Proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom. 10:1-20
Luke's account of the mission of the 72 falls into three parts: instructions for the missioners v1-12 (similar to the sending out of the twelve, 9:1-6), woes upon unrepentant towns v13-16 (indicating that the mission was not successful in the sense of conversions), and the true nature of evangelistic success v17-20 , namely Satan's defeat.
v1-3. Having selected the twelve apostles, Jesus now gathers 72 missioners to proclaim the coming kingdom to the people of Israel. The day of judgment (harvest) is close at hand so there is a need to look to the Lord to supply a full complement of missioners. The task of proclaiming the kingdom will not be easy for there will be opposition, but the missioners can depend on the protection of the "Lord", the Great Shepherd.
v4. The travelling instructions given by Jesus to the 72 are similar to those given to the twelve, 9:3ff, but note the change in 22:35ff. For Jews, this "dress code" serves to identify a wandering prophet, someone who should be given a hearing. The instruction that they do not greet anyone on the road serves as a similar prophetic sign.
v5-6. Although the greeting of "peace" is just good manners for a first century Jew, v6 shows that here the peace is an actual bestowal of God's eternal peace upon those who are sons of peace, ie. sons of the kingdom, those who repent on hearing the gospel, cf. v11. For those who reject the gospel the peace is withdrawn for reallocation.
v7-8. The missioners are to gracefully accept even the most humble hospitality on offer and are not to move around seeking better accommodation.
v9. The missioners prime task is to proclaim the new age of God's coming kingdom in signs (miraculous healings, which for Luke include exorcisms) and word. They are to communicate, in word and sign, that the long promised new age of God's eternal reign is bursting in upon broken humanity.
v10-12. Rejection of the gospel brings judgement, symbolically expressed in the act of wiping the dust of the town from the missioners' feet. For Israel to reject such a clear promise of divine mercy is more serious than the evils of Sodom.
v13-15. Luke's placement of the "woes", at this point, implies that the people of Israel rejected the mission of the 72. Even Gentile communities such as Tyre and Sidon would not be so stupid. The repentance of Nineveh at the preaching of Jonah lies behind Jesus' words.
v16. To reject the gospel is to reject Jesus, and to reject Jesus is to reject the one who sent him.
v17. The 72 return, amazed at how the power of Christ's kingdom had overcome the powers of darkness (healings and the like).
v18-19. Jesus now interprets the missioners' experience. They have witnessed Messiah's defeat of Satan in that they are able to exercise authority over demonic powers ("snakes and scorpions" are symbols of Satan and his minions). The troubles of life will constantly pound Christ's followers, but Satanic powers can never get at us. Thus we can confidently pray "deliver us from evil."
v20. Finally, Jesus warns his disciples not to boast about their authority over the powers of darkness, but rather boast about their access to the free grace of God in Christ - the gift of life eternal.
Actualizing the Kingdom
At King Balshazzar's feast, the hand of doom wrote on the palace wall and yet the feast blithely continued while the Persians moved quietly in on the city. The end of the Babylonian empire was near and they knew it not. For the seventy two missioners, time was pressing in, the harvest now, and rejection final and damning. The Messiah's day had dawned, the blessing of peace a present reality, and the powers of darkness brought low. The kingdom was being realized both in Jesus and his disciples, but too few read the writing on the wall.
For Luke, the kingdom of God is an inaugurated reality, it is "near", it is upon us. That was so for Luke's day as it is for ours. The mission of the seventy remains the mission of the church today. Believers are Christ's empowered representatives - the new Israel empowered by the Spirit of the new Moses. We are to impinge the kingdom on our age both in sign and word - writing on a wall with a word of explanation. For the seventy two missioners the writing consisted of miraculous healings, while for us today, the writing consists of such things as the love of the brotherhood - "by this shall all men know that you are my disciples". For the seventy two missioners the word of explanation was a message about a coming kingdom communicated by wandering prophets, while for us today, the word is a message about eternity communicated on a church banner, a pamphlet, a TV advert, a free Bible distribution, a newspaper column, ........
The Spirit will do His work and darkness will retreat, but always mysteriously, as He wills. Yet, the writing on the wall and the word of explanation, is for us the love of the brotherhood and the communicated grace of God in Christ. Faced with the nearness of that dreadful day, let us hasten the effective communication of God's saving grace in Christ.
1. Where today do we find the "demons" submitting to Christ's name?
2. Discuss how you would explain to an unchurched person that the kingdom has come close to them?
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