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The Salvation of Mankind

Two Tasks

The ecclesia, God’s people, the salt of the earth and the light of the world, have been called to two tasks, tasks that will so change the world that it will never be the same again:

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you:  and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.   Amen.  (Matt. 28:18-20)

These words hark back to the mandate given to Adam and Eve to take dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:28) and raise up a godly progeny that would fill it to God’s glory (Gen. 1:28). Jesus says that He now has all power in heaven and earth. Heaven and earth here denotes that His power is over men and angels, both spiritual and earthly; it is not limited to the spiritual only, as some seem to believe. He has been given all power over all people and over all the nations of the world.

Christ commissions His divinely empowered delegates to announce the good news, the Gospel message that He is now the King of kings and Lord of lords. All things are subject to Him; all people, all governments and all man’s institutions, both religious and civil, are under Him and must obey Him.

It is one commission and one Gospel in which God’s disciples were given two tasks:

  1. Go and make disciples (Gr. “matheteusate”) in all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Triune God.
  2. Teaching (Gr. “didaskontes”) them to obey all my commandments.

In the first task Jesus gives His disciples the authority and responsibility to go out with the Gospel message, to bring the nations the message of His marvelous grace, and baptize them into the Christian faith. This commandment is echoed in: Mark 16:15,16, Luke 24:47,48, John 20:21, and Acts 1:8 but with a difference. It differs in that in Mathew the word nations is used, implying that whole nations of people are to be baptized.

In the second task, His disciples are commissioned to teach them to obey God’s commandments. This was done so well that the entire Western World was changed. In the ensuing centuries the great majority of its nations were converted, adopted God’s law, and declared themselves to be Christian nations.

The true Gospel then, includes both grace and law. Both are necessary aspects of this commission. Baptism signifies God’s grace and forgiveness. God’s Law teaches the converts how to live as individuals, as families, and as nations. The two activities work toward a single end result: a world of Christian nations full of Christian people. Both are necessary to take dominion over the earth for Christ. He is the rightful ruler and lawgiver to all the nations in the world and all must obey His commandments. Every aspect of life, including the laws that govern life, must be brought into conformity with God’s requirements. The second task for His disciples then is to work toward this end. All the nations are to come to abide by all His commandments; they are to become Christian nations. Jesus has assigned these two tasks to all His disciples; it is their life-work (Matt. 6:33).

Sadly, most of today’s churches do not do justice to the Matthew passage; they have reduced the Great Commission to the proclamation of a message of personal salvation. The first task is generally recognized, but the second task that speaks of obedience to Jesus’ commandments is ignored.

Without the second task, the new converts lack the guidance they need to live for Christ and simply continue to live as they did before. Their faith may have changed but it is a faith without any content. They, in effect are told that there is no need to change how they live. To promise this is to tell them they can disobey whichever of God’s commandments they please and still go to heaven when they die. This is nothing but the Devil’s lie. Jesus said:

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils?  and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you:  depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matt. 7:21-23).

We see here that a true conversion is one which results in obedience to God’s will. Those that continue to work iniquity, even after a profession of faith, are not admitted into God’s kingdom.

To work iniquity is to disobey God’s law. This is not to say that salvation is gained through works of obedience. Rather, it says that those that are truly converted also obey. The others hear these saddest of all words: I never knew you: depart from me. Both tasks are necessary. As we fully obey God’s directions, new disciples are added, they exercise their influence at every level of society, the unbelieving world begins to pay attention, and the character of the nations becomes more and more Christian.

Christ did not give us impossible tasks; they are well within our ability to perform. All that is needed to realize glorious success is that we work diligently (as unto the Lord) and faithfully (carefully following His directions); when we do so, our visible obedience will draw in more and more disciples. When we cut corners, as we have done and continued to do, we fail, lose hope, and trim Christ’s Commission down to a half-hearted attempt to save a few. Partial obedience (which is a form of disobedience) demonstrates that we are unfaithful servants. Full obedience, a consequence of true faith, rewards us with the knowledge that we are faithful servants and have done what our loving Master required of us.

Jesus says: teach all nations. What sort of teaching is it that Jesus requires of us here? Is it a superficial form of teaching limited to expounding the law so that the nations can hear God’s requirements? Is it just to warn them of the consequences of disobedience? No, we are to teach them; just as a tutor of children is expected to continue to teach the children until they actually learn their lessons and cannot cease teaching until they do learn, so the nations are to be taught until they actually come to know, obey and enforce all Christ’s commandments. The charge to all God’s people in this commission is first, to know and obey Christ’s commandments themselves and second to teach, really teach, the nations to do so. It is the salvation of the world that we have been charged with that is in view.

