The Great Commission
The last commission of Christ to the eleven, known as the Great Commission, is the embodiment of the constitution of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Luke wrote Theophilus that Jesus was with the disciples forty days after the resurrection, "speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." (Acts 1: 3.) The records indicate that the commission was given on more than one occasion during these forty days. Matthew and Mark record the scene of the commission on a mountain in Galilee, while in Luke's record the scene is in Jerusalem. It is entirely consistent with all that the facts and circumstances that Jesus should repeatedly instruct the disciples concerning his kingdom so soon to be inaugurated.
1. The Great Commission is the Constitution of the Kingdom.
It is evident that Acts 1: 3 has a direct reference to the "all things" of the commission. This being true, all the principles of the kingdom are embodied in this divine constitution the Great Commission. Everything that can be preached by the authority of Jesus Christ in the command: Teach them to observe all things that I have commanded you. The apostle preached nothing that did not come within the range of this commission. Everything that pertains to the kingdom of Christ is in it. Preachers today who preach anything about the kingdom which the apostles of Christ did not preach are outside the pale of divine command and are preaching things for which there is no authority in heaven or on earth.
When Philip went down into Samaria, he "preached Christ unto them" (Acts 8: 5), and "when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women" (Verse 12.) With Philip, preaching Christ was preaching the kingdom. How different must have been his preaching to the kingdom—theory preaching of some brethren now! When men today preach anything except Christ, they are preaching something about the kingdom that Philip did not preach. And if they preach anything Philip did not preach, they are not preaching the gospel of the kingdom. The gospel of the kingdom is simply the gospel of Christ, shorn of all doubtful theory and uncertain speculations. Theorizing on some notion of a "future kingdom" in the form of a millennial reign of Christ on an earthly throne is not the kind of kingdom preaching Philip did, and those who do it are not preaching the gospel. Such speculative preaching is outside the Great Commission and without the authority of Jesus Christ.
2. The Great Commission is All-Comprehensive. It includes All Power in Heaven and on Earth.
"All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth." How much power is all power in heaven and on earth? It is power seen and unseen-power unlimited and unbounded by geographical or ethereal lines. If Jesus should return to the earth and reign a thousand millenniums, he could never achieve more than all power of which he is in actual possession now. The Great Commission says so. "All power hath been given unto me."
Moreover, Paul says so. "Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all." (Eph. 1:20-23.) In Pauline fashion this is a death-dealing argument to the future-reign theory. (1) Christ is exalted at God's right hand. (2) He is set on a throne in heaven. (3) He is above all earthly power, might, and dominion. (4) He is head over all things to the church. (5) When he was thus made head of the church, God put all things under his feet. Could he ever by any conceivable means have more power, glory, and exaltation than he now has, according to Paul? These theories of a Palestinian reign of Christ on a Judaistic throne in an earthly Jerusalem over a fleshly Israel are foreign to everything the New Testament teaches. It would bring Christ down from the throne of his Majesty in heaven and seat him on the earth—his footstool! And some brethren call that exalting Christ!
3. The Great Commission Not Only Comprehends All Powers, But It is Predicated on the Fact That Christ is Exercising All Power Through the Gospel.
"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations." What does "therefore" mean, if it does not refer to exercising that power ascribed to him in the preceding sentence? It means that the authority of Christ is not physical; it is greater. He exerts it not as world rulers. Alexander the Great was once a world monarch. To bring Jesus Christ down from the right hand of God to an earthly throne of worldly power demotes the Lord of lords to the level of an Alexander or a Caesar. The gospel is the all power of Christ. He exercises it every time a soul is saved. And it takes as much power to save one soul as it does to save millions—all power.
If Christ does not exercise all power through the gospel, then, when he does exercise it, how will he do it? Will he have another force? Will he save men another way? If not, what would he do on earth that he did not do when he was here and that he is not doing now through the gospel? Why change his throne from heaven to earth, if his plan is to remain unchanged? But if the change of his throne results in the change of his plan, it nullifies the Great Commission and makes the gospel which the apostles preached a failure.
If Christ is not exercising all power through the gospel, the claim of all power and the correlative command to "go teach" was, at least, two thousand years premature! Such teaching is more than speculative—it is vitiating to the Great Commission. There is no alibi a gospel preacher can offer for preaching such theories, and there is no apology another gospel preacher can make for the one who does.
4. When the Great Commission Was First Preached, Peter Announced that Christ, Being Exalted at God's Right Hand Was Seated on the Throne of David as the Lineal and Spiritual Heir to the Kingdom.
The second chapter of Acts is a prophecy-fulfilling chapter. Here the Great Commission was executed. The divine constitution had been ratified in heaven, and with the seal of heaven's authority it was sent in the power of the Holy Spirit to the apostles on Pentecost to be preached. The kingdom was established. David had prophesied a thousand years before that God would raise up One to sit on his (David's) throne, and Peter very definitely declared that the prophecy was fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ. (Acts 2:29-33.)
Peter's star witness that the kingdom had come and that Christ was seated on David's throne was David himself. Hear his conclusion: "Let me speak freely unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, . . . Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted . . . he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear." (Acts 2:29-33.) The "therefore" of verse 33 is the inspired conclusion that in the resurrection and exaltation of Christ the prophecies concerning David's throne and kingdom were fulfilled. Peter connects the event of Christ's sitting on David's throne with the event of his resurrection and not of his second coming. This fulfillment of David's own prophecy regarding the reign of Christ is the final argument that convinced the Jews, and it surely ought to convince brethren today. When a Jew accepts Christ, we have little trouble showing him that Jesus Christ is reigning on David's throne. Our greatest difficulty is in convincing a few Gentile preachers.
The truth of David's word, the surety of God's oath, and the inspiration of Peter are staked on the fact that David's throne is in heaven and that Jesus Christ is on it.
5. The Kingdom Which Began on Pentecost, of Which the Great Commission is the Constitution, is the Kingdom Which Will Stand Forever.
Six hundred years before Christ, Daniel depicted the rise and fall of four successive world powers and said: "In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, ... and it shall stand forever." It was in the days of the Roman emperors, the last of that succession of kings foretold by Daniel, that the kingdom of Christ began. It was "at hand" when John appeared on the scene as its harbinger. (Matt. 3:2.) Jesus taught his disciples to pray for its inauguration. (Matt. 6:9.) Joseph, the Arimathean, waited for it. (Mark 15:43.) The penitent thief pleaded to enter it when the Lord should come into possession of it (Luke 23:42), and the expectant disciples after his resurrection were yet anxious to receive it. (Acts 1:8)
It is evident that the kingdom had not come before the resurrection of Christ. It is also obvious that it had come after the resurrection of Christ when the apostles referred to it as a present existing thing. (Col. 1:13.) But is it really the kingdom of Daniel that would "stand forever," or "look we for another" yet in the future? Hear Paul: "But ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, ... Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear." (Heb. 12:22-28.) Paul's argument is that when we received the church, we also received the kingdom which cannot be moved. Is there any difference between a kingdom which will stand forever and one that cannot be moved?
It must be plain to all who are not obsessed with the theory of a future earthly reign of Christ that the immovable kingdom of Paul is the everlasting kingdom which Daniel said God would set up. It began on Pentecost with the preaching of the Great Commission, its divine constitution. In obedience to the terms of the commission people entered it then, and may by the same gospel obedience enter it now. Thus with binding power the terms of entrance were announced on the day of its beginning. (Acts 2:37, 38.) When men yield to the authority of Christ, the King, obey his gospel, enter his kingdom, and live according to his word, God's will is being done "in earth as it is in heaven."