Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

127. The Return of the Seventy (Matt. 11:25-30; Luke 10:17-24)

There is no indication in the gospels as to how long the preaching mission of the Seventy lasted. It must have continued for several weeks at least, possibly for two or three months, yet Luke's record gives no hint of such a gap.

When they did return, it was in a state of great exhilaration. Success beyond anything they had anticipated had attended their efforts. "Lord, the demons also are subject unto us through thy name." But Jesus had bidden them "heal the sick" (Lk.10 :9). So, apparently, "demon"= "sickness" (see Study 30). Their "also" probably implies: "Besides the message making its impact." What a contrast here with the sorry occasion when crestfallen apostles were driven to ask: "Why could not we cast out the demon?" (Mt. 17:19).

The Lord of lightning

The comment made by Jesus was one of his most enigmatic: "I was beholding Satan fallen as lightning from heaven." What did he mean? The enthusiasm of "Jehovah's Witnesses" and such like for reading this as an allusion to a superhuman Devil being cast out of heaven may safely be ignored. The context has nothing to do with such an event (which never happened, anyway). And the tenses would require that this "Satan" was already fallen even before Christ's work was fully accomplished.

That word "lightning" provides a clue to an unexpected Old Testament allusion. Judges 1:3-7 describes the first onslaught by individual tribes of Israel in their efforts to secure their inheritances in the Land. Judah and Simeon combined in a campaign against Adoni-bezek, "the lord of lightning." This tyrant ruled with rigour over the sheiks of no less than seventy towns and villages in that area. The men of the two tribes now joined forces to chase him out of his stronghold, capture him, and mete out to him the identical treatment he had proudly decreed for others.

This "Lord of lightning," with seventy princes in thrall is an apt figure of human sin and ignorance holding dominion over all the nations of the world (seventy of them in Genesis 10; twelve wells and seventy palm trees at Rephidim; seventy bullocks offered in sacrifice at the Feast of Tabernacles). As Jesus sent out his seventy in twos, so also a typical two, Judah and Simeon, laboured together to break the power of the tyrant. They routed him in the place of his strength, hunted him down, and he came to his end at Jerusalem! In his mind's eye Jesus saw all this happening even whilst the seventy were busy at work.

A difficult allusion

Besides this vigorous type of redemption there are also other possibilities. Since the Lord's 'Satan' reference came immediately after the mention of demons, it may be that, on the lines of the interpretation in Study 30, Jesus intended an allusion to God's Angel of Evil (as in Ps.78 :49). Note:

Interwoven with these unusual ideas are others, equally unexpected, in a series of allusions to one of Isaiah's prophecies.

Isaiah 14

Luke 10
I will ascend unto heaven.
Capernaum... exalted to heaven.
Thou shalt be brought down to hell.
Shall be thrust down to hell.
Lucifer (shining).
Satan as lightning.
Out of the serpent's root a cockatrice.
Tread on serpents and scorpions.
The messengers of the nation ... the poor of his people.
The seventy returned with joy ... ye that labour and are heavy laden (Mt. 11 :28).
The Lord shall give thee rest from thy sorrow.

I will give you rest.
Then shall his yoke . . . and his burden depart from off their shoulders.

My yoke is easy and my burden is light.

These points of contact between two very dissimilar Scriptures can hardly be written off as accidental. In Isaiah Lucifer is the king of Babylon-Assyria. In the Lord's discourse Satan is heedless Capernaum or God's angel of evil hardening the hearts of the wise and prudent (there might be room for both ideas). But why should Jesus choose to allude at all to this Isaiah prophecy?

Was he saying, in effect: See how overweening pride brought that heathen king low when he set himself against the Truth of God; and now complacent Capernaum goes fast to the same fate. Then let the disciples take warning from these examples. Is high success in their preaching to turn zeal into pride, and so bring a like fate?

As counterpoise to this warning Jesus gave also a promise of yet further success: "Behold, I have given you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you." Both the tenses here imply continuing achievement in the work. Indeed the figure of speech-"serpents and scorpions"-suggests a conquest of evil like their Master's for was it not written concerning him: "Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder; the young lion and the serpent shalt thou trample under feet" (Ps.91 :13)? Possibly, also, a reminder of Moses' exhortation: "The Lord thy God led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought . . ." (Dt.8 :15). In that case the context provides a pointed warning against personal pride in God-given powers.

It may be, however, that with the allusion to "babes" which came in the lord's prayer of thanksgiving there is here also deliberate reference to Isaiah's gracious symbolic picture of Messiah's kingdom: "The sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den" (Is.ll :8). If this is correct, Jesus was intimating a wonderful experience in conquering the power of sin with the message of the gospel before ever that conquest is completed in the full glory of the kingdom.

Certainly the Lord was implying that, in a lesser sense, his preachers were to share in the crushing of the head of the serpent with a heel which would not go unscathed. "All the power of the enemy" suggests the "enmity" of the serpent against the sin-conquering Seed of the woman (Gen. 3 :15).

