Representing Jesus: The Seventy

Representing Jesus: The Seventy

Representing Jesus: The Seventy.

“The Lord now chose seventy (or seventy-two) other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places He planned to visit… When the seventy disciples returned, they joyfully reported to Him, ‘Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!” (Luke 10:1,17).

Please read the story of Jesus sending out the seventy disciples, in Luke 10:1-21.

What. Jesus commissioned seventy disciples to go to far-flung towns that are in Jesus’ travel plans. He wants them to prepare these towns for His coming. Jesus is planning on visiting these towns and villages soon, and He wants them prepared for His arrival and His ministry.

When. Roughly midway through the three-year public ministry of Jesus.

Where. Distant and neighboring towns and villages throughout Israel.

Who. Jesus personally selected seventy followers of His who were not a part of His original twelve. These believers have been with Him long enough to be familiar with His teachings, His mission, His ways of doing things. They have heard His parables, witnessed His miracles, and observed Him as He ministered for a year and a half to everyone from the religious elite to the religious outcasts. These seventy were sent in pairs to cities around Judea, no doubt, and they were in many ways like babes in the woods. He even said He was sending them out like lambs in the midst of wolves. These seventy disciples were somewhat prepared, but they were not mature old saints by any means. Evidently, Jesus had confidence in them to be useful to the Kingdom. One doesn’t have to be perfectly wise and experienced to be used by the Lord. Jesus wanted these disciples to learn by experience. All seventy names in the traditional list of names have been declared saints by the Orthodox Church.

Future Saints. There are several interesting names in the traditional list of seventy names. They are all named as early church leaders much later after Pentecost:

  • Apollos, “an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures.” (Acts 18:24);
  • Aquilla, a tentmaker who “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 18:2-4);
  • Barnabas, the “son of encouragement” who was a missionary leader in the church (Acts 4:36-37);
  • Cleopas, one of the walkers on the road to Emmaus who discussed Scripture with the risen Jesus (Luke 24);
  • James, the brother of Jesus, who wrote the book of James in the NT, and was the bishop of the Christian church in Jerusalem;
  • Luke, the “beloved physician,” the evangelist who wrote the NT books of Luke and Acts;
  • John Mark, the evangelist who traveled on missionary journeys with Paul and Barnabas, and wrote the gospel of Mark;
  • Philemon, a Christian leader in Colossae, who became bishop and was later martyred. Paul wrote a letter to Philemon that is included in the NT;
  • Stephen, the Archdeacon in Jerusalem who later became the first martyr;
  • Timothy, one of the primary coworkers of Paul, who wrote him two letters included in the NT. (Acts 16:1-2);
  • Titus, an early church leader who assisted Paul, and was a recipient of Paul’s letter that is included in the NT. He became the bishop of Crete.

Jesus was hugely successful in His early leadership training of these seventy disciples as they all later became Christian leaders throughout the Roman Empire. At the start, though, in the group of seventy missionaries, all of them were in the spirit of Paul’s description in 1 Corinthians 1:26-28“Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considered foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. and he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” After the return of the seventy, Jesus referred to them as childlike, who didn’t think of themselves as wise and clever (Luke 10:21).

Seventy. Seventy is an important number in the Hebrew Bible. It is the traditional number of Gentile nations in Genesis 10; it is the number of descendants in Jacob’s clan who settled in Egypt (Exodus 1:5); it is the number of Jewish elders in the powerful ruling group the Sanhedrin. Also, according to rabbinic tradition, the coming Messiah was to duplicate some of the works and miracles of Moses. We know about the Lord’s directive to Moses in Numbers 11:16-17“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Gather before me seventy men who are recognized as elders and leaders of Israel. Bring them to the Tabernacle to stand there with you. I will come down and talk to you there. I will take some of the Spirit that is upon you, and I will put the Spirit upon them also. They will bear the burden of the people along with you, so you will not have to carry it alone.” Why did Jesus choose seventy for this missionary venture? It could be that Jesus as the Messiah wanted to make a parallel of the seventy elders of Moses with His seventy missionaries.

