1 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. 2 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. 3 Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ 6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. 7 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. 8 Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. 9 Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘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.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. – Luke 10:1-12 ESV
For the second time, Jesus commissions a group of His followers and sends them on a mission to heal the sick and to declare the news that “the kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10:10 ESV). Luke is the only one of the four gospel authors to record this incident and there is some confusion as to how many followers were actually enlisted for this assignment. Some translations record 70, while others put the number at 72. The difference is a result of a numerical variation found in the ancient manuscripts from which our modern translations were made. This difference is likely the result of a copiest’s error and nothing more. The exact number of people who were sent, while significant, is far less important than the nature of their assignment.
Luke states that these individuals were hand-picked by Jesus and placed in teams of two, with instructions to go to “all the towns and places he planned to visit” (Luke 10:1 NLT). In a sense, they were given the same role that John the Baptist had performed: To prepare the way for the Lord’s anointed. John had been performed the role of a herald, declaring the coming of the kingdom and calling the people to repent.
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’” – Matthew 3:1-3 ESV
As Jesus began to make His way toward Jerusalem, He sent these pairs of followers ahead of Him to prepare the way for His arrival. And they received the same basic instructions He had given to the 12 disciples on their recent missionary excursion (Luke 9:1-6; Matthew 10:5-15). One of the key differences seems to be that the 12 disciples had been given specific instructions to focus all their efforts on the Jewish people. They were to avoid any interaction with Gentiles or Samaritans.
“Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but only to the people of Israel—God’s lost sheep.” – Matthew 10:5-6 NLT
But on this occasion, the 72 received no such prohibition. And it must be noted that Jesus and His followers were having to pass through Samaritan territory in order to reach Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-56). It seems likely that these teams were sent on ahead, following the route Jesus would take from Samaria all the way to Jerusalem.
Jesus had begun this trip in Galilee, from the town of Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. When He and His disciples had arrived at the border of Samaria, He had sent two of them ahead with instructions to find accommodations for the night. But the Samaritan villagers had refused to allow Jesus and His followers to stay in their town. When the messengers returned with the bad news, the two brothers, James and John, asked Jesus for permission to “call down fire from heaven to burn them up” (Luke 9:54 NLT). But Jesus had rebuked these two men for their obvious hatred for Samaritans and their misguided desire to destroy an entire village over what was essentially a petty slight.
Due to the sheer size of the Samaritan territory, there would have been plenty of villages that Jesus and His disciples would have to pass through before they reached the region of Judea. So, it seems likely that the 72 were sent to 36 different villages that contained Jews, Gentiles, and even Samaritans. Their mission was not restricted “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6 ESV). This difference is significant because Jesus was headed to Jerusalem so that He might offer His life as a ransom for many. He was going to sacrifice His life for the sins of mankind, including Jews, Gentiles, and Samaritans. All throughout Luke’s record of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he has recorded incident after incident where Jesus interfaced with non-Jews, including the Samaritan woman and the Roman centurion. And as Jesus prepared to make His final excursion to Jerusalem, where He would offer His life as an atonement for the sins of man, it only makes sense that He would send His followers with the good news regarding His all-inclusive message of the kingdom. It was the apostle Paul who later wrote:
There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. – Galatians 3:28-29 NLT
On this occasion, Jesus had dramatically increased the number of His messengers. Earlier, He had sent out the 12. Now, He was sending out 72. But He indicates that there would need to be more.
“The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” – Luke 10:2 NLT
Jesus had increased the number of messengers six-fold, but He knew that, in the days ahead, that number would need to increase dramatically. Once He had died, been resurrected, and had ascended back to His Father’s side, there would be a need for more messengers to declare the Good News. By sending the 72, Jesus was letting His 12 disciples know that the work ahead would beyond their capacity to do alone. They were going to need to increase their number. That’s why, after His resurrection, Jesus would tell His 11 remaining disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV).
The size of the harvest was going to demand additional workers. And Jesus knew that His death, burial, and resurrection were going to result in a tremendous harvest of new lives for the kingdom. He would later allude to the fruit-bearing nature of His pending death.
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:23-24 ESV
Jesus reiterates the warning He had given to the 12 when He had sent them out.
“Now go, and remember that I am sending you out as lambs among wolves.” – Luke 10:3 NLT
This is a rather abbreviated version of the instructions He had given the 12 disciples. For some reason, Jesus leaves out a few significant parts.
“Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me.” – Matthew 10:16-18 NLT
But even though He leaves out some details, He makes it clear that their journey will be far from easy. And Jesus seems to be projecting into the future, revealing that the message of His coming death, burial, and resurrection will meet with opposition, and those who deliver it will find themselves ridiculed, rejected, and persecuted for their efforts.
The assignment being given to the 72 was meant to be a precursor of things to come. At this point, they were simply instructed to heal the sick and declare “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10:9 ESV). But even those efforts would meet with mixed results. Some would accept their message while others would vehemently reject it. But it seems that Jesus wanted these messengers to know that there would be receptive ears in every village. His instructions appear to affirm that there would be at least one home in every village where the messengers would find “a son of peace” who would provide them with food and shelter. There would be no need to go door to door in the hopes of finding someone with a receptive ear and a generous heart. God would lead them to just the right home. That’s why Jesus told them to “Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road” (Luke 10:4 ESV). God would provide for all their needs, including by directing them to those Jews and Gentiles who were ready to hear and accept what they had to say.
The primary message these people were to share was concerning the kingdom of God. Regardless of the ethnic or religious makeup of a particular town, the message was to be the same.
“The kingdom of God has come near to you.” – Luke 10:9 ESV
In a sense, these 72 followers of Jesus were to declare the coming of the King. The Messiah of Israel had arrived and that meant the Kingdom of God was not far behind. In a sense, these messengers were offering the inhabitants of these villages the opportunity to become citizens in Jesus’ coming kingdom. The miracles would be a sign of God’s power and provide evidence that something significant was taking place. Remember, the 72 were being sent ahead, preparing the way for the arrival of Jesus. So, when they pronounced the news that the king of God has come near, it would be closely followed by the arrival of Jesus.
And it should be noted that there would be a few villages where the messengers were unwelcome and their message regarding the kingdom was rejected. In those cases, Jesus instructed the pairs of followers to make a public declaration of judgment against that town.
“We wipe even the dust of your town from our feet to show that we have abandoned you to your fate. And know this—the Kingdom of God is near!” – Luke 10:11 NLT
The refusal of the villagers to accept the message regarding the kingdom did nothing to alter the reality of its coming. Whether they believed it or not, the Messiah had come and His kingdom was not far behind. Jesus would still pass through those towns on His way to Jerusalem but the stubborn and unbelieving populace would receive no benefit from His visit. He would come and go, leaving them in the same sinful state and facing the same dismal fate.
And just to emphasize the serious ramifications of their failure to believe, Jesus compares these people to the immoral citizens of Sodom. That ancient city had been destroyed by God for its rampant immorality. But they had not enjoyed a personal visitation from the Son of God. They had not been given news regarding the coming of the kingdom of God. But all those who heard the news of the kingdom and had the opportunity to see the King Himself were going to have to stand before God someday and face His judgment. God had shown them grace and they had returned the favor with rejection. A decision that they would regret for an eternity.
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.