WHY DID JESUS SEND OUT THE DISCIPLES?
Why did Jesus send out His disciples? To preach the gospel? Yes. The Gospel of the Kingdom. That is, the announcement that God is becoming King on earth as He is in Heaven, in and through Jesus. The disciples could have possessed no other Gospel but this. They had no knowledge of Jesus' soon coming death and therefore they had no developed theories of atonement. They simply saw that God was making things right through Jesus by healing, casting out demons, lifting up the poor and standing up to oppressive powers. They went out to declare to Israel that her day of deliverance from the oppression of pagan nations and the oppression of demonic spirits was over because God was becoming King. That is the good news of the Gospel. When we read that Jesus sent out the seventy disciples and lamented that "the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few", we should not imagine that "the harvest" being gathered in are souls being rescued from a future disembodied eternity in Hell, in exchange for a disembodied eternity in heaven. We should not imagine that the urgency of the work was because people were dying without knowing Jesus. Millions of people in the world had already died without having that knowledge. Why should God think that dying without knowing Jesus is all-of-the-sudden such an urgent situation?! If the urgency was due to that fact, God must be seen as being highly hypocritical for having waited so long to get the message out up to this point. After all, the human race waited for Jesus and could not force Him to come any sooner than He did. FIGHTING THE WRONG WAY
Jesus sends out the seventy because the urgency of the moment was due to the fact that Israel's current ideas of how God was going to establish His justice on the earth was wrong-headed and was leading Israel to her doom. This type of situation had happened in Israel more than once before. The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel warned about impending dome of the nation of Israel due to their political aspirations, agendas, and dispositions. They were justified in their warnings when Babylon came and destroyed Jerusalem and took away her citizens into slavery. In Jesus' time, Jesus was warning that Rome was going to come in overwhelming force and obliterate the nation of Israel because of their stubborn and violent unwillingness to remain subjected to Roman occupation. Yes, Israel had won battles and wars in the past with the help of God. Didn't Johnathan, the son of King Saul, win a tremendous battle with only his amour bearer at his side when he declared that "God is not restrained to save by many or by few"? Didn't the nation of Israel conquer the promised land even though the people who lived there were greater in number and in size? Didn't David defeat Goliath? And wouldn't God help Israel defeat Rome? Jesus', answer is a definite "no!" At least, not in the way that Israel was currently going. Jesus was formulating His own strategy for defeating Rome and all other oppressive powers. That's what the Kingdom of God is all about. And when Jesus was performing healing, casting out demons, and announcing the arrival of God's Kingdom, Israel should have recognized that this was God's doing and God's way of fighting the battle, but many of them did not see it that way. Many of us also struggle to accept that this is what Jesus' life and ministry was all about. In this way, Jesus must be seen as a prophet, like the prophets of old who were questioned concerning the favor of God in potential battles. Would God give them the victory? As a prophet, Jesus was declaring loudly that the answer was "no!" Prophets in the ancient days of Israel suffered for their messages, being thrown in wells and prisons and having to run for their lives. In recent memory, John the Baptist had been beheaded for his lack of support for King Herod. Jesus knew that His fate would be similar. Nonetheless, He cared for Israel and wished to turn her away from going in the direction that would lead to her destruction.
HELL IS FOR REAL!
When Jesus warns Chorazin and Bethsaida about impending judgement, it is not Hell as we have come to think of it that He is warning against. Or if you want to say it is Hell, then we must be clear that the warning is against an impending event of Hell on earth that is coming. That is, Jesus is warning against a real space/time event that is coming and not "an eternity in Hell". Do I say this because I don't want to believe in Hell? No. It is because everything on the page suggests that this is what both Jesus and Luke are talking about. If we take the Bible seriously, we should take that point seriously. Hell is not an arbitrary punishment waiting for us in the after-life. Hell is sadly what many people call "normal" life. Hell is chaos and destruction and Jesus was warning that Israel's vision of bringing the kingdom was going to bring hell on earth.
SO, WHAT IS THE GOOD NEWS? Does this take the teeth out of Gospel preaching today? If the basis of your persuasion is encouraging people to avoid Hell in the after-life and to gain Heaven instead, it might feel that way. Hell is real, but what it is exactly, I do not know. What I do know is that the Gospel is good news about life, it is not dogma about after-life. We are not required to adhere to particular visions of Hell in order to be saved. Our salvation is not for the sake of "going to the right place" when we die. Our salvation is about being rescued from a perverted and death-corrupted versions of humanity and being made new creations instead. Our salvation is about being rescued from death and being made into the image bearers that God always intended us to be, bringing wise, loving, creative order to God's good world. Our salvation is for the sake of the world's salvation, not simply for the sake of individual gratification. You were made for a purpose beyond your immediate person. You were made to govern God's world and to serve it. Your salvation is for the sake of the entire creation's salvation: man and animal and plant. Doesn't Mark's Gospel say that we are to preach the Gospel "to all creation"? Doesn't Paul say that "all of creation eagerly awaits the revealing of the sons of God so that it might be set free from its' present corruption"? It is amazing to me how long we have spent in the scriptures without seeing these things. But then again, it is also very understandable. There are powerful cultural pressures and agendas that we bring to the text that will speak louder than the narrative and agendas of the text if we are not consciously trying to hear it. But we can hear it. As God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah saying, "all who truly seek Me, will find me." If we are to be Jesus' heralds today, it is our duty to seek to understand better what we are being sent out to do and to announce.