“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.”
Luke 10:1 (NIV)
Why did Jesus send out EXACTLY seventy-two disciples?
A great deal of Christ’s ministry was directed against The Sanhedrin, the Jewish high priests in Jerusalem.
The Sanhedrin was comprised of seventy-two Jewish elders. Jesus sent out seventy-two disciples with the intent of establishing his own church, separate and distinct from The Sanhedrin.
Scripture is filled with Christ lobbing brickbats against the Sanhedrin. Take Christ’s driving the money changers from the Temple (Luke 19: 44-48). The money changers were charging the poor usurious interest rates (a sin!) to exchange their common Roman coins for ritual Temple coins.
When Jesus drove the money changers out of the Temple, he was sending a signal to the Sanhedrin; the money changers would not have been permitted to operate on the Temple grounds without THEIR consent.
The Sanhedrin was corrupt. It was profiting from sin while giving the outward appearance of being pious. It was for this reason that Christ drove the money changers from the Temple. (In all likelihood, it was also one reason that he was crucified. He was posing a threat to their income stream.)
Christ doesn’t stop there. In chapter 23 of the Gospel of Matthew, we find Christ railing against the excesses of the Pharisees, the orthodox Jews of his day:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”
Matthew 23: 25 (NIV)
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
Matthew 23: 27-28 (NIV)
This too was ultimately aimed at The Sanhedrin. The images Christ used in his discourses fit them to a T: bowls that are clean on the outside and yet filthy on the inside. Whitewashed tombs that look pure and pristine on the surface while at the same time being corrupt, filthy, and unclean within.
The corruption of the Pharisees was symptomatic of a far greater problem: the religious leaders of the day (the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin included) had forgotten who they were supposed to be. They had lost their identity as a people who were set apart by God. They had become too enmeshed in the world. (They might have made a public show of their piety, but in terms of what was in their hearts and how they actually lived their day-to-day lives, they weren’t all that different from their Gentile neighbors.)
This is a re-capitulation of the era of the Old Testament prophets. If you read the books of the prophets (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Amos, Malachai, et al.), you’ll see the same themes re-occurring: the corruption of the priests, the corruption of society, etc.
Jesus of Nazareth was a comedian. He was not above using humor to drive home a point. When you read the Seven Woes passage of Matthew 23: 10-27, don’t do what most people do in their Bible Study class and read it in a droning monotone (“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites …” ).
Instead, read it with passion … with feeling. Christ was holding up the religious leaders of his day to public ridicule. This too was one reason that he was crucified.
In many respects, Christ’s death echoes John the Baptist’s (Mark 6: 17-29). He dared to chastise the ruling powers of his day for the sins … and was executed for it.