Foundational Framework Part 71 - The Great Commision Part 2

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“Our young men are going into the professional fields because they don't 'feel called' to the mission field. We don't need a call; we need a kick in the pants. We must begin thinking in terms of 'going out,' and stop our weeping because 'they won't come in.' Who wants to step into an igloo? The tombs themselves are not colder than the churches. May God send us forth.” -Jim Elliot

In Christ, a brand new Life has been made available. It is one of His power, His message, His forgiveness, His love, and His presence in this present evil age. The interval between the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the birth of the Church is an interesting but understandable one. Jesus’ call for them to “wait for what the Father” (Acts 1:4b) has promised, being the coming of the Holy Spirit, places the eleven in a time where patience was paramount. However, they do not waste this time, opting to appoint another to take Judas’ place, making them twelve again (Acts 1:21-26), and spending this time in prayer along with other believers (Acts 1:14). But Jesus’ prescription to “wait” was necessary because the twelve needed power to accomplish the mission that He was placing before them. 

Acts 1:1-5.The book of Acts is Luke, Part II. Luke, the physician, addresses “Theophilus” once more (Luke 1:3), explaining the contents of his first letter. In his Gospel account, Luke had documented all that Jesus “began to do and teach until the day when He was taken up” (Acts 1:1b-2a). This refers to Jesus’ miracles and instructions while on the Earth bodily, lasting up until the time that He was crucified, resurrected, and had ascended (Luke 24:51-52). 

In Acts 1:3, Jesus is said to have presented Himself alive “by many convincing proofs,” furthering the case for His bodily resurrection. We are then told that a period of forty days took place between His bodily resurrection and His ascension into heaven (Acts 1:9), in which He was speaking with the apostles regarding the Kingdom of God. Why would the subject matter of the Kingdom of God be the focus of His post-resurrection/pre-ascension ministry to the apostles?

From Matthew 21:43we see that Jesus makes a definitive claim against the nation of Israel, stating, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.” This was not a declaration that the Kingdom was to come in the establishment of the Church, nor that the kingdom had come in some “mystery form” while Jesus was ministering on Earth, but that the fruits that would have been, and will be produced in the Kingdom when it comes would be produced in the Church Age as a sign of judgment against them. Israel’s unbelief had cost them a first-century start to the Kingdom of God in which the Messiah would be reigning on the throne (Matt 12). This statement would have some bearing on Jesus’ conversation with the apostles, no doubt. But this does not mean that the nature of the kingdom has changed in some capacity. It is still literal, still political, still earthly, and still to come in the future.

Some have concluded that the Kingdom of God came with Jesus and was established in a “spiritual” sense while He was on Earth. Peters writes, “Is it conceivable, can it be credited, that such special chosen ones, upon whose testimony the faith of others was to be founded, should, aftertheir own preaching, afterall their private and public instruction for several years, and afterthe particular ‘forty days’ (Acts 1:3), ‘speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God,’ be ignorant of the fact (if it be as alleged) that a promised Kingdom was (as eminent theologians now gravely inform us) actuallyin existence?

No! such a supposition is damaging, fatally so, to preachers and Teacher, and cannot possiblybe entertained.”[1]

The apostles were not aware, in any fashion, that the Kingdom of God had come. In fact, we see Jesus moving in a different direction, yet one that is consistent with His teaching during the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-16), which was taught at a time “post-rejection.” In Acts 1:4, Jesus calls the apostles together and tells them to “wait for what the Father had promised,” being the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7-15). Jesus then connects the Spirit’s coming with the words of John the Baptist. “For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). 

In Matthew’s Gospel, John’s words are recorded where he says, “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt 3:11). Notice the similarity with Jesus’ words in Acts 1:5speaking of John baptizing with water. Yet Jesus goes on to speak of another baptism, that being of the Holy Spirit. In John’s case, we see the mention of being baptized with “the Holy Spirit and fire.” This should not be understood as relating two separate baptisms, but one and the same.

We must remember that the word “baptism” needs context in order to determine what is meant by the original author. Not every mention of “baptism” is speaking of an immersion in water. The meaning of baptism is that one is immersed in, or identified with, something. This is the case that we find before us. If we move forward to Acts 2:3, we read, “And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.” This captures the baptism of which John the Baptist and Jesus spoke. To be baptized with fire is to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. This is not a water baptism, but a fire baptism, a spiritual identification with the Holy Spirit. 

At the present time, the apostles had no power. Therefore, they could not minister effectively as Jesus had called them to do. So, He told them to wait for the necessary Power to arrive.

Acts 1:6-8. The apostles “coming together” in Acts 1:6 speaks to the event of 1:4 where we are told that Jesus “gathered them together.” Note the nature of their question to the Lord. “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). This question is revealing in at least two ways. First, the anticipation of the apostles’ question tells us that the kingdom had not yet arrived, that it was still forthcoming. Second, the apostles understood that the coming of the Kingdom of God as Jesus preached it was a kingdom that was to be “restored” to Israel. 

