After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.
There is strategy in organizing messengers of the gospel. Even our Lord Jesus conducted his work of the ministry in a coordinated effort with others. His ministry began with himself preaching, teaching, and healing. He then ordained the twelve to do the same. With the support of the twelve, the gospel of the kingdom of God continues to be the priority in the ministry of Jesus Christ. This new level of growth in strategy and organization under his command is seen as he now sends out seventy in addition to the previous work he has already accomplished.
Here, Jesus targeted specific cities and geographic areas, sending messengers in pairs, and sending them ahead of himself. In Luke chapter 10, this period in Jesus’s ministry is during his travels to Jerusalem where he was set with all determination to face the crucifixion that was awaiting him. Previous to sending out the seventy in Luke 10:1, Jesus was already sending messengers in front of him in the journey to Samaria as he approached Jerusalem. These messengers were to prepare for his arrival in advance.
Luke 9:51 and 52:
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him.
There is one key word back in Luke 10:1 that brings to our attention an important detail. It is the word “others.” Jesus appointed seventy others. This means that the seventy were in addition to others that were already appointed. We know from Luke 9:51 and 52 that there were messengers sent before him to Samaria, but as we continue to read the end of Luke chapter 9, we come across some details that explain the process of selection of messengers in the kingdom. Three specific examples are provided to us. The first two of ￼these examples are also seen in Matthew 8:19-22. These three examples show us different aspects of real life and are documented conversations that came up when sending forth messengers in Jesus’s ministry. We will look at each of these three examples individually and compare them with one another. By giving close attention to these interactions with Jesus and potential messengers, we are able to see into the Lord’s process of selection before sending messengers into the fields of ministry.
Luke 9:57 and 58:
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
In this first example, it was the individual who asked Jesus if he could participate in ministry. Jesus’s response indicates that this man did not really understand what was involved in following him. This man stated that he would follow Jesus Christ wherever he would go. At times, an individual may volunteer as a messenger of the gospel, but we are accountable to warn them. Someone may be excited about doing ministry but if they do not know the challenges or the reality of the work of being a messenger, it is unfair to them. We do not want those who volunteer themselves in real ministry to get involved in something that they are unprepared for due to ignorance of the conditions. In a very similar way, Jesus warned the crowds about becoming his disciples as they were following him in Luke 14:25-35.
These two verses that we are currently reading in Luke 9:57 and 58 are building upon what Luke has already stated. Jesus challenged his followers to consider the extreme nature of discipleship in Luke 9:23-27. This man in Luke 9:57 said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” We already know that Jesus is approaching Jerusalem. This conversation is happening in real-time as they were “going along the road.” They were literally on the route to Jesus entering Jerusalem to be beaten and crucified (Luke 9:21 and 22). The statement of this man reminds me of Peter and the other disciples confessing that they were willing to die with Jesus and not deny him in Matthew 26:35.
There is an underlying theme of rejection at this time in the gospel of Luke. In Luke 9:21 and 22, Jesus speaks of his rejection by the elders and religious authorities in the city of Jerusalem. The very first stage of this journey to Jerusalem in Luke 9:51-56 begins with Jesus being rejected in Samaria, not allowing him to stay in their village. This potential messenger is going along the road with Jesus, experiencing this rejection, still willing to participate in the kingdom. Jesus tells him, “Even animals have homes and places to ￼sleep.” Just as Jesus freshly experienced in Samaria, this Jesus the Messiah was rejected to have a place to lay his head and rest. This type of rejection is what would be faced by a messenger in the kingdom of God. In this warning, we find that there is a true connection, there is a relationship between a messenger of the gospel and their sharing in the experiences of Christ Jesus himself. (See also: Matthew 10:24, Luke 6:40 and John 13:16.)
In addition to rejection, the theme of discipleship failure is also represented as a grave reality in the ministry of Christ during this time. Beginning with his second mention of rejection in Luke 9:44, the disciples fight about who will be the greatest in verses 46-48, one complains about a rogue ministry in verses 49 and 50, two apostles ask to call down fire and destroy the place in Samaria that rejected Jesus in verses 52-56, and now this situation with three problematic, would-be messengers who do not understand the cost, priority, and urgency of the gospel.
Luke 9:59 and 60:
To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my Father.”
But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
This second conversation shows Jesus now challenging someone to follow him. This second person is being asked by Jesus to follow him. In the first example in Luke 9:57 and 58, remember it was the individual and not Jesus who initiated the request to become a messenger. This second person in Luke 9:59 is called “another.” The word in the Greek New Testament translated “another” is the same word as “other” in Luke 10:1. This word also appears in Luke 9:61 in our third example. We can identify the progression in Luke’s gospel as he is speaking of this second conversation, then the third, then the seventy in addition to these three. This rapid and repeated use of “another” or “other” in the narrative using the same Greek word heteros tightly ties the seventy in Luke 10:1 to this group at the end of Luke chapter 9.
As stated previously, this second individual mentioned in the selection process for becoming a messenger was invited by Jesus into ministry. With some people we need to take the initiative and challenge them, invite them, and encourage them to go further in ministry as messengers. In this second example, in the conversation with Jesus this man provided an excuse. While he was invited into ministry, he immediately had a reason why he could not participate. This man did not refuse the invitation into ministry. This man simply said that he would need to be delayed in his ability to participate. In simply stating ￼that he was not able to participate at this time, this response was perceived not only as a delay by the Lord Jesus, but as a refusal.
