34. Sending Out the Twelve (Luke 9:1-10)

Gospel Parallels §109-110
Audio (30:55)

James J. Tissot, 'He Sent Them Out Two by Two' (1886-94)
James J. Tissot, 'He Sent Them Out Two by Two' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, 5.75 x 9.75 in., Brooklyn Museum, New York.

For the first time in Luke's Gospel, Jesus finally calls upon his disciples to do something. Up until now they have been primarily observers and hearers. He has taught a hundred crowds in their hearing, imbedded in their minds his message and methods day after day, week after week, month after month until they know them by heart. Now it is time to send them out to learn how to minister.

"1  When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2  and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3  He told them: 'Take nothing for the journey -- no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. 4  Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5  If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.' 6  So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere. 7  Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, 8  others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. 9  But Herod said, 'I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?' And he tried to see him. 10  When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida...." (Luke 9:1-10, NIV)

The last few weeks I have been teaching my daughter to drive. She had spent hours in classes learning about driving, read the Department of Motor Vehicles manual from cover to cover, and sat in the car as my wife and I have driven tens of thousands of miles. But sitting down behind the wheel and starting the car for the first time herself was a turning point. She eased it into gear, took off the brake, applied the gas, and the car pulled forward. We started in a large empty parking lot, and the first day she just drove up one side, turned at the end and came back, again and again. The next time out we found a deserted street near our house. Next it was 40 MPH country roads, then city streets and freeways. My wife and I are still sitting on the passenger side coaching a bit, but now our daughter is driving and has the confidence to do so. The passage from being a learner to becoming a doer is significant.

Some disciples never seem to get beyond hearing. They are feeders but never farmers. They come to church for a meal, not a mission.

Gathering and Sending (Luke 9:1-2)

The training of Jesus' disciples has now reached a crucial juncture. In verses 1-2 we see a kind of rhythm. Gathering and sending, gathering and sending.

"When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority ... and he sent them out...." (9:1-2)

Why did he need to call them together (Greek synkaleō)? Leon Morris makes an interesting comment:

"We should not exaggerate the amount of time the apostles spent together. Some of them had homes and families in Capernaum and we need not doubt that they spent some of the time at their homes."291

I think he's right. While Jesus and his disciples spend a great deal of time together, so long as they are in Galilee, they spend time at home, too. These days, Jesus is often thronged by crowds, but on this particular occasion, Jesus calls his disciples together, apart from the crowds, in order to give them a training exercise and a mission -- their first.

For now it is the Twelve Apostles, later he calls the Seventy (10:1-24) and sends them out. But what about the crowds? When does he send them out? He doesn't. They've come for a spiritual meal, while the disciples, the "learners," have come to learn a way of life. To be a disciple means to be willing to be trained for and sent out on a mission. To be gathered and then sent.

The word "sent out" in verse 2 is Greek apostellō, "send away or out."292 It is a compound word, apo- "from, away from" and stellō, "make ready, dispatch, send."293 Our English phrase "to go on a mission" carries the same idea. The word "mission" comes from the Latin missus, "act of sending."294 But lest you think that apostellō refers only to the Twelve Apostles, note that the word also occurs in the Sending of the Seventy (10:1). It is often used in the New Testament in the sense of "sent with a commission, or with a mission to complete."

The disciples are called together and then sent out.

Power and Authority (Luke 9:1)

"When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases." (9:1)

Once he has called them together, he gives them both power (Greek dunamis) and authority (Greek exousia). These are similar but distinct concepts, and you would do well to remember the distinction, since we see these words again and again in the New Testament.

Power. Greek dunamis means "power, might, strength, force ... ability, capability."295 It refers to the raw power needed to accomplish an action.

Authority. The second word, Greek exousia, can refer to capability, might, power, ability, also, but when used with dunamis it is emphasizing "authority, absolute power, warrant," the power exercised by rulers or others in high position by virtue of their office, "ruling power, official power."296

If you see a 6 feet 6 inch man working out in the gym, his muscles bulging as he presses a heavy barbell, you know that he has physical strength. But just because he has the strength does not mean that he has the authority to use that strength. When he goes through police academy and learns the laws, then he is given a badge and with it the license or authority to use all necessary force to uphold the law and protect the citizenry. A barroom bouncer may have muscle, but without the authority to use it, he can be arrested for assault if he isn't careful.

