The Great Commission
P. J. Casebolt
Paden City, West Virginia
Great By Comparison
Much has been written and spoken concerning the content of the commission which was given to the disciples by Jesus. The contents of this commission are listed in the last chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and in John 20:21-23. Evidently, not too much has been said about what is contained in this charge, for there are still many who need to hear and obey it. Maybe we need to emphasize the duty of God's people a little more as pertains to this work, then more will tell it to those who need to hear it.
This commission, or charge, is properly referred to as "great" when we compare it with other commissions. By such a comparison, we can see that these instructions given by Jesus just prior to his journey back to heaven, are much greater because of their scope and importance.
Noah was given the task of building an ark "to the saving of his house" (Heb. 11:7). Much more was included in this charge, such as gathering the living creatures which entered into the ark with Noah. Also, there is indication that some preaching was done in Noah's time (2 Pet. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:18-20). But, when all was said and done, eight souls were saved from a literal form of destruction. Under the great commission, baptism is designed to save the inward man (Mk. 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:20, 21).
Moses was sent to Egypt to lead God's people out of bondage, and into the promised land of Canaan (Ex. 3:10). Though Moses carried out this charge commendably, it pertained only to the literal bondage of a few thousand people which comprised the nation of Israel (Deut. 7:6,7).
Joshua was then charged by God to complete the mission begun by Moses, by leading them into the land of Canaan (Josh. 1:1-9). Joshua later reminded Israel that by the help of God this mission had been accomplished, and not one thing pertaining to it had failed (Josh. 21:43; 14). This knowledge should put an end to all these latter-day speculations about Israel returning some day to inherit the land of Palestine.
In the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, the great work of rebuilding the temple and the walls of Jerusalem was accomplished. In spite of the magnitude of this undertaking, and efforts to hinder it, upon completion it still only provided a temporary center of activity for a people who were destined to relinquish their right to be God's exclusive people (Isa. 62:1, 2; 65:15). The prophet Jeremiah also told of God's plan to implement a greater system at some future time, and the apostle Paul verified its fulfillment (Jer. 31 and Eph. 1-3).
"How Much More?"
If these previous efforts were limited in their scope and importance, then how much greater is the commission which surpassed them all! When Jesus sent out the twelve and the seventy, they were still limited to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Mt. 10:5-7; Lk. 10:1-9). Thus, we properly refer to these efforts as a "limited" commission. But, this great commission of which we speak embraces far greater blessings and responsibilities. The consequences for failing to heed its terms are also greater (Heb. 2:1-3; 8:5, 6; 10:29).
There are things in the great commission for both saint and sinner. God's people who are called out of the world have certain duties which pertain to executing this commission. We are to do the going, teaching, and then are to teach further those who heed the terms of the gospel (Mt. 28:19, 20). Those who believe the message are to be baptized for the remission of their sins (Mk. 16:15, 16; Acts 2:38-41). These are then added to the Lord's church, and immediately begin to share in the opportunity to continue carrying out this commission (Acts 2:42, 47; 1 Tim. 3:15).
Implementing The Great Commission
There are those among us (who ought to know better), who claim they cannot see any "plan" or "scheme" in God's efforts to redeem mankind. I would like to ask these blind brethren a few questions. Is this matter of salvation from sin any less important than the building of the ark? The tabernacle? The temple, or the walls of Jerusalem? The deliverance of Israel from Egypt? The task of the twelve and the seventy? If much preparation and planning went into these efforts which pertained to other dispensations of time, and during all this time God had something better and greater in mind, how say some of you that there is no "plan" (Eph. 1:410)? Maybe some are just not satisfied with some of the conditions and requirements of this plan, and try to nullify such by claiming that since there is no plan, there can be no parts to the plan. Well, there are also those who think that by claiming there is no God, or that he is dead, they can escape the consequences of not obeying that God. It will not work. Or, to coin a phrase originating with hunters, "That dog just won't hunt."
Nowhere do we see the importance of a "plan" any more than we do in the implementation of the great commission. Jesus Himself authored this plan, and it is recorded in Acts 1:8, with its several parts. The apostles were to be witnesses of Jesus (1) in Jerusalem, (2) in Judaea, (3) in Samaria, and (4) unto the uttermost part of the earth. If there were those among the early brethren who could see no "plan" in this, it certainly did not deter the apostles in their understanding and implementation of the Lord's will. They preached the gospel first in Jerusalem (Acts 1-7), then in Judaea (Acts 8:1-4), then in Samaria (Acts 8:5), and finally, to the "uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 10; 11:19-21). Instead of trying to minimize the importance of this commission and its contents as sectarians have endeavored to do, we should be telling of its greatness, a characteristic also of Him who gave it.
Truth Magazine XXII: 29, pp. 466