For Jesus, the delayed response upon being invited was not acceptable. Even the responsibility of burying your father was not a valid reason to delay being launched into ministry. This was then not simply a request through invitation. In the eyes of the Lord Jesus, this invitation was also a command. The statement “Follow me” is a command in the Greek New Testament. The delay of obedience to command is considered disobedience. The purpose of the disobedient delay was related to family. The subject of family ties and their interruption in becoming a messenger will be mentioned again in the third example provided in Luke 9:61 and 62. This concept of following the Lord, even beyond the closest relationships within our families (fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters) is required if we want to be launched into the radical ministry that is birthed in the kingdom of God. This theme is also consistent in the gospel of Luke. We see Luke take following Jesus and put it up against our closest earthly relationships in Luke 14:25-35. Which will we choose? It is important to realize that to “follow me” was directly emphasized by the command to “go and preach the kingdom of God” in Luke 9:59 and 60. These were messengers being selected. In preaching the message of the gospel of the kingdom they were in actuality following the Lord Jesus Christ.
In this second example of selection to become a messenger, Jesus instructed this man to allow “the dead” to bury their own. When someone who is being called into ministry gives a response to delay being sent out to preach, even if it is based on the most significant and close family relationships, we can show them that they are now in and belong to a completely different category of people. Jesus told this man that the dead should bury their dead. This would-be messenger, being called into ministry as a disciple, was no longer in this category of “the dead.” Now that he was identified in a different category, no longer among the dead, he was told to go and preach the gospel. Becoming a messenger is a matter of identity. Messengers of the gospel are now to completely identify with the Lord Jesus Christ and their place in the kingdom of God. Disciples are no longer bound by earthly relationships, particularly those who hinder us from immediate obedience. This level of loyalty, this quality of commitment to our Lord Jesus is only realized when our self-identity is altered. While this disciples responsibility in burying his father is associated with the dead community and the physically dead person, the command to “go and proclaim the kingdom of God” is associated with his own life itself and a living community where God is sovereign.
Luke 9:61 and 62:
Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my
Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
This “other” messenger, the third example given by Luke, is also noted for his expressed interest in being launched in ministry. This third example, unmentioned in Matthew 8:19-22, is like the first example we read in Luke 9:57 and 58. This disciple initiated the conversation to be sent as a messenger. Also, like our second example in Luke 9:59 and 60, this third individual also had an excuse based on family relationships as to why he would have to delay being sent as a messenger. This third example is a combination of the first two conversations that Luke has already described.
The word in the Greek New Testament translated “fit” in Luke 9:62 is only used three times in the New Testament. This is the first time it appears. The second time this word “fit” is used is in a section of the gospel of Luke that has already been mentioned twice. The second time this word in the Greek New Testament occurs is in Luke 14:35. (The third and final time this word is used is in Hebrews 6:7.) Making the decision to be sent forth as a messenger in the expanding kingdom of God, but then wanting to delay our action so that we can say officially cut ties to our former life makes us unfit for the kingdom. Our delayed response, based on the urgency of the task, makes us “unfit,” a word that literally means that one is not useful. With the passing of time and lack of urgency on behalf of the disciple, the harvest passes and their participation is missed.
This third disciple at the closing of Luke chapter 9 had not yet been sent as a messenger. This follower of Christ has simply made the decision that it was what he wanted to do. At the moment he expressed his conviction to the Lord Jesus to be sent as a messenger, he had put his hand to the plow. By delaying his service in ministry, wanting to say goodbye to his family at home, he was already looking back. Unlike the record in 1 Kings 19:19-21, Jesus did not allow the same leniency as Elijah did for Elisha. In the kingdom of God there is certainly a higher urgency and therefore less room to allow time to pass as there was under the old covenant.
Like our first and second examples, during this third conversation in the selection process, Jesus warns and corrects the thinking and decision making process of this disciple. A part of the selection process to become a messenger in the kingdom and as part of strategy in evangelism, we can see that a conversation needs to take place. There must be a dialogue between the one who is being invited or who has decided to become a messenger and the one responsible for the strategy and sending them out in the field of ministry. Sometimes a warning is given to show a potential messenger in the kingdom of God what being in ministry is all about, the reality, the hardship, and the challenges they will absolutely face. Sometimes in conversations with potential messengers we need to show, make clear, and point out to them what is preventing them from acting immediately. Once a decision is made to be a messenger of the gospel, if there is a delay in going out and preaching the gospel, many times this is an issue of identity that needs to be addressed with the individual. Our identity is in the kingdom of sovereign God under the Lordship of Christ and we are no longer among the dead. And while identity is addressed by Christ in these teachings, redirecting someone to the responsibility of preaching the gospel rather than the responsibilities in very personal relationships is also part of what Luke’s gospel reveals. These identity comparisons and the comparison of responsibilities are both emphasized.
There was an urgency in being sent as a messenger. The matter of preaching now, being a messenger now, is seen by Jesus as the most important issue to decide upon. There was no time to waste and nothing of greater priority. Anything less than now, and giving anything else the only priority of someone’s time was seen by Jesus to be unfit and useless for the kingdom of God. The gospel of Luke (and the similar record in Matthew 8:19-22) do not tell us how these potential messengers responded. We do not know if they accepted the challenge from the Lord or if they continued on in their own ways. We are only provided the details of how Jesus interacted with them, instructed them, and counselled them.
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.
We have so much instruction and insight that is provided to us, giving us a glimpse into the actual ministering and strategy of the seventy who were sent. What the seventy accomplished in the remaining verses in chapter 10 of Luke’s gospel was just another step in the expanding kingdom of God during this time in Christ’s life. While Luke chapter 10 is commonly the subject of focus concerning evangelism, it is important for us to identify and understand the selection process behind sending these messengers. What can be learned from the few verses leading up to Luke chapter 10 is instruction for us in raising up and sending others. As we understand this decision making process, the questions to ask, the warnings to provide, and the encouragement needed to help disciples make their decision to be sent, it will only help us in strategizing evangelism in our own sections of the ripe fields of harvest.