The distinction is this: dunamis is the raw power, exousia is the authority to use that power.

Preaching and Healing Mission (Luke 9:1-2)

"He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick." (9:1-2)

Notice in verses 1 and 2 first the power and authority, then the commission to preach and heal. Until now, the disciples had seen Jesus exercise awesome power over demons. Now he delegates that power and authority to them. Notice, the Holy Spirit hasn't come upon them yet, as it had on Jesus at his baptism (Luke 4). This is a limited mission with specific delegated powers at this point.

But what this means is that, when one of the Twelve comes up against a demon on the preaching mission, he can operate with full authority over that demon in the spirit-world. It isn't the disciples' authority, but a delegated authority from Jesus. It works like a spiritual power of attorney. The demons recognize Jesus' authority; now they have to reckon with and obey that authority multiplied by twelve. As Jesus speaks these words of commission and delegation, the dominion and power of darkness are diminished just a bit. There had been one light shining in the darkness (John 1:5), now twelve. Oh, for the day when all billion of those who call themselves Christians live and act in the power of the Spirit, exercising dominion and power over the demonic realm! Won't that be a day to look forward to and celebrate, when all God's people "rule and reign with Christ" (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:6).

The disciples are also given both the ability and the authority to heal. Verses 1 and 2 use two different Greek words for "to heal." In verse 1 we see Greek therapeuō, "serve, be a servant," then "care for, wait upon, treat (medically)," then also "heal, restore."297 We derive our English words "therapy" and "therapeutic" from this word. In verse 2 another word is used, Greek iaomai, "heal, cure."298 Functionally, I don't see much difference between the two words, and they seem to be used interchangeably in the New Testament.

Finally, the disciples are given a mission to preach, Greek kērussō, "announce, make known" by a herald. Then, "proclaim, preach."299 But the disciples aren't just commissioned as orators; they are to proclaim the Kingdom of God as heralds. The content of their message is "the kingdom of God."

John the Baptist had this message, proclaiming the good news of God: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 3:2). Jesus took up the very same message, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 4:17). Now the Twelve take up the same message and declare it.

Pastors these days are encouraged to give sermons on just about every topic -- and certainly the gospel needs to be interpreted within the context of our own day -- but we must make very certain that we are proclaimers of the very same message of the Kingdom to which we are heir, and not alter or dilute it in order to tickle the ears of our hearers. The message of the Kingdom is a saving message, of Good News about the coming of the King to save his people and set them free. Is that our message still? Have we tired of it? Or have we substituted pop psychology and political rhetoric?

I think of an old gospel song I learned as a child,

"I love to tell the story to those who know it best,
Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest,
I love the old, old story, because I know 'tis true.
I'll tell the old, old story, I tell it now to you.

     I love to tell the story, twill be my theme in glory,
     To tell the old, old story, of Jesus and his love."300

Words and Deeds (Luke 9:2)

It is striking that the disciples are not just to preach, but "to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick" (9:2). Today, we preach and leave the healing to physicians. Or build hospitals that become divorced from the proclamation of the saving gospel that alone can make patients whole. But Jesus' message goes with action and demonstration. He speaks good news and then demonstrates good news. He speaks words of restoration, and then lays his hands on the sick. He calls for repentance and he casts out the rebellious demons that hold some of his hearers in bondage.

This is certainly a theme of Luke, and also of the Gospels. Luke's second book, the Acts of the Apostles, begins with these words, "In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach..." (Acts 1:1). The clear implication is that what Jesus began, in word and deed, his disciples have taken up and are continuing.

The so-called "longer ending" of the Gospel of Mark concludes, "Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it" (Mark 16:20).

