Nearly 2000 years ago Jesus gave this clear manifesto, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore go and make disciples of all nations… “. That idea was reiterated in Mark:16:15, Luke:24:45-47 and Acts:1:6-8. It is one of the clearest declarations Jesus made.
Though originally spoken to the small group of disciples, this command of Christ (who maintains universal authority) is for all believers of all ages as both the scope of His directive (to all nations; teaching them everything) and the enduring length of His promise (to the very end of the age) clearly attests. Making the resurrected, living Lord known, and making faithful disciples who faithfully follow Him and make Him known as well, was to be a way of life for all of God’s people. Both the ministries of Peter (apostle to the Jews) and of Paul (apostle to the Gentiles) clearly demonstrate that they understood the Great Commission in this way.
How can it be that this very clearly stated set of marching orders has not been fulfilled? The reasons are many. Possibly the biggest reason is that few people are actually willing to leave the area of their birth and family. Basic factors of being a human being, with the desire to nest, enjoy roots and some sense of security, are doubtless no small factor.
Sadly, there have also been theological imbalances that have dulled Jesus’s words. At a meeting of Baptist leaders in the late 1700s, a newly ordained minister by the name of William Carey stood to argue for the value of overseas missions. He was abruptly interrupted by an older minister who said, "Young man, sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he'll do it without consulting you or me." Cloaking disobedience to the words of Jesus in theological excesses must bear some responsibility also.
Today, some who don’t take the Great Commission seriously do so by attempting to ‘quote silence’. “We hear clearly what Jesus was saying to the 12, but where is that restated by the apostles?” The perspective here is that the command is not binding because Paul did not specifically quote Jesus. Undoing the mandate of our Lord because it is not specifically stated is tenuous at best.
The fact that the doctrine of the Trinity is never clearly stated, or taught by Paul, would surely not cause any orthodox Christian to doubt the reality of the Triune God. In the same way we all know how great it would be if Jesus would have come out and stated with clarity, “I am God the Son, eternally existing, the Creator of the universe, fully deity and fully man.” How much easier would it be to make the case for his divinity had he given such a declaration. But he doesn’t. It is up to the serious student of scripture to study God’s word and see the fully developed Lord Jesus Christ that comes by standing back and looking at the whole of scripture. Seeking out a ‘proof text’, or lack of one, to make a point is spurious. Generally this is done because of a “conclusion looking for backing.”
Mature Christians must look at the full sweep of scripture if we are to know what is central to our God. His desire to be known by all peoples is not a NT revelation. Gen:12:3, 18:18, 22:18, 28:14 and Ex. 9:16 are a small sampling of verses that reveal that God has ALWAYS cared about, and wanted to be known by, all people. Jesus did not initiate this aspect of His character. Jesus was not newly signaling to the disciples that God, only now, wanted all peoples to worship Him. That had ALWAYS been the case…before, during and after “the 12”! To see Jesus’ words as a ‘new aspect of God uniquely binding on the 12’ is to be missing the very character of God Himself as revealed through the whole of scripture.
Reading scripture through a pre-determined lens allows for many serious omissions. Is God actually pro-slavery? Is he neutral towards multiple wives? Does God condone the stoning of disrespectful children? A partial reading of scripture could make a case for all of these.
(Buser, “Was the Great Commission Only for the Original Apostles?,” The Radius Report, 4/12/17).