Jesus—His Life and Message: The Mission of the Seventy-Two (Part 1)

August 21, 2018

by Peter Amsterdam

As mentioned in the previous article (Fire from Heaven), the Gospel of Luke contains descriptions of Jesus’ life not included in the other Gospels, including a section that commentators refer to as the “travel narrative,” which includes about ten chapters.

In Luke chapter 9 (as well as Matthew 10), we read that Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. The travel narrative begins with Luke chapter 10:

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.1

Some Bible translations say there were seventy, while others say seventy-two. This number matches the number of nations of the world at that time, based on the nations named in Genesis chapter 10. At this point Jesus had expanded His ministry to include others beyond the twelve original disciples. The mission of the twelve, and then of the seventy-two, was to do preliminary work in towns which Jesus would soon thereafter visit.

Sending out His disciples in pairs allowed for mutual care and support, and it seems to be an ongoing standard practice in the New Testament, as seen within the book of Acts.

When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John.2

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”3

The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes also suggested that it was wise to work in pairs.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!4

Besides the benefit of having a companion or partner in one’s work, the Mosaic Law required two witnesses in order to convict someone of a crime. This was relevant because, as we’ll see later, Jesus spoke of the disciples calling down God’s judgment on towns that rejected them, and so according to the law, it was necessary for there to be two witnesses present for such a pronouncement of judgment.

A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.5

If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness.6

The twelve disciples and then the seventy-two were not the first who went ahead of Jesus to prepare the way. Earlier in this Gospel, Jesus spoke of John the Baptist, saying:

This is he of whom it is written, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.”7

Before John was born, it was prophesied about him that you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.8 Later, when Jesus planned to enter a Samaritan village, He sent messengers ahead of him.9 (In the KJV, it reads before his face.) Here, too, Jesus sends messengers ahead of Himself. After the death of John the Baptist, the role of preparing the way of the Lord went to His disciples and, in this case, to the seventy-two.

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.”10

While having seventy-two plus the twelve might seem like a lot, Jesus understood that for His message to reach the multitudes—the plentiful harvest—more laborers would be needed. Therefore, part of the goal was to enlarge the base of disciples who would help spread the gospel, as Jesus reiterated after His resurrection.

He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”11

The plentiful harvest Jesus is referring to here is not the final harvest He refers to elsewhere as the day of judgment,12 but rather the harvest of the present time—that is, both at the time Jesus said this and the present time for all His disciples through the ages until He returns.

Part of the solution to the problem of a scarcity of laborers is to pray, to earnestly beseech the Lord for more believers who will help to share Jesus’ message with others. God is the Lord of the harvest, and He will bring people to His Son, and in doing so, will add additional harvesters. Besides preaching the gospel, the disciple’s job is also to appeal to God in prayer for more helpers in order to better spread the message.

Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.13

As they went out to preach the gospel, the disciples would be in danger. Lambs are quite helpless in the company of wolves, so the disciples would be vulnerable, but they were to look to God to provide for them. Jesus instructed the seventy-two to carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.

This is virtually the same instruction He gave to the twelve disciples when He sent them out on a similar mission:

Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.14

The seventy-two, like the twelve, were to trust God to supply for them. They weren’t to take money, nor a bag of supplies. Most commentators say that Jesus wasn’t requiring them to go barefoot, but rather not to take an extra pair of sandals. It’s interesting to note that shortly before He was crucified, He modified these instructions, as the situation was about to change.

“When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.”15

Greeting no one on the road conveyed the urgency of the job at hand, and that they weren’t to be distracted. This is similar to the instructions Elisha gave to his servant. He said to Gehazi:

“Tie up your garment and take my staff in your hand and go. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not reply. And lay my staff on the face of the child.”16 

Middle-Eastern greetings took a great deal of time, were elaborate occasions, and required long niceties, and when on a mission of urgency and importance, these were to be avoided.

“Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. 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. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you.”17

Since the disciples would be moving about from town to town as they spread the message, Jesus gave some instructions regarding their staying in the homes of others. The phrase peace be to this house conveys a request for God to favor those who live within the home. However, as Jesus explained, God’s blessing on the home would depend on the person’s response. If the person in the home was a “son of peace” who responded positively to the disciples’ greeting by offering peace and hospitality in return, then “your peace will rest upon him,” meaning that a state of harmony would exist among everyone involved. If the person did not return his peace, then the benefit of God’s favor would not reside there.

The disciples were to accept the hospitality of the first people who offered them a place to lodge and a table to eat at. They were not to move out of the home of the person who originally took them in if they were later offered a better place to stay or better food to eat. As a laborer who works deserves his wages, so the disciples who preach the gospel deserve theirs. This point is also made elsewhere in the New Testament. The Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.18

“Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”19 

The commission of the disciples was both to preach the gospel of the kingdom and to heal the sick, which reflected the ministry of Jesus before His death and resurrection. In the Gospel of Matthew we find a more detailed list of what Jesus instructed His disciples to do.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.20

Jesus then moved on to explain what to do when the disciples faced rejection by those of a town they had entered. When Jesus faced rejection in Samaria, His disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven, which Jesus dismissed.21 Here, Jesus addressed what actions the disciples should take when a town rejected them and the message.

Whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, “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.”22

When a town rejected the message, the disciples were to go into the street, which according to the Greek word used for street in this instance meant a main, wide, and well-travelled street, and make a declaration as they shook the dust off their feet. One author explains:

There was a rabbinic idea that the dust of Gentile lands carried defilement, and strict Jews are said to have removed it from their shoes whenever they returned to Palestine from abroad. The disciples’ shaking of the dust from their feet was a testimony against them. It declared in symbol that Israelites who rejected the kingdom were no better than the Gentiles. They did not belong to the people of God.23

We also see this later in Acts 13:44–52, when Paul and Barnabas shook the dust off their feet. Jesus was making the point that people who rejected the message of the disciples were responsible for their decision.

The punishment for the towns that reject His disciples is severe:

I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.24

Those towns which reject Christ's messengers and thus His message will be judged severely on “that day.” Exactly what “that day” refers to isn’t explained here, but elsewhere in this Gospel and throughout the New Testament “that day” indicates the Day of Judgment.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.25

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day.26

Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.27

When God told Abraham He was going to destroy the city of Sodom, Abraham asked if He would spare the city if even ten righteous people could be found within it. God agreed; however, the city was so wicked that it lacked even ten righteous ones. Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven.28 Throughout the rest of Scripture, Sodom represents unrighteousness and is used as an example of God’s punishment.29 Jesus stated that the towns which rejected the witness of the seventy-two would be worse off on the Day of Judgment than it was for Sodom and Gomorrah. The apostle Peter wrote:

By turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly.30 

As one commentator wrote:

Cities that reject these messengers will have a more severe judgment, because more and greater revelation has come to them, making their sin worse.31

(To be continued in Part Two.)


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

General Bibliography

Bailey, Kenneth E. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008.

Biven, David. New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus. Holland: En-Gedi Resource Center, 2007.

Bock, Darrell L. Jesus According to Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.

Bock, Darrell L. Luke Volume 1: 1:1–9:50. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1994.

Bock, Darrell L. Luke Volume 2: 9:51–24:53. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996.

Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah. New York: Doubleday, 1993.

Brown, Raymond E. The Death of the Messiah. 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

Carson, D. A. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987.

Charlesworth, James H., ed. Jesus’ Jewishness, Exploring the Place of Jesus Within Early Judaism. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997.

Chilton, Bruce, and Craig A. Evans, eds. Authenticating the Activities of Jesus. Boston: Koninklijke Brill, 1999.

Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Updated Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, 1993.

Elwell, Walter A., ed. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Elwell, Walter A., and Robert W. Yarbrough. Encountering the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Evans, Craig A. World Biblical Commentary: Mark 8:27–16:20. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000.

Evans, Craig A., and N. T. Wright. Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

Flusser, David. Jesus. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1998.

Flusser, David, and R. Steven Notely. The Sage from Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus’ Genius. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

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Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997.

Green, Joel B., and Scot McKnight, eds. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

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Guelich, Robert A. World Biblical Commentary: Mark 1–8:26. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989.

Jeremias, Joachim. The Eucharistic Words of Jesus. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990.

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Jeremias, Joachim. Jesus and the Message of the New Testament. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.

Jeremias, Joachim. New Testament Theology. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.

Jeremias, Joachim. The Prayers of Jesus. Norwich: SCM Press, 1977.

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Manson, T. W. The Teaching of Jesus. Cambridge: University Press, 1967.

McKnight, Scot. Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

Michaels, J. Ramsey. The Gospel of John. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Milne, Bruce. The Message of John. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.

Morris, Leon. Luke. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

Ott, Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1960.

Pentecost, J. Dwight. The Words & Works of Jesus Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.

Sanders, E. P. Jesus and Judaism. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.

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Spangler, Ann, and Lois Tverberg. Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

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Stein, Robert H. Jesus the Messiah. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

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Stein, Robert H. The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Stott, John R. W. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1978.

Talbert, Charles H. Reading the Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004.

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Young, Brad H. Jesus the Jewish Theologian. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995.

1 Luke 10:1.

2 Acts 8:14.

3 Acts 13:2.

4 Ecclesiastes 4:9–10.

5 Deuteronomy 19:15.

6 Numbers 35:30.

7 Luke 7:27.

8 Luke 1:76. See also Luke 1:17, 3:4.

9 Luke 9:52.

10 Luke 10:2.

11 Luke 24:45–48.

12 Matthew 13:24–30, 36–40; Revelation 14:15–16.

13 Luke 10:3.

14 Luke 9:3.

15 Luke 22:35–36.

16 2 Kings 4:29.

17 Luke 10:5–8.

18 1 Corinthians 9:14. See also 1 Timothy 5:18.

19 Luke 10:9.

20 Matthew 10:8.

21 Luke 9:54–55. See also Fire from Heaven.

22 Luke 10:10–11.

23 Leon Morris, Luke (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 183.

24 Luke 10:12.

25 Luke 21:33–35.

26 2 Thessalonians 1:9–10.

27 2 Timothy 4:8.

28 Genesis 19:24.

29 Isaiah 3:9, 13:19; Lamentations 4:6; Ezekiel 16:48–50; Amos 4:11; Zephaniah 2:9; 2 Peter 2:6; Jude 7.

30 2 Peter 2:6.

31 Darrell L. Bock, Luke Volume 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996), 1002.