Friday, September 28, 2018

The Great Commision Revisited by David Nottingham

David Nottingham, an Acts 28 Right Divider in Kentucky, sent me this guest article for the blog:


Matthew 28:20

by David Nottingham

We have been by tradition convinced that Matthew 28:19-20 is our great commission from the Lord Jesus to go out and evangelize the world.  If you are reading from a study Bible of almost any publisher or any school of theology, you probably have in the margin that this particular passage is indeed our "Great Commission."  Much in the same way, our study Bibles proclaim to us that the entry of Christ on the foal of an ass into Jerusalem is a "triumphal entry," but wouldn't the fulfillment of Zechariah 14:4 qualify as a more triumphant entry than the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9?   Certainly the Lord Jesus Christ knew he was not entering Jerusalem at that time to fulfill the prophecies concerning his Kingship, but rather to fulfill the prophecies concerning the lowly suffering servant who would die for the people.
In much the same way that traditions have formed our opinions on this passage of scripture (Matthew 21; Mark 11).  I am even more strongly opposed to the teaching that Christ was talking to the church, which is his body, on the day he addressed those twelve Jewish men and told them to, " 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. Amen."

Understanding what God was accomplishing through the nation of Israel is key to understanding much of the Bible.  Any intelligent student of scripture must grasp the narrative of God's plan and that God reveals himself as the scripture unfolds.  Too many times, the human mind says, "I'm done learning now," while God says, "I'm not done teaching you."

In order for the Church in the present dispensation to apply the "red letter" words of the Lord Jesus, so much has to be taken as non-literal.  An example would be that because a person gives money to the Gideons in order for Bibles to be distributed worldwide, this relieves the conscience and satisfies the sincere believer in that he has followed these instructions of the Lord; however, this is a private interpretation of scripture.  Once a person believes that scripture is best translated as non-literal, the door is wide open for any and all interpretations to the point that no one is right and no one will ever be able to establish sound doctrine or truth.  So what is the literal interpretation of the words Christ spoke to the twelve just before his ascension?

First, as always, we must interpret in light of the context.  Let's consider what Christ came to do.  We know now that Christ died for the sins of the world (2 Cor. 5:15).  We also know that if we are saved today, it is through the blood of his cross by which we are reconciled (Col. 1:20).  We glory in the cross (Gal. 6:14).  We are justified by grace (Titus 3:7), and by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8) – and that not of ourselves.  Not in our faith do we trust, but it is in his faithfulness to endure the cross (Gal. 2:20; 1 Tim. 2:6); and not only this, but that the earnest of our inheritance is that we are sealed by his Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14), and baptized into his death (Rom. 6:3) into the body (1 Cor. 12:13), and raised in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).   None of the above-mentioned things that had yet been spoken of by the Lord when he told the disciples to "Go...and teach..."   In fact, none of the disciples ever wrote about the above-mentioned truths.  The only epistles that contain these blessed grace doctrines are the ones written by the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul.  The only time the word, "cross," is used in any epistle at all outside of Paul's epistles is in the letter to the Hebrews (Heb. 12:2), and there is plenary evidence to indicate that Paul authored this epistle as well.

What conclusion do we come to from this?   The question remains then, "For what was the Lord commissioning the twelve apostles of Israel?"   Let's look at the surrounding context to get a better grasp of what the Lord was telling them.  Acts, chapter one, will give us lots of insight into what exactly the Lord told them – and had been telling them for forty days since his resurrection.  Verse three of Acts chapter one tells the reader plainly that the Lord spoke to them "things pertaining to the kingdom of God."  Verse six tells us that after three years of ministry consisting of signs and miracles, a brutal death on the cross, and a resurrection from the dead (of all things!), the disciples had a chance to ask one more question in haste as the cloud from verse nine probably was already forming to receive him out of their sight:  "Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6)

A parallel scripture to Matthew 28:20 is Mark 16:15-20.  I find it puzzling that no one labels this passage of scripture as, "the Great Commission," although it concerns the same event.   Instead, the footnotes in most modern Bible versions say that this passage should not even be in the Bible and some delete it entirely.  Why?  Because it's easy to say that giving money to put Bibles in foreign countries fulfills the Christian's duty to obey Matthew 28:20, , but coming up with a non-literal interpretation of Mark 16 is not so easy.  Only a literal interpretation will do.   Look closely at verse twenty:  "...and THEY [emphasis mine] went forth.  THEY were those to whom that commission was given, and all the signs that the Lord said would follow them did follow them; and it was all about the prophesied kingdom that had been promised – to THEM.

After forty days of instruction, the Apostle Peter, to whom were given the keys to this kingdom, stood up and declared in Acts 2:14, "Ye men of JUDAEA [emphasis mine] and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem;" and verse sixteen, "...this is that which was spoken..."

Let's stop here.  Ultimately, what Peter would tell them to do was "repent," verse thirty-eight.  That is also what he told them in Acts chapter three, verse nineteen.   Repentance by the nation of Israel for killing their King was the one condition that was stipulated to bring about the return of Christ as King seated upon the throne, the answer to the question of Acts 1:6.  As we read through the Book of Acts and see Paul's separated Gospel of God go out to the Jew first and also the Greek (Romans 1:2, 16).  This gospel of God's grace was the last measure God would take with Israel.  The prophets declared that the Jews would become jealous of the believing Gentiles and yet they still rejected  the kingdom being offered to them (Deut. 32:21).

As the book of Acts comes to a close, we see the final signs and miracles being done by the Apostle Paul in order to convince the Jews as far away as Rome.  He called for "the chief of the Jews" in Acts 28:17.  Paul told them that for "the hope of Israel, I am bound with this chain..."

As Paul finished the Acts ministry given to him by the risen Saviour, every Jew in the known world had had an opportunity to hear the Gospel of God; and, as a nation, they rejected the kingdom.  Acts 28:25-28 is the moment that the gospel would no longer go to "the Jew first."  Their opportunity to hear and understand and see and perceive (Acts 28:26) was finally over, pulled from the table, set on shelf, and held in abeyance.  But, what of Peter and of the twelve, and their commission to go into all the world?  The prophets declared that Israel was to become a nation of priests and kings (Isaiah 61:6) and that they were to teach all nations.  If you have followed the narrative thus far, then you know that the comprehensive reader looks at Acts 28:28 and says, "What now?"  

What Jesus commissioned the twelve to go and do was one hundred percent spoken of in the prophets; but let's look at a much overlooked commission given to the Apostle Paul to give to the Body of Christ in a dispensation of grace where the Jew and his signs and prophets are not found.  Ephesians 3:1-11 and Colossians 1:24-27 are uncharted territory.  Paul tells us that this dispensation was a mystery hid in God.   The "church, which is his body," was not spiritual Israel carrying out the orders and prophecies of that chosen nation.  The mystery was not spoken of by the prophets because God never made it known.  It was God's secret.   He made it known to the Apostle Paul by revelation (Eph. 3:3), to fulfill the word of God (Col. 1:25)!   Our commission is to make ALL men see what is the fellowship of the mystery (Eph. 3:9).

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