Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 10:1-24 records the mission of the Seventy(-two) and its aftermath.

Harvest in Provence
Gogh, Vincent van. Harvest in Provence, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, Tenn. Original source.

July 3, 2016

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Commentary on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Luke 10:1-24 records the mission of the Seventy(-two) and its aftermath.

We will focus on Luke 10:1-12 and 17-20. The introductory phrase, “After these things” (10:1a) ties this episode to what immediately precedes and thus the passage functions as an application of the conditions for discipleship set out in 9:57-62. The mission of the seventy-two also repeats on a “grander scale” the mission of the Twelve in 9:1-6. In 9:2 Jesus “sent” (apesteilen) the Twelve; in this scene “the Lord publicly commissioned (anedeizen) seventy[-two] others” (10:1b). Why the difference? The term occurs elsewhere in Luke only in its cognate noun form (avadeizis) at 1:80 and indicates the “public recognition of an appointed official” (Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrick Lexicon 62). The reference there anticipates the public presentation of John the Baptist to Israel as he begins his ministry. Like John the Baptist who was sent “before the face” (pro prosopou) of Jesus (7:27), so Jesus “sent them before him (literally, “before the face” pro prosopou) in groups of two to every city and place where he himself was about to go” (10:1c). Thus, the seventy(-two) are “publicly commissioned” to continue the fore-runner role of John the Baptist (cf. 16:16). They go out “in groups of two,” which anticipates the missionary pattern of Acts1.

There are hints also in the text and its context that the mission of the seventy(-two) not only continues the forerunner ministry of John the Baptist but is expanded to anticipate the mission to the Gentiles (cf. Luke 24:47). First, there is the reference to the seventy(-two) who are commissioned. Whether the number is “seventy” or “seventy-two” is grounded in textual variants that go back to the Greek text of the Old Testament. Luke seems to be alluding to the (Gentile) Table of Nations traditions in Genesis 10 (both seventy and seventy-two are found in the manuscript tradition). Thus the commissioning of the seventy(-two) anticipates the church’s mission to the nations (cf. Luke 24:47). Furthermore, the reference in Matthew that limits the mission to Israel (“Go nowhere among the Gentiles, but go only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel”; 10:5-6) is missing in the parallel passage in Luke.

Luke explains the rationale for the mission: “He had been saying to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few’” (10:2a). The first part of the statement is a chreia that occurs elsewhere in various forms2; references to the “harvest” in the Jewish Scriptures allude both to eschatological judgment3 and preservation4. Both aspects are present (cf. 10:7-8), though the emphasis here is on the ingathering of God’s people and the lack of workers to assist in this task. The disciples, then, are to “ask (“beseech”; “pray”) the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest” (10:2b). The “Lord of the harvest” clearly refers to God, but in the immediate and larger contexts in which Jesus is also referred to as kurios (here at 10:2 and e.g., 7:13, 19; 10:39, 41), the audience will conclude that Jesus who sends out the seventy(-two) is also “Lord of the harvest.”

Jesus then instructs them regarding the danger of their assignment: “Go! I am sending you like lambs surrounded by wolves” (Luke 10:3). To the ancients, “[t]he wolf is a rapacious animal, irascible, deceitful, bold, violent” and “men of this type are crafty, impious, blood-thirsty, quick to anger, vicious to the extent that they refuse what is given or offered them, but steal what is not given”5. Of course, the imagery of lambs and wolves also echoes Isaiah6, though that eschatological vision seems not quite fulfilled in Jesus’ warnings7! The authorial audience would know that the dangers inherent in the mission included the very ones to whom the disciples were being sent!

Rather than equipping the disciples for “Holy War” against infidels, Jesus “de-equips” them of the requisite travel paraphernalia: “Do not carry a wallet, a travel bag, or sandals; and greet no one along the way” (Luke 10:3; cf. 9:3). The absence of standard traveling equipment indicates the total dependence of the disciples on the Sender. The instruction to “greet no one along the way” is a time-saving measure and underscores the urgency of the mission8. The message echoes Luke 9:57-62: Be single-minded in purpose and do not be distracted!

Jesus gives further instruction regarding the disciples’ behavior when entering a house: “Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if a peaceful person happens to be there, your peace will remain on him. If that is not the case, it will return to you” (Luke 10:5-6). The command to greet householders with “peace” is not only adopting common Jewish practice9, but it characterizes the message of Jesus’ good news10, fulfills the promise expressed in the infancy narrative (Luke 1:79; 2:14, 29), anticipates the greeting issued by the resurrected Christ to the disciples (Luke 24:36), and thus expresses a robust eschatological hope. The pronouncement of peace will find fulfillment if within the house there is a “peaceful person,” literally, a “son of peace.” To be a “son” (or child) of X is to be characterized by or inclined toward that attribute. Thus, Absalom’s command to his servants to “be sons of power” (huioi dunameos) is equivalent to being a person who is strong or valiant11. Similar expressions are found in Greek literature and inscriptions12. Analagous constructions are also found elsewhere in Luke (16:8; 20:36) and in the New Testament13. What does the idiom mean here? Jesus “when he asked his disciples to go out to gather the sons of peace, was sending them out to identify with those in Galilee who were bent on pursuing peace”14. With such as these, peace will reside. If there is no one “worthy of peace”15, Jesus warns, the peace will return to the sender.

