Episode 88 - The Sending of the Seventy - Opening Up the Gospels

This is Episode 88 of Opening Up the Gospels. In episode 87 we began to look at Jesus’ journey southward for the Feast of Tabernacles. His brothers had left Capernaum without Him, as He intended to go to the feast privately. But He eventually did leave, intending to go through Samaria to avoid the large bands of travelers on the normal route to Jerusalem. But the Samaritans rejected Him, refusing to show Him any hospitality. So, heading eastward and taking the normal route to Judea, Jesus begins this final period of His two year ministry, the Late Perean and Judean period. We finished up the last episode by looking at what Jesus had said to several people that He met along His journey southward. The window of opportunity for them to bear the fruits of repentance was closing. Jesus was only 6 months away from being crucified, and He no longer had any interest in ministering in Galilee. So if these guys were going to follow Jesus, they would have to do so quickly because the time was running short. Now at some point along the way, perhaps on the border between Galilee and Samaria, Jesus sends out a large group of His disciples ahead of Him in pairs to the towns that He would soon be visiting. Let’s read from Luke 10: “Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come. And He was saying to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Luke 10:1–2 NASB95) So here we are, about 6 months before the cross. This appointing and sending of seventy others is to not only prepare for Jesus’ journey southward for the Feast of Tabernacles, but it was also to prepare for His final 6 months of ministry in general. It’s like these disciples are sent to give an initial appeal to the people before He Himself came to them. Remember, Jesus’ ministry has primarily focused on Galilee up in the north so far. It’s been almost a year since He’s ministered in Jerusalem and Judea, and He’s never ministered in Perea before. So the sending of the seventy ahead of Him is to prepare the ground, to make an urgent plea to hear the words of Jesus, heed them, and bear the fruits of repentance – because there’s only a half a year left of His ministry before He’s crucified in Jerusalem. Now I want to clarify something that is often misunderstood that’s related to the sending of the seventy, and that’s a parallel passage in Matthew chapter 10. Matthew 10:23 says: “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Matthew 10:23 ESV) Verse 23 is in context to Matthew’s narration of the sending of the Twelve, which is an event we looked at back in Episode 72. If you recall, the sending of the Twelve took place just at the end of the Middle Galilean Ministry, which is right before the feeding of the 5,000 in April of 28, which is likely around 6 months prior to the sending of the seventy. Matthew does not record the sending of the seventy, but he is borrowing language from the sending of the seventy to emphasize the broader theme of resistance to Jesus’ mission. As I mentioned back in Episode 7 and several times since then, scholars recognize that Matthew is doing this purposely because of the way he is structuring his gospel thematically. Now some have taken this verse in Matthew 10 to mean that Jesus is predicting His return and therefore redefining what His “coming” is. Most who do this are trying to fit Jesus’ words into a preterist scheme with a heavily inaugurated eschatology. I don’t think this is what is happening at all, and I don’t think Jesus thought that His second coming would happen before His disciples finished going through the towns of Israel. Matthew uses the same phrases and words that Luke 10 uses, specifically in Luke 10:1, Luke 10:3, Luke 10:10. Matthew is just thematically linking the sending of the Twelve and the sending of the seventy under the banner of resistance to Jesus and His message. Does that make sense? Let’s keep reading in Luke 10: “Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. 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. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But 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.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.” (Luke 10:3–12 ESV) Jesus gives some detailed instructions to those He sends out, specifically encouraging them to trust God and the hospitality of those they encounter for their provisions, not stopping for long greetings on the road, which were typical in the culture of the time. Do you sense the urgency in Jesus’ words here? He’s telling them to go and get down to business, proclaiming the same message that John the Baptist had proclaimed and the same message that He had proclaimed throughout His ministry – the message that their ethnicity or piety or adherence to the Law would not grant them inheritance in God’s promises and that repentance and faith was required. Note the two types of people Jesus instructs them about – the towns who receive them and the towns who do not receive them. For the towns that receive them, He tells them to eat what is set before them