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Luke 10:16 concludes Jesus’ instructions to the seventy, saying,
16 The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.
This is the final instruction and represents the climax of the passage. It is based upon the principle of identification with Christ and assumes that the apostle is truly hearing God’s voice. There are many, of course, who claim such things but have not dealt with the idols of their heart. As a result, their teachings are yet colored by those idols to some degree.
For this reason, it is still wise to listen for God’s voice when any man speaks. God can speak through anyone, even through prophets who yet harbor idols in their hearts. Yet let the hearer beware of hearing the voice of men, rather than hearing the voice of God through men.
The instruction above too often has been used to force people to submit to the teachings of men, rather than the voice of God. Many have said, “I am God’s prophet/apostle; I speak for Jesus Christ; therefore, you must do what I say and believe what I teach. If you do not submit to me, then you are not submitting to God.”
Such a claim usually lacks humility and is, in itself, a sign of at least one heart idol. When Luke 10:16 is used to overthrow one right to discern between the voice of man and the voice of God, then Jesus’ words are being misused. Even in the early church, the word of prophets was to be judged (i.e., discerned). Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:29,
29 And let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment [diakrino, “discern, separate, discriminate”].
It is plain that prophets—the mouthpieces of God—should not expect others to believe what they say indiscriminately. If they do so, they are submitting to men and not to God at all. A prophet or apostle or any other person should have the humility to recognize the potential for human error, because few (if any) have eliminated all idols in the heart. The problem with a heart idol is that it is unknown and unrecognized until it falls. Its power lies in its secrecy as it lurks in the dark areas of the heart.
For this reason also, God established the food laws in Leviticus 11 to show us how to eat clean spiritual food. Physical food nourishes our body; carnal teaching nourishes our soul; “chewing the cud” separates the spiritual from the carnal in order to nourish our spirit. We are the sheep of His pasture. Sheep eat grass, and we know that “all flesh is grass” (Isaiah 40:6; 1 Peter 1:24). When God’s sheep go to Church and hear a preacher, they are feeding on grass through Bible study. They must then chew their cud, bringing up the grass from their first stomach, to meditate and pray over it. Then whatever the Holy Spirit confirms is transformed from fleshly head knowledge to spiritual revelation and goes into the second stomach, where it may nourish the sheep.
God built this principle into nature itself to teach us how to eat food that will nourish and strengthen our spirit, instead of relying upon the mere words of men. Thus, the food laws help us to understand and balance Jesus’ instructions in Luke 10:16. Without such balance, many prophets and apostles have enslaved people by forcing them—on pain of divine wrath—into following them and believing what they say indiscriminately.
Whole denominations have been built upon the misuse of this apostolic principle. This is not always intentional, but often it is intentional. The bottom line is that men become servants of the church, rather than servants of Christ. The church usurps the place of Christ and rules men according to the pattern of King Saul, rather than David. And because the average believer has not been taught the lawful, spiritual principles of the food laws, many well-meaning people are brought into subjection to men.
On the positive side, Luke 10:16 is based on the idea of Sonship. We all start out as servants of Christ, because no one is instantly mature when he first believes in Christ. But the Sons of God are those who resemble their Father and who are led by the Spirit, even as Jesus was led. A good servant is obedient but does not know the divine plan of his Master (John 15:15). As we become “friends” with a deepening relationship, we also become mature “sons,” who are in agreement with the plan of the Father.
Servants do His will; sons want to do His will. Apostles, then, ought to be mature sons of their Father, knowing not only the will (thelema) of God but also the plan (boulema). When such apostles are sent out, then it can truly be said that “the one who listens to you listens to Me.” When men speak by genuine revelation from the heart (or spirit), for then it is not the man speaking but Christ in him. Christ is in the heart of every true believer (Colossians 1:27), and He is not silent. He speaks constantly, but our ears are dull unless we develop our spiritual hearing.
This deafness was a problem in the church in the wilderness, for Moses told them in Deuteronomy 29:4,
4 Yet to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.
The Israelites refused to hear God directly, preferring that Moses should hear God and then return from the Mount to tell them what God had said (Exodus 20:19). Moses himself was identified as a type of Christ, and so Jesus’ instructions in Luke 10:16 certainly applied to him. Yet the goal was not to hear Moses, but to hear the revelation of God, without which the Word cannot produce true faith.
