Biblical Commentary
(Bible study)

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20



C.F. Evans noted a number of parallels between this portion of Luke—beginning with the sending of the seventy—and Deuteronomy 1-26.

• In both, we find the phrase “before his face” (Deuteronomy 1:21; Luke 10:1).

• Moses sent out twelve men to scout out the land, just as Jesus has recently sent out the twelve (Deuteronomy 1:22-23; Luke 9:1-6).

• Seventy elders accompanied Moses to the mountain where the Spirit rested on them and they prophesied. Jesus sends the seventy to offer peace and to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God (Exodus 24:1, 9; Numbers 11:24-25; Luke 10:1, 5, 9).

• While the rest of Luke’s Gospel follows an organized chronology, chapters 10-18 appear to be organized around passages from Deuteronomy 1-26. C.F. Evans finds 22 passages from Deuteronomy 1-26 that parallel 22 passages from Luke 10-18, and understands Luke’s intent as showing that Jesus is the prophet like Moses promised in Deuteronomy 18:18 (Craig A. Evans, 166-168, citing a 1955 essay by C.F. Evans).

Craig Evans further notes an essay by James A. Sanders showing parallels in Deuteronomy and Luke with regard to the subject of election:

• In Deuteronomy, the elect were those who obeyed the law (although that book does not use the word “elect”). Deuteronomy promised blessings to the faithful, and Israelites interpreted blessings in a materialistic way—health and wealth.

• The people of Jesus’ day thought that health/wealth validated the person’s right standing with God and illness/poverty indicated God’s displeasure. In his teaching ministry as well as in his example, Jesus stood this understanding on its head. The first shall be last and the last shall be first (Evans, 168-169).


This is a difficult passage for many Christians today:

• First, the commissioning of the seventy broadens Jesus’ missionaries beyond the twelve apostles, who were commissioned in the last chapter (9:1-6). The commissioning of the seventy shows that proclamation is the responsibility of all disciples—not just a select few. This disappoints both those who think of themselves as the select few and those who prefer not to get involved.

• Second, the seventy are to go in pairs to neighboring towns in an aggressive outreach program of a type with which many Christians no longer feel comfortable.

• Third, the harvest-metaphor (vs. 2) suggests an urgency regarding evangelism that many Christians no longer feel. For a farmer, harvest-time is the most urgent season of the year. Modern equivalents include tax season for the accountant; Christmas season for the merchant; final exams for students and teachers; deployment for soldiers; and deadlines for the journalist. Most of us can survive failure on an ordinary day, but failure in these “harvest seasons” is likely to be disastrous—starvation, bankruptcy, or the end of a career. Today, many Christians have trouble believing that failure to accept Christ can have similarly disastrous consequences.


1Now after these things, the Lord also appointed seventy others, and sent them two by two ahead of him (Greek: pro prosopou autou—before his face) into every city and place, where he was about to come. 2Then he said to them, “The harvest is indeed plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray therefore to the Lord of the harvest, that he may send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go your ways. Behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. 4Carry no purse, nor wallet, nor sandals. Greet no one on the way.”

In 9:1-6, Jesus sent the twelve on a similar mission; now he sends the seventy. Not only is the scope of the mission expanded by the larger number of participants, but the harvest metaphor also introduces a new urgency.

“Now after these things, the Lord also appointed seventy others” (v. 1a). Some manuscripts read seventy and others read seventy-two, and we cannot determine with authority which is correct. That matters little, however, because the meaning is the same for either number:

• The number almost certainly refers back to Genesis 10, where we find a list of Gentile nations descended from Noah. In Hebrew, seventy nations are listed (seventy-two in the Greek Septuagint), so that Jesus’ appointment of the seventy (or seventy-two) provides one evangelist for each nation.

This points to outreach to Gentiles, which will be important in Luke’s sequel, the Acts of the Apostles—even though, for the moment, Jesus sends the seventy only to Jews or Samaritans.

• A second Old Testament referent is Numbers 11:16-25, where Moses selected seventy elders to help him with his work.

“seventy others” (v. 1a) sounds as if the twelve are not part of this mission. However, later, speaking to the twelve, Jesus will say, “When I sent you out without purse, and wallet, and shoes, did you lack anything?” (22:35). The three items listed there—purse, bag, or sandals—correspond to the items mentioned in the call of the seventy (10:4) rather than those mentioned in the call to the twelve (9:3)—introducing a bit of uncertainty. Most likely, the twelve are not part of the seventy, but we cannot know for sure.

“and sent them two by two ahead of him into every city and place, where he was about to come” (pro prosopou autou—before his face) (v. 1b). We also found this phrase, “before his face,” in 7:27 and 9:52. 7:27 spoke of the sending of John the Baptist, whose death Luke recently mentioned (9:9).

“sent them…two by two” (v. 1b). Deuteronomy 19:15 requires the testimony of two witnesses, and that is almost certainly why Jesus sends these disciples in pairs. However, going in pairs also strengthens resolve. A person alone quickly becomes discouraged; partners are more likely to persevere.