The Audience

An important question here is: to whom are these words addressed? It cannot be limited to the eleven disciples that were physically present for a) they would not be here to the end of the age and b) they were clearly incapable of teaching all the nations in their lifetimes. Some say it is only directed to the pastors and missionaries that have undergone specific training in the presentation of the Gospel message. This, however, is not supported in Scripture, nor does it begin to address the second requirement of teaching the nations to obey God’s law, a societal and political task involving every aspect of life. It can only be a command to undo the damage Satan introduced and do what Adam failed to do: to make this world a Christian world. This is a task requiring the full effort of all Christians in every walk of life. Clearly, it is every true, born-again believer that Jesus speaks to in this Great Commission. Only they, working as the salt of the earth and the light of the world, are adequate to fulfill this great task (Matt. 5:13-16).

Finally, in our text Christ promises to be with His chosen people unto the end of the world. He is now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, so this presence is not in bodily form; He is with us in the presence of the Holy Spirit that indwells all believers (John 14:16,17). This factor should not be trivialized; the presence of the third Person of the Holy Trinity within the believer is a source of power that can overcome every obstacle. It can make giants of the lowest and weakest of men and can empower them to conquer every enemy that attempts to impede this commission (Phil. 4:13).

The Goal

Christ came to undo the damage caused by the Fall; He came to save the world, the entire world, not just a few sinners:

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:17).

The Great Commission is His command to put into effect the consequences of the victory He won at the Cross. It cannot be limited in any way, such as by reducing it to a call to evangelism. Every aspect of man’s existence on earth is affected by his response to Christ.

Jesus instructs us to baptize the nations; this certainly includes, but is not limited to the people of the nations. How, though, is a nation to be baptized? It can’t be dipped in water, can it? No, but baptism is a symbol of cleansing and a nation is baptized by cleansing its laws and its culture. God is a holy God and cannot abide sin in any form. Every aspect of man’s life on earth must be cleansed of every trace of sin and all must gleam in perfect shining whiteness before He will be satisfied. His disciples must not do this in a perfunctory manner, as if to satisfy the minimum requirement. It is to get actual results and actually bring the laws of the nations into conformity to every detail of God’s law. This is nothing less than a requirement to make the nations of the world Christian nations and to make the world a Christian world.

We see here that King Jesus brings with Him a complete salvation, one that encompasses the entire world. It isn’t just a rescue operation that saves a few from a perishing world. This is exactly what God commanded Adam and Eve to do and what they failed to do because of sin (Gen. 1:28). God’s intentions, though, are never frustrated; He sent His Son, the second Adam, into the world to do what the first Adam failed to do. This Christ did on the Cross by paying the sin-debt of every believer and thereby creating His body, the new Eve. Here, in this commission, Christ commands His Bride, all the faithful, to give birth to a wholly new world, the very world Adam and Eve failed to produce. Christ will succeed where Adam failed, producing a world that glorifies God. The result is certain; the time-frame is in our hands.

God’s people are charged, not just to communicate a message, they are charged with the task of rebuilding the world. This involves forming their own communities in which they can prepare themselves and cooperate with one another in the kingdom-building task God has assigned them. When the ecclesia is obedient and abandons the follow-the-leader, clergy-laity system, each individual believer becomes an independent agent working for God’s righteousness, involved in building God’s kingdom and thereby defeating the gates of Hell (Matt:16:18).

This is the goal Christ has set before His chosen followers, one that needs to be taken seriously. It is nothing less than perfection. It may seem impossible! How can sinful man ever realize such a lofty ambition? On his own he cannot but he is not alone; the Holy Spirit is within and for Him nothing is impossible. We must put aside our fears and stop worrying about our inadequacies. We are not alone; God is with us and will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5).[1]

God created man in His image and expects much from him. He has placed on him the responsibility for his own future. Adam and Eve were told that their lives depended on their obedience to God’s commandments. This was true for Adam and Eve and is still true today. We see from history that when God’s commandments are obeyed, man has respect for his neighbors, there is peace, and prosperity abounds. Where the Ten Commandments are cast aside, selfishness reigns and society degenerates into lawless anarchy, inevitably followed by oppressive, totalitarian rule. We have never seen the extremes but the end points of these two alternatives are life and death, respectively. Man is given a choice: he can obey God and live or disobey and die. It’s as simple as that but without Christ he is unable to make the right choice. He, in Satan’s bondage, blindly insists on being his own master and living according to his own wishes. It is only true Christians that are able obey God and that God uses to bring the nations of the world into obedience. Their involvement is critical to the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

As independently governed agents, the people of God cannot be misdirected by false or inept leaders and in the aggregate, they become a truly irresistible influence. They, governed by the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of each individual within the ecclesia community, are thereby made virtually impervious to subversion, misguided direction and the foibles of sinful leadership. Yes, some will go in the wrong direction but as they mature in the faith more and more will do what is right. What will not happen is what has happened repeatedly throughout history, great segments of the Christian population being led in a direction contrary to God’s word. Men may think they have the ultimate solution to advancement or for dealing with problems but God’s way is always the best and really, the only effective way.

 

[1] This verse contains a precious promise; the word translated “never” is two words, “not” and “no” so we have here a double negative. This in the Greek connotes great emphasis; the Spirit is giving us His assurance that there is no possibility whatever that He will ever depart and place us on our own.