The great commission or the grace commission? Maybe you haven't heard of the grace commission? That is the era of history that we live in today. The word "great" commission, isn't found in the Bible. It was added by translators who put headings above portions of scripture. It is often misrepresented as the goal of every church and Christian: disciple the whole world before Jesus comes.
THE MISUNDERSTOOD GREAT COMMISSION
Except that Christ already came. He is here. His first coming was as all of us, and his second coming is within all of us. Did you know that the Greek word for "coming" is "parousia" which just means his "presence"? It means a time in history when God would dwell in and with all humanity because of Christ.
Ephesians 4:9-10, "Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world. 10 And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself." (NLT)
Jesus told his disciples about the Day of the Lord in AD 70 ("that day" is also the language of Zechariah's description of AD 70) when this presence would fill all things everywhere. He said, "A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day YOU WILL KNOW that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I IN YOU." (John 14:19-20) In a little while they would see him in physical form no longer, and the world would not ever see him in that way... but they would "see" him again because they would perceive him within themselves. Those who believed would realize/know that Christ was IN THEM.
Again the disciples were told his "coming" was going to be within their lifetime. Notice he is speaking to a particular group of people telling THEM they will be alive when he comes. For example:
Matthew 10:23, "When they persecute YOU in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, YOU will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. [He said his coming would be during the time of and therefore end their commission to Israel during THEIR lifetime]
John 21:22-23, "Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?” [John would be alive still when Jesus was to come]
Matthew 16:27-28, "For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” [His coming was in THEIR lifetime]
Matthew 26:63-65, "But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, 'I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.' 64 Jesus said to HIM, 'YOU have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell YOU, hereafter YOU will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS of heaven.' Then the high priest tore his robes and said, 'He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy;'" [The priesthood would see, in their lifetime, the coming of Jesus]
The "coming" of God was often a synonym for another nation judging Israel or setting them free from another nation. In Micah 1:3 we are told that God “is COMING FORTH FROM HIS PLACE” to “COME DOWN and TREAD on the HIGH PLACES (mountains) of the earth.”
Micah goes on to say “the MOUNTAINS will MELT UNDER HIM, and the valleys WILL BE SPLIT, like wax before the fire, like water poured down a steep place” (1:4). Did they literally split in this case? Did they literally melt? No they were apocalyptic language to describe the activity of God, in judgment or deliverance.
“So I HAVE COME DOWN TO DELIVER THEM from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey. . . (Ex. 3:8). He was coming for deliverance and judgment.
“Then Thou didst COME DOWN on Mount Sinai, and didst speak with them from heaven. . . (Neh. 9:13a). This speaks of coming for the purpose of close intimate communication.
Since this is true, what are the implications regarding the great commission? If we don't know where we are located in the timeline of history, then we could very well be relating to God from the wrong covenant, commission and criteria.
THE GREAT COMMISSION WAS ABOUT THEIR REGIONAL WORLD, NOT OURS.
The purpose of the great commission, was to reach throughout the entire "nations" within the Roman Empire (which is why Paul said he wanted to go to Rome) before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Jesus said to go into the "uttermost parts of the earth." But if you look closely at how that Greek word ge, earth, is used in the NT is usually means the land of Israel, not the earth as in the whole planet.
Matthew 2:6 N-VFS
GRK: σύ Βηθλεὲμ γῆ Ἰούδα οὐδαμῶς
NAS: AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH,
KJV: Bethlehem, [in] the land of Juda,
INT: you Bethlehem land of Judah in no way
Matthew 2:20 N-AFS
GRK: πορεύου εἰς γῆν Ἰσραήλ τεθνήκασιν
NAS: and go into the land of Israel;
KJV: go into the land of Israel: for
INT: go into [the] land of Israel they have died
Matthew 2:21 N-AFS
GRK: εἰσῆλθεν εἰς γῆν Ἰσραήλ
NAS: and came into the land of Israel.
KJV: came into the land of Israel.
INT: came into [the] land of Israel
Matthew 4:15 N-VFS
GRK: Γῆ Ζαβουλὼν καὶ
NAS: THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND
KJV: The land of Zabulon, and
INT: Land of Zebulun and
By the time of the fall of Jerusalem, the gospel of the kingdom had gone out into ALL THE WORLD. Did you know that? Colossians 1:5-6, "because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also IN ALL THE WORLD, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth..."
