Mission math: Twelve plus 72 equals great commission


In chapters 9 and 10, Luke records the limited commission of the Twelve and of the 72 others (besides the Twelve). It appears he makes symbolic use of the numbers. The Twelve represent the Jews. Twelve apostles, twelve tribes of Israel. The 72 represent the number of the nations of the world (see Gen 10; cf. NLT Study Bible).

Luke 10 appears near the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem (9.51-19.27), during which he has in view their mission of preaching after his death (W. Kummel, Introdução ao Novo Testamento). Various elements, though not all, seem to look toward fulfillment after the beginning of the church, such as their prayer for more laborers.

By the two narratives of  the limited commission in Luke 9 and 10, then, the good doctor seems to say that the gospel is for both Jews and Gentiles. And the great commission, which may be identified as world mission, must be carried out by, and applies to, both apostles and all the church. The 72 are told to pray for more laborers, so this, again, appears to extend beyond the limited commission.

This is what we see happening in Acts. When persecution comes, for example, the Twelve stay in Jerusalem. The church is scattered abroad and “went from place to place, proclaiming the word” Ac 8.1-4ff. Thus begins the fulfillment of the world mission.

And it continues as the whole church proclaims the gospel and prays for more laborers for the harvest.

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