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Part 3: The Great Commission

An intelligent grasp of the facts thus far given would make it very difficult, if not impossible, for one to accept without reservation the statement that the so-called “Great Commission” stands unaltered as the marching orders for the Body of Christ today. If the writer believed that it was God’s will in this dispensation of the mystery to make disciples of all nations by preaching to them the kingdom gospel, to baptize them in water for the remission of sins, to heal the sick, to speak with tongues, and to work miracles, he would be among the first to undertake that program. But if God has revealed that this program has been temporarily interrupted by a new, secret dispensation, then he would be the last to want to frustrate God’s purposes by mixing the old and the new. In order to further ascertain the real meaning of this commission, the following question will be considered: “Was the commission of Matthew 28:19, 20 ever carried out by the Twelve?”

They were commissioned to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, but according to the Bible record they never obeyed this command, but instead baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 2:38; Acts 8:16; Acts 10:48; Acts 19:5). From the practice of the apostles they evidently understood that they were not supposed to obey this commission.

As touching the discipling of all nations, there is no record of any nation ever having been made a disciple. Christians for centuries have understood this expression to mean the conversion of nations, not merely making disciples of some out of all nations. For this reason missionaries have tried to claim China or Africa for Christ, and while this is a noble aspiration the Bible clearly teaches that no nation will be thus won for Christ until Christ Himself returns to the earth. Until His return our Lord told His Apostles that they would be hated of all nations for His sake (Matthew 24:9), thus making it impossible for even one nation to be won for Christ until His return; that the Jews would be led away captive into all nations until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled (Luke 21:24); that when He came the second time, all nations should be gathered before Him in judgment (Matthew 25:32); and that they were to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). With these facts in mind it should be plain that discipling all nations would be an impossibility as long as all nations were at enmity, but after their judgment at Christ’s coming it would be a possibility and an accomplished fact.

Upon the day of Pentecost there were Jews out of all nations in Jerusalem who heard the message (Acts 2:5), and several years later there were scattered abroad many Jewish believers who went everywhere preaching to none but unto the Jews only (Acts 11:19); and then seven or eight years after Pentecost Peter was given a special revelation to preach to a God-fearing Gentile household; but so far as God has given us record, none of the Twelve ministered to any other Gentile during the period of the Acts. The Twelve made no attempt to disciple all nations, but Paul, whom we have before proved did not labor under the Great Commission, tells us: “by whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for his name (Romans 1:5), and “Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but is now made manifest, 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” (Romans 16:25 and 26); and also “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and, strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear” (II Timothy 4:17). Paul was not fulfilling the Great Commission; he was not discipling all nations; but he had a world-wide commission to preach to all nations and he fulfilled it. Thus it may be seen that the Kingdom and the Body commissions are both worldwide in scope, but they differ in content of message.It is not necessary to go to the Great Commission for a universal appeal: Paul’s writings are full of that.

As to teaching all things which Jesus commanded while He was on earth, it is significant that Paul nowhere instructs believers to do so, but instead gives the commands of the ascended Christ. Paul refers to the birth and the death of Christ, but to nothing in between. The Kingdom teachings are not for the Body of Christ; hence Paul says: “yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him so no more” (II Corinthians 5:16). Christ was born under the Law (Galatians 4:4), and His earthly teachings were the intensification of the law (Matthew 7:12), but if any thing is plain it is that the believer today is not under the law. The rule of Law will be resumed in the Kingdom, when Christ shall rule with a rod of iron (Revelation 12:5).

