The Great Commission
Pastor J. C. O'Hair
“THEN THE ELEVEN DISCIPLES WENT AWAY INTO GALILEE” “GO YE THEREFORE, AND TEACH (DISCIPLE) ALL NATIONS, BAPTIZING THEM IN (INTO OR UNTO) THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY GHOST: TEACHING THEM TO OBSERVE ALL THINGS WHATSOEVER I HAVE COMMANDED YOU; AND LO, I AM WITH YOU ALWAY, EVEN UNTO THE END OF THE WORLD (AGE).” Matthew 28:16 to 20.
Some of the outstanding teachers of the Bible, men of God who have been greatly blessed in the service of the Lord, have taught definitely that the ministries of the Twelve Apostles and Paul, in the Book of Acts, were not the fulfillment of the Great Commission; that the Church of God, the Body of Christ, has no authority to fulfill this Commission; that the Nation Israel, or an elect remnant of that Nation, will fulfill this Commission in the Kingdom age which shall follow this present Church dispensation. We name several of these teachers, Mr. John Darby, Mr. A. C. Gaebelein,, Dr. William L. Pettingill and Dr. James M. Gray.
We must respect the teaching ability of these men of God. Although we do not consider them final authority as to whether or not the Great Commission contains the “marching orders” of the Church, still when we compare the Commission with other Scriptures, we do not wonder that these spiritual men, and many others, have found it difficult to explain away some contradictions, and to find the twelve and Paul obeying the Great Commission as it has been interpreted by many of the Church fathers and Christian organizations.
Let us emphasize three facts:
1. The Commission was given to the Eleven.
2. They were instructed to disciple all nations.
3. They were to teach the observance of all things commanded by Christ.
In what sense did the Eleven disciple all nations? Our appeal is to the Holy Scriptures and not to Historic Christianity or to the traditions of the elders.
A careful study of the Prophecy of Daniel will convince any student of the Word that God has promised to establish on this earth the Kingdom of the Heavens. Daniel 2:44. The presence of the Heavenly King is necessary for the establishing of that Kingdom. Christ must come from heaven to bring about the restitution of all things spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began. Acts 3:19 to 21. When that restitution shall take place the Twelve Apostles shall sit on twelve thrones and judge the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Matthew 19:28. It is very essential that we carefully read Daniel 9:7 in connection with the Great Commission and the Kingdom of Heavens, remembering that the Kingdom of the Heavens is mentioned about thirty times in the Book of Matthew. We quote Daniel 9:7:
“O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, THAT ARE NEAR, and THAT ARE FAR OFF, through all the countries whither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against Thee.” This should be studied with Daniel 9:24 as to the seven-fold purpose of God to be accomplished by Israel’s Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
God’s promise to all Israel, in and out of the holy land, THAT ARE NEAR and THAT ARE FAR OFF, mentioned in Daniel 9:7, should be carefully compared with the message of Peter and the Eleven, on the day of Pentecost, recorded in the second Chapter of the Book of Acts. We quote Acts 2:39: “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that ARE AFAR OFF, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
Then we quote Acts 2:5: “And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.” They were addressed as “Ye men of Judea and all ye that dwell in Jerusalem.” Acts 2:14. They were later addressed: “Ye men of Israel.” Again “Men and brethren.” Acts 2:22 and 2:29. Again, “Ye men of Israel.” Acts 3:12. Again, “Ye are the children of the prophets.” Acts 3:25.
These Jews were out of every nation under heaven. The Eleven were to disciple all nations. One of them discipled one company of Gentiles, the household of Cornelius. That was more than seven years after Pentecost or after the Great Commission was given. Seven years after the Great Commission was given it was unlawful for a Christian Jew to come to one of another nation. Acts 10:28. In the Great Commission the eleven were to disciple all nations. Then why was it unlawful for them to come to a Gentile seven years after the Great Commission was given? Why did the other apostles and saved Israelites contend with Peter because he preached to the Gentile seven years after the Great Commission, if they understood, in the Great Commission, that they were to disciple Gentiles? Why was it that the disciples, under the authority of the Eleven, preached the gospel to none but unto the Jews only several years after the Great Commission was given? Acts 11:19.