Jesus gives further instructions: “Stay in that same house, eating and drinking what they provide; for the worker is worthy of his wage. Do not move from house to house. And whatever city you enter and they welcome you, eat what is placed before you” (Luke 10:7). The social context is hospitality. The command to eat and drink what is provided is standard etiquette for a guest in a hospitality context16; such activity is an act of table fellowship and “seals the acceptance of the gospel by the household”17. Furthermore, Jesus’ followers are not to beg for money (as Cynics and others did); their wage is hospitality and shelter. Nor are they to move from house to house, becoming a “parasite at large with no fixed stable”18. Beyond guest etiquette required in hospitality, the second reference to “eat what is placed before you” may allude also to setting aside strict food laws for the sake of sharing the Good News, especially if the mission of the seventy-two is intended to foreshadow the mission to the Gentiles19. Furthermore, when the followers find a hospitable reception they are toheal those who are sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10:8). Emulating Jesus, his followers are to respond to these acts of hospitality in deed (heal the sick) and word (preach the kingdom).

Jesus also prepares the seventy(-two) for times when the response to them would be one of rejection rather than reception: And whatever city you enter and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust that stuck to us from your city on (our) feet we shake off against you. But know this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, in those days it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that city” (Luke 10:9-12). Jesus has replaced the knee-jerk vigilante vengeance of James and John (9:54) with a powerful, prophetic gesture. The shaking of the dust from their feet is an appropriate symbolic act for those who have not acted hospitably, for if they had been proper hosts (who washed the feet of their guests), there would be no dust to shake! Regardless of their response, the kingdom has still come near and the eschatological judgment against them will potentially be more severe than that experienced by Sodom, whose wickedness was proverbial20 and whose great sin was inhospitality21. Reference to Sodom also provides a transition to the second part of Jesus’ discourse (10:13-24).

An aside which consists of a litany of judgment against Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum (Luke 10:13-16) is followed by another “apocritic chreia22 in which Jesus responds to a statement by his disciples (10:17) with the report of a vision in the form of a chreia (10:18) — an “elaborated chreia,” which preserves a memorable, if mysterious, saying of Jesus (10:18). The elaborated chreia in Luke contains the following elements:

Introduction (“Lord … ”) 10:17
Chreia (“I saw Satan falling … ”) 10:18
Rationale (“I have given you authority”) 0:19
Opposite (“Nevertheless do not rejoice”) 10:20

Luke 10:17-20 has no parallels in the Synoptic tradition23. The unit begins with the disciples’ return. Their joy recalls the joy associated with God’s anticipated action in the aunnunciation (1:14; 2:10) and foreshadows the disciples’ joy following the resurrection (24:52): “The seventy[-two] returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name’” (10:17). Although the introduction is missing any explicit praise of Jesus (typical of an elaborated chreia), it does include implicit encomiastic language: Jesus is referred to as “Lord,” strengthening the identification of Jesus (with God) as “Lord of the harvest” (10:2), and the power of Jesus’ name is acknowledged (10:17b24). The commission of the seventy(-two) contained no explicit command to perform exorcisms (10:1-2), but the authorial audience could easily accommodate the subjection of demons under the general command to heal as part of the proclamation of the kingdom of God (cf. 9:1; 4:40-41).

Jesus responds with a verbal chreia: “Then he said to them, ‘I watched Satan falling from heaven like lightning’” (Luke 10:18). The nature of the chreia is much debated. Most likely, Jesus is reporting a vision of the eschatological future25 that has been foreshadowed by the mission of the seventy(-two). In the Old Testament, Satan played the role of God’s (and humanity’s) adversary in the heavenly council26, and the fall of Satan reflects the apocalyptic texts of Second Temple Judaism27 and early Christianity28 in which Satan and the powers of darkness are defeated by God in an end-time cosmic battle. Quite possibly, the Lukan Jesus saw in the fall of the Babylonian king29, a connection to the fall of Satan: the fall of earthly powers and principalities foreshadows the downfall of Satan and his minions30. In his vision, Jesus’ mission is tied to God’s coming triumph over the rule of Satan.