Nevertheless, "nothing shall by any means hurt you," Jesus added, using the most emphatic negative available to him. His words implied opposition and persecution. Yet in all essentials the Lord's witness could go to his task assured of spiritual invulnerability. Persecution hardly ever breaks a man's spiritual morale. Rather, its astringency braces him to yet greater acts of courage, it teaches him the matchless value of a gospel he might otherwise be inclined to take for granted.

A sense of proportion.

Jesus bade his preachers keep their priorities right. There was even more solid ground for satisfaction than the sensational impact of their recent mission: "Rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven." The heavenly Book of Life is a lovely figure of speech which runs right through Scripture. It well repays time spent on it in the study.

Here, how appropriately Jesus reminded the seventy that excitement over present success was of little consequence compared with their own personal assurance of eternal inheritance! Was it his way of reminding them that nothing makes the message of the kingdom so real and vital as a personal involvement in the work of proclaiming it? Perhaps also there was implicit warning that the disciple cannot write his own name in the Book of Life, but he can blot it out (Rev.3:5).

Jesus had his own priorities right: "In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." The words probably mean that he rejoiced in this outcome of such a manifestation of Holy Spirit power in the activities of his evangelists.

The joy of Jesus

This rejoicing was no quiet sober satisfaction but an open exultation (the Greek verb is a strong one and may also carry the secondary meaning of "glorifying God"). Here, for once, the Man of Sorrows was brought to a degree of open delight such as can have been but a rare experience for him. Although he did not quote directly the fine words of Psalm 8: "0 Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy Name in all the earth," Jesus without doubt had them in mind. The connections with that psalm, both in phrase and idea, are copious:

Lk. 10.

Through thy name.
How excellent is thy name...
Subject unto us.
In subjection (Heb.2 :8).
I beheld...
When I behold thy heavens (Heb).
Tread on serpents and scorpions (the one kind of creature not mentioned in Ps.8).
All things under his feet.
All the power of the enemy.
The enemy and the avenger.
Your names in heaven.
The Lord's name in all the earth.
Lord of heaven and earth.
In all the earth ... above the heavens.
All things are delivered unto me of my Father.
Thou hast put all things under his feet.
Revealed to babes.
Babes and sucklings.
Demons subject unto us!
A little lower than the angels.

Is it possible to believe that Jesus actually thanked God for hiding the truth of salvation from such men as the scribes and Pharisees? The word he used rather expresses an acknowledgement that this is God's method, bewildering to men, but spiritually inevitable-the message is more readily received by the lowly and uneducated than by the privileged and the learned.

Appeal to the new disciples.

The Lord's ensuing words were now addressed to the new disciples whom the Lord's preachers had brought with them that they might get to know Jesus personally: "All things have been delivered unto me by my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him." This saying, found in Matthew and Luke is marvellously like John's gospel, both in theme and phrasing. So marked is this similarity that some writers have even cited them as evidence of the authenticity of John's gospel.

It is to be noted that Jesus did not seek to focus the reverence of these new disciples on himself. He ascribed all his personal authority to the Father, and then- rather staggeringly-went on to speak about Father and Son getting to know each other. It is a saying which Trinitarians and others who believe in the personal pre-existence of Christ are hard put to explain (cp. also Jn.10:15s.w.). Yet when the truth aboutthe nature of Christ is properly appreciated, what an insight these words afford into the growing personal intimacy between a Son who never ceased to learn and to fulfil the will of his heavenly Father, and a Father who day by day rejoiced with more than human gladness over His Son's faithful dependence upon Him.

These recent converts, just taught about Christ and brought to him, were now exhorted to seal their new loyalty by coming forward for baptism. These winsome words are unmatched anywhere: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden (Ps.38 :4), and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

The contrast between: "to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him (the Father)" and "Come unto me," is the contrast between Election and Free Will, which time and again in the New Testament are put side by side without any attempt anywhere at reconciling seeming inconsistency. Jesus had better things to do with his time.

The Yoke of Christ

The figure of speech in this appeal is not that of an over-burdened animal finding an easier life through change to a more kindly owner. It is, rather, the idea of a distresssed over-driven beast no longer yoked to one which has done little to share an excessive burden, but instead now works alongside another which not only has a much lighter task but also takes most of the load on itself. The words: "I am meek and lowly in heart," require such an interpretation. The Law forbad the unequal yoking of animals (Dt.22 :10), but it was right to plough with two which were alike, even though one might be markedly stronger than the other.

The attractive suggestion that there is here allusion to the priests bearing the ark of the covenant in the wilderness (Num.10 :33) fails to find room for "I am meek and lowly in heart." Even such a lovely passage as Hos.11 :4 does not quite equal these words of Christ. The legalists of Israel "bound on the people heavy burdens and grievous to be borne . . . but they themselves would not move them with one of their fingers" (Mt.23 :4; cp. also Acts 15 :10; cp. Gal.5 :1). Jesus now appealed to men to forsake this futile system of self-righteousness and let him take over the task of working out their redemption.

