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The Great Commission, RCM & You
"Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them … And Jesus came 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 of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.' Amen." (Matthew 28:16-20)
Let's take a close look at the Great Commission. Note first that this commission was given to the Church as a body represented by the eleven apostles (v. 16 cp. Eph. 2:20). We find that the central verb in Jesus' command (v. 18-20) is make disciples (more precisely, the verb disciple). The object of the verb is nations. While individuals make up nations, nations is the objective of our Lord's commission to His Church. The Greek word for nations is ethnoi (εθνοι), from which we get our word ethnic, as in ethnic groups. Therefore, nations can refer to tribes or ethnic groups and include nations within nations (as in the Cherokee Indian nation or the Chinese within the United States or Canada). Each is composed of individuals, but also constitutes an ethne (nation).
Participles work with a verb to further explain it. In this case, there are three participles: 1) going (translated as go therefore), 2) baptizing and 3) teaching. The activity of the verb (make disciples/disciple) upon its object (nations) is further explained by the participles — the object of the verb is also the object of the participles. Grammatically, missions is to be going to the nations (including our own); baptizing the nations and teaching the nations. That is how we make disciples of all nations. Obviously, nations are composed of individual people; so the process of going, baptizing and teaching the nations starts with individuals, but does not end with individuals. It ends only with all nations (i.e. individuals from all nations). When we think GREAT COMMISSION, many tend to think too individually. Many people today are seeking to fulfill the Great Commission by sending themselves instead of being sent by the Church and see their objective as reaching only individuals and not nations.
While it is true that individuals are involved, we need to keep our perspective that our Lord's commission was to His Church to reach all nations. Some individuals may be lost, but no nation will be lost (Gen. 26:4; Is. 2:2; Jer. 3:17; Ps. 22:27; Acts 3:25; Rev. 7:9; 11:9; 12:5).
In Matthew 21, when Jesus spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people and said, "…the Kingdom of God will be taken from you (i.e. Israel) and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it," He was speaking to them as a nation (Matt. 21:23, 43).
When Peter preached to the individuals at Pentecost in Acts 2, he started off by addressing them as "Men (individuals) of Israel (the nation) . . ." In Acts 8, when Philip (one of the scattered preachers of Acts 8:4)preached to the multitudes (of individuals) in the city of Samaria (Acts 8:5), verse 14 says "…the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria (city/nation) had received the word…"
Paul says "…my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel (a nation) is that they may be saved" (Rom. 10:1) and "…that the Gentiles (many nations) might be saved" (1 Thess. 2:16). God is interested in peoples or nations. Individuals are the key to reaching those peoples/nations, but we must not lose sight that nations (ethnoi) is the object of our Lord's commission. Nations are to be disciple. Nations are the ultimate objective of the Great Commission.
The Church is to preach the Gospel to them (Mark 16:15) and disciple them. To do this, the Church must go to them. The Church must also baptize them (i.e. baptize the individuals in order to bring both them and through them, their nations into covenant with God). While the Church is a spiritual nation (Matt. 21:43 cp. 1 Pet. 2:9) in full covenant with God, it has/is infiltrating all of the other families/tribes/nations with the intention that they would enter this covenant as well (not unlike Israel did in the wilderness before entering Canaan — Joshua 5). Finally, we are to teach them (again, the nations, cf. Micah 4:2; Jer. 3:17; Rev. 21:24), all things — to obey Christ in everything. He has authority over them; they ought to obey Him.
Christ rules individuals and families by giving them commandments to follow in their individual/family lives. He also rules the Church by giving her commandments to follow in the ecclesiastical realm. Likewise, Christ gives commandments to nations for the ordering of their civil lives. The Church has no less a task to individuals and families (though perhaps more directly) than to the civil magistrate.
The point of all of this is that the nations are the ultimate scope of the Great Commission. Individuals are a necessary means to that end, but the end of the Great Commission is all the nations of the earth. The discipling of individuals must have as its objective the discipling of their family, community and eventually their whole nation. Reformation at the individual level, must conform with the objective of reformation of the nations. Anything less is not the Great Commission.
How does this affect missions?
It has a calming effect on our evangelism, giving us the prudence to work with God's methodology rather than man's. We are not as concerned about short-term reportable successes as we are about long-term impact. It gives us the patience to truly disciple and nurture so that the short-term results mesh with the long-term objectives. It allows us to withstand revolutions and all other political upheavals knowing that our sovereign God controls all such events. It also insists that covenantal relationships be established not only with individuals, but their families, communities and nations.
This discipling approach makes a world of difference in how we approach our mission work overseas. For example: We not only want to disciple our nation and the nations within our nation, but the nations abroad. Christian discipleship requires us to train up nation-disciplers who will stay in their country to be Christ's light to its darkness. The tendencies of many Christians in countries where life is difficult is to find a way to leave so they and their family can live a better life till Jesus comes. However, other groups of people, such as communists and all kind of other non-Christians, often make a point of staying in a country in order to be an influence for their ideology (which Christians know to be false). If this is so with those who do not follow God, why should it not be more so for those who know the Lord, especially since He has given them His command to make disciples of the nations. We should not think about going elsewhere until we have establish a good foundation at home.
Most countries today are dominated in their educational institutions and civil government by socialists, communists and, increasingly Muslims, where once these used to be dominated by Christians. With the advent of dispensationalism, Christians have largely given up on the discipling of nations, leaving this to these others.
As Christians, we should not believe in political salvation; neither should we believe that we are to turn over the educational and political future of each nation to the anti-Christian influences in each country. These are to be gradually taken over by Christians and taken captive for Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5). The light and law of Christ must shine into every nook and cranny of each and every nation — from the remotest regions of an individual's heart to the most humanistic and pagan practices of every institution operating within each nation.
Wherever sin abounds, Christ's light must shine forth.