The chreia is followed by its rationale: the mission of the seventy(-two) is a harbinger of the cosmic battle between God and Satan not because of the disciples’ own power but because Christ has empowered them: “I have given you the authority to walk on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the Enemy” (Luke 10:19a). Through Christ the disciples have the authority to tread on “snakes and scorpions,” which are well-known symbols for the sources of evil31. The two are paired in Deuteronomy 8:15 as a vivid reminder of the dangerous wasteland through which God had led his people (cf. also Luke 11:11-12), and the identification of the combination of the snake and scorpion as a symbol of evil gains further traction in Testament of Levi’s re-writing of that same Psalm: “And Beliar shall be bound by him [God] and he [God] shall give power to his children to tread upon the evil spirits32. That the downfall of Satan is anticipated by, but not ultimately fulfilled in the mission of the seventy(-two) is underscored by the use of the future tense at the end of the rationale: “and nothing will by any means harm you!” (Luke 10:19b). Through the complex of events that leads to Jesus’ exaltation in Luke, Satan will be defeated decisively. In some Christian apocalyptic texts, however, Satan’s fall may also hint at some temporary period in which he wreaks havoc33. Jesus also hints at this eschatological havoc in Luke 21:12-27 and reassures his followers that “not a hair of your head will perish” (21:18). Jesus’ words here also provide assurance that this victory over Satan will happen — indeed, has already begun to happen, and the reference to Satan’s fall (Luke 10:18) anticipates an event destined to occur when Jesus is raised to God’s right hand.

The elaboration of the chreia continues with a statement of contrast intended to clarify what the disciples should rejoice over (and what they should not): “However, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names have been written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). It is clear from what precedes that the disciples have no reason to rejoice over the fact that the spirits are subject to them since their dominion over the spirits is due exclusively to the authority of the Lord who has sent them. Rather, they should rejoice over the fact that their names have been written in the heavenly registry. In the face of impending eschatological woes, they should take consolation that the source of their joy is their status in heaven, which they owe to God, and not their success over the spirits!

Material adapted from Luke. Paideia Commentary Series. Eds. Mikeal C. Parsons, Charles H. Talbert, and Bruce. Longenecker. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic (a division of Baker Publishing Group), 2015. Used by permission.


1 In Acts: Peter/John, 8:14; Barnabas/Saul, 13:2; Barnabas/Mark, 15:39; Paul/Silas, 15:40; Priscilla/Aquila, 18:2

2 Compare with John 4:35; Gospel of Thomas 73

3 Joel 3:13; Micah 4:11-13

4 Hosea 6:11

5 Anonymous Latin 126; André 1981, 136-137; compare with Polemo, Physiognomy 172; Arrian’s Discourses of Epictetus, 1.3.7

6 “the wolf will lie down with the lamb”; Isaiah 11:6; 65:25; compare with Tanhuma Toledot 5; Str-B 1:574

7 compare with 2 Clement 5:2-4

8 many commentators remark about the “time-consuming” nature of “oriental greetings” which might involve hugs, kisses and the exchange of news

9 Judges 6:23; 19:20

10 Acts 10:36

11 2 Samuel 13:28 LXX

12 e.g., “son of fortune” = lucky

13 Matthew 23:15; John 17:12; Ephesians 2:3

14 Luke. Paideia Commentary Series. Eds. Mikeal C. Parsons, Charles H. Talbert, and Bruce. Longenecker. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic (a division of Baker Publishing Group), 2015, 173. 

15 as Matthew 10:11 puts it

16 compare with Testament of Abraham 4:7, 10

17 Luke. Paideia Commentary Series. Eds. Mikeal C. Parsons, Charles H. Talbert, and Bruce. Longenecker. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic (a division of Baker Publishing Group), 2015, 173. 

18 Horace Epistulae 1.15.28; compare with Sirach 29.23-24

19 compare with Acts 10-11; Galatians 2

20 Genesis 13:13; Isaiah 3:9; Ezekiel 16:48, 56, Jeremiah 23:14

21 Genesis 19:1-23; Jude 7; 2 Peter 2:6; Romans 9:29

22 compare with Theon Progymnasmata 98

23 though compare with Mark 16:18 and 10:19

24 compare with Acts 3:6; 4:10, 17-18, 30; 5:40; 9:27

25 such as one finds in Amos 8:1-3; Jeremiah 1:13-19; Ezekiel 2:9-10

26 compare with Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7; Zechariah 3:1-2

27 Sibylline Oracles 3.796-807; Melchizedek 13f.; 1 Enoch 83:4

28 compare with John 12:27-33; Colossians 2:15; Revelation 12:7-10; 20:3-10; Romans 16:20

29 Isaiah 14:11-15 and allusion in 10:15

30 compare with Acts 12

31 compare with Genesis 3:14, Numbers 21:6-9; Sirach 21:2; Psalms 58:4; 140:3

32 Testament of Levi 18:12; my emphasis

[xxxiii] Revelation 12:7-12; among Jewish texts, see possibly Testament of Solomon 20.17