Words and deeds. Deeds and words. Why do we allow the phrase "healing evangelist" to become either obsolete or a title to be shunned? May the Church of Jesus Christ recover both her message of the Kingdom and her power to heal the bodies and souls of men!

Equipment for the Journey (Luke 9:3)

"He told them: 'Take nothing for the journey -- no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.'" (9:3)

Jesus' instructions are curious. When I get ready to take a trip, I pack my bag with extra clothes, put in my overnight kit, take something to eat and drink in the car, and sometimes, stop by the ATM (automatic teller machine) on my way out of town to get some cash in case I need it.

Why does Jesus tell them to take nothing? Is this the eternal "rule" for itinerant preachers? No. Just before Jesus' crucifixion, he gives them different instructions:

"Then Jesus asked them, 'When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?'
'Nothing,' they answered.
He said to them, 'But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one....
The disciples said, 'See, Lord, here are two swords.'
'That is enough,' he replied." (Luke 22:35-38)

When you study St. Paul's methods, he didn't follow these rules. But Jesus gives them for a purpose -- a training purpose. He wants his disciples to learn how to trust him to provide for them.

This is one of the most important lessons we disciples can learn -- that God will provide our needs. It takes away a great deal of anxiety and fear. This is the message Jesus taught his disciples with birds of the air and the lilies of the field.

"Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:33)

Last night I recalled the terrors of my high school English teacher. He assigned a composition once and in it forbade us to use any prepositional phrases, such as "of the air" or "of the field" or "to the beach" or "for the children." Why? As a training exercise, to force us to learn to write cleaner prose. The purpose was not to exclude prepositional phrases from our future writing, only to keep us from being overly dependent upon them.

Jesus' instructions are given to teach, to train the Twelve. And they were effective: "'When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?' 'Nothing,' they answered" (Luke 22:35).

Without a purse, you learn to rely on the Lord to fund what he desires. With a purse, you check the extent of your own resources, not his.

With a bag you depend upon the resources you've packed. Without a bag, you have to depend upon the Lord. I remember when I went through my initiation into the Boy Scout Order of the Arrow. Inductees were given the barest essentials and sent out into the night by themselves. Why? To teach endurance and ingenuity that the well-equipped may never learn.

Without an extra tunic? No underwear? "Travel light," is the watchword for this mission. The disciples are to go from town to town with just the barest essentials, nothing more.

No staff? For this mission they aren't even to take a walking stick for protection or comfort. They are to utterly rely on the Lord. There will be plenty of time to get a staff for future journeys.301

Jesus' instructions to the Twelve on this occasion to take nothing special for the trip, just go, are for training purposes. I've seen men and women tempted to "go" before they are properly prepared. They saw a need and went to fill it in youthful enthusiasm, often against the counsel of their pastors. Hey, I've done some willful, stupid things, too. But let's not use this Scripture passage as license to make no preparations for the Lord's work. It is a training exercise before a live audience, not Jesus' last word on mission preparedness.

Contentment with God's Provision (Luke 9:4)

"Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town." (9:4)

Luke abbreviates Matthew's fuller explanation (Matthew 10:5-16), but the point is clear. The disciples are not to keep moving from one house to another in hopes of finding more comfortable lodgings and better food. They are to be content with the accommodations in the first home they come to, and then they are to get on with their mission of preaching and healing.

Being content with God's provision is difficult sometimes. I know it is difficult for many pastors and their families in smaller congregations. Somehow you must be content with the limited salary and housing, even though you know that some of the congregation's leaders don't tithe their income, and put fixing up the parsonage last on the list of priorities. Pastors and their families are often hurt by the stinginess of congregations. And when God puts on someone's heart to do something special for them, it is special.

Why don't pastors just go on strike and refuse to serve congregations that are less than thoughtful? Why don't they just all seek promotion to larger churches? Because ultimately they serve God, not the congregation. They have taken on themselves the burden of serving in spite of the conditions, not because the conditions are right.

But it isn't just pastors and their families that sometimes have to struggle with contentment. Many of you have faced poverty and financial reversal. Can you live in contentment rather than worry about food and shelter and clothing? Jesus calls us to do so.

