Return of the 72: I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning From Heaven

In Luke 10:17-24, the seventy-two return from their mission trip. And Jesus tells them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” What did he mean?

Not Like the 12

This isn’t the first time men have been sent out to proclaim the kingdom of God in Jesus’ name. In chapter 9, Jesus sent out the twelve on a similar mission. And they, too, came back rejoicing. But there were flaws in their joy. There is a subtle clue to their misunderstanding in Luke 9:10: “On their return the apostles told him all that they had done.” It’s a subtle clue. but the events that follow bear out their misunderstanding. They think of the authority delegated to them in very narrow terms. They do not understand that they’ve been commissioned by the king to proclaim the kingdom in his name. They carry that Second-Adamic authority with them. But they act as though they’ve been given a very, very limited (however magnificent) power of attorney. They have exorcised demons and cured diseases, but they freak out when Jesus tells them to feed the crowd. So Jesus does it.

A week later, we see two further episodes showing this misunderstanding. At the transfiguration, Peter doesn’t understand that the eternal son of God, the word made flesh, is standing before him. Even though he’s confessed him to be the Christ, he’s still looking for a red phone to heaven. That’s what the “shall we build three tents” question is all about. He’s wanting a “tent of meeting”, where he can get direct revelation from God (cf. Ex 33:7–9). He’s missing the fact that he has direct revelation in the Christ, the word made flesh, the Son. And the apostles aren’t faring any better at the foot of the mountain. They have forgotten that it is only Christ’s power that casts out demons. They’ve started to forget, not only that Jesus GAVE them power and authority over demons and diseases in verse 1, but that he sent them away without money or bread or bag or a change of clothes. He sent them out dependent. In that dependent state, they’d done wonderful things. But when they get back, we get signs that they are forgetting where their power comes from (Luke 9:10). And so they fail to cast out the demon from the man’s son. And if that weren’t enough, these guys are also bragging about stopping another guy from casting out demons because he’s not one of them … They are stopping the guy who is doing the very thing they can’t do, because they’ve forgotten, but he hasn’t, where the power comes from … the name of Jesus Christ.

And all the while this misunderstanding is taking place and being corrected, Jesus keeps telling them, more and more plainly … I’m going to be betrayed. I’m going to be crucified … Let these words sink into your ears. And, he goes on to explain what it means to follow him. It means taking up your cross daily, having no place to lay your head, proclaiming the kingdom of God.

And it’s in that context that we got the second sending out. And this time there’s progress. These 72 come back, not talking about what THEY have done, but rejoicing, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!

Comfort, Comfort My People

I saw Satan Fall Like Lightning from Heaven

And at this point, Jesus tells them two things that are really comforting. First, he tells them that their mission had value and impact. Even though many of them had spent the time shaking dust off their feet in testimony against towns that would not receive them or their message … the first thing Jesus tells them is that he was seeing Satan fall like lightning from heaven. That’s the aspect of the verb there. In the Greek, its a progressive past. Like the difference between I swam and I was swimming. Here, Jesus says that he was seeing Satan fall.

He’s not so much pointing back to Isaiah 14 or Ezekiel 28 (which talk about satan’s original fall from heavenly glory). And he’s not so much talking about his victory over Satan in the wilderness … He’s talking about their mission. When these followers were ministering in the name of Christ, Jesus was seeing the gates of hell crumble. They were crumbling and satan and his forces were falling before the work done in the Son’s mighty name. What an encouragement, not only to them, but to us. It’s unseen by us. These 72 weren’t seeing satan fall. Jesus was. This is an incredibly encouraging reminder that we cannot measure our spiritual effectiveness by what we see. We cannot measure unseen spiritual realities with our eyes.

And when you share the gospel, when you stand for truth, when you exhibit the love and peace that only Christ can provide, when you take up your cross and follow, when you forsake the world and rely on the protection and provision of the Good Shepherd–, the forces of hell crumble. We don’t see it. It probably won’t feel like it. But it’s true. However small you are … Jesus’ power is made perfect in weakness … however small you are, and however insignificant your witness feels, it has great impact in the unseen spiritual world.

Now that’s encouraging. But like every encouragement in the Christian’s life, it is apprehended by faith (Heb. 11:1). God wants you to believe it because he said it, not because you have independently verified it … that was Adam’s sin. And you’ve been redeemed from that fall.

