The Great Commission
After the death of Christ the disciples were well-nigh overcome by
discouragement. Their Master had been rejected, condemned, and
crucified. The priests and rulers had declared scornfully, "He
saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let
Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him." Matthew
27:42. The sun of the disciples' hope had set, and night settled down
upon their hearts. Often they repeated the words, "We trusted that
it had been He which should have redeemed Israel." Luke 24:21.
Lonely and sick at heart, they remembered His words, "If they do
these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" Luke
Jesus had several times attempted to open the future to His
disciples, but they had not cared to think about what He said. Because
of this His death had come to them as a surprise; and afterward, as they
reviewed the past and saw the result of their unbelief, they were filled
When Christ was crucified, they did not believe that He would rise.
He had stated plainly that He was to rise on the third day, but they
were perplexed to know what He meant. This lack of comprehension left
them at the time of His death in utter hopelessness. They were bitterly
disappointed. Their faith did not penetrate beyond the shadow that Satan
had cast athwart their horizon. All seemed vague and mysterious to them.
If they had believed the Saviour's words, how much sorrow they might
have been spared!
Crushed by despondency, grief, and despair, the disciples met
together in the upper chamber, and closed and fastened the doors,
fearing that the fate of their beloved Teacher might be theirs. It was
here that the Saviour, after His resurrection, appeared to them.
For forty days Christ remained on the earth, preparing the disciples
for the work before them and explaining that which heretofore they had
been unable to comprehend. He spoke of the prophecies concerning His
advent, His rejection by the Jews, and His death, showing that every
specification of these prophecies had been fulfilled. He told them that
they were to regard this fulfilment of prophecy as an assurance of the
power that would attend them in their future labours. "Then opened
He their understanding," we read, "that they might understand
the Scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it
behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and
that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name
among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." And He added, "Ye
are witnesses of these things." Luke 24:45-48.
During these days that Christ spent with His disciples, they gained a
new experience. As they heard their beloved Master explaining the
Scriptures in the light of all that had happened, their faith in Him was
fully established. They reached the place where they could say, "I
know whom I have believed." 2 Timothy 1:12. They began to realise
the nature and extent of their work, to see that they were to proclaim
to the world the truths entrusted to them. The events of Christ's life,
His death and resurrection, the prophecies pointing to these events, the
mysteries of the plan of salvation, the power of Jesus for the remission
of sins--to all these things they had been witnesses, and they were to
make them known to the world. They were to proclaim the gospel of peace
and salvation through repentance and the power of the Saviour.
Before ascending to heaven, Christ gave His disciples their
commission. He told them that they were to be the executors of the will
in which He bequeathed to the world the treasures of eternal life. You
have been witnesses of My life of sacrifice in behalf of the world, He
said to them. You have seen My labours for Israel. And although My
people would not come to Me that they might have life, although priests
and rulers have done unto Me as they listed, although they have rejected
Me, they shall have still another opportunity of accepting the Son of
God. You have seen that all who come to Me confessing their sins, I
Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out. To you, My
disciples, I commit this message of mercy. It is to be given to both
Jews and Gentiles--to Israel, first, and then to all nations, tongues,
and peoples. All who believe are to be gathered into one church.
The gospel commission is the great missionary charter of Christ's
kingdom. The disciples were to work earnestly for souls, giving to all
the invitation of mercy. They were not to wait for the people to come to
them; they were to go to the people with their message.
The disciples were to carry their work forward in Christ's name.
Their every word and act was to fasten attention on His name, as
possessing that vital power by which sinners may be saved. Their faith
was to centre in Him who is the source of mercy and power. In His name
they were to present their petitions to the Father, and they would
receive answer. They were to baptise in the name of the Father, the Son,
and the Holy Spirit. Christ's name was to be their watchword, their
badge of distinction, their bond of union, the authority for their
course of action, and the source of their success. Nothing was to be
recognised in His kingdom that did not bear His name and superscription.
When Christ said to the disciples, Go forth in My name to gather into
the church all who believe, He plainly set before them the necessity of
maintaining simplicity. The less ostentation and show, the greater would
be their influence for good. The disciples were to speak with the same
simplicity with which Christ had spoken. They were to impress upon their
hearers the lessons He had taught them.
Christ did not tell His disciples that their work would be easy. He
showed them the vast confederacy of evil arrayed against them. They
would have to fight "against principalities, against powers,
against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual
wickedness in high places." Ephesians 6:12. But they would not be
left to fight alone. He assured them that He would be with them; and
that if they would go forth in faith, they should move under the shield
of Omnipotence. He bade them be brave and strong; for One mightier than
angels would be in their ranks--the General of the armies of heaven. He
made full provision for the prosecution of their work and took upon
Himself the responsibility of its success. So long as they obeyed His
word, and worked in connection with Him, they could not fail. Go to all
nations, He bade them. Go to the farthest part of the habitable globe
and be assured that My presence will be with you even there. Labour in
faith and confidence; for the time will never come when I will forsake
you. I will be with you always, helping you to perform your duty,
guiding, comforting, sanctifying, sustaining you, giving you success in
speaking words that shall draw the attention of others to heaven.
