Several years ago, my father-in-law, who for 35 years pastored the First Baptist Church of Milford in Ohio, visited South Africa. One afternoon, as we stood in the kitchen looking out on my backyard, where my daughter, Jessica, was playing, my father-in-law said, “You know, Doug, the average Christian’s worldview is as big as Jesse’s: their backyard.”
I am convinced that his statement is an accurate reflection of modern-day Christianity. Think about it: In many churches, missions is touched on simply as a program. Many churches (particularly Baptist churches) support missionaries simply because, if you are a Baptist church, you are supposed to have a missions program. In many churches, if there is a Missions Conference at all, it is poorly attended. When finances go bad, the first item on the agenda that is dropped is missions. Christians often cop out of biblical missions by claiming that “every Christian is a missionary.” We argue that our first responsibility is to reach our own “Jerusalem” (i.e. our immediate surrounding neighbourhood) before we send missionaries to other cities, provinces, countries or continents. Missions Committees in many churches are simply handed over to the Ladies’ Committee and, sadly, pastors are often not even on the Missions Committee! Churches regard missionaries as “second class preachers” who “couldn’t make it at home.” If you are not gifted enough to become a pastor, we’ll make you a missionary instead! Sadly, many churches planted by missionaries have no missions emphasis at all! Churches hold national conferences to emphasise preaching, pastoring, counselling and church growth—and these are heartily attended—but when was the last time you heard of a national Christian convention focused on missions?
One of the saddest reflections on the church’s missions focus is the comment that I have often heard: “We first have to reach the people in our own backyard before we send missionaries elsewhere!” The unfortunate result of this is that we have become too easily satisfied. We have become complacent—content with staying in our backyard. We never expand our borders and lose sight of what God is doing elsewhere.
We turn inward and major on the minors. For example, one hot issue in contemporary Christianity is music in the church. I have heard of a debate in certain circles concerning the placement of the organ for the music of the church. Some argue that the organ should be in the front of the church; others insist that it should be in the back. But where in the Bible is this issue ever addressed? Sadly, we often focus on non-biblical issues and ignore the Great Commission.
By turning inward, we have created a cultural Christianity. This is sometimes obvious, with groups like the Amish separating themselves and forming a cultural bubble. Sometimes it is less obvious, manifest by schisms within the body of Christ. Churches refuse to fellowship with others churches unless they are exactly like them.
We often turn inward and build the non-essentials. Forsaking missions, we have built theological schools, music ministries, Christian schools, and a host of other things of secondary importance. Let me stress that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with these things but they ought never to usurp the place of the Great Commission!
Finally, by turning inward, we have turned upon one another. I have a friend in Ethiopia who pastored a church in Addis Ababa for many years. I recently heard from him that he has been unbiblically removed as the pastor of that church. What happened? For some time now, there has been bickering within the church. The reason for this is that the church has taken its eyes off the Great Commission. As it has done so, pettiness has crept in, and eventually the members turned on the pastor and removed him as the leader of the church. This friend is a godly man, with a great passion for the gospel, but he has no place in a church that has lost her passion for the Great Commission. When a church loses its emphasis on missions, then pettiness, bickering, inter-church fighting and skirmishes of all sorts begin to arise. At the end of the day we turn negative toward missions.
Why has all of this begun to affect us? I would submit that it is because we have parochialised God! We have nationalised—domesticated—the God of this universe. Or, at least, we think we have. He is our God rather than the God of the entire world. George W. Bush claims, “The light will overcome the darkness,” and then adds, “God bless America!” as if He is the God only of the Americans! We have made God English-speaking. We have westernised Him. Some have made Him the God only of the wealthy; others, the God of the poor. And in our own circles, to our shame, we have made God a Baptist!
We tend to think that God is focused solely upon us; falling into pretty much the same trap as the Jews, who believed that God loved them to the exclusion of the Gentiles. We don’t have a transcendent view of God. In other words, we don’t view God as above all that we see and touch. We have localised Him.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to the fact that preachers have failed to present the largeness of God. We have failed to present a biblical understanding of the ethnos of the Great Commission. We have not shown our congregations the biblical mandate to take the gospel to every nation. And so our churches ultimately fail to see that we are a part of a worldwide organism.
