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. Luke 10:1
In today’s podcast, Tara-Leigh talks about the debate over whether this account of Jesus sending out the seventy-two is the same story or a different story from when Jesus sent out the twelve in Matthew 10. I think it’s two different stories, mainly because Luke also talks about Jesus sending out the twelve in the previous chapter.
But it is still a fair question as to why there were two separate sendings. Both groups were given the same instructions (compare Luke 9:1-6 to Luke 10:1-6). Both delivered the same message: the kingdom of God is near. And both groups had the same mission: heal the sick.
So why not send them all out at once? One answer the text gives us is that the groups themselves were different. The first group was the twelve apostles. These were the disciples. Jesus’ inner circle. His students. The word “apostle” means “one who is sent.”
But Luke 10 says that Jesus sent out seventy-two “others.” The word “others” is the Greek word heteros, and it means, well, others. Not the apostles. Not the sent-out ones. Just normal, everyday, ordinary, garden variety others. No seminary degrees. No Bible college. Just, others.
I have another theory for why they were not sent all out at once, and it is just that–a theory, so I hold it very open-handedly. But I wonder if, after the twelve returned from their preaching mission, Jesus made each of the twelve responsible for three pairs of missionaries themselves. Maybe He said to them, “Ok, guys–Phase one was you watching me do this. Phase Two was you doing it on your own. Now it’s time for Phase Three: I want you to train some others to do the same thing.”
Again, this is speculation. There is nothing in Luke’s account that even suggests this. But I think it is a cool coincidence that seventy-two divides evenly into 12, giving each disciple 6 apprentices. (Yes, I know there are some translations that put the number at 70 instead of 72. So maybe Judas Iscariot had 4 instead of 6).
Also, it is consistent with what Paul would later tell his apprentice Timothy:
2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men,[a] who will be able to teach others also. (2 Tim 2:2)
The call of Jesus is not just for the apostles. It’s for all of us. You don’t have to get a paycheck from a church or missions agency in order to share the gospel with people. In fact, there are some places you will be able to go that an ordained minister will not. You may have access to public schools that a minister couldn’t. If you have teaching or engineering skills, you could be allowed into countries that would otherwise be closed to overt Christian missionaries. Praise God for the heteros, who can be sent where the apostolos can’t go!
Notice this also: when the seventy-two return from their mission, and tell Jesus all they had seen and accomplished, Jesus says to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (10:18). Jesus affirms the work they did. He seems to be saying, “You guys just put a huge dent in Satan’s dominion. Well done!”
Then, Luke records something that is nowhere else in the gospels: Jesus rejoicing. This is not to say Jesus wasn’t a joyful person. But Luke 10:21 is the only place that explicitly says Jesus rejoiced: “that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”
Jesus rejoiced when His normal, everyday followers were released and empowered to do kingdom work. And He still rejoices today.