“The harvest is indeed plentiful, but the laborers are few” (v. 2a). In a world where only a few people engage in agriculture, we have forgotten the urgency of harvest-time. Most crops can be harvested neither early nor late without serious loss. The farmer works a year to prepare for the harvest, which must be accomplished when the crop is ready. Failure to do so is likely to be catastrophic.

“the laborers are few” (v. 2a). The Pareto Rule says that eighty percent of the results can be attributed to twenty percent of the causes—i.e., a few star salespeople typically account for most sales. This rule also applies to the church, where a few people give most of the money and to do most of the work. Pew-sitters are many, but laborers are few. We must pray that the Lord will persuade the less active to become more active—but we must also trust the Lord to provide for the church’s true needs. Jesus warned that there would be bad soil, but he also promised good soil bearing a hundredfold (8:4-15).

“Pray therefore to the Lord of the harvest, that he may send out laborers into his harvest” (v. 2b). Given the urgency, we expect Jesus to tell the seventy to go quickly to begin the harvest. He will send them in verse 3, but first he commands them to pray. The Lord calls and empowers those who are needed, and it is the Lord’s power that makes success possible. A prayerful church might see official positions go unfilled, but the Lord provides that which is really needed.

“Go your ways. Behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves” (v. 3). Jesus only recently foretold his death and resurrection (9:21-22, 44-45) and “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51), where he will suffer and die. He experienced rejection in a Samaritan village (9: 51-56). He told his disciples that they, too, would bear a cross and lose their lives (9:23-25). Now he warns them that he is sending them as defenseless lambs into the midst of wolves.

In the other three Gospels (Matthew 18:12; Mark 6:4; John 10), Jesus speaks of the shepherd who protects the sheep. There is no mention of such protection in Luke’s Gospel.

“Carry no purse, nor wallet, nor sandals” (v. 4a). Jesus gave similar instructions at the commissioning of the twelve (Luke 9:3-5), but the only item common to both lists is the bag. The point is the same in both cases. The disciples are to trust in God to provide for their needs, and are not to encumber themselves with possessions.

“Greet no one on the way” (v. 4b). Jesus is not calling disciples to be rude, but is rather telling them not to be sidetracked by social niceties. The mission is urgent, and requires their full attention. Disciples are to be as single-minded as an athlete in a crucial game—or a firefighter at a fire—or a paramedic at a crash scene. Distraction can be fatal. The church today needs to hear this. Many Christians today do not feel this sense of urgency—do not believe that eternity hangs in the balance—wince when they hear the word evangelism.

We can see what happens when people take seriously the call to prayer and outreach. Mother Teresa’s ministry is a familiar example, but there are countless Christians around the world, including some in your community, who are doing great things for Christ.


5“Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’ 6If a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.”

While the seventy are not to be distracted by common courtesies along the road (v. 4), they are to observe them once they arrive at their destination.

“Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!'” (v. 5). The peace offered is more than a simple greeting. It is a substantive gift—God’s peace (Numbers 6:26; Isaiah 26:12; Luke 1:79; 2:14; Acts 10:36; Romans 5:1)—a salvation gift that blesses those who receive it and that returns to the giver when rejected. The penalty for refusal is simply the loss of the peace—the seventy are not to retaliate against those who rebuff them (see 9:5, 54-56).

Jesus calls the seventy to offer the peace without first trying to assess the worthiness of the recipient or to guess whether the recipient will accept or reject it. Kind words won’t win everyone, but will win some.


7“Remain in that same house, eating and drinking the things they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Don’t go from house to house. 8Into whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat the things that are set before you. 9Heal the sick who are therein, and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10But into whatever city you enter, and they don’t receive you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust from your city that clings to us, we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the Kingdom of God has come near to you.'”

“Remain in that same house, eating and drinking the things they give” (v. 7a). A self-serving disciple would be tempted to move from hospitality to hospitality—always seeking better food and lodging. Jesus commands the seventy to forego that kind of self-serving behavior and to focus on the purpose for which they have come. To move from house to house would not only sap their time and energy, but would also give offense to those whose hospitality was rejected. The seventy are to be sensitive to the feelings of others lest they lose the opportunity to win them to Christ.

“for the laborer is worthy of his wages” (v. 7b). Local residents are to provide hospitality for the seventy, who deserve to be supported (see Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:18). Disciples can expect their needs to be met, but should not expect luxury.

“Don’t go from house to house” (v. 7c). In verse 7a, Jesus told the disciples to remain in the same house. Now he restates that for emphasis, but this time forbidding them to move from house to house.

“eat the things that are set before you” (v. 8b). For the time being, the issue is only the quality of food and not whether it is kosher—the seventy will be working among Jews and Samaritans who observe similar dietary laws. However, in later years, Christian missionaries will move into Gentile neighborhoods where Jewish dietary laws are not observed, and the same principle will apply—effective witness is more important than the disciple’s personal sensibilities (Acts 10; Romans 14:13-23; 1 Corinthians 8).