That he was now seeking an outright decison to give him full loyalty is suggested by the aorist tenses: "Take my yoke ... learn of me (i.e. from me).. .fine/rest"—the words imply not so much a way of life as a decision. This idea is also required by the moving passage in Jeremiah which Jesus clearly had in mind: "Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the way, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest (LXX: purification) for your souls" (6 :16).

To be thus unequally but happily yoked together with such a Saviour assuredly means rest to the soul, for his yoke is easy and his burden light. Indeed, if any disciple of Christ complains of being heavy laden, does he not by that very assertion declare that he is not bearing the yoke of his Lord?-for it is light. And "they that wait upon the Lord renew their strength" (ls.40 :28-31). So those who draw back from such a service or who moan in self-pity at the exacting rigour of their life in Christ have got no further than the servant in the parable who had the effrontery to justify himself at the expense of his Master's character, saying to his face: "I knew thee that thou art an hard men, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou has not strawed: and I was afraid . . ." , (Mt. 25:24; cf. Lev. 25:43). Such slanders deserve - the arraignment this complainer received from One who is in truth meek and lowly in heart.

Christ's word to describe his "easy" yoke is chrestos, so markedly like christos as to encourage Paul especially to enjoy the paronomasia. Here are a few examples:

Joy in the Lord

For the twelve, who might perhaps have felt a trifle sore at the resounding success achieved by those who were their juniors in discipleship, Jesus now had a special word of encouragement. Far from feeling a sense of pique over this, they should recognize here one of their highest privileges to see Messiah's work going forward and the message about him being sympathetically received by, at any rate, a segment of the nation: "I tell you that many prophets (such as Isaiah, Daniel, and Malachi) and kings (like David and Hezekiah) desired to see those things which ye hear, and have not heard them." Abraham had been happy enough to rejoice in his distant vision of the day of Christ (Jn.8 :56). He and other patriarchs saw these things afar off, and were persuaded of them and embraced them (Heb.11 :13), Prophets, inspired to foretell "the sufferings of Christ and the glory that is to follow, enquired and searched diligently . . . searching who or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify" (1 Pet.l : 10,11).

Today, as with the apostles, restiveness of spirit is out of place. Instead, let there be self-congratulation over the inestimable privilege of seeing the ripening of the Purpose of God. "Wilt thou at this time restore again tb kingdom to Israel?" the twelve asked, oil eagerness and confidence. But it was not for them to know the times or seasons. Today the Lord's answer to the same clamant expectancy is: "Yes!"

Three or four generations ago fervent desire for the Day of the Lord inflated the smallest vestige of a stir in Middle Eastern politics into a mighty assurance of imminent theophany. Today, titanic events and lurid signs of the Son of man in heaven are taken in their stride by nonchalant children of the promise, who seem to have been rendered deaf by the heavy artillery of God. It is a strange phenomenon.

Notes: Lk. 10:17-24

The seventy. Here some MSS read: "seventy two," in an effort to make a parallel with the 72 who, accordingto legend, did the LXX. But the Biblical instances in the text settle the reading. Cp. also Ex.24 :1; Num.11 :16.
He said unto them. The context here explains why in Mt. the text reads: "he answered and said."
Serpents and scorpions. Cp. Ps.91 :13; Ez.2 :6; Dt. 8:15,17,18 (another warning against pride in the midst of success).
Written in heaven. Ex. 32:32; Ps. 69:28; Is. 4:3; Dan. 12:1; Phil. 4:3; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 5:1-9; 13-8; 20:12; 21:27; but also: Rev. 3:5; Jer. 17:13.
Rejoiced. A vigorous word apparently found only in NT and LXX. This is the nearest approach to any word describing a laugh or a smile on the face of Jesus.

I thank thee Strictly, not thanks but open confession.

The wise and prudent, ls.5 :21; 28 :9-14; 29 :14-17; Pr.3 :34; Rom. 12 :16; 1 Cor.l :19-27; 3:1.

Babes. The Lord said "babes" (Is. 28:9) not "fools." Their ignorance was their salvation — and so also with how many in this sophisticated age?
Here the best MSS include: And turning to his disciples; cp. v.23. These disciples were the new converts. Mt. 11:27-30 proves this. Then, in v.23, he turns to the twelve, "his own disciples."

All things. Although neuter in form, this word commonly refers to believers, all things in Christ (see concordance)

Mt.11 :28-30

Come unto me. for other contrasts between Election and Freewill, see Phil. 2 :12,13; Heb.13 :21,22; Col 1-29; Eph. 3:20; 4:1; Jude 24,21; Gal.2 :20; 2 Cor. 13 :4,5; Jn.6 :37-40.
Rest. In Jer.6:16theHeb. noun clearly Implies an instantaneous change.
Light. This word is used in Ez. 1:7 LXX to describe the lightness of the wings of the cherubims; for idea, cp. Is. 40:31

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