and to heal the sick. For the towns that don’t receive them, He says to go into the streets and wipe the dust off their feet as a symbolic act of severing all relationship with them. And in both cases, Jesus says to tell them “the kingdom of God is at hand” or “it is near”. Jesus has not spiritualized the kingdom and making it synonymous with signs and wonders. How do we know? Well the bad guys didn’t get any miracles. This is a statement of urgent warning, it’s a statement just like the Old Testament prophets used all over the place – the day of the Lord is at hand. This will become even clearer as we keep reading the passage. Let’s look at the next couple of verses: ““Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.” (Luke 10:13–15 ESV) Now it may seem like these words of Jesus are out of place or just random, but they are not. Connect this with Jesus sending out the seventy. Jesus hasn’t done ministry in an overtly public way since the Mount of Transfiguration, perhaps for about the last month or so. He’s now going south, and He’s set His face towards Jerusalem. He looks back at Galilee and pronounces a sentence of judgment upon the cities where many of His miracles were done. Why? They had not borne the fruits of repentance. He sends the seventy southward with urgency and then in the very next breath He pronounces judgment on Galilee because their chance was over. Gosh. Do you feel the intensity of what’s going on? These guys in Galilee had the indescribable privilege of Jesus being in their midst for about the past year, and they had not repented. Jesus wasn’t looking for hype and excitement around miracles, He was looking for the fruit of a torn heart. That’s why He says “the whole time I was with you, you didn’t repent. If I would have done this in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented!” Now why didn’t Jesus go do all the miracles in Tyre and Sidon? Because remember, His mission was to the lost sheep of Israel. And when He did go to Tyre and Sidon, we saw a woman there who had so much faith that Jesus healed her daughter. So if Jesus would have done the miracles that Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum saw up there in Tyre and Sidon, those guys would have repented long ago. But the people in Galilee just said “we don’t want you Jesus, we just liked the miracles and the bread you gave us.” Oh, this is such a painful moment. I want to make one final point in this episode to help connect some dots. There are three things that are being paralleled in this passage. They are: the proclamation of the kingdom of God in verses 9 and 11, the phrase “on that day” in verse 12, and the phrase “in the judgment” in verse 14. These are being paralleled by Jesus because they are referring to the same thing. Why is this important? Well, Jesus is sending the seventy into the towns ahead to warn them that the consequences of their decision to either accept or reject the message of Jesus are going to be shown forth when He comes to establish His kingdom, when He sits on the throne of David in Jerusalem on the day of the Lord, at the judgment. The phrases “on that day” and “in the judgment” are common Biblical phrases that point to the Day of the Lord. This is so often misunderstood. We have to remember that this is the reason for which Jesus came – as we looked at with the message of John the Baptist, Jesus came to separate the wheat from the chaff. The separation would happen at His first coming, and the full implications of their choice wouldn’t be evident until the time of the harvest, at the end of the age, when the chaff is bundled up and throw into the unquenchable fire of Isaiah 66. So Jesus is telling the seventy to say these things not because the day of the Lord happened when they came to the cities and not because the judgment had come. When He does come to judge, their response would galvanize them in their place until the day of the Lord. I think that the word “galvanizing” can be helpful here. Jesus’ presence in Israel and the peoples’ response to Him galvanized them, like metal that’s coated with another metal to fix and harden it. So Israel had a very specific window of repentance while Jesus was with them. If they did not repent and come to Him, they would be set in their hardness and opposition. This was totally unlike any other time in Israel. God was about to set and harden them in their response and then there would be the time of the Gentiles. I think this is so important to see, because many don’t take this into account and end up with an overly realized eschatology that culminates in preterism where the day of judgment, the day of the Lord, and the kingdom of God were all happening in the first century. That makes no sense of the actual narrative of what’s going on in the Gospels and even the bigger picture of New Testament theology. There’s a much better answer exegetically than forcing these realities through a system of realized eschatology. Well, we are out of time for today’s episode, but in the next episode we will continue looking at this final period of Jesus’ public ministry.