The Scope of Gospel Responsibility
Everyone who has read the New Testament will know about the Great Commission. It was the last instruction Jesus gave his followers before he ascended to heaven. It is referred to six times. Mark, Luke and John’s gospels each have one. Matthew has two, and there is one in Acts Chapter One. Together they set the goal and parameters for every church and follower of Jesus in every generation. The statements are clear, consistent and straightforward. In saying this, we become immediately aware of a problem. Most churches are not doing it, nor are their members.
Even if some churches allocate some of their resources to this work, it is usually spasmodic and non-strategic. It is more of an optional extra for interested persons. We have even developed spiritual gift surveys that enable followers of Jesus to disregard this command by suggesting that if you don’t have the “gift” for evangelism, then you don’t have the responsibility. Surveys have shown that in most churches less than two per cent of the congregation will be involved in proclaiming the gospel at all. This is amazing,
And we have another problem. When churches do proclaim the gospel, the primary tool is a church program of some sort: a visiting evangelist and some special meetings; the pastor hounding people to bring their family and friends to church and so on. This is usually seen as a way of growing the individual church. When people become disciples, they are often drawn into all kinds of church activities so that their connection with the “outside world’ becomes minimal and their relationship with people far from God non-existent. Then we have a situation where there will be a range of different church congregations meeting in one suburb or town. It is rare for them to think about how they might cooperate to see the gospel proclaimed to every person in their region. They just concentrate on their programs. As a result, there is no plan to do what Jesus told us to do in the words of the Great Commission.
I want to have a look at the scope assumed in the Great Commission statements. I want to allow Jesus’ words to inform us again about the extent of his plan for myself and every other follower in my region (and elsewhere of course). I want to consider what it would take to have a plan that was worthy of what Jesus started. We will see that nearly all of the statements have words or phrases that describe the EXTENT. Having heard this again, we might be more inclined to do what it takes to see that this desire of Jesus is fulfilled – for starters in our region and in this generation.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
The whole ὅλῃ This means every single part. The two English words most commonly used to translate this Greek word are “all” and “whole.” No matter where you are engaged with the gospel the command of Jesus is that we take responsibility for making the gospel known to every part. If it is a family, then it is every member of the family. If it is a suburb, then it is every household in the suburb. If it is a city or a region, then it is every person in every household or workplace in the region.
world οἰκουμένῃ This is a compound word. The first is the word for house or dwelling; the second part comes from the idea of remaining or staying. It quite logically describes “a place where people stay,” i.e. a home. It occurs fifteen times in the New Testament and is a collective that refers to the inhabited world. The Greeks originally used it to speak about the Hellenistic empire and then it was used similarly about the Roman empire. The thinking was that the supposedly uncivilised people outside of that territory were considered to be sub-human, i.e. not like ‘us.’ Given all people are created equally in the image of God, in this case, it refers to every place where there are people. We aren’t called to preach to the uninhabited places or animals. We are, however, called to preach the gospel everywhere where people are living.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Therefore, go πορευθέντες In the Greek language this is an aorist passive participle. Without getting into technicalities, the main verb in this sentence is the command to “make into disciples” (μαθητεύσατε). The sense of the Greek phrase wants us to make people into disciples as we are going into all of the nations. The actions should be simultaneous. We should be going with that intention and doing the work of disciple-making as we are in the process of going.
All the nations πάντα τὰ ἔθνη Again the word “all” is deliberate and specific. If you apply this word to any place at any time you are going to have to identify all of those groups and not leave any out. It doesn’t tell us to go to the ones we like or the ones that seem nice. It just says ‘all.’ There are many ways we can think about the word ‘ethnos’ or ‘nations.’ Today we use this to refer to geopolitical entities. This was nothing like the original Greek meaning. Christian missiologists have described the Biblical meaning much more in terms of small “people groups.” In our society, it probably describes different groups that operate within a community where people gather around ideology or common interest beyond family groups: political parties, sporting clubs etc. The application of Jesus’ words to people like us in settings like ours would work this way. You need to have strategies that will enable disciple-making to happen in every different kind of community group in the Canberra region: sporting clubs, government sections and departments, community groups, ethnic groups etc. – all of them need disciple making enterprises. You need to discover the way to make disciples in a way that is appropriate to each particular people group and be aware that what works in one people group will not necessarily work in other people groups.