Brackenhurst Baptist Church is often referred to as “the church on the corner.” (Our church building is located on the corner of a main road in Brackenhurst.) However, as a church, we need to realise that ours is not the only corner on earth. BBC needs to understand that “the church on the corner” is to go to all the corners of the earth. And as a member of another church, your church needs to realise the same thing.
God has His church on every corner. There is a need in Christianity today for an expanded view of God’s work in God’s world. We must realise that our backyard is to be God’s backyard and that God’s backyard is the world. We must not limit our borders. We must not limit where God wants us to go.
As we consider the Word of God together, I want to deal with the issue of “revealing God’s light.” In doing so, I want to show that the Great Commission is not a novel concept. Rather, it is an age-old necessity for the church of Jesus Christ. I want to show you that the Great Commission is, in fact, found on the very first page of Scripture. It is in the very nature of God, whose light, love and Spirit are universal. The Great Commission is found throughout the Old Testament. It is found in the last book of the Bible. In fact, I want to make a case that the only reason God created the world was to fulfil the Great Commission.
My goal is for us to see that the Great Commission is indeed great and glorious. When we understand this, our worldview will certainly extend beyond our own backyard. My prayer is that we will come out of this study having a worldview that is focused on God’s backyard. I pray we will see that our backyard is the field, and the field is the world (Matthew 13:38).
In this study, I want to consider the Bible from cover to cover! Obviously, I am not going to give a full exposition of every book, chapter and verse, but I want to take a brief survey of God’s worldview from eternity to the future. I want to consider the Great Commission as it has been revealed from Genesis 1:1 until the end of the age. I want to show you how God has revealed, is revealing, and will reveal His light. And I want to thus challenge you to joyfully consider it now.
The Covenant to Be Revealed
Scripture clearly teaches that the Great Commission is rooted in eternity. In speaking of the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus Christ, the author of Hebrews spoke of “the blood of the everlasting covenant” (Hebrews 13:20). The apostle Paul referred to the “hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began” (Titus 1:2). Paul again spoke of God, “who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9). And John speaks of “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).
It is clear from these (and other) Scriptures that, before the foundation of the world, a covenant was made within the Godhead. What exactly did this covenant entail? First, God had a purpose. His purpose was to glorify Himself by glorifying a people who would glorify His Son. In other words, from before the time that He created all we see and know, He purposed to save a people, producing absolute Christlikeness in them, for the express purpose of bringing glory and honour to Himself. Peter says it this way (1 Peter 2:9; Romans 8:28-30).
The covenant arose because of God’s purpose. Because He had a purpose, He made a promise. The Father purposed to be glorified and thus promised to His Son, Jesus Christ, that He would give Him a people—if the Son would promise to die on the cross for them. The result would be that those He saved would be conformed to His image and thus perfectly reflect the glory of God forever. The Son promised to do this, and thus the covenant was sealed. The Lord spoke of this covenant in John 6:
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day. . . . No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
(John 6:37-40, 44)
There are many, many more Scriptures that point to this eternal covenant, but one excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Ephesian believers will be sufficient to make the point:
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.
There has never been a greater love story. The gospel, ordained from before the world began, is the story of God’s love; a holy love, an eternal love, a sacrificial love, an unfailing love, an unchanging love. This love story is seen in its fullness in the new covenant. It is the gospel, “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). And it is a “new” covenant because it is only fully revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ. Though it was rooted in eternity, it had to be revealed in space and time, and it was revealed in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Those chosen in eternity had to experience this covenant within space and time; and so God created the space and the time needed for the new covenant to be revealed and to be experienced by those who were chosen from eternity.
The Creation in which it is Revealed
The first chapter of Genesis is the record of the creation that God brought into existence in order to fulfil the covenant that was made before the foundation of the world. Essentially, the Great Commission is the heart of God’s creation. Even as He created, Jesus Christ was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). God laid the foundation of the world with the death and resurrection of His Son in mind.
