The Context: chapter 9 of Luke obviously contains quite a bit of content, but the information given us immediately before the break into “chapter 10” is of several different “followers” and their interactions with Jesus (‘foxes have holes but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ –Luke 9:57-62) but the driving story before this is Jesus foretelling His death and “setting His face” toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:21-22, 44, and 51).
The Seventy-Two: “After this” is how chapter 10 begins, and thus a proper understanding of what Jesus does and instructs in the beginning of the chapter seems to hinge on keeping in mind what came before it.
Where did Jesus send these disciples out to in pairs? “Every town and place where he himself was about to go.” (Verse 1)… why did he send them out? Presumably – based on verses 5 through 12, and 16 (and 9:1-6) – to preach what He had taught them; but specifically we are told He commanded them to ‘heal the sick and say to them “the kingdom of God has come near to you.”‘As I read through chapter 10 of Luke this evening it occurred to me that the connection of this event to Jesus’ going to Jerusalem to be crucified is of no small significance. In all of the synoptic gospels Jesus’ instruction and teaching of His disciples (particularly the apostles) seems to grow more earnest and “to the point,” if you will, as He approaches the cross compared to earlier in His ministry. Could it be that Jesus sent out the seventy-two to heal the sick and prepare the way for Him not just so that people would know He was coming, but perhaps so that he would not encounter quite as large a mob looking for miracles as He would have otherwise?
Many things to consider and ponder over in why Jesus sent out these men, but let us move on to when they returned to Him for the sake of this particular discussion…
Verse 17 is translated thus in my ESV Bible: “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” … now, what were the Lord’s specific instructions to these disciples? To ‘heal the sick and proclaim the nearness of the Kingdom of God.’ But these people do not come rejoicing that those who have heard their message are repentant and receptive to Christ, but that they could command demons!
Granted, some or many of the sicknesses they were commanded to heal could have been caused by demonic possession or oppression, but Jesus’ response in verses 18 and 20 seem to be more a corrective or warning rebuke than an encouraging affirmation of their joy.
The interpretation above is far different than that given by those who want to hone in on verse 19, I know, but I cannot read that verse separate from everything else going on. Also, those who want to emphasize verse 19 – almost to the exclusion of verse 20 – usually miss several markers that serve to indicate that much of the authority given was specific to that time and group of people in many ways. The phrase “nothing shall hurt you,” for one, is incredibly restrictive to where we can apply to whom and when the “authority” Jesus mentions is given.
Moving on again, since it is in the same chapter, I have heard some try to correlate verses 23 and 24 to verses 17 and/or 19… but it seems more reasonable to me – considering the use of present-tense verbs, the content of Jesus’ rejoicing in verses 21 and 22, and His previous admonition to “rejoice that your names are written in heaven” – to understand that what Jesus is referring to is, in fact, a combination of Himself being God in flesh standing before men and, in that, the further revelation of God’s very nature…
Here my thoughts begin to trail in too many directions to type now… and I’ve already gone longer and in different directions than I intended (hopefully because the text forced me to and/or the Spirit was gracious in restricting me to it 😉
Hope this was an interesting and/or thought-provoking read.