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
Go into all the world Πορευθέντες εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἅπαντα Once again this introductory phrase is an aorist participle, denoting that the action happens at the same time as the verb κηρύξατε which is the word “preach” or “proclaim.” As with the former example, the idea here is that the act of proclaiming the gospel should be concurrent with the going. In contemporary circumstances like the ones we find ourselves in this seems impossible. What we have done is to separate being somewhere and the idea of proclaiming the gospel. We go to a lot of places on most days and don’t even think about proclaiming the gospel, let alone to every person. I would suggest that both our sense of inadequacy and the power of our culture to intimidate has successfully caused us to shut up shop. In addition to this, most of the small number of people who remain committed to “preach the gospel” do it in such a way that we feel embarrassed and ashamed. They are either corny or operate like social misfits, immune to the reactions and attitudes of the people around them. We often feel they do the gospel an injustice by their insensitivity. It might be hard to admit, but it is nonetheless true that in most cases we don’t have any concept of what it might look like for this command to be happening any week in our world. And we are mostly unwilling to find out.
to every created person πάσῃ τῇ κτίσει The scope of our task is further identified with these words. A check of various translations will demonstrate that slightly more references to “all creation” and slightly less use the phrase “to every person.” Each of these is valid. What makes the second of the two the more likely is the context. If the command of Jesus refers to the natural world of earth, sea and sky, then we should all be getting ourselves to the top of a high hill somewhere and calling on the trees, waters, air and animal world to put their trust in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t compute at all. If it is personalised, then our objective is to bring the message of the gospel to every person created by God. That IS consistent with what Jesus modelled and also the apostles. This is a compelling reference to the idea of incarnation. We are being told to go INTO EVERYONE’S WORLD. This is exactly what Jesus did. He became so powerfully incarnate that when he began to be revealed as the Son of God, the people in his got so angry that they wanted to kill him – such was the absurdity. They had watched him grow up for nearly thirty years and not once did he give any indication he was anything more than the son of a Nazareth family. Perhaps the insight of this form of Jesus’ commission wants to urge us to remain planted in the “world” with people who are lost from God. So often people come to know Jesus and from then on their social lives are totally lived in some kind of “church-world.” They socialise exclusively with other Christians, they send their kids to Christian schools, and even though they might work and play where lost people are, they don’t intentionally invade their world with loving presence so that lost people get to see, hear or feel anything that would enable them to be connected to Jesus.
And we need to note once again that the command uses the word “all.” For our plan to be true to what Jesus has said, we need to embrace a plan that can see the gospel proclaimed to everyone. As I have said before: if it is family, then everyone in the family. If it is a suburb, then every home in the suburb. If a town or city, then everyone in the city. If a nation, then everyone in the nation. When everyone in every nation has heard and experienced the gospel in a generation our work will be completed. Until that point, we have work to do. In our case, it is not just the work itself, but it is a matter of getting ourselves extracted from all of the things that consume our time and attention that will never contribute to this cause.
And repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
to all nations εἰς πάντα τὰ ἔθνη Literally, ‘into all of the people-groups.’ Much of what has already been said above will apply in this version of the commission of Jesus to the disciples. The fact that the author uses the word, “his” which means “into” gives a strong sense of incarnation. The command is for us to go and become an integral part of some people group with the express goal of proclaiming the message of repentance and forgiveness. Once again the scope is ALL. Every single people group will need missionaries who go there with specific intention. In a culture and society like the one I live in, so much emphasis is placed upon what is self-serving, safely within self-proclaimed comfort zones and strictly self-determined. We do what we want when we want with whom we choose. We construct our comfort-driven worlds around a whole bunch of preferences that have nothing to do with God’s loving intention. To accomplish this, we need to craft churches where it is acceptable to attend where it suits, be involved when it is convenient and to be affirmed in selecting or deselecting our involvement based upon our own preferences. In doing this, our churches operate pretty much on the same basis as every other voluntary organisation – its just that ours revolves around tokens of worship, prayer, Bible study and activity that reference Jesus. He is not revered and passionately followed Lord, but has been domesticated by our cultural preferences to become our panacea.
What would begin to change all of this would be for us to ask the question, “What could we begin to do that if we kept on doing it, would see the message of repentance and forgiveness proclaimed to every people-group in our region, and then to all of the regions beyond?” This would involve us in the task of identifying the people-groups where we already have connection and involvement and then identify further people groups so that we could pray for God to raise up missionaries prepared to “go into” those groups with the express purpose of proclaiming repentance and forgiveness. We would judge our progress on how many times this message was proclaimed, what percentage had yet to see and hear and how we could reach those to whom we had not yet connected. We would unite with others to achieve this goal, and we would pray simply because without Holy Spirit power and miracles it would never happen.
