Question: Was the Great Commission only for the original apostles? At that time there were very few nations. Did they go to them? Or, does “nations” imply or suggest something else?
Response: In Matthew:28:19, Jesus is speaking to the disciples, giving them what is called the Great Commission and specifically commanding them to teach all nations and baptize all who become converts throughout the nations. In verse 20, He instructs them to teach “all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” The word “nations” is the Greek word “ethnos” from which we get our word “ethnic.” Therefore, the reference is not to geographical nations but as Revelation:7:9 tells us, “of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues....”
Since the apostles were to teach the disciples who would follow them to observe “all things whatsoever I have commanded you,” we can conclude that the Commission was not meant only for the apostles.
Furthermore, in Acts:1:8, the Lord Jesus tells the apostles, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem...Judaea...Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” So now we know the geographical extent of the Great Commission—to the ends of the earth! This means that the Gospel is to be shared in every place on the earth where people may be found.
The rest of the book of Acts describes the progress of the Gospel, telling of its first being preached in Jerusalem (Acts:2:1-47). Many Jews were gathered there, where more than 3,000 people received the Gospel and were baptized (Acts:2:41,47; 3:1-4:31). Despite persecution, the number of disciples continued to increase, with many men and women in Jerusalem being added to the church, including a sizeable number of the priests (Acts:5:14-15; 6:7; 8-9:31). The Gospel spread to Judea, Samaria (Acts:6:8–7:60), and ultimately, to the “uttermost parts of the earth.” As for the time frame, the Lord’s admonition in Matthew:28:20 was that He would be “with you always, even unto the end of the world,” referring to the end of the age. In Matthew:24:14, Jesus tells us, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all the nations; and then shall the end come.”
No, the Great Commission was not for only the apostles.