Jesus said, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Mat. 24:14, NIV). The gospel of the coming kingdom would be preached as a testimony to all the nations in the "world". That word world is oikoumene, and means “inhabited or civilized world,” not the entire planet. It is the same Greek word used in Luke 2:1: “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the INHABITED EARTH.” The census wasn't taken of the whole planet. It meant the Roman Empire. THEN the END of the old covenant would come! Not the end of the world.
Israel had been scattered through the entire Roman Empire and those Gentile converts to Judaism needed to hear the good news of the coming kingdom, ie, that the natural kingdom would be dissolved and Jesus would strictly rule from heaven to earth through grace from that point forward. This is because God had promised that he would save a remnant of Israel out of the Jewish tribulation with Rome.
THE GREAT COMMISSION TO WAS REACH THE REMNANT
This remnant was also called the first-fruits by James and John, while Paul quotes OT scriptures to declare that those remnant scriptures were being fulfilled in his day. In fact, Romans 11 is devoted to quoting remnant passages leading up to Paul’s grand declaration that “all Israel” would be saved. In what way? The context reveals that it is all the true Israel (Rom. 9:6-9), who were by faith trusting in Christ (Gal. 3:7). The “all Israel” he is referring to are all of the promised remnant, not all of the entire nation:
Isaiah 1:9, "Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small REMNANT, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah."
Isaiah 37:31, "And the REMNANT that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward..."
Isaiah 37:32, "For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a REMNANT, and they that escape out of mount Zion: the zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do this."
Pay particular attention to this one which is almost identical to the above passage in Isaiah and from which Peter quotes and applies to his day on the Day of Pentecost: Joel 2:32, "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the REMNANT whom the Lord shall call."
Romans 9:27-29, "Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel:
“Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, THE REMNANT WILL BE SAVED.
For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness,
Because the LORD will make a short work upon the earth [LAND].”And as Isaiah said before:
“Unless the LORD of Sabaoth had left us a seed [REMNANT],
We would have become like Sodom,
And we would have been made like Gomorrah.”
Romans 11:5, “Even so then, at this PRESENT TIME there is a REMNANT according to the election of grace.”
The purpose of the great commission to THAT generation was to gather the harvest, and bring in the promised remnant to save them from the fall of Jerusalem.
THE GREAT COMMISSION CAN ONLY BE FULFILLED WITH THAT FIRST GENERATION.
So Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20, "And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, '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.'” Was he with humanity beyond the end of the old covenant age? Of course, he said always, but he delimits because that was when the commission would end: the end of the old covenant age when the temple was destroyed.
There is no way a future generation could fulfill this commission. Why?
- It doesn't say "great" commission as if this was an ongoing mandate for every generation.
- It wasn't given to every generation, it was given to those disciples in that generation until "the end of" the old covenant "age".
- Jesus said to go into all THEIR world/land which Romans and Colossians said they already did in their lifetime.
- There is no way a future generation could fulfill that commission because Jesus said to teach them to observe EVERYTHING-ALL he commanded THEM. That includes fleeing Jerusalem when they saw the Romans coming. They did teach that to that generation, and it was evidenced by the fact that no Christians died in that exodus in AD 66. But no future generation can obey everything he commanded because much of it no longer applies.
The "great" commission was given TO THEM, not to you. It was so that they would announce the good news of the coming kingdom in AD 70, while inviting Jew and Gentile within the many cultures and ethnic groups within the Roman Empire. Those who believed were baptized identifying themselves with the New Covenant, while Mark 16:16, "... and he that does not believe will be condemned." Condemned to what? Not hell. But condemned to bear the consequences of their own unbelief when the Romans began to crush anything associated with the Old Covenant Law. That commission is completed.
Does that mean that we don't need to baptize today. There is some vigorous debate over that to be sure. Personally, I still see great validity to baptism in the sense that it is for MY sake (not God's). It is the physical outward testimony that I now believe the good news, that I was buried with Christ and rose with him (Eph 2).