The creation in which God would reveal the light of His gospel was spoken into existence in six days. First, the physical heavens and earth were created: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Space and time were necessary in order for the covenant to be revealed, and we see the birth of space and time in v. 1. But notice that the first element that was created with God’s spoken Word was light: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light” (v. 3). This was necessary because, although He had created the whole heaven and the whole earth, “the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep” (v. 2). But when God spoke, light penetrated darkness.
The creation account is a beautiful picture of 2 Corinthians 4:6: “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” God created the world to need the light of the world. When He created the heavens and the earth, darkness was upon the face of the deep. The world was created in darkness; in need of light. Similarly, God created man so that man could receive the light that he would need. Had God not created man, there would be no need for the gospel light. But there is need, because God did create man and man is in darkness. This is clear from Scripture (Matthew 4:16; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 5:8; Colossians 1:13; 1 Peter 2:9).
The Scripture clearly speaks to the fact that we were once in darkness but that we are now in light through the power of the gospel. The creation of man was necessary in order for the light of the gospel to be effective. God prepared the world for the light of the world. God knew that created man would sin—choose to rebel against His divine authority—and yet He chose to create. Then, “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). At just the right time, God in His providence sent Jesus Christ to redeem those whom He had chosen from before the foundation of the world. And today the Lord, through His Spirit,
convict[s] the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgement, because the ruler of this world is judged.
In other words, God in His providence sent the Lord at just the right time in order to pay the price of redemption, and because of that price He, today, in His power, convicts lost men and women and draws them to Himself. The plan was set from the foundation of the world and God providentially and powerfully carries that plan out in space and time.
Understand also that God revealed the light of the world to the world. In the creation account, God created a world that was in darkness, but did not leave it that way. Rather, God spoke light into existence. He energised the space and time that He had created. He created that which was essential for life: light.
In the same way, God has revealed Jesus Christ as the light of the world to a people in great darkness. And just as physical light is necessary to physical life, the spiritual light of the gospel is necessary for our spiritual life. Without the light of the gospel, we remain spiritually dead. But in Christ is life, and that life is the light of men (John 1:4-5). The gospel is the offer of light that is necessary for spiritual life; but the natural darkness that we are in does not understand that light, nor does it want any part of that light. But God in His grace can overcome our darkness with the light of life.
Notice that, in creation, God made the light before the light bearers. It was only on the fourth day that God created the sun, moon and stars (Genesis 4:14-19). Lights were created three days after light. Why was this? I suppose God had many reasons for doing things in this order, but I believe that one reason is so that man would not credit the natural for the supernatural. The light was from God and was not dependent on creation. Similarly, the light of the gospel is not dependent upon God’s creation; it comes from God with no help from natural man—precisely so “that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Salvation is of the Lord! We played no part in the salvation that we received; it was all of God’s sovereign grace! The light of the gospel was planned by God—without our help—performed by Christ—without our aid—and applied by the Spirit—without our input. The light is dependent on God, not us.
Notice also that, at creation, the whole world needed the light. The whole world was unformed and unfilled. Darkness was upon the face of the whole world. The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the whole world. And when God said, “Let there be light,” there was light upon the whole world. Everything needed God’s light. So it still is today. The entire world is bound in the darkness of sin, and the gospel must go to the entire world. God’s backyard is the world, and the gospel must be taken to all nations.
God created the world to need the light; He prepared the world for the light; He revealed the light to the world; and then He commended the light of the world. When God saw the light, He decreed it to be “good” (v. 4). The light is the first thing recorded in Scripture that God commended. And in the New Testament, the first thing that God commended was the Light of the world: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). After the cross, God again commended His Son by raising Him from the dead (Acts 13:30). At the resurrection, God made Him “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). And when God raised Christ from the dead, He “seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:20). Speaking of Christ’s death on the cross, Paul wrote:
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Just as God commended the light in the beginning, so He commended His Son, Jesus Christ, as the light of the world. And today, since the church is the light of the world, we have God’s commendation. Believers in the Bible are often referred to as “beloved” (i.e. ones who are loved of God). As God’s representatives on earth, we have His divine stamp of approval.
