Jesus' Two Great Commissions
Jesus clearly stated that His mission was worldwide in objective. Literally, from the time His ministry began until the hour of His ascension, He declared that He came to deliver the world from sin. Though His statements were misunderstood by the Jewish people during His ministry and by Christians in the early days of the church, He repeatedly declared He came to redeem the world.
John the baptizer acknowledged Jesus' concern for the world. On one occasion as Jesus approached him, John said, "Behold, the lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." 1 Some Samaritans understood that the Messiah was to be a world Savior. After Jesus taught the Samaritan woman and her village of Sychar, the villagers confessed this is indeed the Savior of the world.2
Jesus made several statements which acknowledged His concern for the world. In the sermon on the mount He told His disciples that they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world.3 On a visit to Jerusalem, He also declared Himself to be the light of the world.4
That point is emphasized in His parables. In His explanation of the parable of the tares, He said, ... the field is the world.5 In His description of the judgment, He declared that all nations were gathered before the Son of man.6 On that occasion, the saved were not separated from the lost on the basis of nationality or religious law. Acts of kindness and compassion shown to Him through ministering to the troubled or the needy determined people's final destination.7
In the last days of His earthly life, He reemphasized His concern for the world. While on the Mount of Olives with His disciples, He told them, And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all the nations .... 8 When Judas complained that the oil used to anoint Jesus was wasted, Jesus said of the woman who anointed Him, And verily I say unto you, Wheresoever the gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, that also which this woman hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.9 In possibly His last public teaching, He stressed His world mission in two statements. First, He announced, And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself.10 Then he said, ... I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.11
In post-resurrection statements, He emphatically stressed the fact that salvation would be extended to all people. His great commission specifically commanded the apostles to make disciples of all the nations,12 or to go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.13 In a post-resurrection conversation with His apostles, He enabled them to understand the Scriptures by opening their minds, and said, Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.I4
Just prior to His ascension, Jesus emphasized to the apostles one last time that His spiritual objective was
worldwide and that the apostles' mission was worldwide. After the Holy Spirit
came upon them, they would be Jesus' witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and
to the ends of the earth.15 This statement was much more than a simple outline of the contents of Acts. It was
Jesus' exclamation point to the fact that good news concerning the crucified,
resurrected Son of God and the kingdom of God rightfully belonged to all people
of all the earth.
With Jesus' emphasis on His concern for all nations, the obvious question is this: How could all who followed Him so completely misunderstand? For generations prior to Jesus' birth, devout Jews defined God's earthly concerns exclusively in terms of Israel and Judaism. That "truth" was so basic, so "firmly established," so accepted that it was beyond questioning. That "truth" was so fundamentally "correct" it required no thought.
Because of the long, unquestioned acceptance of that "truth," their hearing and understanding was conditioned to interpret every teaching in a manner which was consistent with that "basic truth." That situation is not unlike second or third generation Christians who believe that the person who is a member of their church is saved. According to their inherited, unquestioned understanding, the fundamental requirement for salvation is church membership. That is the "fundamental truth." Once that "truth" is unquestioningly established in their thinking, every Scripture will be interpreted by that "truth." Thus, when studying passages about division, false teachers, or errant doctrines, they apply those teachings exclusively to denominations or condemned factions within their church. No matter how relevant the passage is to their lives, it never addresses them. They have been conditioned to interpret everything they hear in a manner consistent with their accepted "basic truth."
The existence of the diaspora made it particularly convenient for devout Jews to make such an interpretation. Jewish people living in countries other than Palestine were known as the diaspora (dispersed ones). Remember, for a few hundred years the majority of the Jewish people had lived outside Palestine. In the first century, as many as two-thirds of the Jews lived outside Palestine.16 While the largest Jewish communities were located in Babylon, Syria, and Egypt, there were also significant groups throughout Asia Minor and in Phoenicia, Cyrene, Greece, and Rome.17
When Jesus spoke of concern for the world, His followers understood Him to be speaking of the huge Jewish population scattered throughout the world. It was possible to go throughout the inhabited world preaching only to Jews and proselytes. His followers, including His twelve apostles, understood Jesus' mission was to all Jews in all the world, not to all people in all the world. Because of the diaspora, God's concern for Israel and Jesus' concern for the world were compatible understandings in the thinking of His disciples before and after the resurrection.
Correcting the Misunderstanding
Not until the time of Acts 10 did the resurrected Jesus take direct action to correct their misunderstanding. There lived in Caesarea, the Roman capital of Palestine, a centurion in charge of 100 Italian troops of the Roman occupation force, 18 He was a devout God-fearer, a serious believer in God and Judaism who had not become a proselyte.19 He was faithful in his prayer life and compassionate to the disadvantaged.
While praying at 3 p.m., a daily appointed time for Jewish prayer, an angel
appeared to him stating that his prayers were a reminder to God.20 He was
instructed to send a request to Simon Peter who was in Joppa to come to him.21
Cornelius immediately did as he was instructed.22
The next day the Lord prepared Peter to receive Cornelius' request. While on the housetop for noon prayer, he became extremely hungry, and entered a trance. 23 In the trance, he had the same experience three times: When a large net filled with both clean and unclean creatures was lowered, a voice commanded him, Rise, Peter, kill and eat.24 Each time Peter refused, declaring that he had never eaten anything unclean.