It was never God’s intent that the people should put their faith in Moses as a substitute for faith in God. Moses was a vessel of God and an oracle of revelation. Even so, when he told the people what God had said, he was feeding them grass, so that God’s sheep could chew the cud and meditate upon that word until it became a revelation to them.
Hearing God’s voice directly is a good thing, but most of the time we hear God’s voice through other people. God does this so that we learn that we are part of a body. For this reason, we must all learn to chew the cud, so that we may grow spiritually and then be able to present clean spiritual food to others.
Jesus’ words in Luke 10:16 are absolutely true, but in practice we must know the law so that we are able to fulfill Jesus’ instructions without placing people into bondage to men. The law places boundaries on our activities, attitudes, and relationships with God and men. Deuteronomy 19:14 says,
14 You shall not move your neighbor’s boundary mark, which the ancestors have set, in your inheritance which you shall inherit in the land that the Lord your God gives you to possess.
In other words, we cannot trespass on someone else’s property or violate their space. When men enslave others, they trespass on their property and usurp another man’s inheritance that God has given him. Enslavement is only proper when it is done as a judgment of the law, such as when a man owes a debt that he cannot pay. In all other cases, we are to uphold the freedom of others and give each person the right to hear God for himself.
When we recognize that Christ is the inheritance of every believer, then we can be truly effective apostles that are sent to preach the perfect “law of liberty” (James 2:12). When the Kingdom of God is truly preached, all creation will be released from its slavery and come “into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
This is the true role of the apostle. The seventy that Jesus sent out with these instructions after the transfiguration represent the overcomers themselves, who are sent out in a greater way, both now and after they are presented as the Sons of God for transfiguration. At the present time, we are yet in training, but it is on-the-job training. To be trained for the greater work, we must learn now by doing the work of the apostle. In the broader sense, we are all called and sent into the world to bear witness of Christ. In that sense, we are all apostles, or, more accurately, apostles in training.
Our mission is not to set up a large denomination or ask people to become members of an organization. Our mission is not to put men under our authority, but to point to Christ and recommend that men come under His authority. Apostles are to affirm their citizenship in the Kingdom of God, rather than as members of a denomination. My mother used to say, “If becoming a church member makes you a Christian, then going into a barn will make you a horse.”
Secondarily, the unbelievers or immature believers ought to submit to the word that is in the apostles, assuming, of course, that each one has chewed the cud and has determined that this is truly the revelation of God.
Finally, the apostles ought to follow Jesus’ example in John 12:45-48,
45 And he who beholds Me beholds the One who sent Me. 46 I have come as light into the world, that everyone who believes in Me may not remain in darkness. 47 And if anyone hears My sayings, and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.
Jesus did not judge those who rejected His words. He was called to save the world, not to judge it. The people themselves were responsible to discern His words to see if they were of God or not. Their judgment “at the last day” will be based on the word that they did not judge or discern properly. While there is much that could be said about this, it is clear from this that Jesus allowed the people the right to discern His revelation. If they refuse to chew the cud, then they will be judged accordingly at the Great White Throne, for that is how they are held accountable.
And so, in Luke 9:52-56, when a Samaritan village refused to give Jesus hospitality, He did not agree with the disciples’ suggestion to call down fire from heaven upon them. He had not come to destroy but to save. Yet on more than one occasion I have heard apostles and prophets pass judgment upon those who reject them. Their reaction was that God was going to destroy them in His wrath. Millions will die. Not a blade of grass will survive.
When apostles and prophets manifest this kind of behavior, they show that they are yet in training. They have yet to recognize and to overthrow certain heart idols—probably the same idols that dwelt in the hearts of the twelve disciples in Luke’s account. It does not mean that such apostles and prophets are false; it means only that they should seek more humility and recognize their fallibility. They should be more like David and less like Saul.
As for the people themselves, they are responsible to exercise some spiritual maturity and discern the word of the apostles and prophets that they meet. When they hear Christ speaking through them, they ought to submit to the word. But when the word is mixed with flesh, they should discriminate and separate (diakrino) what is of Christ from that which is of the flesh. In that way, people may benefit from the true and reject what is not without condemning any man.