In the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke we find the account of the sending by the Lord Jesus of seventy of his disciples to go before Him to every town and place where He was to go. These first "missionaries" had a simple task to fulfill: to announce that the Kingdom of God was near. Their work would be for a short time, and their task temporary, limited to the role of heralds of the Lord in his journey to Jerusalem, receiving from Him supernatural gifts of healing illnesses and power over the demons, to be exercised in the cities which received them well.
It is at the beginning of this section that we find the verse "The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest"(v. 2). We must remember that the word in the original Greek which is translated “harvest” in English means specifically to harvest, not planting and farming as it is often understood. The same words were spoken and the same gifts given to his twelve disciples (and Judas was one of them), when he sent them to the lost sheep of the House of Israel, warning them that don't take direction to the Gentiles, nor to enter into city of Samaritans (Matthew 10:5 to 42). Their mission was limited to the people of Israel (*).
The Lord was referring to harvest, or judgment of the people of Israel, at the end of the period the law, marked by its rejection of the Messiah, crucifying Him. The biblical story of humanity is divided into periods, each ending with a judgment: that of innocence with Adam and Eve's banishment from the presence of God, that of conscience ending with the flood, that of the law ending with the removal of the people of Israel, and still to come, that of the Church with the Tribulation, and finally that of the Millennium with the final judgment. We have an example in the parable of the tares and wheat "Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn." (Matthew 13:30).
Taking the words away from their context, which was to prepare the people for the arrival and the Kingdom of the Messiah, we hear today prayers asking the Lord to send workers into His harvest. In the original sense, it would be as if the whole world were already mature, ready for harvest, and that the workers were required to reap. If that were the case, many, maybe most of the servants of God today, would have reason to feel useless at work, because there are few converted. The reality is that, even today, at the end of the second millennium, the greatest work still consists in sowing!
Our main mission now, as it has been since when the Lord sent his eleven disciples saying "go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15), is sowing the word of God: and this is the job of every believer! Let us take care, in our prayers, not to ask God to send others to do the job that we ourselves should be doing. We can do our task of sowing quite well, even without seeing a soul being saved. Have we failed? Not so.
The sower in the parable cast his seed everywhere – he did not choose where it fell! Also we can not predict whether the word we distribute will be well or poorly understood, and if will result in acceptance and conversion. The Apostle Paul had the experience of having planted, while another, Apollo, had the privilege of watering, but he acknowledged that both were servants as the Lord granted to each, but the growth came from God. Each will receive their reward according to their work (1Corinthians 3:5-9).
At the end of the report of the seventy commissioned, we read that they were possessed with joy when they returned, because the demons themselves submitted to the name of Christ: it is the same joy, with a mixture of surprise, which we feel when we sow the Word of God (speaking or delivering a portion of it in writing) and someone comes to Christ! We might even be tempted to think, deep down: look what I achieved! What a lesson we find in the words of the Lord: “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:20). The success is His, not ours.
(*) To read more comments about the sending of the Apostles to Israel, click here.