Q – I have a question. It’s on the Great Commission. Here is the question: why did God give us the Great Commission if it’s all already decided for us: either we are chosen or not. I first looked on the question / answer section but I couldn’t find it.
Jim – So, “The Great Commission,” eh?
Let me start by saying that the phrase “Great Commission” isn’t in the Bible anywhere. And that’s okay. We use lots of terminology that’s not in the Bible, like “trinity” or “omniscience.” However, despite the fact that the particular words “trinity” or “omniscience” are not to be found within the Scripture, the concepts are clearly there. We’ve just given those concepts names so that we can better relate to them.
On the other hand, the concept of “The Great Commission” is not clearly spelled out in the Bible. “The Great Commission” is a phrase used by some Christian groups in order to encourage greater evangelistic effort. Usually, when people speak of the “The Great Commission,” they are referring to Jesus’ words at the close of Matthew’s gospel:
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20 NASU)
Typically, what happens in freewill-oriented churches is that Jesus’ instructions are assumed to mean that we Christians are responsible to take the gospel everywhere we can and to convert as many people as possible. Usually then, this “commission” to spread the gospel worldwide is connected to another quote from Christ:
“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt 24:14 NASU)
So, the conclusion becomes: we are to spread the gospel to “all the nations” because “the end” will not (and indeed cannot) come until the gospel is preached to the whole world. Consequently, we must send more missionaries to every remote corner of the world and we must keep converting everyone we know because Christ will not return until everyone has heard it.
Voila! “Great Commission.”
Of course, the first problem with that interpretation is that it juxtaposes two diverse saying of Jesus against each other in a way that the original authors did not intend. Secondly, those two verses don’t actually mean quite what the proponents of the Great Commission would like them to say.
Early in His ministry, Christ commanded His twelve apostles to go preach “the gospel of the kingdom” and He gave them this instruction:
“These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: ‘Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'” (Matt. 10:5-8 NASU)
Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the Savior of Israel. And His first commission was to them exclusively. But, after His resurrection, He gave a new command to spread the gospel to “all nations.” There is a very distinct contrast happening there. Now the message of salvation by grace was to be spread to all people groups, not Israel exclusively. And that’s the main thrust of Mat. 28:18-20.
Rather than the good news of peace between God and man belonging to Israel alone, the gospel was to travel to people of every kindred, tongue, tribe and nation. But, the command given to the apostles has been expanded to mean that everyone on Earth must be given an equal opportunity to hear and believe the gospel, and Christ will not return until that has happened.
However, we do read of a definite fulfillment of Matt. 24:14 in the book of Revelation:
“And I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.'” (Rev 14:6-7 NASU)
So, Jesus is not postponing His return, waiting for the church to hurry up and reach every single person before “the end” comes. What Jesus was teaching was that prior to the end (the great tribulation and re-gathering of Israel), the gospel will indeed be preached to the whole world as a witness against them. This final preachment of God’s dominion does not result in mass conversion. It serves to condemn the remnant of mankind in their rejection of Him.
But, the point is: the “Great Commission” advocates would have us believe that the church is responsible to accomplish the very thing that God Himself accomplishes as part of His plan to wrap up this current age. Jesus is building His own church and God’s adds daily to the church those who are destined to be saved.
“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (Matt 16:18-19 NASU)
“And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47 NASU)
So, should we preach and evangelize? Yes indeed. But, should we feel pressured by notions of the “Great Commission” and the necessity to advance the gospel in order to accomplish Christ’s work? No. Christ will accomplish what He has placed His own hands. Our job is to tell the truth and preach His grace. But, the work of saving men and women eternally is His work, to His glory.
Hope that helps.
Yours for His sake,