Notice also that God separated the light of the world: “and God divided the light from the darkness” (v. 4). The darkness and the light were intermingled, but God did not want them to remain so. So, too, has God separated His church (the light of the world) from the darkness of this world. After all, “what communion has light with darkness” (2 Corinthians 6:14)? The very word “church” means “a called out assembly.” We have been called out of the world, and we are only truly the church to the degree that we are separate from the world, while at the same time shining God’s light into the darkness of the world.
Observe further that God identified the light of the world. Once He had created the light, “God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night” (v. 5). He specifically named that which He had called into existence, making a clear distinction between the day and the night. And God has clearly differentiated those who receive the light of the gospel from the rest of the world: “You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5). We are called to be different, and we must there ensure that we “walk worthy of the calling with which [we] were called” (Ephesians 4:1).
God is serious about His light! Are we? Since God created the world for the express purpose of fulfilling the Great Commission, it should be a big deal to us! The Great Commission must carry great weight with us. Our commitment to the Great Commission must be a priority, and it must be universal, for it reflects God’s worldview. God went to far too much trouble for us to be concerned merely with our backyard. The whole world is God’s backyard, and the whole world is the place in which God carries out His purpose: to reveal His light. Ought we not to be committed to carrying God’s light to all nations, thus participating in the fulfilling of God’s plan for His light in His world? This is the creation in which His covenant is revealed!
The Commission so that it Can Be Revealed
The first commission that God gave to our first parents, Adam and Eve, is recorded in Genesis 1:26-28:
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Just as the Great Commission was at the root of creation, so the Great Commission is at the root of the first commission. Those chosen in eternity needed to be born in space and time. God had already created the space and time, now He commissioned Adam and Eve to populate the world so that He could ultimately save those whom He had already chosen to save.
Again, notice that Adam and Eve’s backyard was somewhat larger than ours often is: “fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Just as our commission is to be spiritually fruitful, multiply and replenish the whole earth (by making disciples), so Adam and Eve’s commission was to be physically fruitful, multiply and replenish the whole earth. But in order for the spiritual commission to be fulfilled, the physical commission needed to be given. Thus, God gave our first parents a physical commission in order that His spiritual commission could ultimately be carried out.
The Curse Necessary for it to Be Revealed
When Adam and Eve fell from grace, God cursed them both. Adam’s curse (and all men’s curse since) was toil in labour. Before the curse, Adam had laboured but there had been no blood, sweat and tears involved. The earth had willingly yielded fruit and work was a pleasure. After the curse, work would be painful and Adam would only succeed in the sweat of his brow.
Eve’s curse (and all women’s curse since) was pain in childbirth. She had always been destined to bear children but this would have been a painless, pleasurable experience. However, because of her disobedience, God cursed her with the tremendous pain in childbirth that we know to be a reality today.
The curses did not end with Adam and Eve, however. One more curse needed to be given. The serpent (who had been controlled by Satan) needed to be cursed as well. And so God pronounced this curse upon the serpent: “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:14-15).
We have seen that the Great Commission is rooted in eternity, that it is at the heart of creation, and that it was at the heart of the first commission. Now we see that the Great Commission was at the heart of the curse upon Satan. God would send His Seed [i.e. Jesus Christ] as the Seed of the woman. God’s Seed would conquer Satan, save His people, and build His church. But for these things to take place, it was necessary to pronounce a curse upon the serpent.
Satan’s curse was ultimately an act of grace, for in the curse the glorious Seed of the woman was promised. The Light of the world was now spoken of in the form of a Seed. And the Seed would without fail crush the head of the serpent, though His own heel would be bruised in the process. This all implies a glorious truth: the light would conquer! Whilst the Bible speaks of spiritual warfare, it is not a war that we can possibly lose. Christ has conquered! This is realised every time that the light of the gospel penetrates the darkness of a sinful heart and brings about new life for a sinner. And this will be fully realised one day when the Light of the world returns to receive His people to be with Him forever!
