Luke and the 70 or 72


Luke 10:1 -20

Chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel is very encouraging because we read about large group of dedicated, sincere, and enthusiastic disciples of Jesus whom He called to serve.  Without a moment’s hesitation, they all answered the call and were successful in their mission for The Lord.

Not all who were interested in Jesus were interested in serving Him.  The three would-be followers of the previous chapter testify to this (see Luke 9:57 – 62).  To the last man Jesus replied, using a well-known proverb, attributed to Hesiod:

Jesus replied, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.  (Luke 9:62 NIV84)

A man who tries to plow his field but is constantly looking backward will never plow a straight furrow.  In other words, if you want to follow Jesus you can’t have a divided heart; service for Jesus must always come first.  If we, who call ourselves Christians, do not put Him first above all others and all else in our lives, we simply cannot be His disciples. 

There is a very high cost in following Jesus.  This idea is almost foreign to North American Christians, with our “easy faith.”  The fact is, if we want to follow Jesus, He demands ALL we have.  Paul understood what single-minded devotion to God meant:

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 3:13-14 NIV84)

Luke is the only Gospel writer to record the incident of our Lord sending out 70 disciples.  Apparently this was a “temporary mission,” meant for a limited time because Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem.

It should be noted that there are some textual issues surrounding the exact number of people Jesus actually sent out.  Some texts say “70,”  others “72.”  There seems to be good arguments in support of either number.  On this point, for the purpose of this brief study, I would say, “Who cares?”  The really interesting thing is not the exact number, but rather the fact that Jesus had this  many trustworthy disciples at this point in His earthly ministry.  It’s easy to forget that even while He was in the flesh, Jesus was much loved by many and had many, many loyal followers.

1.      Their own great commission

We, of course have the “Great Commission” recorded elsewhere in the Gospels, but, really, whenever our Lord asks us to anything for Him, it’s our “great commission.” 

Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.   (Luke 10:3 NIV84)


Granted, this is not the most exciting commission a follower of Jesus could hope for!  It sounds more like a “suicide mission!”  This statement is real paradox, though.  Consider:  Lambs going out to rescue sheep from wolves!   It seems like an impossible mission.  What defense does a lamb  have against a wolf?  Actually plenty, if the Lord of all is sending that lamb out!  The “I” of Jesus is emphatic – the Great Shepherd is doing the sending.  Without Him, these lambs would face certain slaughter in the face of a helpless situation.  But they are being commissioned by Him, to be His servants, therefore, the opposite is true!

He tends his flock like a shepherd:He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;he gently leads those that have young.  (Isaiah 40:11 NIV84)

Jesus would never ask any of His people to do anything they were incapable of doing!  He always equips us to His work.  These “lambs” were not to be “rams,” fighting there way to accomplish the terms of their commission.  They were to be trusting in their Great Shepherd, as all lambs do!


After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.   (Luke 10:1 NIV84)

These disciples were, literally, the forerunners of Jesus, going on ahead of Him to the places He wanted to visit to act as heralds, to make the people aware that Jesus was on His way to their very town.  Time was so short and there was still a lot of work to be done.


 …tell them, The kingdom of God is near you.   (Luke 10:9 NIV84)

The Kingdom of God refers to God’s kingship – His rule or sovereignty over the hearts and lives of His people.  The Kingdom actually arrived when Jesus began to preach:

 From that time on Jesus began to preach, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.  (Matthew 4:17 NIV84)

In fact, by virtue of their preaching, these forerunning heralds were bringing the kingdom to these towns because it was IN them already!  Think about that.  When you share your faith with one who is lost, you are literally bringing the kingdom in close proximity to them because it is within you, too! 