Why was Cornelius chosen for the ministry of the Eleven, under the Great Commission, and then they ceased to preach to any other Gentiles? They were to disciple all nations, but unless we find some Scripture containing contrary information, we must believe that the Lord Jesus meant all nations of the Jews. Now read about Cornelius, “a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among ALL THE NATION OF THE JEWS.” Acts 10:22. Cornelius loved and honoured Israel’s God and gave much alms to God’s people. He lived in Israel’s land. The Eleven to whom the Great Commission was given did not preach out of Israel’s land, so far as we have any record in the Book of Acts. They remained in Jerusalem. Acts 8:1. They were still there twenty-five years later. Acts 21:18 to 28. Not one of them preached the gospel to the Gentiles, except the message of Peter to the Household of Cornelius. What message did Peter preach to Cornelius? You may answer this question. We quote:
Galatians 2:7 to 9
BUT CONTRARIWISE, WHEN THEY SAW THAT THE GOSPEL OF THE UNCIRCUMCISION WAS COMMITTED UNTO ME, AS THE GOSPEL OF THE CIRCUMCISION WAS UNTO PETER: (FOR HE THAT WROUGHT EFFECTUALLY IN PETER TO THE APOSTLESHIP OF THE CIRCUMCISION, THE SAME WAS MIGHTY IN ME TOWARD THE GENTILES.) AND WHEN JAMES, PETER AND JOHN WHO SEEMED TO BE PILLARS, PERCEIVED THE GRACE THAT WAS GIVEN UNTO ME, THEY GAVE TO ME AND BARNABAS THE RIGHT HANDS OF FELLOWSHIP; THAT WE SHOULD GO UNTO THE HEATHEN, AND THEY UNTO THE CIRCUMCISION.”
Where is there any truth more clearly set forth in all of the Bible? The Lord worked effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision. Peter and his associates agreed to confine their ministry to the circumcision. Then how can any student of the Word of God believe that the Great Commission authorized the Eleven to disciple Gentiles? What gospel did the Eleven preach? The gospel of the circumcision? Who received the great Commission? The Eleven. Then did not the Great Commission authorize the Eleven to preach to Israel, near and far off, the gospel of the circumcision?
Who was authorized to preach the Grace of Christ to the Gentiles? Who is the man that calls himself the Apostle to the Gentiles; the teacher and preacher of the Gentiles; the prisoner of the Lord for the Gentiles? Who was to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ among the Gentiles? Paul, of course. Read it. Acts 22:21, Romans 11:13, Acts 13:46, Acts 18:6, Romans 15:16, Galatians 1:16, Galatians 2:2, Ephesians 3:1, 3:8, Colossians 1:24 to 27, I Timothy 2:7, II Timothy 1:11, 4:17.
If Paul received his authority from Christ to preach the Grace of Christ to the Gentiles, under the Great Commission, then why did he declare that he received it by revelation and went up to Jerusalem by revelation to communicate it to other disciples and apostles? Galatians 1:13 and 2:2 to 6. What need for a revelation, if the authority was in the Great Commission? If Paul was preaching to Gentiles under the Great Commission, he must have received a “baptism” exemption from the Lord. The Eleven were told to baptize. Paul said, “Christ sent me not to baptize.” I Corinthians 1:17.
If Paul was authorized under the Great Commission to preach the Grace of Christ, and the Glorious Gospel of the Blessed God, and the Unsearchable Riches of Christ to the Gentiles, why did he say to Israel; “seeing ye put it from you, we turn to the Gentiles”, or “the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles to provoke Israel to jealousy”, or “the Gentiles have obtained mercy through Israel’s unbelief?” Acts 13:46, Romans 11:11 and 11:30. Is it not rather strange that we have taken so much for granted, without diligently studying the Bible? What is the meaning of Acts 28:28; because of Israel’s blindness, the judgment of Gad pronounced in 63 A.D., “the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles?” Had not the salvation of God been sent to the Gentiles for more than twenty years? If the Great Commission was sufficient authority for the evangelization of the Gentiles with the Gospel of the Grace of God, why Acts 28:28? Was not the message to be sent to the Gentiles independent of any Israelitish religion or covenants after Acts 28:28? If the Great Commission authorized Paul to preach his final truth, why was a blindness to Israel necessary before he could do so, and why was it necessary for the Lord to give him further revelation from heaven? Ephesians 3:3.
All intelligent Premillennialist students of the Word of God believe that this Body dispensation is a parenthesis; that the Kingdom of Heaven is in abeyance, until the Lord has made the one New Man mentioned in Ephesians 2:15. Therefore, they must of necessity believe that there has been a suspension of the Abrahamic, Davidic and New Covenants that have to do with the salvation of “all Israel”, and the restoration to that Nation of their land and the establishment of their Kingdom under their true King. They therefore, must believe that the Great Commission will have a more complete fulfillment in the coming Kingdom age, just as they must believe that Joel 2:1 to 24 must have a more complete fulfillment in the coming Kingdom age; as must all of the prophecies concerning the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. Joel’s prophecy was not fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. The “these days” offered Israel in Acts 3:24 will come with the return of their King.