The word “restored” means “to change to an earlier good state or condition, restore, reestablish,” and “to return someone to a former place or relationship, bring back, give back, restore.”[2]The apostles understood that only Jesus, the Christ of God could restore this Kingdom, being that He is its King. We must ask ourselves what the apostles might have been thinking of when considering an ideal time of reigning in Israel’s history. Without question, their conception of the “Kingdom of God” is the time of David and Solomon’s reign when Israel was at its most prosperous on the Earth.

Peters writes, “The tenor of the narrative shows that in alltheir conversations respectingthe Kingdom nothingwas said that changedthe faith of the apostles. They still held the belief that they had authoritatively preached. The proof is found in the question (v. 6), “Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel?” This is admitted by all—very reluctantlyindeed by some commentators and writers—to mean that they still believedin a restoration of the Davidic throne and Kingdom under the reign of the Messiah. The reply of Jesus, as we already had occasion to observe, confirmstheir belief; for instead of rejecting their idea of the natureof the Kingdom, He takes that for granted as substantially correct, and only refers to the timewhen it should again be restored to Israel as something reserved by the Father, thus meeting the question proposed which related to the time.”[3]

Undoubtedly, Jesus’ emphasis on the subject of the Kingdom of God is what had brought this question about. However, now was not the time for the Kingdom to come. It would be at another time. It was not wrong for the apostles to ask Him about it, and He does not rebuke them for their inquiry. However, Jesus does redirect their thinking and He starts by affirming that the Father has another time planned for the promised Kingdom to come (Acts 1:7). This was the Father’s business. The timing of the coming of the Kingdom of God was not to concern them, which is a point that would have saved our “date-setter” friends a lot of trouble. Instead, Jesus set a mission before the apostles, and by extension the Church, that was to be what occupied their time until the coming of the Kingdom. “He does not tell them their kingdom is abandoned, or merged into a spiritual conquest of all nations: He plainly infers that every promise of God is still intact; but assigns to them the immediate ministry of the new gospel age.”[4]

Jesus tells them, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8a). This point resonates with Jesus’ earlier call for the apostles to “wait for what the Father has promised” (Acts 1:4b). What is most often neglected in many contemporary observations of this verse stands as its most indispensable part. It is the essential element to all effective ministry, and yet it is often glossed over. Tozer notes, “Some good Christians have misread thistext and have assumed that Christ told His disciples that they were to receive the Holy Spirit and power, the power to come after the coming of the Spirit… Christ taught not the coming of the Holy Spirit aspower; the power and the Spirit are the same.”[5]He goes on to say, “’Ye shall receive power.’ By those words our Lord raised the expectation of His disciples and taught them to look forward to the coming of a supernatural potency in to their natures from a source outside themselves. It was to be something previously unknown to them, but suddenly to come upon them from another world. It was to be nothing less than God Himself entering into them with the purpose of ultimately reproducing His own likeness within them.”[6]

God the Spirit is the power that accomplishes the task at hand. This is why Jesus mentions it first before telling His disciples that they would be His “witnesses” (martyresbeing where we get the English word “martyrs” from). A “witness” is one who testifies to what they have seen and heard (Acts 4:20; 1 John 1:1, 3). Jesus would ask of the Father and the Father would send forth the Power needed to testify to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and that all who believe in Him would be saved from the wrath of God to come. This is a message that will not suffice without the power that IS the Holy Spirit. A message fueled by the flesh meets fear and intimidation and will yield no results. Fruit cannot be expected from dead things. However, the Spirit, living, active, indwelling, and leading the believer in Christ cannot help but to produce fruit because therein lies all of the power.

There are four arenas that are presented for the testifiers of Jesus Christ to go. First, we have “Jerusalem,” which would be considered the place of the apostles’ “home base operations.” For the believer in Christ, it would be the place where you are. Start where you are in testifying about Christ. There is no better place than where you find yourself currently to begin being obedient to this command.Second,we have “in all Judea,” meaning the region that contained Jerusalem. One might liken this to their “county” in America, or one’s province if you happen to find yourself in France, for instance. This calling would be to go beyond the city and into the rural areas, the regions that lie around the place where you find yourself. 

Third, Jesus mentions “Samaria,” and does so close on the heels of “Judea.” Samaria was the middle region in between Judea in the south and Galilee in the north. However, this was a place that Jews avoided at all cost, seeing that it was made up of people who were the offspring of Jews and Gentiles cohabitating. The Jews of first century Israel despised Gentiles and considered them “unclean” at best (See Acts 10:9-18, 34-35, 42-45). This gives us a better understanding. Jesus is saying, “go where you normally wouldn’t go.” Think about who you disagree with. Maybe you have some hidden prejudices that keep you from certain people or certain places. Jesus says go beyond those and see that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone. Every person living is a sinner in need of salvation, and Jesus has freely provided salvation for every person. Every person needs to hear of His free gift of eternal life.