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,   (Romans 14:17 NIV84)

2.  Their joyful testimony

Was this very early “missionary” activity successful?  Consider —

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.  (Luke 10:17 NIV84)

We have no idea how long it took them to accomplish their commission, but we do know they had stunning success!  To a one, each missionary was full of joy.  No wonder; they were doing precisely what Jesus told them to do.  There is always joy in serving Jesus, even if the task is a difficult one.   But in addition to joy, they had great success.  We assume they obeyed Jesus to the letter, healing the sick and preaching the nearness of the kingdom.  What elated them so, however, was not how well each town received them or their message, but that “demons submitted” to them in Jesus’ name. 

The “name of Jesus” is not like a magic charm.  The 72 didn’t use it that way.  That phrase means that the demons recognized the authority of Jesus Christ in these disciples.  In connection with this, we read the following–

He replied, I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”  (Luke 10:18 NIV84)

There are a number of interpretations to this verse, including these popular ones:

   Jesus saw Lucifer’s original fall (or expulsion) from Heaven;

   Jesus is referring His victory of Satan during His wilderness temptation;

   Jesus is prophesying about the future, when Satan will forever banished from the Heavenlies in a final, awful judgment.

The problem with all of these views is that they don’t fit the context.  Jesus had no reason for bringing up any of them at this point.  No, what Jesus is referring to is what happened when His disciples exercised His authority over the demons: Jesus saw their leader – Satan – falling. It was sudden in the sense that Jesus’ disciples didn’t expect it to happen.   We might go further and say that this “falling” of Satan was among the first of many times the evil one would fall until His final defeat at the hands of the triumphant, all-conquering Christ, as the apostle John foresaw in Revelation 20:1-3. Whenever any one of Jesus’ servants is obedient and does good work for Him, Satan falls a little lower. 

I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.   (Luke 10:19 NIV84)

What a powerful statement!  It’s written in the perfect tense, meaning it is still if force to this day:  followers of Jesus still have His authority to trample and overcome the power of the enemy. 

Quite often this verse is cited in conjunction with Mark 16:18–

“…they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.  (Mark 16:18 NIV84)

Sometimes preachers like to take these verses literally, but the figurative interpretation is probably the best one.  Without commenting on the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20, it’s safe to assume that our Lord was speaking figuratively in the Luke reference and, if Mark 16 is genuine, there as well.  Mind you, in Acts 28:3 we read of a startling event in the life of Paul that sends chills down the spines of a lot Bible readers–

Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand…But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.  (Acts 28:3, 5 NIV84)

Unlike the verses in Mark and Luke, these verses form part of Paul’s history and, therefore, are to be taken at face value.  It was miraculous indeed that he survived being bitten by that snake!

Figuratively speaking, these followers of Jesus, and in reality all followers of Jesus since, have this same authority of Jesus to withstand the evil attacks of the enemy.  This does not in any way mean that Christians will never face Satanic attacks, nor does it mean they should go looking for them, but that they can prevail in the face of them.  Of course, it follows that we ought to dedicated wholly to Christ and are living in obedience to Him and His Word. 

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.   (Ephesians 6:13 NIV84)

3.  A word of caution

However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.  (Luke 10:20 NIV84)

This is not a reprimand, but a word of caution.  Power and authority are two very attractive qualities that more often than not wield a corrupting influence over people.  These things, power and authority, may be glamorous but eternal life is essential!  Or, we could say, going to heaven is way more important than causing fear in Hell!  Casting out demons will eventually come to an end when our earthly life comes to an end, but our right standing with God – our names being recorded in heaven – is  meant to last forever.  So, as Jesus might have said, Christians should not focus too much on the victories in this life.  It was and is proper to rejoice when believers experience a spiritual victory, but our focus should always be on Christ and what He has done for us.

Besides, casting out demons is no guarantee that one’s soul is right with God.  Consider the awful truth of Matthew 7:22, 23

Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!

Exercising some kind of supernatural faith and power is not what saves us.  It is the fact that our names are recorded in God’s Big Black Book in Heaven!  We must be careful to rejoice in, not what we have done, but what has been done for us.  God recorded our names in His Book.  Let’s be sure to always be thankful and to rejoice in that fact. 


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