We have here the sending forth of seventy disciples, two and two, into divers parts of the country, to preach the gospel, and to work miracles in those places which Christ himself designed to visit, to make way for his entertainment. This is not taken notice of by the other evangelists: but the instructions here given them are much the same with those given to the twelve. Observe,
I. Their number: they were seventy. As in the choice of twelve apostles Christ had an eye to the twelve patriarchs, the twelve tribes, and the twelve princes of those tribes, so here he seems to have an eye to the seventy elders of Israel. So many went up with Moses and Aaron to the mount, and saw the glory of the God of Israel (Exod. 24:1, 9), and so many were afterwards chosen to assist Moses in the government, in order to which the Spirit of prophecy came unto them, Num. 11:24, 25. The twelve wells of water and the seventy palm-trees that were at Elim were a figure of the twelve apostles and the seventy disciples, Exod. 15:27. They were seventy elders of the Jews that were employed by Ptolemy king of Egypt in turning the Old Testament into Greek, whose translation is thence called the Septuagint. The great sanhedrim consisted of this number. Now,
1. We are glad to find that Christ had so many followers fit to be sent forth; his labour was not altogether in vain, though he met with much opposition. Note, Christ’s interest is a growing interest, and his followers, like Israel in Egypt, though afflicted shall multiply. These seventy, though they did not attend him so closely and constantly as the twelve did, were nevertheless the constant hearers of his doctrine, and witnesses of his miracles, and believed in him. Those three mentioned in the close of the foregoing chapter might have been of these seventy, if they would have applied themselves in good earnest to their business. These seventy are those of whom Peter speaks as “the men who companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,” and were part of the one hundred and twenty there spoken of, Acts 1:15, 21. Many of those that were the companions of the apostles, whom we read of in the Acts and the Epistles, we may suppose, were of these seventy disciples.
2. We are glad to find there was work for so many ministers, hearers for so many preachers: thus the grain of mustard-seed began to grow, and the savour of the leaven to diffuse itself in the meal, in order to the leavening of the whole.
II. Their work and business: He sent them two and two, that they might strengthen and encourage one another. If one fall, the other will help to raise him up. He sent them, not to all the cities of Israel, as he did the twelve, but only to every city and place whither he himself would come (Luke 10:1), as his harbingers; and we must suppose, though it is not recorded, that Christ soon after went to all those places whither he now sent them, though he could stay but a little while in a place. Two things they were ordered to do, the same that Christ did wherever he came:—1. They must heal the sick (Luke 10:9), heal them in the name of Jesus, which would make people long to see this Jesus, and ready to entertain him whose name was so powerful. 2. They must publish the approach of the kingdom of God, its approach to them: “Tell them this, The kingdom of God is come nigh to you, and you now stand fair for an admission into it, if you will but look about you. Now is the day of your visitation, know and understand it.” It is good to be made sensible of our advantages and opportunities, that we may lay hold of them. When the kingdom of God comes nigh us, it concerns us to go forth to meet it.
III. The instructions he gives them.
1. They must set out with prayer (Luke 10:2); and, in prayer, (1.) They must be duly affected with the necessities of the souls of men, which called for their help. They must look about, and see how great the harvest was, what abundance of people there were that wanted to have the gospel preached to them and were willing to receive it, nay, that had at this time their expectations raised of the coming of the Messiah and of his kingdom. There was corn ready to shed and be lost for want of hands to gather it in. Note, Ministers should apply themselves to their work under a deep concern for precious souls, looking upon them as the riches of this world, which ought to be secured for Christ. They must likewise be concerned that the labourers were so few. The Jewish teachers were indeed many, but they were not labourers; they did not gather in souls to God’s kingdom, but to their own interest and party. Note, Those that are good ministers themselves wish that there were more good ministers, for there is work for more. It is common for tradesmen not to care how few there are of their own trade; but Christ would have the labourers in his vineyard reckon it a matter of complaint when the labourers are few. (2.) They must earnestly desire to receive their mission from God, that he would send them forth as labourers into his harvest who is the Lord of the harvest, and that he would send others forth; for, if God send them forth, they may hope he will go along with them and give them success. Let them therefore say, as the prophet (Isa. 6:8), Here I am, send me. It is desirable to receive our commission from God, and then we may go on boldly.
2. They must set out with an expectation of trouble and persecution: “Behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves; but go your ways, and resolve to make the best of it. Your enemies will be as wolves, bloody and cruel, and ready to pull you to pieces; in their threatenings and revilings, they will be as howling wolves to terrify you; in their persecutions of you, they will be as ravening wolves to tear you. But you must be as lambs, peaceable and patient, though made an easy prey of.” It would have been very hard thus to be sent forth as sheep among wolves, if he had not endued them with his spirit and courage.