WHAT IS THE GRACE COMMISSION?
Are you starting to see the simplicity of Christ as a little child? Let's think about it for a moment. Jesus came to seek and save the lost (in particular the lost sheep of the house of Israel). Jesus was named such because he was sent to "save HIS people (Judah-Israel) from their sin(s) (under the Law)."
But he also came to undo the sin, singular noun, of Adam. The great commission was to the first century generation. But the grace commission is that his inclusion of all humanity, both Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, rich and poor, was purposed to universally save all spiritually speaking.
So the NEW ISRAEL is ALL people. That is why Paul said in Ephesians 2:15 (NIV), "by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace." Did you read that? ONE NEW HUMANITY through the incarnation of Christ and his work in the gospel! So then.. what if God has taken on the GRACE commission himself?
Hebrews 8:10-13(NASB), “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
After those days, says the Lord:I will put My laws into their minds, And I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, And they shall be My people.
“And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen,
And everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
For all will know Me, From the least to the greatest of them.
"For I will be merciful to their iniquities,
And I will remember their sins no more.”
When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
Notice please that there was coming a period in their history where God would be God to people and he would take ownership of people as HIS people. It would be a time in history where GOD would take responsibility for people "knowing" him. He would do this by not withdrawing from them or relating to them through their guilt (2 Cor. 5:19). BUT he says this old way was ABOUT TO DISAPPEAR or FADE AWAY, therefore this new way had already started with the New Covenant and would truly be fulfilled starting when the old Law way was fully gone.
This is the same promise we find fulfilled in Revelation 21:1-4, "And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
The old things that passed away in the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 was the LAW! Wiping away our tears stars here when the guilt, shame, fear, distance, rejection, pain and suffering of legalism is removed. Wiping away tears was a quote in the OT directly referring to the ending of the Jewish Law (Is. 25:8).
What is in it's place? God tabernacling with mankind! God taking responsibility for people knowing him, intricately working in our lives long before we become believers and UNTIL we become believers... in this life... or the next.
So there is no commission then? God is the Father of all, who is above all, through all, and IN all, according to Paul in Eph 4:6! He is taking responsibility for us knowing him. Right?
Well, all that being said, I think, yes there is still a commission of sorts. It is not the "great" commission but the GRACE commission. It is the announcement of the truth of the finished work of Christ. It is truth spoken out of love so others can have a context for understanding who the true God is in Christ Jesus. It is the proclamation that Jesus made to all those in the darkness of Hades where the light of the gospel brought freedom to everyone there (Acts 2:23-28; 1 Peter 3:19; 4:6).
We are not even the author of anyone's faith, Jesus has taken on that responsibility (Hebrews 12:1-3). So then our "job" is nothing more than the announcement or explanation of the truth while God's job is providing the reality, awakening, and connection.
Doesn't it still mean signs and wonders? Well, sure, healing the sick with prayer or lifestyle or surgery is still the will of God because health is God's best for us all. My article Yes There Were Gifts of the Spirit After AD 70 is good.
SO WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO?
The great commission was to reach as many as possible to save that first generation from the judgment on the land of Israel and all the Jews. It was designed to reach that generation during terrible persecution by the Jews by having them flee to the mountains when the Romans marched toward the city. It was about trusting Christ's work of spiritual salvation but it was practically to save them from physically perishing.
The GRACE commission is the announcement that Jesus the King rules from the throne of heaven but is among us, in us, around us, and invites us to discover that we are accepted, loved and forgiven by grace already.
Does that mean we don't teach anymore? The apostles were considered teachers, and there were teachers in the church as one of the 5-fold gifts, yet John said that the Spirit would guide you into all truth (John 16:13). So of course we can teach, but the Teacher is the voice behind the voice. We aren't dependent on ONE denomination but ONE Father who validates truth in our hearts.
But that isn't a commission is it? Yes, of course it is. Love one another as I have loved you, Jesus said. So if he loved you by announcing you're forgiven, accepted, righteous, holy, valued, and unconditionally loved then how should we love each other? By showing and announcing the same. It's the GRACE COMMISSION or as Paul said the ministry of announcing our reconciliation.