Repentance and forgiveness μετάνοιαν εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν These two factors are consistent with the core message Jesus proclaimed. He called on people to repent and he offered forgiveness I think these two experiences have been keelhauled by streams within the Christian church that take the view expressed so graphically by Jonathan Edwards in his famous revival sermon: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” In this sermon, Edwards described God by saying that he was angrily dangling sinners like spiders at the end of a web over the fires of hell warning them to repent. The problem with this idea is in the fact that it is wholly unsupported by anything found in the life and ministry of Jesus – who was, after all, the full expression of the nature of God and the exact representation of his being. I hold the view that the concepts and meanings of words in the New Testament will best be understood by seeing how they work in and through Jesus and then through apostolic testimony (Acts, Letters and Revelation). If you have a look at the way Jesus called people to repent, there is no instance where Jesus was angry to the point of dropping someone into hell unless they grovelled like a grub. He challenged people to change the way they thought, the way they lived and the word they trusted. Likewise, forgiveness was not measured by the number of tears or the look of anguish. Zacchaeus experienced forgiveness when he realised that Jesus offered redemptive love. The woman caught in adultery was sent away with a simple command. The man let down through the roof similarly received a blessing from Jesus. The forgiveness was the power to walk away from the past and to walk boldly into the vocation God had planned. There was no assuaging of divine anger and no placating of wrath on Jesus’ part. That doesn’t mean there could not be tears and flowing emotion. We learn from Hebrews that Esau’s problem was that he had the tears, but no determination to change his loyalty or his trust.
This form of the great commission makes it clear that the gospel message will always come with a challenge to the strong-willed independence found in all kinds of people – but very obvious in us Aussies. The gospel is a call to change direction, to turn away from the past ways and to be set free from past failures and foibles. It is the decision to place trust in Jesus. Then it is the determination to live according to his commands.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
This version of the commission is quite unique in both contexts as well as content. In terms of this research, there is little direct information about the scope of this command. There are similarities of course. My way of seeking understanding has been to notice ALL the pieces of information given and to interpret them as if they were the only pieces of information I had at my disposal. That provides stage one of my process. Then I add this cache of stand-alone information to the other passages and allow it to either confirm what others have made known or add to it.
As the Father has sent me καθὼς ἀπέσταλκέν με One small word can point to a substantial matter. I speak in this instance of the word “as.” Remember that these words were spoken at the time of the last supper. What followed was the events leading to the cross, the resurrection and then forty days of special appearances. When Jesus said “as……..” he referred to everything they had heard, seen and witnessed each day of the three years since they were called to become followers, disciples and the apostles. Their task was to replicate the values, principles, strategies and objectives Jesus modelled. It is the same for us. I think those among us who seem prone to focus on one of many peripheral and often speculative issues need to keep referring to words like these from Jesus. Our work needs to replicate his no matter which generation or which culture we happen to be a part of. Jesus is the template. The experiences of Acts and the insights of the other New Testament letters can only give a sharper picture of what Jesus started. They do so in their own culture and century. Jesus must be our primary hermeneutic principle. Only he is the image of the invisible God and the exact replication of God’s nature and purpose. Some ministries seem to build their foundation on Old Testament “shadows” at the expense of the “reality” that is only found in Jesus. Other streams of theology seem to make sections such as the Letter to the Romans the window through which they look at both Jesus and the Old Testament. I am convinced that it must begin and end with Jesus – as the author and finisher of our salvation.
In the first place, we need to sense the same commissioning that Jesus modelled day after day: “my food is to do the will of him who sent me and finish his work.” Instead of being riddled with fear and hesitation we should boldly represent everything we know from God. Jesus never defended truth, he just proclaimed it and allowed it to carry its own authority. We often seem to think that we have to dress up the truth revealed in Jesus to make it palatable to errant self-indulgent western philosophies and culture. Every time we do, we depend less on a work of the Holy Spirit. So often we substitute genuine anointing for human ability. Even if we win an argument, we can lose the real battle. Our battle is for the honour of sonship and daughterhood of God. Often we appeal to people’s minds when we should be appealing to their hearts. Our struggle is for the honour belonging to Jesus as the King. Often we reduce him from being a loving king to be served to a servant who will give us whatever we want.
Jesus showed that serving the kingdom involved seeking to embrace the Father’s initiative, not asking him to bless ours. It meant depending on the full measure of Holy Spirit power and presence, not on human skill and crafted human strategies. Jesus set out to visit every town and village in Galilee and Judea. We should make it our business to offer the kingdom to every part of our own regions and to support others in reaching theirs. Jesus seamlessly kept three contracts: (a) with anyone who came and those he visited, to give them the very best of the kingdom of God. (b) With twelve disciples whom he trained to become apostles and (c) his appointment with the cross. We should read Philippians 2 until it becomes our conviction and then to allow the conviction to become our testimony. Jesus’ story needs to become our story.