Your Names Are Written

What you do in Christ’s name matters. And that’s encouraging. But Jesus told them something else encouraging, too. He told them not to rejoice in their experience, but in a fact that lies behind their experience. He has indeed given them authority and power. Nothing could harm them … scorpions, snakes or all the power of the enemy. But their joy is not to reside in this temporal application of their protection. And their joy is not to be found in wielding kingdom power … or even in making a difference (as comforting as that is). Their joy and ours is to reside in a very important fact: that your names stand having been written in heaven. That’s the aspectual meaning of “are written”. They are those whose names have already been written. Your name, too, if you are a believer, stands written. You are in a condition of having had your names previously written in heaven. That’s a great comfort because God does not lie. He does not change. and He does not make mistakes. He has written these names in indelible ink. They need no erasure. They need no correction. Your names are written previously and unchangeably. They were written before the foundation of the world.

Jesus Rejoices

In verse 21, it says that Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit. This is the only place in the Bible where it says Jesus rejoiced. The Son of God, rejoices in the Spirit of God, and thanks God the Father. There is, encapsulated in this tiny little verse the wonderful truth that the Trinity enjoys, has always enjoyed, and will always enjoy, perfect fellowship. They are one. They are one in being, and they are one in purpose. And that’s going to be very important, as we’ll see.

But there’s a redemptive-historical aspect to this, too. When we think of Jesus as the second Adam, a few events come to mind. We may think of his virgin birth. We may think of his baptism. We may especially think of his temptation in the wilderness, or later in the garden at Gethsemane, or the cross or the empty tomb. But pay attention, not only to events in his life, but also to the attitude of our Savior.

The first Adam weighed the reasonableness of what was revealed to him. The first Adam set himself on the bench and passed judgment on God’s word. And when he did so, he rejected the reign of God — the kingdom. Ever since that time, God was bringing history toward a restoration of his kingdom. So now, the Second Adam is here, and he rejoices in the will of God. He expresses gratitude, which is the very thing fallen humanity has notably failed to do (cf. Rom. 1:21). And he particularly rejoices in the sovereign elective will of God. While I’m sure that Jesus recognized the appropriateness, the properness … how it just so perfectly fits … Jesus surely recognized how fitting it was that those who claimed to be wise but became fools … that those would be left in their sins, but that God would demonstrate his wisdom and power in choosing the weak and the foolish … mere children. Nevertheless, he doesn’t rejoice “because it was fitting.” He rejoices that God has done it “because such was your gracious will.” That is enough. God reigns. Our Second Adam is restoring the kingdom of God.

Gracious Will

Remembering that we are not to rejoice in our participation in or experience of the power of God’s sovereign reign … even in his provision or protection — those are good things for which we ought to be grateful –, but our joy should rest in the grace of God’s will. That’s where Jesus tells us to focus our rejoicing. And that’s where his own rejoicing is focussed. That’s what having our names written in heaven means. That is a comfort because those whose names are written in heaven’s register are a gift from the Father to the Son (John 6:38-40). And so he is determined to give you life. Left to your own fleshly arrogance, these things would have been hidden from you. But Jesus decided to reveal the father to you. (Luke 10:22). God opens the eyes of his elect. He opens their eyes of faith. He regenerates their hearts and gives them the very faith by which they are united to Christ (Eph. 2:8-9). That’s encouraging because Jesus died specifically and particularly for those whose names are written in heaven. (John 10:11, 26).

There is great comfort in the fact that none of this is ultimately in your hands. If it were, you would surely fail. But he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6). And that’s good news! That’s where our joy should reside. Because otherwise, sooner or later we would fall. But this is the will of Jesus’ Father, that he should lose none of those that the Father gave him. “My Father, who has given them to me,is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:29–30 ESV) The Godhead is united in being and united in purpose … and that purpose is to save you … for His own glory.

Our joy resides in who God is. God is sovereign. There’s no safety, security, or joy in a God who is not sovereign. There’s only a gamble. But we are not gamblers. We rest secure in the indelible ink of God’s sovereign will. That’s where our names are written. We do not hang our joy on our experience. We hang it, instead on the eternal purpose of God and His accomplishment of that purpose.

You Matter

So … how are we to hold together the fact that God is sovereign, and that God does it all … with the fact that we are responsible, and that what we do matters … that it makes an impact?Well, first of all, let me say that it doesn’t matter if I reconcile these two truths in my mind or not. God said both. And that is good enough. And that shows that the reign of God is active in my own life. But we ought to be honest about the mystery here. These things are beyond our finite understanding.

We see the same principle active in our prayers. God in order that he might be given the glory and thanks that are his due, withholds his blessing until his people prays. Our prayers make an impact. Theoretically, if we didn’t pray, God wouldn’t act. But God doesn’t make himself subservient to our wills. Rather, he produces in us the righteous kingdom desire to pray. We pray because God prompts us to.

Likewise, when you work for the kingdom. When you share the gospel, when you take up your cross and follow Jesus, when you forsake the world and its treasures and put all your retirement stock in kingdom treasures, then you shake the very foundations of hell. Whether you see it or not, you bring God glory. And what you do matters, because God is working through you.