3. They must not encumber themselves with a load of provisions, as if they were going a long voyage, but depend upon God and their friends to provide what was convenient for them: “Carry neither a purse for money, nor a scrip or knapsack for clothes or victuals, nor new shoes (as before to the twelve, Luke 9:3); and salute no man by the way.” This command Elisha gave to his servant, when he sent him to see the Shunamite’s dead child, 2 Kgs. 4:29. Not that Christ would have his ministers to be rude, morose, and unmannerly; but, (1.) They must go as men in haste, that had their particular places assigned them, where they must deliver their message, and in their way directly to those places must not hinder or retard themselves with needless ceremonies or compliments. (2.) They must go as men of business, business that relates to another world, which they must be intent in, and intent upon, and therefore must not entangle themselves with conversation about secular affairs. Minister verbi est; hoc age—You are a minister of the word; attend to your office. (3.) They must go as serious men, and men in sorrow. It was the custom of mourners, during the first seven days of their mourning, not to salute any, Job 2:13. Christ was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and it was fit that by this and other signs his messengers should resemble him, and likewise show themselves affected with the calamities of mankind which they came to relieve, and touched with a feeling of them.
4. They must show, not only their goodwill, but God’s good-will, to all to whom they came, and leave the issue and success to him that knows the heart, Luke 10:5, 6.
(1.) The charge given them was, Whatsoever house they entered into, they must say, Peace be to this house. Here, [1.] They are supposed to enter into private houses; for, being not admitted into the synagogues, they were forced to preach where they could have liberty. And, as their public preaching was driven into houses, so thither they carried it. Like their Master, wherever they visited, they preached from house to house, Acts 5:42; 20:20. Christ’s church was at first very much a church in the house. [2.] They are instructed to say, “Peace be to this house, to all under this roof, to this family, and to all that belong to it.” Peace be to you was the common form of salutation among the Jews. They must not use it in formality, according to custom, to those they met on the way, because they must use it with solemnity to those whose houses they entered into: “Salute no man by the way in compliment, but to those into whose house ye enter, say, Peace be to you, with seriousness and in reality; for this is intended to be more than a compliment.” Christ’s ministers go into all the world, to say, in Christ’s name, Peace be to you. First, We are to propose peace to all, to preach peace by Jesus Christ, to proclaim the gospel of peace, the covenant of peace, peace on earth, and to invite the children of men to come and take the benefit of it. Secondly, We are to pray for peace to all. We must earnestly desire the salvation of the souls of those we preach to, and offer up those desires to God in prayer; and it may be well to let them know that we do thus pray for them, and bless them in the name of the Lord.
(2.) The success was to be different, according to the different dispositions of those whom they preached to and prayed for. According as the inhabitants were sons of peace or not, so their peace should or should not rest upon the house. Recipitur ad modum recipientis—The quality of the receiver determines the nature of the reception. [1.] “You will meet with some that are the sons of peace, that by the operations of divine grace, pursuant to the designations of the divine counsel, are ready to admit the word of the gospel in the light and love of it, and have their hearts made as soft wax to receive the impressions of it. Those are qualified to receive the comforts of the gospel in whom there is a good work of grace wrought. And, as to those, your peace shall find them out and rest upon them; your prayers for them shall be heard, the promises of the gospel shall be confirmed to them, the privileges of it conferred on them, and the fruit of both shall remain and continue with them—a good part that shall not be taken away.” [2.] “You will meet with others that are no ways disposed to hear or heed your message, whole houses that have not one son of peace in them.” Now it is certain that our peace shall not come upon them, they have no part nor lot in the matter; the blessing that rests upon the sons of peace shall never come upon the sons of Belial, nor can any expect the blessings of the covenant that will not come under the bonds of it. But it shall return to us again; that is, we shall have the comfort of having done our duty to God and discharged our trust. Our prayers like David’s shall return into our own bosom (Ps. 35:13) and we shall have commission to go on in the work. Our peace shall return to us again, not only to be enjoyed by ourselves, but to be communicated to others, to the next we meet with, them that are sons of peace.
5. They must receive the kindnesses of those that should entertain them and bid them welcome, Luke 10:7, 8. “Those that receive the gospel will receive you that preach it, and give you entertainment; you must not think to raise estates, but you may depend upon a subsistence; and,” (1.) “Be not shy; do not suspect our welcome, nor be afraid of being troublesome, but eat and drink heartily such things as they give; for, whatever kindness they show you, it is but a small return for the kindness you do them in bringing the glad tidings of peace. You will deserve it, for the labourer is worthy of his hire, the labourer in the work of the ministry is so, if he be indeed a labourer; and it is not an act of charity, but of justice, in those who are taught in the word to communicate to those that teach them” (2.) “Be not nice and curious in your diet: Eat and drink such things as they give (Luke 10:7), such things as are set before you, Luke 10:8. Be thankful for plain food, and do not find fault, though it be not dressed according to art.” It ill becomes Christ’s disciples to be desirous of dainties. As he has not tied them up to the Pharisees’ superstitious fasts, so he has not allowed the luxurious feasts of the Epicureans. Probably, Christ here refers to the traditions of the elders about their meat which were so many that those who observed them were extremely critical, you could hardly set a dish of meat before them, but there was some scruple or other concerning it; but Christ would not have them to regard those things, but eat what was given them, asking no question for conscience’ sake.
