1 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. 4 And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. 5 And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. – Luke 9:1-6 ESV
Jesus’ disciples had witnessed Him perform a variety of amazing miracles, but His raising of the dead girl to life was by far the most shocking. And everything they had seen Him do had been intended to bolster their belief in Him. Jesus wanted them to fully understand who He was and what He had come to do. But He was having to battle their preconceived notions of the Messiah and their expectations that He had come to restore the political fortunes of the Hebrew people. While they were obviously impressed with His power to heal diseases and His authority to cast out demons, they were still waiting for Him to reveal Himself as the conquering king who would defeat their Roman overlords. To the disciples, the miracles and messages of Jesus were impressive, but they were also a bit of a distraction. They couldn’t understand why Jesus was spending all His time up in the region of Galilee when Jerusalem was where they expected the Messiah to rule and reign. Yet according to Mark’s Gospel, “Jesus went from village to village, teaching the people” (Mark 6:6 NLT). Much to the disciples’ surprise and dismay, Jesus continued to concentrate His efforts on the northern region of Galilee, taking His message of the kingdom to other towns and villages where He always found those eager to see His miracles for themselves.
But every step along the way, Jesus was preparing His disciples for the role they would play when the time came for Him to return to His Father’s side in heaven. These men had been hand-picked by God (John 17:6) and assigned to serve by Jesus’ side, but their greatest contribution to the kingdom would come after the Son’s eventual departure.
For some time now, they have been witnesses to the miracles of Jesus. They have seen Him cast out demons, heal the sick, minister to the needy, display His power over the elements of nature, and confound the people with His preaching and parables. But now, they were going to become participants rather than spectators. These men were going to be given an opportunity to practice what Jesus has preached. Instead of standing in the background safely observing the ministry of Jesus, they would find themselves on the frontlines of the effort to declare the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. And to validate their message, they would be given unprecedented power to perform miracles, just like their Lord and Master.
Jesus chooses to send them out in pairs, most likely in keeping with the Old Testament teaching concerning witnesses. Since these men would be declaring the news regarding the kingdom’s arrival and the reality of Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, a second witness would serve to validate that message. And Jesus knew that these men would need the strength and encouragement that comes with companionship.
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NLT
This entire enterprise was intended for the benefit of the disciples. While the nature of their message and ministry was vital, Jesus was giving them this assignment to prepare them. As He had been doing all along, Jesus was attempting to strengthen their faith. Despite their constant exposure to His teaching and their front-row seats to His amazing displays of power, they still struggled to comprehend His true identity. Even after witnessing Him calm the winds and waves on the Sea of Galilee, they had expressed their shock and displayed their uncertainty.
“Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” – Luke 8:251 ESV
Jesus knew that His disciples were still wrestling with doubt and confusion. They wanted to believe He was the Messiah of Israel, but so much of what He said and did seemed to contradict their expectations and aspirations. They couldn’t deny His power, and it was clear from the crowds that followed Him wherever He went that Jesus was growing in popularity. But His ongoing disputes with the religious leaders confused the disciples. How did He expect to unite the people and lead them in victory over the Romans if He continued to alienate the most powerful men in the nation?
But the disciples had much to learn about the Messiah and His coming kingdom. They were going to have to repent of their preconceived ideas concerning God’s plans for His people. They had their own visions of the future and when Jesus failed to do things the way they expected, they found themselves wrestling with doubt.
So, this brief mission on which they were being sent was meant to put them on the frontlines of the battle and bolster their belief in the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. As He prepared to send them, He gave them “power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases” (Luke 9:1 ESV). They would find themselves possessing the very same power He had displayed and that had allowed Him to cast out the demons from the Gadarene demoniac (Luke 8:26-39). But, while they would have access to great power, they were to place themselves on the mercy and provision of God. Jesus instructed them to travel light and to trust God for all their needs.
“Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.” – Luke 9:3 ESV
Mark provides further details regarding Jesus’ instructions.
He told them to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick—no food, no traveler’s bag, no money. He allowed them to wear sandals but not to take a change of clothes. – Mark 6:9 NLT
Matthew reveals that Jesus gave the disciples further instructions regarding their mission. They were to focus their efforts on the Jews and were prohibited from ministering among the Gentiles and Samaritans.
“Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” – Matthew 9:5-8 ESV
Their message was clear. They were to declare the same news that John the Baptist had preached in the wilderness of Judea. It was the same message of the kingdom that Jesus had been spreading throughout Galilee. And to validate their message, they were given the power to perform the same kind of miracles that Jesus had done. These signs and wonders would provide proof that their message was from God and that its content should be heard and heeded.
And, Jesus warned that if anyone should refuse to listen to their message, the disciples were to walk away. They were not to waste their time on those who reject the message of the kingdom and the call to repentance. He instructed them to “shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them” (Luke 9:5 ESV). This symbolic act was meant to condemn the unrepentant Jews as unbelieving, defiled, and subject to divine judgment. And Jesus knew that there would be plenty of Jews who would refuse to listen to His disciples. These men would experience the same level of rejection Jesus had encountered in Nazareth.
All of this is in keeping with the words of John found in the opening chapter of his gospel.
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:11-13 ESV
Sadly, all those Jews who believed themselves to be the children of God but who refused to accept Jesus as the Son of God would find themselves rejected by God.
Equipped with divine power and a clear message, the disciples made their way into the far reaches of Galilee, “preaching the gospel and healing everywhere” (Luke 9:6 ESV). They called the people to repentance and “cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them” (Mark 6:13 ESV). This brief but eventful venture would do wonders for the disciples’ confidence and go a long way in solidifying their faith in Jesus. It would provide them with a glimpse of the future when they would receive the Great Commission from their resurrected Lord and Savior. The day was coming when He would depart and turn over the ministry of the gospel to these very same men. And they would take the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth. But for now, they were being given a taste of things to come.
It’s important to note that Jesus instructed His disciples to preach the gospel. But the content of that gospel message concerned the coming of the kingdom of God. When we hear the term “gospel” we tend to think of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. For those of us living on this side of the cross, the gospel has come to mean the good news regarding salvation made possible through Jesus’ sacrificial, substitutionary death on our behalf. But for the disciples and all those living prior to Jesus’ death, the gospel concerned the arrival of the King and His kingdom. Jesus made that point perfectly clear to His disciples.
“As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near!’” – Matthew 10:7 NET
…he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God. – Luke 9:2 NLT
And that message concerning the kingdom was to be delivered to the people of Israel. They were to be told that their long-awaited Messiah had come. The time for the nation’s restoration and renewal had finally arrived. But it would be dramatically different than what they had expected. Rather than deliverance from Roman oppression, Jesus had come to offer them freedom from their captivity to sin and the God-ordained death sentence that hung over their heads. But Jesus knew that the disciples would find plenty of unreceptive ears and unrepentant hearts. That’s why He warned them, “I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for the region of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town!” (Matthew 10:15 NET).
The disciples were going to have the perplexing experience of performing miracles while encountering stubborn disbelief. The messengers would find themselves rejected just like their Master. And this unexpected reaction by the Jewish people would leave the disciples further confused. How would Jesus ever restore the fortunes of Israel if His own people refused to believe that He was the Messiah? And what hope did the disciples have if their Master and His message of the kingdom was falling on deaf and disbelieving ears?
But these men had much to learn, and they would have even more questions regarding the kingdom of God and their role in it as the days progressed.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson