The “Great Commission”
In Position Paper #1, we noted that one of the “signs” that would be evident to the disciples during their lifetime [generation] would be the fulfillment of Matthew 24:14.
“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in
all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then
shall the end come.”
The above “sign” was one of the many “these things” that Jesus had told His disciples would take place prior to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and His own “parousia” or “presence.” Jesus actually spoke to His disciples about spreading the gospel of the kingdom on two occasions in the Scriptures.
“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 always, even unto the end of the world [age]. Amen.
I have purposely used the old King James Version (KJV) translation for the passage above to illustrate a weakness in that particular translation. In the KJV the translators chose to use the word “world” in their translation work when the correct word to use should have been “age.” Unfortunately many Christians have used, and still do use, that translation error to support their belief that the “world” is going to end someday. But the fact is that the verse is not talking about our physical world at all, but rather, that an “age” was to come to an end! This, we will find in a later position paper, was the same “age” that Jesus told His disciples would end as described in Position Paper #1.
The second thing you should be aware of with regard to the Matthew 28:19, 20 passage is its “audience relevancy.” In verse eighteen of that same chapter we read, “And Jesus came and spake unto them…” We need to know who Jesus was speaking to in order to find out who the word “them” is describing. By reading verse sixteen of that same chapter we discover the “them” to be “the eleven disciples.” Jesus gave this command to the eleven disciples. That is the audience specificity of this particular passage. I will comment more on this “audience relevancy” later after we settle some weightier issues.
From the above we have clearly seen that Jesus commanded the eleven to take His message to “all nations.” In addition, from the Matthew 24:14 verse we understand that the gospel that Jesus had come to minister was to be “preached in all the world…” and “unto all nations” and that Jesus stated that “this generation” [the one in which the disciples lived] “shall not pass, till all these things” [including the preaching of the gospel to all the world] “be fulfilled.”
Jesus, by His statements in the Scripture, has prophesied that something would take place within a definite period of time, which interval has now long expired! If this prophecy has not been fulfilled, we are confronted with the possibility of Jesus being a false prophet! What we now must do is to search the Scriptures to see what it is that they say about this subject.
“And they [the eleven – see verse fourteen] went forth, and preached every where…” (Mark 16:20).
“For we have found this man [Paul – see verse one] a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world…” (Acts 24:5).
“…that your [the saints in Rome that Paul was writing to – see verse seven] faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Rom.1:8).
“But I say, Have they not heard? [the gospel – see verse fifteen] yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world” (Rom.10:18).
“But now [now means the time that Paul was writing the book of Romans] is made manifest, [the gospel – see verse twenty–five] and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith” (Rom.16:26).
“…whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel. Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world” (Col.1:5, 6).
“…and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven…” (Col.1:23).
The statements above were made just a short time after Jesus had made His statement in Matthew 24:14. If we fix the time of Jesus’ statement to be somewhere during the time of His earthly ministry, let us say 33 AD, and if we could agree that the statements made by Paul were made in the later part of the 50’s AD, we can see that the prophecy that Jesus made about this issue was fulfilled within thirty years. The scriptures cited above are not just opinions of mere men, but they are the inspired word of God.
Thomas Newton writing in his 1754 work entitled, Dissertations on the Prophecies, states that “It appears indeed from the writers of the history of the church, that before the destruction of Jerusalem the gospel was not only preached in the lesser Asia, and Greece, and Italy, the great theatres of action then in the world; but was likewise propagated as far northward as Scythia, and as far southward as Ethiopia, as far eastward as Parthia, and India, as far westward as Spain and Britian…Eusebius informs us, that the apostles preached the gospel in all the world…Theodoret likewise affirms, that the apostles had induced every nation and kind of men to embrace the gospel, and among the converted nations he reckons particularly the Britons.”
What is remarkable today is that there are some in the church who say that this prophecy has not yet been fulfilled! How can this be when the scriptural record is clear on this issue? The Matthew 28:19 and 20 passage has become known to many Christians as “The Great Commission” and is something that is promoted from the pulpits of churches as something that we must do in order to hasten the fulfillment of what Jesus had said about it occurring prior to His parousia [presence]. But all of these exhortations from the pulpit fail to mention that Jesus has said that the fulfillment would take place during the “generation” of the disciples! Additionally, there is no recognition that the Scriptures attest to the fact that the fulfillment has already taken place!
We share the gospel with others today not because we are commanded to do so as the disciples were commanded, but because we are in a love relationship with Christ and have a desire to share that love with those who have not yet experienced God’s love.