As he sat perplexed over the vision, Cornelius' messengers arrived asking for
him.25 The Spirit informed him of their arrival, and instructed him to go with
them and doubt nothing.26 When Peter inquired what they wanted, they responded
that Cornelius, a righteous, God-fearing man of good reputation among all Jews,
had been instructed by an angel to ask Peter to come teach him.27
After meeting Cornelius and hearing his report, Peter finally understood Jesus'
concern for all people: Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of
persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is
acceptable to him.28 He finally grasped Jesus' full mission! God was unconcerned
about nationality! Any person who reverenced God and was committed to a
righteous existence had every right to respond to Christ!
As Peter taught Cornelius and his friends about Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit
fell on them.29 As the Jewish witnesses accompanying Peter saw the Spirit at
work within the Gentiles, Peter asked if they could forbid these people
baptism.30 He then commanded these Gentiles to be baptized.31
Consider the acts of divine intervention required to penetrate Jewish thinking
and awaken Jewish Christians to God's love of Gentiles: the appearance of an
angel to Cornelius; a vision repeated three times to Peter; personal instruction
from the Spirit to Peter; and the falling of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles
in the manner it fell upon the apostles in the beginning.32
The magnitude of this revelation is illustrated by the events of Acts 11. When
Peter returned to Jerusalem, his Jewish Christian brethren contended with him
for entering a Gentile's home and eating.33 Peter explained precisely why he
took that course of action.34 The coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles
was the irrefutable evidence, so they held their peace, and glorified God
saying, Then to the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance unto life.35
Consider this fact: Given the coming of the Holy Spirit, it was reasonable
to accept the conversion
of Cornelius because (a) he was a devout God-fearer, (b) he lived by the
standards of Judaism, and (c) he was highly respected by many Jewish people.
While he is the first known unproselytized Gentile baptized into Jewish
Christian community, he was not an alien Gentile with no Jewish ties or
Implementing the Understanding
Acts 9:1-19 records the conversion of Saul, a leader in the
Jewish persecution of Christians. The devout Saul (or Paul)36 persecuted
Christians in misguided service to God because he was certain that Jesus was an
imposter, the resurrection was a lie, and the preaching which proclaimed that
imposter and perpetuated the lie was a dire threat to the law and the temple.
When the Paul of Judaism saw and spoke to the resurrected Jesus, 37 he was crushed, devastated. He immediately knew that he had been completely wrong in every conviction he held about God's work in Israel, the purpose of Judaism, and Jesus. In less than one week, Paul, the obsessed Jewish persecutor responsible for the imprisonment and deaths of Christian men and women, 38 became Paul, the ardent Christian evangelist.39
Paul was to be God's special envoy to the Gentiles to implement Jesus' plan to be the Savior of the world. When Jesus instructed Ananias to go to Paul, He explained, …for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children ofIsrael.40 When Paul later related Jesus' appearance to him, he stated that Jesus said the following:
... for to this end have I appeared to thee, to appoint thee a minister and a witness both of the things wherein thou hast seen me, and of the things wherein I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom I send thee, to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive remission of sins and an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith in me.41
In Galatians 1:7,8 Paul wrote that the other apostles
acknowledged he had been appointed to preach the gospel to Gentiles as Peter had
been appointed to preach to the Jews.
The bulk of the material recorded from Acts 13 through 28 focuses on Paul's work among the Gentiles. As he labored in his God-appointed work among the Gentiles, he confirmed that Jesus' mission was to be Savior of the world. God commanded all men everywhere to repent in preparation for the appointed day of judgment. 42 He was not ashamed of the gospel because it was God's power to save every believer, beginning with the Jew and reaching the GentiIe.43 God's work in Christ was the work of reconciling the world to Himself.44 The faith in Christ which results in baptism into Christ erases all distinctions between Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female--in Christ they are all one and all heirs of the promise to Abraham.45 In Christ, ... there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Sythian, bondman, freeman: but Christ is all, and in all.46
At last this truth was understood by enlightened, open Christian minds: Jesus died upon the cross and was raised from the dead to extend the opportunity for eternal salvation to all peoples of the entire world.
Is it as difficult for many American Christians of today as it was for the
Jewish Christians of the first century to understand God's great love for
ungodly nations? If your answer is, "Yes," explain why you think it is as
13M ark 16:15.
14Luke 24:46, 47.
16Ferguson, op. cit., p. 341.
18 Acts 10: 1.
19 Acts 10:2.
20Acts 10:3, 4.
22Acts 10:7, 8.
23 Acts 10:9, 10.
25 Acts 10:17.
27 Acts 10:22.
28Acts 10:34, 35.
29 Acts 10:44.
33 Acts 11:2, 3.34Acts 11:4-17.
35 Acts 11:18.
36 Acts 13:9.
37 Acts 22: 14.
38Acts 26:10, 11.
39 Acts 9:20, 22.
442 Corinthians 5:18-21.
Link to a summary of other books by David Chadwell
Link to David Chadwell Home Page