The Seventy Disciples (Church Basement)

We’ve all heard of the twelve disciples. You’ve got Peter, James, John, good Judas, bad Judas, and the other ones. These twelve men were commissioned by Jesus to go out into the world and preach the gospel to the nations.

But what you may not know is that those weren’t the only disciples. In Luke 10, we read that Jesus “appointed seventy others also,” telling them “the harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few.” He commissions these seventy disciples to go out into the world, healing the sick and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and gives them all authority over the power of the enemy (Luke 10).

Now here’s my question: why seventy? Why not 52, or 153[1]? Did there just happen to be seventy guys hanging out with Jesus that day, or is there something more significant about the number 70? A good starting place would be to see if the number 70 turns up anywhere else in scripture. And it turns out, it does.

In the book of Numbers, God says to Moses, “Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel… and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them” (Numbers 11:16-17). Well that’s pretty similar to Jesus, who gave His 70 disciples power over the devil.

Any other 70s?

A bit further back, Jacob and his descendants move from Canaan to Egypt during a famine. In fact, we read that people from all over the world were coming to Egypt because of this famine. Why Egypt? Because Joseph, by the Spirit of God, foresaw this famine and prepared for it years in advance, basically rescuing the entire world in the process. And during all this, Jacob’s family relocates down to Egypt. And how many descendants did he bring? Seventy.

But are there any other 70s? Turns out there’s one more 70 even earlier than this, but it’s a bit hidden. Way back in Genesis, God commands Noah’s descendants to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” Then there is a list of every nation founded in the generations after Noah. You remember. It’s called the Table of Nations. It’s the chapter you probably skip every time you read Genesis.

But what if, instead of skipping that chapter like a lazy bum, you instead read the whole thing? Or better yet, what if you counted all of the nations listed? How many do you think there’d be? Turns out, there are exactly sixty-eight. Just kidding. It’s seventy.

From the very beginning of human civilization, from the very beginning of scripture, the number “seventy” represented the nations of the world. Every single man, woman, and child on the planet today—every single person who has ever lived—descended from one of these seventy nations.

And with that in mind, reconsider the different scriptures we’ve looked at. Why did 70 of Jacob’s descendants relocate to Egypt? Because Egypt was where Jacob’s son Joseph was bringing salvation to the nations of the earth. Why did Moses appoint 70 elders? To forever cement in the minds of the Jewish people that central promise of their existence—”in you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”

Thousands of years later, when the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek—the common language of the Roman Empire—so that everyone, not just the Jewish people could read it, it was called the Septuagint (meaning “the seventy”) and was translated by seventy scribes.

Heck, even the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council that persecuted Jesus and His disciples, had one president and 70 judges. They had clearly forgotten their mission—to bring the salvation of the Messiah to the nations—but it was right there in front of them the whole time: seventy!

Throughout Jewish history, the number 70 has always served as a reminder that God’s chosen people needed to have a heart, not just for themselves, but for all the peoples of the world, for the nations of the earth. So of course, when Jesus sent His disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God and bring salvation to the world, He appointed 70—a specific number with a specific meaning.

Jesus’s seventy followed in a long line of seventies: The seventy Sanhedrin judges called to be a light in a godless empire. The seventy translators who had brought the Word of God to the world. The seventy elders anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit. The seventy descendants who saved the world from famine and death. The seventy nations sent to fulfill God’s original commission: be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth.

And you, too, follow in this great tradition, for you too have been anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit, you too have been sent to proclaim the gospel of God’s kingdom, you too have been commissioned to bring salvation to the world.

Seventy wasn’t an accident. Jesus was very deliberate with that choice. So maybe you should be deliberate with your choices as well. Seventy nations worth of people are counting on it.

Have a great day, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.


[1] 52 is the number of days it took for Nehemiah to rebuild the temple wall. 153 is the number of fish Peter caught.

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