6. They must denounce the judgments of God against those who should reject them and their message: “If you enter into a city, and they do not receive you, if there be none there disposed to hearken to your doctrine, leave them, Luke 10:10. If they will not give you welcome into their houses, do you give them warning in their streets.” He orders them to (Luke 9:5) do as he had ordered the apostles to do: “Say to them, not with rage, or scorn, or resentment, but with compassion to their poor perishing souls, and a holy dread of the ruin which they are bringing upon themselves, Even the dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you, Luke 10:11. From them do not receive any kindnesses at all, be not beholden to them. It cost that prophet of the Lord dear who accepted a meal’s meat with a prophet in Bethel, 1 Kgs. 13:21, 22. Tell them that you will not carry with you the dust of their city; let them take it to themselves, for dust they are.” It shall be a witness for Christ’s messengers that they had been there according to their Master’s order; tender and refusal were a discharge of their trust. But it shall be a witness against the recusants that they would not give Christ’s messengers any entertainment, no, not so much as water to wash their feet with, but they were forced to wipe off the dust. “But tell them plainly, and bid them be sure of it, The kingdom of God is come nigh to you. Here is a fair offer made you; if you have not the benefit of it, it is your own fault. The gospel is brought to your doors; if you shut your doors against it, your blood is upon your own head. Now that the kingdom of God is come nigh to you, if you will not come up to it, and come into it, your sin will be inexcusable, and your condemnation intolerable.” Note, The fairer offers we have of grace and life by Christ, the more we shall have to answer for another day, if we slight these offers: It shall be more tolerable for Sodom than for that city, Luke 10:12. The Sodomites indeed rejected the warning given them by Lot; but rejecting the gospel is a more heinous crime, and will be punished accordingly in that day. He means the day of judgment (Luke 10:14), but calls it, by way of emphasis, that day, because it is the last and great day, the day when we must account for all the days of time, and have our state determined for the days of eternity.
Upon this occasion, the evangelist repeats,
(1.) The particular doom of those cities wherein most of Christ’s mighty works were done, which we had, Matt. 11:20 Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, all bordering upon the sea of Galilee, where Christ was most conversant, are the places here mentioned. [1.] They enjoyed greater privileges. Christ’s mighty works were done in them, and they were all gracious works, works of mercy. They were hereby exalted to heaven, not only dignified and honoured, but put into a fair way of being happy; they were brought as near heaven as external means could bring them. [2.] God’s design in favouring them thus was to bring them to repentance and reformation of life, to sit in sackcloth and ashes, both in humiliation for the sins they had committed, and in humility and a meek subjection to God’s government. [3.] Their frustrating this design, and their receiving the grace of God therein in vain. It is implied that they repented not; they were not wrought upon by all the miracles of Christ to think the better of him, or the worse of sin; they did not bring forth fruits agreeable to the advantages they enjoyed. [4.] There was reason to think, morally speaking, that, if Christ had gone to Tyre and Sidon, Gentile cities, and had preached the same doctrine to them and wrought the same miracles among them that he did in these cities of Israel, they would have repented long ago, so speedy would their repentance have been, and that in sackcloth and ashes, so deep would it have been. Now to understand the wisdom of God, in giving the means of grace to those who would not improve them, and denying them to those that would, we must wait for the great day of discovery. [5.] The doom of those who thus receive the grace of God in vain will be very fearful. They that were thus exalted, not making use of their elevation, will be thrust down to hell, thrust down with disgrace and dishonour. They will thrust in to get into heaven, in the crowd of professors, but in vain; they shall be thrust down, to their everlasting grief and disappointment, into the lowest hell, and hell will be hell indeed to them. [6.] In the day of judgment Tyre and Sidon will fare better, and it will be more tolerable for them than for these cities.
(2.) The general rule which Christ would go by, as to those to whom he sent his ministers: He will reckon himself treated according as they treated his ministers, Luke 10:16. What is done to the ambassador is done, as it were, to the prince that sends him. [1.] “He that hearest you, and regardeth what you say, heareth me, and herein doeth me honour. But,” [2.] “He that despiseth you doth in effect despise me, and shall be reckoned with as having put an affront upon me; nay, he despiseth him that sent me.” Note, Those who contemn the Christian religion do in effect put a slight upon natural religion, which it is perfective of. And they who despise the faithful ministers of Christ, who, though they do not hate and persecute them, yet think meanly of them, look scornfully upon them, and turn their backs upon their ministry, will be reckoned with as despisers of God and Christ.