“Heal the sick who are therein, and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you'” (v. 9). The healing of the sick is an act of compassion, but it also draws attention to the message that the kingdom of God has come near. This combination of compassion and proclamation—deed and word—serves as powerful witness yet today. The hungry person who is fed—the homeless person who is housed—the sick person who is healed—the injured person whose wounds are treated—these people will find themselves drawn to the person who has met their needs—and to that person’s faith. It is important, when we serve, to let recipients know that we love and serve them because of our love for Jesus, who first loved us. Otherwise, they will fail to make the connection between the help that they have received and the Christ who motivated us to give it. Our larger purpose, the proclamation of the kingdom of God, will be lost.

“But into whatever city you enter, and they don’t receive you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust from your city that clings to us, we wipe off against you'” (vv. 10-11a). The Samaritans recently rejected Jesus (9:52-54), who now prepares the disciples to expect similar treatment. If rejected, the disciples are to shake the dust from their feet, an act of repudiation. They are to do so publicly, stating their reason, and are to proclaim again, “the kingdom of God has come near.” This is warning, not retaliation—intended to convert—not to injure. Those who witness the repudiation might be persuaded to listen. The God of the Second Chance is still at work.

“Nevertheless know this, that the Kingdom of God has come near to you” (v. 11b). This fact remains whether the hearer accepts or rejects the message. The hearer will be held accountable for his or her response. God’s promise becomes judgment to the person who rejects it.


12“I tell you, it will be more tolerable in that day for Sodom than for that city.

13Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.14But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for you. 15You, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades.”

The lectionary reading skips these verses, but it is useful to remember that they are there. Verse 12 is particularly important, because it goes with the prior verses and spells out the calamity awaiting those who reject the proclamation of the kingdom of God.

Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum are towns on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, not far from Jesus’ boyhood home. As an adult, Jesus made his home in Capernaum (Matt. 4:13) and did a good deal of teaching there. He went to Capernaum immediately after his first miracle at nearby Cana (John 2:12), and his second miracle was the healing of a Capernaum boy (John 4:46-54). In other words, Capernaum was well acquainted with Jesus, and had ample exposure to his Godly teaching and power. As a result, they will be judged even more harshly than Tyre and Sidon, whose sins might have been worse but who did not have the benefit of knowing Jesus personally. Verses 12-15 reinforce the message of accountability that we find in verses 7-11.


16“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me. Whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

The principle is called saliah, which means that the one who is sent has the sender’s authority. The king’s agent is wrapped in the identity of the king. The king will watch to see how his emissaries are received, and will respond accordingly.


17The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18He said to them, “I saw Satan having fallen like lightning from heaven. 19Behold, I give you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy. Nothing will in any way hurt you. 20Nevertheless, don’t rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

“The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!'”When he commissioned the twelve, Jesus gave them power over demons (9:1), but he made no mention of demons when he commissioned the seventy. In the previous chapter, the disciples failed to exorcise a demon (9:40). Nevertheless, we learn now that they have gained power over demons and are overjoyed at their newfound power, which is made even sweeter by their recent defeat. Their victory came through their use of Jesus’ name. In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke will continue to present the disciples as finding power and authority through the name of Jesus (Acts 2:21; 3:6, 16; 4:7-12, 17-20; 10:43; 16:18).

“I saw Satan (Greek: ton Satanan) having fallen like lightning from heaven” (v. 18). Satan is a Hebrew word that was brought into the Greek language by transliteration (transcribing the Hebrew letters into Greek letters to create a same-sounding word in Greek). It was then brought into the English language by transliteration. It sounds pretty much the same in all three languages, but we can best ascertain its meaning by looking at the Hebrew.

In Hebrew, satan means adversary or opponent or enemy. Because of its usage in the Old Testament, it came to mean “the demonic archenemy of God”—and retains that sense in the New Testament.

The scriptures include several references to Satan dwelling in heaven (Job 1:6, 2:1; Zechariah 3:1), Satan’s fall from heaven (Isaiah 14:12; John 12:31; Revelation 12:7-9), and Satan’s defeat (Hebrews 2:14). His position in heaven gave him power, and his expulsion from heaven represents his defeat.

The New Testament uses various names or titles for our spiritual adversary–such as the devil, Satan, rulers of darkness, and spiritual forces of wickedness.

“Behold, I give you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy. Nothing will in any way hurt you” (v. 19). Jesus gave the disciples power over evil, represented here by snakes and scorpions, symbols of evil. Some Christians today, taking this verse literally, make the handling of poisonous snakes a test of faith. However, ” ‘Nothing will hurt you’ can also be translated ‘In nothing will he [the enemy] hurt you’…. The second translation fits the later narrative better” (Tannehill, 178). Translated this way, Jesus is promising protection against the enemy—Satan—rather than snakes and scorpions.

“Nevertheless, don’t rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (v. 20). Having their names written in heaven is a far greater privilege than their newfound power over demons. The disciples have been citizens of a small, occupied nation—forced to pay taxes to the Romans—compelled to carry the Roman soldier’s burden from milestone to milestone—required to obey the Roman governor. Now they are citizens of the kingdom of God. Their power over demons is cause for rejoicing, but their kingdom citizenship is the greater gift.

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.


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Copyright 2007, 2010, 2012, Richard Niell Donovan