God’s Seed is far bigger than our own backyard and we need to increase our vision to fit in with the curse that was pronounced upon Satan. The curse was a promise that the Light would penetrate the darkness, thwarting Satan’s every effort to destroy God’s plan. We must take heart in the fact that the victory was promised from the beginning of the world and thus go with confidence into the world to take God’s gospel to those who are in darkness.
The Condemnation, and yet it is Revealed
After Adam and Eve sinned, God graciously spared their lives and history continued. Though men were expected to remain faithful to God, the sin nature took control and led humanity away from their Creator. Things eventually got so bad that God chose to step in and stop the slide—at least temporarily.
Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the LORD said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
The next few chapters of Genesis are taken up with the account of the great flood and Noah’s great construction: the ark. Once again, we observe that the Great Commission was at the heart of this great construction. Noah’s ark highlighted God’s commitment to reveal His light. Though God was grieved in His heart at the sinfulness of man, and though He quite rightly could have completely wiped man from the face of the earth, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”
The Great Commission has never been off track. God could have destroyed His backyard, but He chose not to do so. Because He had made a covenant with His Son concerning a redeemed people, the Father bestowed grace upon one man and his family, and thus the Great Commission continued on course. It was necessary that God spare the human race if His commission would continue, and He thus graciously allowed humanity to continue through Noah and his family.
The Great Commission is all about grace. Just as Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, so those who are converted by the gospel are only converted because they have found grace in the eyes of the Lord! Because of God’s grace, and Noah’s great construction, God’s Great Commission continues unhindered today.
The Continuation of it being Revealed
When Adam and Eve were created, they received a solemn commission from God to populate the earth. After the flood, Noah received a similar commission.
So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.
“Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man. And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth and multiply in it.”
Once again, we can see that the Great Commission is at the heart of this re-commission. Before the flood, those whom God had chosen had come to faith in Him. But there were yet more who were elected to receive the glorious light of the gospel and thus it was necessary that the earth be repopulated. God therefore commissioned Noah and his sons to bring forth those whom He had chosen to salvation from before the world began.
That group includes you and me! We come from the line of Noah and we can thus see how necessary it was for Noah to obey this re-commission. Had Noah and his sons not repopulated the earth, we would not be here to receive God’s light. But because God has always been faithful to His plan to save His people He gave Noah the solemn commission to repopulate the earth!
Once again, we see God filling His backyard in biblical history. Just two chapters later, in Genesis 11, God would scatter humanity throughout His backyard. But in it all, He had set eternity in their hearts and, today, His elect throughout the world await the day that we will take the gospel to them so that they may come to His glorious light.
The Course by which it was Revealed
After the flood, man’s sinful nature once again led him away from His Creator. When men refused to willingly move throughout the world, God confused their languages and forced them to do so. As the world was populated and different cultures arose, the rift between God and men continued to grow. And so God deemed it necessary to separate one nation to Himself—in order that that nation might be a light to the rest of the world. God’s chosen nation began with one man in Ur of the Chaldeans.
Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Israel continued to be God’s light to a dark world throughout the Old Testament. Beginning at Genesis 12, and continuing through the remainder of the Old Testament, we find Israel as God’s chosen light to the Gentiles. And we see that the Great Commission was at the heart of the Old Testament.
Though Israel arrogantly came to believe (in contradiction to Scripture) that God had chosen them alone and condemned the rest of the world to eternal damnation, God clearly explained to them their role to take His light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:5-7).
As we examine the Old Testament, we see time and time again how Israel was a light to the Gentiles. She was a light to Egypt, as to the surrounding nations in the Promised Land. God’s light shone through Israel to Rahab and to Ruth. Through Jonah, Israel was a light to Nineveh. Because of Israel’s testimony, God said, “For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations” (Malachi 1:11). Thus, from Genesis 12 to Malachi—the last book of the Old Testament—God’s worldview is clearly seen to be the entire world. The Jews were to live in light of this.