"The pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:32-33)

I know I've had to deal with my anger at God for some sufferings. I've had to let God talk to me about the situations and explain some hard things to me. I'm a disciple. You are a disciple. Sometimes disciples must endure hardness like soldiers (2 Timothy 2:3). My prayer for myself is that I might get to the place that God brought Paul:

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:11-13).

My dear friend, has your discipleship training brought you into a place of hardship? Learn the lesson Jesus would teach you, the secret of being content: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me! It was to bring the Twelve to that realization that Jesus imposed these curious mission rules. It is to bring us to that place that we, too, sometimes suffer hardship. If we can learn these lessons well, then, perhaps the Lord will bring us onto some new lessons.

Judgment on Unreceptive Villages (Luke 9:5)

"If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them." (9:5)

This instruction sounds strange to twenty-first century ears, but not to Jewish ears in the first century. They would shake off the dust of a gentile city from their feet to remove what was ceremonially unclean before returning to their own land, lest they should defile it.302 The disciples are not to be vindictive, but when the message of the Kingdom is rejected by Jewish villages, they are to indicate God's judgment. Does this mean that all missionaries should go only to peoples that are immediately receptive? No. But on this mission, Jesus' disciples are not to waste time with unreceptive villages, but move on to those where they are received.

Preaching and Healing Everywhere (Luke 9:6)

"So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere." (9:6)

What a wonderful verse. Twelve men -- Mark tells us they are going out two by two (Mark 6:7) -- six teams, visiting village after village, declaring good tidings of great joy, preaching that the kingdom of God is at hand. And everywhere they go, they heal! How wonderful! Jesus' ministry has been multiplied. For many months the disciples have been in training -- watching, listening, questioning, observing, memorizing the message that Jesus proclaims. But now they become bearers of the same good news, and they bring good deeds of God's gracious healing as if to illustrate the Word.

Mark adds, "They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them" (Mark 6:13). We don't have any record of Jesus using anointing with oil for healing, but he must have taught his disciples to do so, since that is one of the ways they healed on this mission trip. Of course, they healed by other actions, too -- a word of command, laying on of hands, prayer -- but on this mission they also anointed with oil. The only other reference in the New Testament to healing by anointing with oil is in the Letter of James, Jesus' brother:

"Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven." (James 5:14-15)

I share this because few Christians remember that there is a reference to anointing with oil for healing in the Gospels.

Where did the disciples go? Probably the region of Galilee. Jesus had covered the larger "towns" or "cities" (Greek polis). But there were dozens and dozens of villages (Greek komē) north of the Sea of Galilee up the Hula Valley, west in the hills, and south towards the fertile plain of the Jezreel Valley. They had been to some of these villages with Jesus, but many had not been reached with the good news. With six teams instead of just one, they could cover much more ground. Nor did the crowds that impeded Jesus' movements slow them down.

So two-by-two they spread out and went from village to village. And their preaching and healing had such an impact that word of it went as far as the palace of King Herod Antipas.

Herod's Confusion (Luke 9:7-9)

"Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. But Herod said, 'I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?' And he tried to see him." (9:7-9)

You know how rumors are. The report may begin with an eyewitness, but by the time it passes through several people, and is reinterpreted by each of them to next in the chain, the resulting report can be rather bizarre. All Herod knew was that the Jesus Movement was growing. He had executed John, but the movement still grew. Herod was beginning to hear so much that he tried to see Jesus to find out the truth. We have no evidence that Herod ever actually saw Jesus, however, until the day of Jesus' trial and crucifixion.

Debriefing and Retreat (Luke 9:10)

Location of Bethsaida (larger map)

"When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida." (9:10)

How long were they out on their mission? We aren't told. I would guess a week or two. What stories they had to tell! What an adventure to be on their own, and come back to tell Jesus of their exploits. How proud they must have been to share how God had used them! And I expect they reported some difficulties, too. What should we have done in that situation, Jesus? And I expect that Jesus talked it through with all of them and helped them learn from their experience. This was a debriefing after the mission.

