Only Luke among the evangelists tells of this second mission of disciples. He probably means it to have special significance for the missionary activity of the church after the departure of Jesus. According to rabbinic teaching, there were seventy nations in the world. The disciples are to go “ahead of him,” therefore not announcing themselves or their own message, but preparing the way for Jesus. The missionaries are sent in twos in order to give a witness that can be considered formal testimony about Jesus and the reign of God. Jesus urges prayer for more harvest workers. The Lord of the harvest is concerned about its progress, of course, but he has made his own response to the need somehow dependent on the active concern of those sent into the mission. Because the proclamation of the gospel is the word of God, it is not to be treated as a merely human message—“take it or leave it.” There are harsh consequences for closing ears and hearts to the news of God’s reign. On their return, the seventy are amazed at the power that has been given them through the name of Jesus. They have driven out demons, furthering Jesus’ attack on Satan’s dominion in this world. Jesus envisions Satan falling from the sky through their ministry, another way of saying that the eschatological or final battle between good and evil is taking place now; the victory is being won in Jesus’ name (John 12:31; Rom 16:20). But the disciples must not lose their perspective. The prize is not human glory through feats of power but heavenly glory through following Jesus to Jerusalem, to Calvary.
The beginning of the journey. Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is a march toward exaltation (“to be taken up”) in fulfillment of God’s plan. The earthly journey of Jesus serves also as the framework for the progress of the church in the time after the ascension. We find ourselves on the way toward Jerusalem with the Lord. But the march to glory, as Jesus has already warned, is a path through suffering. The disciples must expect to be treated no better than the Master. The cost of Christian discipleship is clearly stated as the journey gets underway. The hostility of the Samaritans is not the personal hatred Jesus will meet in Jerusalem. It is evidence of the national or racial prejudice between Samaritans and Jews. Jesus’ disciples cannot expect to be free from this treatment, but the answer is not retaliation. James and John must learn to avoid useless clashes and to look for new places to spread the kingdom. Illusions are dispelled for would-be disciples. The person who offered himself with absolute availability (v. 57) is told the cost: you will be less secure than the foxes and the birds. Another responds to Jesus’ call with the request that he be allowed to take care of one of the most sacred duties under the law, the burial of a parent. The urgency of the gospel supersedes this claim. Jesus’ saying means that those who do not respond to the gospel call will be spiritually dead; they will have time to bury the physical dead.
After exhibiting his power over the storm, Jesus demonstrates his authority over the demons in Gentile territory. Further, he works a dramatic transformation in a human life. The man is said to be “possessed” by demons. The unclean spirit turns out to be a regiment (“Legion” was an imperial army term), which recognizes Jesus as did other demons. The man’s condition is dangerous to himself and to others, and has persisted over a long time. This is no ordinary exorcism. Its lasting effects could be doubted, which is probably why Jesus agrees to send the demons into the swine—for visible proof that the demons have left the man. They ask not to be sent to “the abyss.” The word used could mean the dead (see Romans 10:7), but here it means the prison of evil spirits (2 Peter 2:4; Rev 9:1-11). The local people are terrified by what has taken place. Their fear does not lead to praise of God (5:26) but to the rejection of Jesus. The loss of the swine impresses them more than the transformation of the man, who, when the people arrive, is sitting at Jesus’ feet in the attitude of a disciple listening to his word. The man wants to follow Jesus, but his vocation is to share what happened to him with his own people.
Today there is a common notion that acts and attitudes are sin only if they hurt people. If no one is hurt, it is not sin. This belief is a misunderstanding of the nature of sin. Sin is basically a rebellion against God. It is a rejection of God’s rule over our lives. We know God’s will. It has been revealed particularly in Jesus. Many of our little offenses are insignificant enough except that they form a pattern of rejection of God. As sin is against God, so forgiveness must come from God. David understood that. The Pharisees saw that clearly. The announcement of God’s forgiveness is the greatest blessing which the Christian church brings to a sinful humanity. The world today takes God’s forgiveness lightly, because it takes sin lightly. Sin is explained away as anything except rebellion against God. Sin is explained away as being merely the result of a bad environment. And so it goes, on and on. The age-old attempt to explain away sin short of rebellion against God is repeated at every age. We cannot heed the truth about ourselves, how can we receive forgiveness? There is a similarity between David (2 Samuel 11:26-12:10,13-15) and Simon’s (Luke 7:36-8:3) offenses. Both had power to do as they pleased, and both did just that. Who was to tell them they could not? In David’s case, it was Nathan the prophet, the mouthpiece of God. In Simon’s case, it was Jesus, speaking also the word of God. No person is above or beyond God’s judgment!