God’s backyard was always bigger than the Holy Land. The Jews may have mistakenly believed that God cared only for them but it is clear that God’s backyard was always bigger than this; God’s backyard was always the entire world. Israel largely failed in her stewardship to be a light to the Gentiles. Let us beware of failing in our stewardship to be the same! Let us pray with David:
God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us, Selah, that Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations. Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You. Oh, let the nations be glad and sing for joy! For You shall judge the people righteously, and govern the nations on earth. Selah. Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You. Then the earth shall yield her increase; God, our own God, shall bless us. God shall bless us, and all the ends of the earth shall fear Him.
The Christ, the One to be Revealed
As we enter the New Testament, we finally see the promised Seed become a reality.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
In the New Testament, we find that the Great Commission was at the heart of Christ’s incarnation. The Light of the world who had been foretold in the Old Testament finally appeared in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. And once again, we see that He is the Light of the world. Jesus Christ came to bring the Great Commission to all people.
When He was born, the angel of God said to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people” (Luke 2:10). A multitude of the heavenly host then appeared with the angel, and exulted: ““Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14). And notice Simeon’s reaction when he saw the Lord:
He took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.
Luke’s genealogical record of Christ traces Him all the way back to Adam, the father of all men (whereas Matthew’s traces Him back to Abraham, the father of the Jews). Luke often refers to Christ as “the Son of Man” (Luke 5:24; 6:5; etc.—26 times in total), which again emphasises the fact that He came to save all kinds of men—both Jew and Gentile. All four Gospels record the many instances when Christ ministered to Gentiles, refuting the notion that He came only for the Jews. Speaking of His death, the Lord Himself said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32). And at His resurrection, Christ was declared to be Lord of all, given “all authority . . . in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).
Once again, Christ’s love extended further than the backyard of Galilee. Yes, He loved the Jews, and yes, He came to minister to the Jews. But it is equally true to say that He came to minister to the Gentiles! His love extended to the entire world and His commission goes to the same lengths. We thus are responsible to reveal Christ to the entire world, both Jew and Gentile, that all kinds of men might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).
The Church through which He is Revealed
The gospels show us the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the world, the promised Seed of the woman who came to crush the head of the serpent. The book of Acts shows us how the apostles and the early church began to carry out the Great Commission, taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. This mission was carried out through the efforts of local churches. There were no mission boards or parachurch organisations. The church lived up to her responsibility, taking the gospel wherever she could. Notice what Paul had to say about his and the church’s shared commission:
To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Indeed, the Great Commission is at the heart of the church. Jesus Christ first used the word “church” in Matthew 16:18 when He promised, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” He wanted the apostles to realise that they were a part of something much bigger than themselves: They were a part of God’s church—God’s called out assembly of believers worldwide. They were not to be introspective but were to take what they had experienced from Christ and to teach it to others across the globe (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).
Obedience to this commission began at Pentecost, when Peter preached the gospel to the multitudes of people who were there for the Feast. Three thousand were saved. The church grew, and when Saul began persecuting the believers, scattered in fear. Yet even this proved to be a victory for the church, for those scattered believers began to preach the gospel in other parts of the world, and more local churches were planted. In Acts 10, Peter opened the door of salvation to the Gentiles, when he went to Macedonia and preached the gospel to Cornelius and his household. In Acts 11, the Antioch church was planted, and by Acts 13, this church was sending out the first missionaries. From there, the gospel spread, and today the gospel has reached every continent on earth.
The early church was obedient to the Lord’s commission, and indeed turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6). We have no excuse to sit back today and rest on the victories of the church of old. There are many people who have never heard the glorious good news of Jesus Christ. And we have the responsibility to take the name of Christ where it is yet unknown. We have a huge backyard—the world—and we must take the gospel wherever we can, by whatever means possible, and as urgently as wisdom will allow.