How important it is that we learn the right lessons from our difficulties. Sometimes our defeats and failures cause us to turn inward and lose confidence. But as they share with Jesus, they receive wisdom and encouragement from him.

Training is often done just this way:

  1. Observe the expert perform an action.
  2. Ask questions to understand why he does what he does.
  3. Try to carry out the action yourself under the eyes of the expert, receiving feedback so you get it right.
  4. Carry out the action yourself, and then discuss it with the expert.
  5. Carry out the action yourself regularly.

You and I are still in training. Yes, we are able to do some things on our own -- in prayer, of course, but confidently because we know God's will in certain situations. But in some areas we still need training. We need some feedback, some correction. We have some things wrong and need to get them right. We need to talk to Jesus.

Healing Debriefings

My dear friend, what about your defeats and failures? Have they stunted your growth and brought your training up short? It's time to report to Jesus what happened, and talk these things over with him. It's time to move past the wounds into a new time of learning.

Jesus has some experienced disciples to help in his debriefings these days -- pastors, mature believers. You may be embarrassed to open up painful things before someone else, but as the Lord leads in this, the debriefing itself can result in healing and encouragement and new direction. Tears, yes, as your heartbreak comes close to the surface afresh. But healing and encouragement, too. It's time to move on, to move out again, to find a ministry partner, and reenter the mission.

I love this verse: "So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere." Think of how much good they did. Think about the joy they brought to the villages. Think about the wonder and happiness when a lady who had been chronically ill is anointed with olive oil and finds herself healed. Think about the man who is lame who can now walk without a limp. You're the disciple. God has used you. And now you and your companion are on the road back to where Jesus is to report doing some things you've never done before. You've been "preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere." And it feels pretty good. Pretty good.


Lord, thank you for the stretching times. Thank you for moving us into situations that are new and sometimes scary with the purpose of helping us grow. Thank you for your loving debriefing. Thank you for new hope. Thank you for a chance to be part of your mission, to see your power move through our lives. Thank you. In your powerful and loving Name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verse

"So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere." (Luke 9:6)


Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions that follow -- your choice.

  1. What's the difference between power and authority?
  2. What purposes did Jesus seem to have in sending the Twelve on this mission?
  3. Why did he instruct them to travel light? Why did he tell them not to bring a staff, a bag, or food, or money, or an extra shirt? What was the point in that?
  4. Why were they told to stay in just one house in each village, and not try to find better lodgings?
  5. How did the disciples' obedience to Jesus' instructions bless people?
  6. Of what value were their reports and Jesus' debriefing?
Discipleship Training in Luke's Gospel, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Lessons compiled in 805-page book in paperback, Kindle, & PDF.


Abbreviations and References

[291] Morris, Luke, p. 163.

[292] Apostellō, BAGD 98-99.

[293] Stellō, Liddell- Scott, pp. 1637-1638.

[294] Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (G. & C. Merriam, 1965), p. 1445. Our word "missile" also comes from missus, the past participle of the verb mittere, "to throw or send."

[295] Dunamis, BAGD 207-208.

[296] Exousia, BAGD 277-279.

[297] Therapeuō, BAGD 359.

[298] Iaomai, BAGD 368.

[299] Kēryssō, BAGD 431.

[300] The lyrics of "I Love to Tell the Story" (1866) are by Arabella Katherine Hankey (1834-1911), an Anglican Evangelical.

[301] While in both Luke 9:3 and Matthew 10:9 Jesus tells his disciples not to take a staff on this journey, in Mark 6:8 he tells them to do so. We don't have any good explanation of this, except that perhaps the original text of Mark had an error in transmission. See the discussion in Morris, Luke, p. 163, and Marshall, Luke, pp. 352-353.

[302] Marshall, Luke, p. 354, cites F.J. Foakes-Jackson and K. Lake, The Beginnings of Christianity (London, 1920-3), vol. 5, 269-271; and Strack and Billerback, vol. 1, p. 571.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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