Having turned down applications from a number of people who were not up to the task (Lk. 9:57-62), Jesus appoints seventy-two messengers and sends them throughout Israel. The saying about the harvest being plentiful and the need for workers belongs in this historical setting (Lk. 10:2); it is not given as a universal rationale or mandate for the evangelistic mission of the church.
The messengers are purposefully vulnerable and ill-equipped. They are to greet no one on the road. When they arrive at a town or village, they are not to go from house to house. If the first house they enter receives them, they should accept the offered hospitality. They are to heal the sick and proclaim that “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (Lk. 10:9). If they are not at first welcomed, they are to condemn the town, saying, “Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.”
The town that rejects their message, Jesus says, will suffer a worse punishment than Sodom on the day when God judges Israel. He then expands on this statement. Tyre and Sidon (cf. Is. 23) would have repented if they had seen the healings and exorcisms that Jesus had performed in Chorazin and Bethsaida. Capernaum imagines that it will be exalted to heaven—for reasons that are not entirely clear—but will be brought down to Hades. Jesus means, very simply, that these places in which he has proclaimed the imminence of the kingdom of God, healed the sick, and cast out demons, will nevertheless be destroyed by the invading Roman armies when God judges his rebellious people. It will be no different for the towns which reject Jesus’ messengers (Lk. 10:16).
When the seventy-two return, they are excited to report that “even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (Lk. 10:17). Jesus replies, “I was seeing Satan as lightning from heaven having fallen.” The wooden translation draws attention to the tenses of the verbs: “I was seeing” (imperfect) and “having fallen” (aorist). Jesus then underlines the fact that he has given them authority “over all the power of the enemy”, so that nothing will hurt them. This is the only place in Luke where “enemy” is singular, so it presumably refers to Satan (cf. Matt. 13:39). But what really matters is not that the spirits are subject to them but that their “names are written in heaven”.
Here’s my question, following on from my post on the king of Babylon and the prince of Tyre, and picking up particularly on Chris Bourne’s comment. What is the significance of the fall of Satan in this narrative-historical context? I have understood it to mean that Jesus saw in the submission of demons to the messengers a sign of the future eschatological defeat of Satan, but I wonder now if there isn’t a better way to read it.
1. In the dragon myth of Revelation 12, the “ancient serpent”, which is Satan, is defeated by Michael and his angels and thrown down to the earth. He can no longer accuse the martyrs before God, but he will wreak havoc on earth “because he knows that his time is short”. He goes off to make war on the remainder of the woman’s offspring, “on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 12:17).
2. Elsewhere in the New Testament Satan is seen as a present threat to the churches: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Paul expects Satan to be crushed soon under their feet (Rom. 16:20).
3. In the Jewish literature, as far as I can tell, the expectation is that Beliar or Satan will be defeated in a final battle on earth. There is no expulsion from heaven. For example, in 1QM 17:1-15 in the foreseen battle against the nations (the Kittim), Michael is sent to help the holy community subdue and humiliate “the prince of the realm of wickedness” (cf. 1QM 15:12-16:1; T. Dan. 5:10). The destruction of the beast and the binding of Satan following God’s judgment on Rome (Rev. 20:1-3) are the New Testament counterpart to the militaristic Qumran vision.
4. The assertion that Capernaum will not be exalted to heaven but will be brought down to Hades (Lk. 10:15) evokes the language of Isaiah’s taunt of the king of Babylon: ‘You said in your mind, “I will ascend to heaven….” But now you will descend into Hades…’ (Is. 14:13, 15 LXX). This is not the same motif, however, as the fall of Satan as lightning from heaven. I stick to my point.
5. Having seen Satan fallen from heaven, Jesus reassures the messengers, on the one hand, that they have been given authority over everything that might hurt them, and on the other, that their names are written in heaven. In other words, the fall of Satan from heaven is seen not as the end of their problems but as the beginning.
6. That Jesus “could see” (this seems to me to be a good way of capturing the force of the imperfect) Satan “having fallen” from heaven, with the emphasis on the outcome of the fall, suggests that it is what comes next that is important.
All this leads me to contemplate a more complex narrative for Luke 10:18. Nothing suggests that Jesus had in mind the sort of elaborate mythology that we find in Revelation 12, but there do seem to be grounds for thinking that the fall of Satan from heaven does not so much prefigure the eventual eschatological victory over Satan through the witness of the saints (cf. Rev. 20:1-3) as mark the beginning of persecution for those who would proclaim the kingdom of God to Israel after Jesus.
Satan has fallen from heaven. Therefore he will be an immediate threat to the disciples on earth as they go through the towns and villages of Israel before the end comes (cf. Matt. 10:23). Therefore they need the authority that Jesus has given them over everything that might harm them. Therefore they should not be so quick to rejoice. Therefore they need to know that their names are “written in heaven”. That is, they do not need to fear death.