Christ's sacrifice in behalf of man was full and complete. The
condition of the atonement had been fulfilled. The work for which He had
come to this world had been accomplished. He had won the kingdom. He had
wrested it from Satan and had become heir of all things. He was on His
way to the throne of God, to be honoured by the heavenly host. Clothed
with boundless authority, He gave His disciples their commission,
"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name
of the Father, and of 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." Matthew 28:19, 20.
Just before leaving His disciples, Christ once more plainly stated
the nature of His kingdom. He recalled to their remembrance things He
had previously told them regarding it. He declared that it was not His
purpose to establish in this world a temporal kingdom. He was not
appointed to reign as an earthly monarch on David's throne. When the
disciples asked Him, "Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again
the kingdom to Israel?" He answered, "It is not for you to
know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own
power." Acts 1:6, 7. It was not necessary for them to see farther
into the future than the revelations He had made enabled them to see.
Their work was to proclaim the gospel message.
Christ's visible presence was about to be withdrawn from the
disciples, but a new endowment of power was to be theirs. The Holy
Spirit was to be given them in its fullness, sealing them for their
work. "Behold," the Saviour said, "I send the promise of
My Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be
endued with power from on high." Luke 24:49. "For John truly
baptised with water; but ye shall be baptised with the Holy Ghost not
many days hence." "Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy
Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in
Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part
of the earth." Acts 1:5, 8.
The Saviour knew that no argument, however logical, would melt hard
hearts or break through the crust of worldliness and selfishness. He
knew that His disciples must receive the heavenly endowment; that the
gospel would be effective only as it was proclaimed by hearts made warm
and lips made eloquent by a living knowledge of Him who is the way, the
truth, and the life. The work committed to the disciples would require
great efficiency; for the tide of evil ran deep and strong against them.
A vigilant, determined leader was in command of the forces of darkness,
and the followers of Christ could battle for the right only through the
help that God, by His Spirit, would give them.
Christ told His disciples that they were to begin their work at
Jerusalem. That city had been the scene of His amazing sacrifice for the
human race. There, clad in the garb of humanity, He had walked and
talked with men, and few had discerned how near heaven came to earth.
There He had been condemned and crucified. In Jerusalem were many who
secretly believed Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah, and many who had
been deceived by priests and rulers. To these the gospel must be
proclaimed. They were to be called to repentance. The wonderful truth
that through Christ alone could remission of sins be obtained, was to be
made plain. And it was while all Jerusalem was stirred by the thrilling
events of the past few weeks, that the preaching of the disciples would
make the deepest impression.
During His ministry, Jesus had kept constantly before the disciples
the fact that they were to be one with Him in His work for the recovery
of the world from the slavery of sin. When He sent forth the Twelve and
afterward the Seventy, to proclaim the kingdom of God, He was teaching
them their duty to impart to others what He had made known to them. In
all His work He was training them for individual labour, to be extended
as their numbers increased, and eventually to reach to the uttermost
parts of the earth. The last lesson He gave His followers was that they
held in trust for the world the glad tidings of salvation.
When the time came for Christ to ascend to His Father, He led the
disciples out as far as Bethany. Here He paused, and they gathered about
Him. With hands outstretched in blessing, as if in assurance of His
protecting care, He slowly ascended from among them. "It came to
pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up
into heaven." Luke 24:51.
While the disciples were gazing upward to catch the last glimpse of
their ascending Lord, He was received into the rejoicing ranks of
heavenly angels. As these angels escorted Him to the courts above, they
sang in triumph, "Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth; O sing
praises unto the Lord, to Him that rideth upon the heavens of heavens. .
. . Ascribe ye strength unto God: His excellency is over Israel, and His
strength is in the heavens." Psalm 68:32-34, margin.
The disciples were still looking earnestly toward heaven when,
"behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said,
Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus,
which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as
ye have seen Him go into heaven." Acts 1:10, 11.
The promise of Christ's second coming was ever to be kept fresh in
the minds of His disciples. The same Jesus whom they had seen ascending
into heaven, would come again, to take to Himself those who here below
give themselves to His service. The same voice that had said to them,
"Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end," would bid them
welcome to His presence in the heavenly kingdom.
As in the typical service the high priest laid aside his pontifical
robes and officiated in the white linen dress of an ordinary priest; so
Christ laid aside His royal robes and garbed Himself with humanity and
offered sacrifice, Himself the priest, Himself the victim. As the high
priest, after performing his service in the holy of holies, came forth
to the waiting congregation in his pontifical robes; so Christ will come
the second time, clothed in garments of whitest white, "so as no
fuller on earth can white them." Mark 9:3. He will come in His own
glory, and in the glory of His Father, and all the angelic host will
escort Him on His way.
Thus will be fulfilled Christ's promise to His disciples, "I
will come again, and receive you unto Myself." John 14:3. Those who
have loved Him and waited for Him, He will crown with glory and honour
and immortality. The righteous dead will come forth from their graves,
and those who are alive will be caught up with them to meet the Lord in
the air. They will hear the voice of Jesus, sweeter than any music that
ever fell on mortal ear, saying to them, Your warfare is accomplished.
"Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for
you from the foundation of the world." Matthew 25;34.
Well might the disciples rejoice in the hope of their Lord's return.