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The Great Commission… Israel first

31-07-2012 - Posted by Andre Piet


At the end of the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke, we find the “Great Commission”. That is the command to make all nations disciples of Christ. However, the strange phenomenon occurred that the men who received this order, have (as far as we know from Scripture) strictly limited themselves to the people of Israel. Even a single visit to a “stranger in the gates” (Cornelius, Acts 10) was, initially, unacceptable among the disciples (Acts 11:2,3). Was this disobedience? No, quite the contrary! The reality was that of all nations, first the nation of Israel was to be made a disciple of the Messiah. Read the following:

These twelve Jesus commissions, charging them, saying, “Into a road of the nations you may not pass forth, and into a city of the Samaritans you may not be entering. Yet be going rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Now going, herald, saying that ‘Near is the kingdom of the heavens!’ The infirm be curing, the dead be rousing, lepers be cleansing, demons be casting out… Matthew 10:5-8

In the book of Acts we see “the twelve” engaged exclusively with Israel. Israel as a nation must repent and be the first people to be made disciple of Christ. And then the Messiah would return from heaven to establish His kingdom on earth. Peter preached in the temple square:

Repent, then, and turn about for the erasure of your sins, so that seasons of refreshing should be coming from the face of the Lord, and He should dispatch the One fixed upon before for you, Christ Jesus, Whom heaven must indeed receive until the times of restoration of all which God speaks through the mouth of His holy prophets who are from the eon. Acts 3:10-21

The book of Acts is primarily the historical record of Israel’s rejection and inability to repent. The “Great Commission” came to a dead end on account of it. And from out of that reality, God calls a thirteenth apostle: Paul, as an intermezzo. That is even suggested by the name Paul. His name is derived from a Greek verb “pau” (stop, interval), from where our word “pause” is derived. Paul writes:

in their offense is salvation [come] to the nations, to provoke them to jealousy. Now if their offense is the world’s riches and their discomfiture the nations’ riches, how much rather that which fills them! 13 Now to you am I saying, to the nations, in as much as, indeed, then, I am the apostle of the nations… Romans 11:11-13

The prophets and also the gospel accounts speak of salvation for the nation, based on Israel’s repentance. However, Paul speaks of salvation for the nations, in the present tense, on the basis of Israel’s unbelief (“their fall”). Paul had a calling and mission, wholly independent of “the Twelve” in Jerusalem. Not the making of disciples to Christ of all the nations was Paul’s (and our) great commission. No, God’s aim for NOW is, “to gather from out of the nations a people for His name” (Acts 15:14). Not the bringing in of the harvest, but the gathering of the firstfruits is the actual work of God in our day. And after this?

After these things I will turn back [= return], ‘And I will rebuild the tabernacle of David [= the royal house of David] which has fallen… And its overturned structure will I rebuild, And I will re-erect it… So that those left of mankind should be seeking out the Lord, And all the nations, on them over whom My name is invoked, Is saying the Lord, Who is doing these things… Acts 15:16,17

It is on that occasion that “the Great Commission”, as yet, will successfully be fulfilled. Indeed, by Israel.