TEACHING THEM TO OBSERVE ALL THINGS
One of our outstanding Fundamentalists who insists that he is right about the Great Commission for the Body of Christ and that all who disagree with him are heretics, has forbidden the use of the “Our Father” prayer in the congregation of which he is pastor. Is he not rather inconsistent to insist on the Great Commission and then disobey it, by omitting from his “Church” program the so-called Lord’s prayer? And this is by no means all that he omits. Undoubtedly he is not out of the will of God in omitting what he does, because he would be kept as busy trying to make them fit into Pauline Body truth as he is trying to make the Great Commission agree with Galatians 2:7 to 9, which he cannot do and which no other student of the Word of God can do. What about omitting the Lord’s. prayer in the light of “teaching them to observe all things which I have commanded you”? The Lord’s Prayer was a specific command. If the Great Commission is the Captain’s marching orders for His Christian soldiers in the Body of Christ, Paul was a disobedient and disloyal soldier and did greatly err when he said, “I have fought a good fight.” But Paul does not stand alone, for the fundamentalist brother, to whom I have referred, and all of the brethren during the Christian centuries until today are disobedient and disloyal. What spiritual Spirited servant of the Lord is observing or teaching others to observe all that the Lord commanded His disciples, by parable, precept, example and other teaching? Our Fundamentalist brother, in the light of the Pauline Grace Message and Body Truth, eliminated from his own program and practice the religious observances, the Kingdom messages and signs, and Jewish ceremonies which were the Divine order while Jesus of Nazareth was in the land of Israel, the Man approved of God by miracles, under the law, the minister of the circumcision. In fact, there is but one ceremony in all of the teachings and practices of the Lord Jesus and His apostles on earth that he accepts for himself that I do not accept for myself, and that is water baptism. Both of us believe that all of the Bible is the inspired Word of God and that all Divine truth from Genesis to Revelation, that will stand the test of Body truth or that will not frustrate the Grace of God, is for the acceptance, obedience and practice of every member of the Body of Christ.
Perhaps you have asked yourself this question: “Which is the more important, in endeavoring to obey the Great Commission, the discipling and baptizing or commanding the converts to obey all that the Lord Jesus had commanded His disciples? Many preachers and teachers, who place great stress on the baptizing, ignore many of the things which the Lord Jesus commanded His disciples to observe. Was not the Lord Jesus restating the baptismal ceremony as a part of the Kingdom program covered by the “all things” He had commanded?
It is stated by many servants of the Lord that John the Baptist was an Old Testament prophet. It seems strange that an Old Testament prophet would have an ordinance for the Body of Christ, or a Jewish message with the baptism of Ephesians 4:5. Strange that Israel’s prophet, himself not in the Body, should introduce a “Body” ordinance.
John’s water baptism was to manifest Christ to Israel. John 1:31. John’s water baptism was unto repentance for the remission of sins. Mark 1:4 . . Luke 3:3 and Matthew 3:11. Now this question: was water baptism to have the same meaning and significance, under the terms of the Great Commission? It was, if the disciples were to teach all nations to observe all things that the Lord had commanded. It certainly did have the same significance and meaning when Peter and the Eleven preached to all nations of Jews on the day of Pentecost; “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” Acts 2:38. It is not difficult to learn in Paul’s message concerning the Body of Christ that the Holy Spirit gave a new interpretation to baptism. Ephesians 4:5 and Colossians 2:12. But he did not give a new interpretation of water baptism; for as long as there was any mention of water baptism there was the testimony to Israel that Jesus was their Messiah and it was unto repentance for the remission of sins. The teaching by our outstanding Fundamentalists that there were two entirely different signification’s to water baptism is not supported in the Scriptures. Water baptism was given in connection with Israel and their Kingdom and continued with Israel and their Kingdom, and disappeared with the final revelation of the Body of Christ; after which there was one baptism, not water. Ephesians 4:5.
In Matthew 10:8, the disciples were commanded by the Lord Jesus to heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. They continued to do this after the Great Commission was given. Shall we, under the terms of the Great Commission, teach all nations to observe this commandment? We had better get busy. Truly the healing commandment was included in the “all things”?
Shall we send the cleansed lepers to the priest with a gift demanded by the law? Matthew 8:4. Can we make the parables spoken for the benefit of publicans and Pharisees, who were on earth with Jesus of Nazareth under the law, fit into truth concerning the position and possessions of the members of the Body of Christ after He had blotted out the handwriting of ordinances on the cross and God had said to believers, “ye are not under the law.” Romans 6:14. Colossians 2:14. Was water baptism introduced under the law dispensation or under the dispensation of grace? Compare Ephesians 3:1 to 3 with I Corinthians 1:17 and Ephesians 4:5.
