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A grammatically close look at Matthew’s account of the Great Commission reveals there’s really one verb in play: make disciples. This is modified by something quite important, however: of all nations. Here really is the core mandate of the Great Commission: spiritual reproduction without ethnic distinction. It is multiplication among all ethnicities, not merely addition from extra people. This is more than a focus on people and individuals; it is a focus on ethnicities.
This is not to say that individuals aren’t important. They are. After all, individuals make up ethnicities (often referred to as people groups). Mark affirms this in his account of the Great Commission: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” And Luke, in his accounting in Acts (1:8), records both in one, unified sense when he talks about geographic regions, the places where the initial disciples were to go to the various individuals of these ethnicities. Altogether, we believe, then, it is most complete to summarize the Great Commission as making disciples of all nations, not just making disciples. This, to us, carries in the fullest sense the weight of the mandate’s verb (i.e., make disciples) and direct object (i.e., of all nations). We need both to fully grasp what the Father has left for us: a global mission!
This global aspect is important. Why? It provides the scope of our mission. Not a single ethnic group should be considered “off limits.” Not one! All peoples everywhere are to be invited to repent and believe the good news that Jesus has come and reconciled sinners to God. God’s heart is for the world (John 3:16, 1 John 2:2), and Jesus’ final instructions follow suit.
It is important to remember that this scope—all nations—isn’t given as a prioritized list. Jesus didn’t qualify the list and say certain ethnicities were more important, of a higher priority, or in need of greater attention. He simply said there were no language, cultural, or racial limits to the command to make disciples. This is why we believe the Great Commission, at its core, is spiritual reproduction without ethnic distinction.
Conversely, this global aspect does not speak to the speed of our mission. While we do believe urgency matters, the Great Commission does not view urgency as a matter of pace, but rather as a matter of priority. In other words, it is to be our main focus. But there is no sense in which Jesus said pick the ethnicities with the least amount of disciples and go there first. He didn’t apply percentages to this mandate and qualify that they start with the least reached or most unengaged. He simply said that all ethnicities were the field, and that the harvest would come from them. All of them without exception.
Keep in mind the Great Commission was not only his command, but his promise as well. And this is precisely what did occur. That there would definitively be disciples from every ethnicity was never a doubt in the mind or words of Jesus! He was fully confident his Father’s eternal passion would come to fruition. Earlier in his ministry, Jesus predicted, more so promised, that before the end would come the “gospel would be preached to all nations, then the end would come.” I believe this is exactly what happened at Pentecost, the beginning of the “last days” or “the end.” Admittedly, there is debate about what “the end” means. But I think a face-value reading of Peter’s declaration—that Pentecost was the beginning of the last days—in conjunction with Jesus’ earlier predictions about what was ahead for the disciples (Matthew 24:1-14) would lead one to the conclusion that the end was now at hand and it was time for the gospel to be proclaimed to “all nations.”
All nations hearing the gospel is specifically and carefully what Luke records in his historical accounting of the Acts of the Apostles, the fifth book of the New Testament (more about that in the next post). So as we continue in the pattern of those early church leaders and congregations, may we, too, see the Great Commission in all of its boundless scope. It is good news—the best news—for everyone everywhere. No wonder it’s more than a commission; it’s the Great Commission.
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