Something Worth Rejoicing About

17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” – Luke 10:17-20 ESV

With everything else that has been revealed about the 12 disciples of Jesus, it would be difficult not to imagine that they were a little bit irritated that with His sending of the 72. After all, these were the same men whom Jesus had reprimanded because they had been arguing which one of them was the greatest (Luke 9:46). And they shared a common belief that they were members of Jesus’ inner circle, conferring on them the exclusive rights and privileges to perform miracles in His name.

John said to Jesus, “Master, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he isn’t in our group.” – Luke 9:49 ESV

As those who had been chosen to be Jesus’ disciples, the 12 had reason to believe that their relationship with Him somehow made them special and gave them access to privileges and powers not available to any of His other followers. When Jesus had sent them out on their first missionary journey, He had given them “power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases” (Luke 9:1 NLT). So, when they stood by and watched as Jesus chose 72  of His followers and conferred on them the power to heal (Luke 10:9), it must have left the 12 disciples with confused minds and deflated egos.  And we can only imagine how the disciples must have felt as the 72 began to trickle back in and excitedly share the reports of their excursions with Jesus. Luke records that they were overjoyed and eager to tell Jesus the good news.

“Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” – Luke 10:17 ESV

This bit of information must have struck a nerve with the 12 disciples. If you recall, not long after they had returned from their first missionary journey, they had been confronted by a man who begged them to cast out an evil spirit from his son. But the disciples had been unable to do so.

“I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.” – Mark 9:18 NLT

And yet, not long before this encounter, these very same men had proven they were more than capable of handling everything from diseases to demons.

…they cast out many demons and healed many sick people. – Mark 6:13 NLT

Now, the disciples were having to listen as these 26 pairs of messengers regaled Jesus with their exploits. Their excited disclosures must have left the disciples feeling jealous and more than a bit conflicted.

And it probably didn’t help that Jesus seemed to applaud the efforts of the 72 when He stated, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18 ESV). It is difficult to know exactly what Jesus meant but the disciples could have easily taken this to be some kind of a statement of approval. It is almost as if He is declaring that He had a ring-side seat to Satan’s defeat as the 72 displayed their power over demonic forces. But there are many who believe Jesus was comparing their experience with His own. In other words, He is putting their experience in proper perspective. There are those who believe that Jesus’ reference to Satan’s fall was meant to declare His deity and authority. As the Son of God, He had been there when Satan attempted to rebel against God but suffered defeat and a demotion for his efforts. The details surrounding this event are recorded by the prophet, Ezekiel.

“You were the model of perfection,
    full of wisdom and exquisite in beauty.
You were in Eden,
    the garden of God.
Your clothing was adorned with every precious stone—
    red carnelian, pale-green peridot, white moonstone,
    blue-green beryl, onyx, green jasper,
    blue lapis lazuli, turquoise, and emerald—
all beautifully crafted for you
    and set in the finest gold.
They were given to you
    on the day you were created.
I ordained and anointed you
    as the mighty angelic guardian.
You had access to the holy mountain of God
    and walked among the stones of fire.

“You were blameless in all you did
    from the day you were created
    until the day evil was found in you.
Your rich commerce led you to violence,
    and you sinned.
So I banished you in disgrace
    from the mountain of God.
I expelled you, O mighty guardian,
    from your place among the stones of fire.
Your heart was filled with pride
    because of all your beauty.
Your wisdom was corrupted
    by your love of splendor.
So I threw you to the ground
    and exposed you to the curious gaze of kings.” – Ezekiel 28:12-17 NLT

While Ezekiel obviously intended this passage to describe the King of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:11), many scholars believe it provides a prophetic picture of Satan’s fall from glory, as mentioned by the prophet, Isaiah.

“How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground…” – Isaiah 14:12 ESV

In Luke’s passage, it appears that Jesus is making a reference to Satan’s fall in order to make a point to his enthusiastic followers. They had been blown away that the demons had been subject to their commands. But Jesus seems to be encouraging them to tap the brakes a bit. His reference to Satan’s fall may be His way of reminding them of His divinity. While they were able to cast out demons in the power of Jesus’ name, He was there in eternity past when God the Father cast Satan out of heaven. Their ability to cast out demons was the result of God’s sovereign authority over all things. And Jesus assures His followers that, as the Son of God, He has the right to assign authority to His followers.

“I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you.” – Luke 10:19 NLT

Once again, the 12 must have been discomfited by Jesus words. This declaration by Jesus to His 72 followers would have likely produced in His disciples a certain degree of jealousy. But little did they know that all of this was intended to encourage them. Just before sending out the 72, Jesus had declared, “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” (Luke 10:2 ESV). The 12 disciples did not yet understand the full scope of the ministry that God had in store for them. With Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, His earthly mission would come to an end, but the ministry concerning the kingdom of God would continue unabated. Yet, they would not be able to do it alone. With His commissioning of the 72, Jesus had shown the disciples that there would be others who would help them bear that weight of the kingdom mission. They would not be doing it alone.

And, Jesus assured them that this shared authority would protect all those who ministered on behalf of Jesus in the days to come. His reference to snakes and scorpions seems to be an illusion to the demonic realm. These two creatures were poisonous and potentially deadly, providing an apt metaphor for the spiritual forces that would be arrayed against Christ’s followers. The apostle Paul would later discuss the other-worldly host that aligns itself against God’s children.

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

Jesus’ disciples did not yet grasp the cosmic nature of their mission. They were stuck on a physical plane, viewing the kingdom of God as a temporal reality that would manifest itself in an earthly realm ruled over by Jesus, the Christ. And they were hoping they would rule and reign alongside Him. Their concept of the kingdom focused on the defeat of Rome and the restoration of Israel’s rightful place as the children of God and their heirs of the kingdom.

Even after Jesus had died and resurrected, the disciples would hold onto this hope of Israel’s immediate return to glory. Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, they asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6 ESV). Even then, they were still envisioning an earthly kingdom where all the enemies of Israel had been eradicated, including the Romans.

But Jesus wanted them to know that their true enemy was Satan, not Caesar. And the deliverance they desperately needed was not from Roman oppression but from enslavement to sin and the death sentence that accompanied it. Jesus was revealing to His followers that this world was not the end game. There was far more at stake here than temporal victories over demons and disease. While those things were impressive, they were not eternal. Those individuals who received deliverance from demons were not necessarily free from future possession. And all those who received healing from disease would still be susceptible to illness and destined for death.

The kingdom of God had a future aspect that the disciples did not yet understand or appreciate. But Jesus alluded to it when He said, “don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven” (Luke 10:20 NLT). This appears to be a reference to the book of life, in which God records the names of all those who belong to Him. The apostle John records the words of Jesus discussing this book with the believers in the church in Sardis.

“All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. – Revelation 3:5 NLT

Jesus wants His disciples to know that His ultimate victory over Satan, sin, and death, will have far greater and longer-lasting implications than their temporal successes over demons and disease. Those victories are little more than shadows of the greater victory to come. And when Jesus has successfully accomplished the will of His Father and completed His earthly mission, the disciples and all those who believe in His name will receive everlasting deliverance from disease and death in the form of eternal life. And it is in that marvelous reality that they should find joy, encouragement, and hope.

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