Finally, Jesus calls us to be witnesses “even to the remotest part of the Earth.” How far do we go? Forever. We keep going and we do not stop going. Our lives are not ones of staying but of going and all four arenas need to be told of the love of God in Christ Jesus. One doesn’t need to be a missionary; one just needs to be obedient. We don’t need any formal training; we just need to be willing to talk. There doesn’t need to be any special planning; there just needs to be a willingness to be used where you are. There is no need for psyching ourselves up for the task; we always have the authority and presence of Jesus Christ and the indwelling Spirit. Our greatest concerns in leaving this command undone is our greed, fear, unwillingness, worldliness, and pride. All of these are the SELF-LIFE and all of these call for our repentance, for all of these keep us from going and testifying of the death and resurrection of Christ. All of these keep the lost from being saved.  

In writing on the prophet Jonah and his call from YHWH to go to the city of Nineveh and preach there, Merrill writes that “the mission strategy is somewhat different from the normal Old Testament pattern inasmuch as Israel was essentially to be a magnet to which the peoples would be attracted and thus attracted to Israel’s God. In Jonah’s case the command was to go, anticipating perhaps the New Testament centrifugal model of the church reaching out to the ends of the earth with the gospel message (Matt 28:19-20; cf. Acts 1:8).”[7]This is an excellent observation. Just as Jesus had already said, we are to “Go!” The Church of God is not to be a stagnant entity that causes others to marvel at its pomp and circumstance, but a people thriving in the New Life that Christ gives and powerful due to the Holy Spirit’s presence, going and reaching out to the lost. The church’s focus is to be as much outward (evangelism) as it is inward (discipleship). One can easily see that the latter gives way to the former and the former supplies the latter. This is God’s glorious plan for the Church to move forward. In fact, it is the only plan.

Acts 1:9-12.This section is straight-forward. Finishing this command, Jesus ascends into heaven out of the disciples’ sight. His last words before leaving them was that they were to be His witnesses, all around the world until His kingdom comes. Last words are important. Out of all of the things that Jesus could have communicated to them, He told them this. This is how important “being His witnesses” is to Him. And so it is today with us.

Upon ascension, two angels appeared and told the apostles that Jesus would return to Earth in the same way; descending from the clouds. He will come again! He is now preparing a place for His people (John 14:2-3). He will come again and receive us unto Himself and we will be with Him always. In the meantime, we are to be about His business: testifying to the salvation that He has provided and making disciples. 

If we were to combine the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 and the call to be Jesus’ “witnesses” in Acts 1:8, we would say:

Every believer in Jesus Christ is a ministerto the Body (Matt 28:18-20) and amissionaryto the world (Acts 1:8).

The focus of the believer is twofold, calling the unsaved to be saved and for the already saved to go on being saved. This is evangelism and discipleship, justification and sanctification, being saved from the penalty of sin and continually being saved from the power of sin in our lives, receiving eternal life and experiencing abundant life, coming into relationship with the Father through the Son and experiencing fellowship with Him on an ongoing basis, answering the invitation to know Him and enjoying intimacy with Him, having peace with God and experiencing the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, being granted a holy position before Him and cultivating a holy practice in Him, believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and abiding with the Lord Jesus Christ. 

There is no other goal, no new vision or revelation, no new program to employ, no other way of relating. It is evangelism and discipleship, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the center of all that flows out of the Church. 

The greatest fulfillment that we will ever experience in this earthly life is in getting a taste of the Life to come as we testify about Christ and teaching believers about His glorious grace! It is all about Him, not us. Our greatest ambitions cannot compare to the glorious riches that we already possess in Christ. Are we taking advantage of those benefits, or has SELF blocked our access to the depths of His grace?

Make the wise decision to heed the Word of God: share Christ with the lost knowing that the power of the Holy Spirit is with you, and make discipleship a priority, knowing that the authority of Christ and His continual presence will never leave you. 

God has made Himself known by His Word. How blessed we are to be His people and to share in making Him known to the world!

[1]George N. H. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom of Our Lord Jesus, the Christ, vol. 1 (New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1884), p. 366.

[2]BDAG, p. 111.

[3]Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, vol. 1, p. 430–431.

[4]Lewis Sperry Chafer, The Kingdom in History and Prophecy(Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1936), p. 72.

[5]A.W. Tozer, God’s Pursuit of Man(Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015), p. 91.

[6]Ibid., p. 93.

[7]Eugene H. Merrill, Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006), p. 499.