When Jesus sent out His seventy disciples to proclaim the nearness of the coming of the kingdom of God (Luke 10:9), He said to them, “I give you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions” (Luke 10:19). In every city where they ministered, they also had Jesus’ command to “heal the sick” (Luke 10:9).
Jesus sent the seventy (or seventy-two) out in pairs to the cities where He was planning to go (Luke 10:1), and He warned them that He was sending them to those cities as lambs in the midst of wolves (Luke 10:3). If they were received, they ought to welcome the hospitality (Luke 10:5–8). He even commanded them to heal the sick within the homes that received them as evidence that the kingdom of God had come near to them (Luke 10:9). On the other hand, if any city would not receive the disciples, they were to proclaim the nearness of God’s kingdom and pronounce judgment on that city (Luke 10:10–15).
Jesus added an important note to His instructions: whoever listened to the disciples He sent was actually listening to Him. Whoever rejected them was rejecting Him. The consequences of that were significant, because the one who rejected Jesus also was rejecting His Father (Luke 10:16). In other words, He sent out the seventy with His own authority.
Having Jesus’ authority, the seventy discovered what it meant to have the amazing empowerment of Jesus. Upon their return, they rejoiced that even the demons were subject to them because of Jesus’ name (Luke 10:17). At that point, Jesus gently chastised them, reminding them that He had seen Satan falling from heaven like lightning (Luke 10:18) and that He had given the seventy the authority to trample snakes and scorpions (Luke 10:19). Satan had no future in heaven, yet the disciples did. Just as God demonstrated His authority over Satan, God had demonstrated His authority in empowering the seventy disciples to trample on snakes and scorpions and to have power over the enemy (Luke 10:19). Jesus exhorted the seventy not to rejoice over the authority they had been given, but to rejoice in the fact that their names were written in heaven (Luke 10:20).
Jesus repeatedly demonstrated His authority over nature (e.g., Mark 4:35–41, John 9:1–11, 11:1–46). To ensure that people recognized that the seventy had indeed been sent by Jesus, He empowered them with some of His authority over nature as well, giving them the power to trample on snakes and scorpions. The immediate context is not clear on why Jesus chose to mention those two animals. However, Moses, in Deuteronomy 8:15, had reminded the Israelites how God delivered them through the terrible wilderness that had fiery serpents and scorpions. In alluding to that passage, Jesus seems to say that God would guard these particular disciples in the same way He protected the people of Israel. The disciples may have been “lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3), but they had nothing to fear.
The apostle Paul may be an example of a similar empowering. Paul was bitten by a viper on his journey to Rome, but, rather than dying from the bite as all the observers expected, Paul shook off the serpent into the fire and suffered no harm (Acts 28:5). Jesus gave a unique group of men a unique mission, and He gave them unique authority to trample on snakes and scorpions. Despite these incredible empowerments and miraculous evidences of being sent by Jesus, their highest rejoicing should be in their eternal heavenly hope.