In the book “The Chosen” by Chaim Potok, Danny Saunders is a brilliant young man. Danny’s father is a rabbi of a Russian Hassidic sect in Williamsburg. From a young age, the rabbi, his father didn’t speak to Danny. He never told him why until much later. The rabbi was concerned that his brilliant son would never be able to relate to the pain; the feeling of insignificance that was a daily struggle for many. For the rabbi, intelligence is not the goal. It is compassion. He knew he could not begin to enhance his son’s knowledge. But maybe he could help him to discover compassion for the unheard, the ignored, the marginalized. If this were a Spider Man tale, the rabbi might have said something like, “With great intelligence comes great responsibility.” I may be horrified by how this man tried to teach his son about compassion, but I understand the importance of the lesson.
In Luke 10:17-20 you have an exultant return of the seventy who were sent out by Jesus. We don’t know how long they were gone. Really doesn’t matter. They are stoked. They burst out with a “Lord! Even the demons submit to us in Your name!” I’m not sure we grasp how exciting this would be. They commanded a demon to leave in the name of Jesus and what do you know? The demon left. That kind of power just might go to your heads. To their credit, they understand that it is the name of Jesus that held all the power. But they have the same authority that had been given to the Twelve. Kingdom authority was theirs as well.
Jesus responds by telling them that he had a vision: “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” The Jewish people long expected that the final act would be a battle between good and evil; a showdown between Yahweh and the Adversary – Satan. And there wasn’t any question of who would win. This is not about Satan being kicked out of heaven before the garden event. That would make no sense to our context. Often when the prophets of old were given a vision, the vision interpreted what was going on with Heaven reality. It may point to the future, but even then, there was often a hint of the present culminating in the future. The fall of Satan is the culmination of the kingdom breaking into reality. These seventy disciples had been sent out with kingdom authority over demons. This is the beginning of the end for Satan. Jesus’ kingdom is being established and his disciples are working kingdom in the world.
Then, Jesus tells them that he had given them authority to trample serpents and scorpions. The only place in the Bible that serpents and scorpions are mentioned together is in Deuteronomy 8:15. This passage is a celebration of God’s protection during the wilderness wanderings as the Israelites journeyed to the Promised Land. The idea of treading on serpents (along with lions and cobras) is found in Psalm 91:13, which is a celebration of God’s protection for those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High. If there is a link here to these passages then Jesus may be referring to a new Exodus; a journey to the Promised Land. Jesus has given them authority over the enemy – the Satan – as they journey to the promise. If you dwell in the shelter of the Most High, you don’t have to journey afraid of things that bite or sting. The Satan is being cast down and if you are with God you are on the winning side.
As amazing as all of this is, it is not the most important thing. What could be more important than being able to command evil spirits; to trample on serpents without being hurt; to avoid the snares of the enemy? Your name is recorded in heaven. This is about citizenship. They may have been tempted to think that their power over demons was more important than being citizens of the Kingdom. And power, even power over evil, is not the goal. Power is a result of kingdom citizenship. So rejoice that there is a record of your citizenship with your name on it.
Why is this important? Well, for us humans, power seems to go to our heads. If power is the goal, then we tend to want to be more powerful than the next guy. Or we use the power to demonstrate our power; our control over others or over the situation. We may even use the power to do good things with selfish motives. We may use the name of Jesus while we relish the attention we are receiving. So, don’t rejoice in the power, as awesome as that is. Rejoice that you are in the kingdom of God! It is because you are in the kingdom that you have kingdom authority. And the authority is not the end game. Being in the kingdom is what truly matters. Rejoice Citizen! Rejoice!