavenly Father, thank you so much for what we’ve learned so far just in looking at the nature and the characteristics of the mission itself. We thank you for the clarity of your Word. The time flies by so quickly, and we realize how much there is to mine out of your eternal Word. We thank you, Father, for your grace in saving all of us. We pray that you would use us to bring in many more souls into the Kingdom. We pray for a harvest here in Greeley, Colorado, in Northern Colorado—that there would be a harvest of souls—and that you would ignite the hearts of your people to go out into the harvest because there is such a need for laborers. We love you, and we thank you for the time we’ve had together this morning. In Jesus’ name. Amen.