Having seen that the commission in Matthew has never been fulfilled and cannot be until Christ returns, the commission in Mark 16:15 to 18 must likewise be examined “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel in or to the whole creation” (R.V.), is the first command. This commission seems to have been interrupted before it was completed, for there is no record in the Bible of the Twelve going into all the world. Instead they stayed at Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), but the peculiar fact is that the believers who were scattered preached only to Jews. Even more peculiar is the fact that about seven years after this command was given, God had to give a special revelation to Peter that he could now go to a Gentile. Peter, in justifying his action which up to that time had been unlawful (Acts 10:28), told of his vision but made no reference to this command. Surely if Jesus had given the apostles authority to go to the Gentiles, Peter would never have been called on the carpet for his action; and if he had been, he would have made use of this commission as the chief point in his argument. Evidently most Christians today make this commission mean something entirely different from what the Twelve understood it to be. Of course, they could not go into all the world at once; for they were instructed in Acts 1:8 to cover Jerusalem first, then all Judea, then Samaria, and finally the uttermost parts. Whether or not Christ so meant it, it seems that the Apostles understood that they were supposed to get all Israel saved before the Gentiles could hear. At least this is what Christ had taught them in dealing with the Syro-Phenician woman: “Let the children (Israel) first be filled” (Mark 7:27). “It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the-dogs (Gentiles)”. Not only had Jesus taught this, but every Old Testament prophet is in accord with it. The prophets spoke much of Gentile salvation, but none gave the slightest intimation that Gentiles would be blessed before Israel as a nation was first saved and blessed. It was only “after this” that all the Gentiles were to call upon the name of the Lord (Acts 15:16 and 17). Gentile salvation because of Israel’s blindness and fall, instead of through Israel’s salvation and blessing, is a part of the Mystery which was committed to Paul (Romans 11:11 and 25).

The program of “filling the children first” began on the day of Pentecost. Peter said to Israel, “Ye are the children—unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you” (Acts 3:25 and 26). Paul likewise began his ministry in this way: “children—It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you”. (Acts 13:26, 33 and 46). Paul then turned to the Gentiles, not because the Great Commission said to do so, but because Israel judged themselves unworthy of everlasting life. Peter had said on Pentecost: “the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off”. (Acts 2:39), but Daniel 9:7 makes it clear that Gentiles are not meant: “unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither Thou has driven them.” This program of going into all the world with the Kingdom Gospel was begun, but never finished because it was interrupted by the ministry of Paul. It will again be resumed before the end of the age (Matthew 24:14).

The second command is: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned.” This statement was developed quite fully under point six in last month’s installment. (Suffice it here to say the Acts gives record of this order being carried out. The Twelve baptized with water for the remission of sins, not as a testimony that the baptized had been saved by receiving the Holy Spirit, but in order that they might receive the Spirit (Acts 2:38; Acts 8:12 to 17; Acts 19:5 and 6; Acts 22:16). Circumcision never saved any one, but under the old dispensation it was impossible to be saved apart from it (Genesis 17:10 to14). Water baptism never saved any one, but according to the Mark commission and the practice of to Twelve, it was a necessary act of obedience and a factor in salvation and receiving the Holy Spirit. This is one of the great differences between the Gospel of the Circumcision and Paul’s Gospel of the Uncircumcision, which carried no command to baptize (I Corinthians 1:17). The third section of this Mark commission deals with the signs which were to follow them that believe. Casting out demons, speaking with tongues, working miracles, and healing the sick, is a record of the Acts in a nut-shell. These signs were given because the Jews require a sign (I Corinthians 1:22) and God was dealing with the Jew first. Paul made it plain, however, that these signs were to pass away as soon, as the revelation of the “perfect man” was come (I Corinthians 13:8 to 11). That which was perfect came after Israel was set aside Israel was set aside at the close of the Acts, and the two distinctive orders for believing Jews and believing Gentiles (Acts 21:20 to 25) gave place to the one order during the Dispensation of the Mystery (Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:25 and 26).

It thus appears that the Twelve Apostles did undertake to carry out the commission as given in Mark 16; Luke 24; and Acts 1; but they did not undertake that of Matthew 28. Paul in his Gentile ministry never labored under any of these. Since it has been shown that the so-called Great Commission is not for the Body of Christ, it must now be explained just what is the commission for the Church. God willing, this subject will be covered in the last of this series to appear next month.