All of this and more will need to shape the way we do things. More and more our story needs to evidence the elements that were the core of Jesus’ story. We need to be sent, not choose where we go. We need to learn to do what Jesus did and embrace what we may not prefer. We need to know how to offer the kingdom message and kingdom ministry to anyone and everyone. We need to raise up and multiply disciples. We need to keep an appointment with a place, a time and an event where we can say like both Jesus and Paul, “It is finished.”
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel? He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
It must have been an amazing forty days following the resurrection. Jesus was appearing to individuals and groups – Paul tells us, that on one occasion he appeared to a crowd of five hundred people at one time. Forty days is nearly six weeks. And we know what the curriculum was. It was precisely the same subject as he taught for the three years leading up to the cross – namely the kingdom of God. The passage quoted here gives the briefest of summaries as to what was going on, we could say, the “headlines.” What we do have is a record of the last thing the disciples said to Jesus before he ascended. They didn’t know he was ascending of course, but their question, “Are you going to restore the kingdom TO ISRAEL?” is the last question they asked. In the original Greek, the form of the question presumes the nature of the answer. This question assumes a positive answer. Translated in a way that makes this clear in English, they would be saying, “You ARE going to restore the kingdom to Israel at this time, aren’t you?” If you think about it, the very question showed that they had basically missed what Jesus had been saying and doing for three years. They were thinking Israel-centric and Jesus was thinking God-centric. This is what happens with almost every renewal or reform movement. It starts as a force for new and ends up defending what has since become established.
Jesus’ reply is the answer to the question they were not asking. I wonder why the text doesn’t record Jesus tearing his hair out at this point and giving them a stiff rebuke. They were still looking for the kind of Messiah longed for by traditional Judaism – kick out the Romans and let Israel become God’s headquarters on the earth. Another way of putting this would be to say – when are you going to show everyone that we were right and they were wrong? When are you going to give us the status we deserve since we are the people you like best?
Instead, he characteristically points them to what was the more important matter. As implied by the first part of Jesus’ response, he doesn’t deny that there will be a time when God’s people will rule on the earth.  In my mind, this must refer to the new heaven and the new earth spoken about in Revelation 21. Until then, carrying the testimony of Jesus to the ends of the earth in the power of the Spirit needs to be our primary purpose.
To paraphrase what Jesus said: they are to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit comes they are to begin a strategy that will see the gospel (making Jesus known OR ‘my witnesses’) made known in three successive phases: first among the people who are like us and are here where we are (Jerusalem) and then to the people like us who are a little further away (Judea), then to the people who are different from us living next to us (Samaria) and finally to all the people-groups we have never known and who may live a long way from us (ends of the earth). I have paraphrased Jesus’ words in this way to provide a simple universal application. I don’t live in Jerusalem. I live in Canberra. A lot of different people involved in missions have made their own comments about the way this version of the Great Commission provides a simple strategy. I have opted for the idea that the words carry both geographic as well as sociological value. It was even more so in the time when the words were first spoken. Where you lived was not just about geography. It was about culture and belonging. Not that it makes much difference to the task in the end.
Our purpose in this paper is to allow the Great Commission statements to inform our decision to fulfil the desire and command of Jesus. We don’t get to choose the scope of this plan. We can’t just wait for people to come and ask us. We can’t just go to the people we like the most. The only boundary line that can be drawn for such a plan will be the one that includes ALL. All the world, all nations, every created person, the ends of the earth. As soon as we hear what Jesus has said, we become aware that we need to be in unity with a lot of other people and work together with them. We also become aware that we need the power of the Holy Spirit. We also become aware that there are powerful barriers and strongholds that, though often unseen, will need to be overcome.
RESPONDING TO THE COMMAND OF CHRIST
If what Jesus has said is true/we need to embrace what Jesus has said in the words of the great commission statements I need to have – or be part of – a plan to proclaim the gospel to
– everyone in my household
- – everyone in my extended family
- – everyone in my neighbourhood
- – everyone in my town or city
- – everyone in my nation
– everyone in all of the nations.
- If we are to take responsibility for ALL in those categories beyond
 Matthew 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Matthew. 11:20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed because they did not repent.
Luke 13:1-5 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Luke 15:7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
 Luke 5:20-24 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
John 8:7-11 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
 This sermon was preached by Rev. Jonathan Edwards in July 1741 in Enfield Connecticut USA as one of the catalytic events sparking a revival in the New England area o the United States and became known as the Great Awakening.
 See Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1
 Hebrews 13
 See Hebrews 1:1-3
 See John 4:34,35
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.
 I am aware that there are a variety of views about this. Some people still hold the view that God will rule on the earth from geographical Jerusalem and political Israel. Given my commitment to the view that the kingdom of God defines the people of God, I think the ruling on earth is best described in Revelation 21, 22