The Consummation of Him being Revealed
As we read the final book of the New Testament, we find the consummation of Christ being revealed. John speaks in glorious language of the heavenly city that awaits those who have submitted to Jesus Christ.
The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honour into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honour of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
In the following chapter, John uses similar terminology (Revelation 22:5).
The Great Commission is headed for a great and glorious consummation. Revelation gives us but a foretaste of the indescribable wonder that awaits those who have yielded to Christ, taking up their cross and following Him. The Great Commission is a sure thing! It is headed for a wonderful consummation and there is nothing that can stop it! We have a great responsibility on earth to reveal God’s light to a lost and dying world and it is a responsibility that often entails much suffering. Yet the memory of our suffering for Him will fade into insignificance when we, with joy, cast our crowns at His feet and share in the joys of our heavenly inheritance for all eternity.
Notice that “the nations of those who are saved shall walk in [heaven’s] light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honour into it.” There will be representatives from every nation on earth, for people from all God’s backyard will be represented in the heavenly kingdom. God’s backyard includes all the nations of the earth, and an innumerable host of those nations will come to the light of the gospel. God’s backyard is far larger than we often imagine, and so is ours! We must commit to being a part of the commission that is heading for a glorious consummation.
Also note the last phrase: “those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” When was this written? From the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8)! Thus, we have come full circle: from the eternal covenant to be revealed to it finally and fully being fulfilled. The Bible is indeed a book centred on the Lord’s Great Commission.
The Conflict as He is Revealed
As we draw this study to a close, you may have noticed that I have missed a large chunk of the New Testament in tracing the gospel through the Scriptures. In all that I have said, I have failed to mention the epistles. But I do not intend to leave these out. The epistles are where we come in. Much of what I have said is history and some of it is yet in the future. But the epistles speak directly to our circumstances today. As we study the epistles, we find that there is a great conflict promised to those who are faithful with God’s light, but we see once again that the Great Commission is at the heart of our great conflict.
Our responsibility is to sow the seed in our backyard: the world. However, we face problems, for there are many tares in that backyard! We face rejection, persecution, and all forms of suffering when we commit to be faithful bearers of God’s light. But we must understand that God’s commission is a certainty! Though there is a price to pay, we must be willing to pay it, knowing that our labours are not in vain. In Christ, we are more than conquerors. The epistles highlight both our conflict in and our conquest in the Great Commission.
Robert Moffatt found conflict. He laboured for 29 years to translate the Scriptures into the Setswana language. When he was finished, he found no one willing to print it, until he eventually purchased a press and did it himself! Was it worth it? It most certainly was, for the Setswana Scriptures have been used to convert a multitude of Setswana-speaking people. We use Moffatt’s translation at our own church in our Scripture-printing ministry, and have distributed Setswana John and Romans booklets in many places in our country.
William Carey found conflict as he carried God’s Word to India. People thought he was crazy; many believed that he would not last; yet he died in India serving God to the very end. He laboured for many years and endured much hardship, yet he was able to see many of the local Indian people come to faith in Christ before he went to be with the Lord.
In fact, as you read the biographies of great missionaries, you find that each one of them faced tremendous conflict in their ministry. But it was worth it in each instance for God’s Word went forth to conquer, penetrating the darkened hearts of sinful men. Though they faced scorn, derision and much persecution, they cried with the apostle Paul: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
As local churches in the twenty-first century, we must commit to revealing God’s light as we renounce the sin of a darkened world. Whatever the price, we must be willing to pay it for the cross of Christ. We must first give ourselves to the Lord (2 Corinthians 8:5), willing to go wherever and do whatever it takes to reveal His light to those in darkness. We must conquer the conflict of materialism, willing to sacrifice for and go with God’s light. We must be willing to conquer the conflict of unbelief, willing to sacrifice for and go with God’s light. We must be willing to conquer the conflict of selfishness, willing to sacrifice for and go with God’s light. How? By realising that we are more than conquerors through Christ (Romans 8:37). Remember the words of Paul, take them to heart, and you will be willing to pay whatever price is required to take God’s Word to a lost and dying world: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).