How. Jesus gave very specific instructions to His seventy missionaries as they traveled from one village to the next. He was very detailed as to how they were to conduct themselves during these visits:

  1. Pray for others to join in the work. The harvest is plentiful, and we need more workers. The seventy ambassadors became the answers to their own prayers.
  2. Be careful. Be alert. The disciples might be vulnerable to those who reject their presence. They are being sent out like lambs, and there might be the presence of wolves who would antagonize or work against them. Keep your eyes wide open as you experience opposition.
  3. Depend on God for the essentials. Don’t bring a purse for traveling money. Don’t bring a knapsack for extra clothing. Don’t even bring an extra pair of sandals.
  4. Don’t get distracted from the mission. Don’t loiter, don’t engage in small talk. Don’t worry about the Jewish obligation of long and involved greetings on the road. Keep your eyes on the prize.
  5. Be good guests in the homes. Stay in one house instead of hopping from one home to the other, as if you were looking for better accommodations. Accept whatever hospitality is offered. Accept whatever food and drink is offered. Don’t be picky, and be thankful for whatever you are given.
  6. Offer a blessing of peace in the homes you enter. The homes will receive that peace if they are open to the Good News and offering you hospitality.
  7. Be my working messengers. When a town welcomes you, speak about the Kingdom of God being near, encourage them to repent of their sins, heal the sick and expel the demons. Be my healing presence in the towns that welcome you. Let them know that you represent me. If they accept you, they in fact accept me. If they reject you, they are actually rejecting me. You are my ambassadors.
  8. Shake the dust from your sandals if you are not welcomed in a town. This was a standard practice of pious Jews whenever leaving a Gentile town. They are making a statement that they are separating themselves from Gentile practices and influences. Even the very dust of Gentile towns was considered unclean. This was a religious practice intended to keep the Jews pure after interacting with the heathens. The fact that Jesus wanted the disciples to do this act for unwelcome towns implies that those places that reject the Good News are no better than the heathens. If a town rejects you, Jesus is saying, shake the dust, shrug your shoulders, and move on. Leave them to their fate. You are not  responsible for them anymore.

Why. It seems that Jesus wanted to build up the faith of these disciples while at the same time spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God. What better way to do that than for Jesus to delegate, to put these younger disciples to work? Jesus exercised good leadership here, as one would expect, by sharing the power and giving responsibilities. Instead of limiting His influence to one particular place, Jesus wanted to multiply His presence and extend His ministry. Jesus knew that if these disciples were going to mature in their gifts, they had to learn by experience. If they were to grow in their abilities and discover their limits, they had to go to work. If they want to have their dignity affirmed, they needed a vote of confidence from Jesus. These disciples would naturally develop a sense of ownership in Jesus’ mission as they took part in it. Jesus wanted them to personally own the mission, to be participants and not mere spectators. Jesus was a master delegator and wise leader. And He still is.

  • God seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye. Perhaps we do not fully realize the problem, so to call it, of enabling finite free wills to co-exist with Omnipotence. It seems to involve at every moment almost a sort of divine abdication. We are not mere recipients or spectators. We are either privileged to share in the game or compelled to collaborate in the work. For He allows the muscles, minds, and will of men to cooperate in the execution of His will.” (C. S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer”).

Success? When the seventy ambassadors returned to Jesus after their prescribed mission, how much success did they experience? What was their report to their boss, the Lord? Luke only records one aspect of the seventy’s report, in Luke 10:17. They rejoiced, they were overjoyed at their success. They exclaimed that even the demons obeyed them when they used the name of Jesus! If they were able to succeed at casting out demons from those who suffered from demonic possession, then certainly they had to have participated in many healings as well. No wonder the seventy were so enthusiastic. They witnessed many spiritual victories operating under the authority of Jesus. No doubt Jesus shared in their joy. But He immediately brought them down to earth. Spiritual accomplishments still are not to be the primary source of joy, Jesus told them. Giftedness and success may lead to pride, so be careful here. After all, Jesus said, pride was the downfall of the extremely gifted angel Satan. I was an eyewitness, I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning! Don’t start getting proud of your spiritual powers. Instead, rejoice first that you are saved, your names are written in heaven. That is the most important miracle of all! Salvation, and your citizenship in heaven, is the most significant factor in your lives. So rejoice first in that!