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The Great Commission

After His resurrection, Jesus, speaking to His disciples said:

18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.   19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  20 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 commission given to Adam and Eve to take dominion over the earth and raise up a godly progeny that would fill it to God’s glory (Gen. 1:28). Jesus says first, that He now has all power in heaven and earth. Heaven and earth denotes that His power is over men and angels, both spiritual and earthly; it is not limited, as some seem to believe, to the spiritual only. He has been given all power over the nations of the world. He is now the rightful ruler of all the peoples and nations.

Second, He sends his divinely empowered delegates into the world to do two things; a) to teach the nations (via the Gospel) the message of salvation and baptize them into the faith and b) to teach the nations, His nations, the nations now under His rule and authority, to obey all His commandments—e.g. God’s Law (Matt. 5: 17-18). What is involved in this second teaching requirement? Is it just to teach the law so that all can know God’s requirements? Is it just to warn the nations of the consequences of disobedience? No, just as a tutor of children is expected to continue 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 obey all Christ’s commandments! The charge to all Christians in this commission is to actually bring all the nations of the world into obedience 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. This is exactly what God commanded Adam and Eve to do and what they failed to do because of sin. God 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 He did on the Cross by paying the sin-debt of every believer and 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.

We see here that God’s people are charged to communicate two messages to the world; both Law and Gospel are necessary to fulfill this commission and to complete the work Christ began at the Cross. The Gospel reaches into the hearts of the people and awakens the elect to their calling as the Seed of the Woman and God’s servants. God’s Law awakens and teaches the nations how they must live as God’s subjects.

Third, Christ promises to be with His chosen people at all times until the end of the world. Because He is now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, this presence is not a bodily presence but is in the form of the Holy Spirit that indwells all believers. 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 women and can empower them to conquer every enemy that attempts to impede this commission.

An important question here is: to whom are these words addressed? It cannot be only 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, does not 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 do what Adam failed to do, to undo the damage Satan introduced and to make this world a Christian world.

This is a task requiring the full effort of every Christian 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 task (Matt. 5:13-16).

Christ came to undo the damage caused by the Fall; He came to save the world, the entire world, not just a few sinners (John 3: 16 and 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. Jesus instructs us to baptize the nations, not just 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.

This is the task Christ set before His chosen followers, one that needs to be taken seriously. The goal is nothing less than perfection. It seems impossible! How can sinful man ever realize such a lofty goal? On his own he cannot but we are not alone; the Holy Spirit is with us 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]

The law aspect of the commission, which is vital to the growth and vigor of the faith, has been neglected in recent history and we can see how detrimental to progress this has been.  Europe, once known as “Christendom,” has essentially left the faith. America still has many Christians but its laws, its schools and its culture have been stripped of their formerly Christian character and it is no longer a Christian nation. Why is this so? How did this once solidly Christian nation fall so low? It is only because the law aspect of the Great Commission has been neglected and unbelief has been permitted to fester. At first it was hidden in the shadows but gradually it grew and gained in numbers, power and influence, until now it commands the national government, its schools and every aspect of public life. These are the consequences of partial obedience, which is disobedience, to God.

[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.