If it is possible for us, with open and unprejudiced minds, to compare and contrast the gospel of the kingdom and the kingdom program of signs, committed to the Twelve while Christ was on earth,, with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God, with the “signless” program, which Paul finally committed to Timothy, then we shall want to ask several questions:
1. Was not the “signless” program which Paul committed to Timothy likewise a “waterless” program?
2. Which program was committed to the Eleven, in the Great Commission, the “sign” and “water” program or the “signless” and “waterless” program?
3. Which commission is binding on the Body of Christ today, the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19 and 20 or the Timothy Commission of II Timothy 2:2?
For our study we compare and contrast Matthew 4:17, Matthew 10:5 to 8, Luke 9:6, Luke 13:24, Matthew 19:28, Matthew 24:14 and Matthew 25:34 to 36 with I Timothy 1:11 and 5:23, II Timothy 1:8 to 11, Ephesians 2:4 to 9, 2:13 to 18 and Titus 3:5 to 7. How would II Timothy 1:9 fit into the Book of Matthew or in the chapter with Luke 13:24?
Compare the baptisms of Matthew 3:11 with the one baptism of Ephesians 4:5. By comparing the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 and 20 with the Great Commission, in Mark 16:15 to 18 we have the answer to questions 2; the program committed to the Eleven was a “water” and “sign” program. Moreover the water was to be a factor in salvation: “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” The Eleven preached that message to Israel, for the “Jews require a sign.” Signs and water continued to the end of Acts, for the Jews had priority rights and privileges during that period.
In what sense was, the kingdom of the heavens at hand in Matthew that it was not at hand in Acts? Did not the Eleven in Acts, continue with “baptism unto repentance for the remission of sins”? Was not their message of Acts 3:14 to 26 the gospel of the kingdom, the very same gospel—for Israel—declared by the Holy Spirit in Luke 1:67 to 77? The same Holy Spirit who filled Zacharias, according to the first chapter of Luke, to proclaim the Kingdom at hand, in fulfillment of God’s promises by Israel’s prophets, likewise filled Peter to do the same thing. The “these days” of Acts 3:24 are the “these days” of Luke 1:67 to 77.
The Great Commission was not given to Paul; it was given to the Eleven. We may not agree with the men of God who teach that the Eleven did not begin their ministry on the day of Pentecost under the orders of Matthew 28:19 and 20. But here is the question that should be in our minds; if the Eleven, filled with the Holy Spirit, proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, and thereafter, the gospel message and program in obedience to the Great Commission, why do we not follow Peter and the Eleven instead of Paul? Surely after carefully reading Galatians 2:7 to 9, no intelligent student of the Word of God will say that the Twelve and Paul preached the same message. Surely there is a difference between the “regeneration” message of Acts 2:38 and the “regeneration” message of Titus 3:5 to 7. No Grace preacher today, led by the Holy Spirit, is preaching to any sinner Acts 2:38 or Acts 3:19 to 21, or Acts 10:35 to 38. To say that we are going right on with the Great Commission, under which the Eleven began their ministry, and then to utterly ignore the program of signs, gifts, visions, imposition of hands, casting out demons, religious ceremonies and tongues of the Acts period, is most inconsistent.
If we carefully study the Word and see that the risen Lord gave to His chosen vessel, His Apostle to the Gentiles, a message, ministry and program, which not only supplemented, but in the final revelations superseded, His Commission to the Twelve, we shall see that the only intelligent and Scriptural way by which we can justify our present “signless” program of pure Grace is to acknowledge that we are working under the orders which Christ gave to Paul and which Paul handed down to Timothy and which we receive today as our marching orders. If we are supposed to be marching under Matthew 28:19 and 20, we are most disobedient. Within an hour of Paul’s farewell he left us II Timothy 2:15. Let us obey it.
Was not water baptism restated after the death of Christ and carried over from Matthew into Acts? Certainly. So also were “signs” restated with water baptism and signs were carried over into Acts. Why let go of the signs and hold on to the water? Our Apostle Paul was sent with signs but not to baptize. II Corinthians 12:12; 1 Corinthians 1:17.
In the light of Paul’s Commission to Timothy we lose nothing that the risen Lord intended for the members of His Body either in the Four Gospels or in the Book of Acts, only that which was Israelitish and not a part of the “. Body” program.