Context . . . Context . . . And More Context
The primary theme of this blog is to proclaim the authoritative Word of Christ in all of life for His glory as our King. Hence the name, “The Christian Manifesto” because a manifesto is a sovereign declaration by a king, which is what we are seeking to proclaim by rightly declaring the truth of His Word. Integral to this mission is an accurate understanding of The Great Commission. That is why I have written articles on The Great Commission and make frequent reference to it (such as here). However, there is a particular aspect of the Great Commission I want to focus on today which seemingly often gets overlooked and it is the Old Testament background. For context purposes, I will be using Matthew 28:18-20 when referencing the Great Commission which says:
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” -Matthew 28:18-20
Concerning the Old Testament context, I want to focus on three specific points. We could briefly outline them as Kingly Authority, Nation Gathering, and finally Law Teaching. Each of these different aspects of The Great Commission stems directly from Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. It is vital to comprehend that reality if we are to thoroughly understand the mission given to us as followers of Christ.
As Christ has been resurrected, and shall ascend to heaven shortly, He claims that all authority in heaven and on earth has been (past tense) given to Him. There are a couple of different Old Testament passages to consider here pertaining to the Messiah being given this position of Kingship. First, look with me at the prophecy given to David concerning the coming One who would sit on the Davidic throne forever:
“’When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’ In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.’” -2 Samuel 7:12-17
There is no doubt that in the immediate context these prophetic words have a short-term reference to Solomon, however, they are ultimately fulfilled in Christ who did establish His kingdom forever. Clearly, that kingdom has not been finally consummated being brought to its last stage of growth yet, but it is established and growing according to the plan of God nonetheless. It shall be victorious starting as a mustard seed growing into a magnificent tree and then being finally consummated for all eternity at the last day (Mark 4:30-34). The angel prophesied of Christ before He was born that He was the promised heir of David taking the throne and His kingdom shall never end (Luke 1:31-32). Consequently, whenever we see the claim of Christ to have all authority, it is texts like the Davidic promise which should come to our mind.
However, our contextual background is certainly not limited to 2 Samuel on this point. How can we evaluate the Great Commission without also understanding the reality Christ would shortly ascend to the right hand of the Father? Daniel 7:13-14 prophesied of the ascension:
“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.” -Daniel 7:13-14
Notice this text does not say the Son of man was coming down to earth on the clouds, rather, He is going up to the Ancient of Days. In Acts chapter 1, we read:
“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” -Acts 1:6-9
Notice here a couple of points, first of all, Jesus is taken on a cloud up to heaven, just as Daniel prophesied, then he discusses “the ends of the earth” here and Daniel also mentions all the peoples, nations, and languages of the earth serving Him. Daniel mentioned the kingdom of the Messiah, it is said in Acts 1:3 that Jesus spoke “about the kingdom of God” during the forty days between the resurrection and the ascension. In other words, Daniel 7 is about the ascension where Christ goes to the seat of sovereign authority at the Father’s right hand. What does this reality necessitate? It dictates that Christ is holding the position of authority over the nations. Obviously, the nations are not all living in submission to Christ, but this age is marked by the reality that He conquers His enemies placing them under His feet eventually destroying the last enemy of death (1 Corinthians 15:24-26). Clearly, Christ having “all authority in heaven and on earth” is a fulfillment of the prophecies about Him before the incarnation ever began.
However, this reality brings us to the next point, and it is the nations coming to Christ. On the basis of Christ having the seat of Kingship and authority, He tells His disciples to go and get the nations through His power. That is why He says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” as a direct command to the disciples and by extension to His people throughout the ages. Now, this reality was prophesied in Psalm 2:7-8 which says:
“I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.” Psalm 2:7-8
Christ, the Son of God, is promised the nations as His inheritance. In fact, the Apostle Paul speaks of verse 7 in this Psalm in Acts 13:32-33 when he says:
“And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’” -Acts 13:32-33
The logical question to ask, as many have done before, do you think that Jesus forgot to ask for His inheritance? Of course not, that is why He says He has the seat of sovereign authority, then commands His followers to go make disciples of the nations. It is precisely why He goes to the Father’s right hand being given the seat of power and dominion. Isaiah 49:5-6 foretold of Christ the Messiah:
“And now the Lord says,
he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’” -Isaiah 49:5-6
Notice the very last part of this passage of Scripture, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” This is a clear indication that the nations would be the inheritance of the Servant of Yahweh, the Messiah who is Christ. The opening line of Isaiah 52:15 also says, “so shall he sprinkle many nations” again indicating this theme. Habakkuk 2:14 speaks and says:
“For the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.” -Habakkuk 2:14
Ultimately, what we see in these texts is the reality that Christ has the position of sovereign authority. As He reigns, He is bringing the nations to Himself by the power of the Gospel and the declaration of His entire Word working according to His sovereign will. Ultimately, this reality is the expansion of His kingdom as the Messiah which fully consummates on the last day when He comes again. Yet, the concept of Christ telling His followers to go to the nations is not just commanded randomly. It has a specific context and Old Testament background. The nations were promised to the Messiah, now He is claiming them by bringing them to Himself since He is the King!
Our third point to consider in this post is the reality of Christ teaching His law, or all of His commands. We find this in the Great Commission when the Lord tells His disciples they must be engaged in “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” They are to teach the law of Christ, all of His commands from beginning to end. Again, we find this reality prophesied in the Old Testament. Isaiah 42:4 prophesied of the Messiah:
“He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law.” -Isaiah 42:4
Central to the promises of the coming Messiah was the reality He will bring forth justice in His reign. His law will go out amongst the earth to such a degree the coastlands literally wait, or long for it. Isaiah 2:2-3 also says:
“It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” -Isaiah 2:2-4
Again, we see the going forth of the law, the teaching of the ways of God, and the nations flowing to this reality. Christ authoritatively directed His church to teach all of His commands. No doubt, that is everything from Genesis to Revelation. Clearly, we want to rightly interpret all of Scripture, an important matter when considering the Old Testament law or any other section of God’s Word. Undoubtedly, the principle stands, we are to teach everything in the full counsel of the Scripture. A King governs through His law. Christ rules and reigns on high governing by the standard of Scripture which is good and perfect. This point would not necessitate us adhering to the sacrificial systems and such of the Old Testament. Nonetheless, the moral law is forever binding. When God says do not murder in either the Old or New Testament, we must submit to His will. Even the case laws and judicial laws of the Old Testament should be examined with their general equity of moral use being discovered and upheld.1 We can have discussions on the proper interpretation of Scripture ranging from the OT law to the book of Revelation. Yet, the point remains, it is all authoritative and we must declare the full counsel of Christ’s commands if we are to be found obedient. The teaching of the law was prophesied about the Messiah, and Christ’s assertion that we must proclaim all His commands flows perfectly from that reality!
Tying It All Together
We have substantially traced how different major portions of the Great Commission have a specific Old Testament background. Now, this must bring us to the conclusion that Christ is the King who reigns on high, the nations are His possession, now we as His people are dutybound to go out on the basis of His sovereign authority declaring the totality of His Word. Will this mission be successful? Undoubtedly, God the Father has already promised His Son the nations as His inheritance. God cannot lie (Numbers 23:19), therefore, the certainty of the nation’s being gathered to Christ is beyond the shadow of a doubt for it is grounded in what God has promised. This reality does not mean every individual will be saved, but the era of Christ’s reign shall see an expansion of His kingdom through the power of His Gospel whereby the nations are brought to Him consummating at the final day when He returns!
Indeed, the Great Commission is rich with connections back to the Old Testament. Seeing those connections helps us to understand our mission as the people of God saved by His grace. It also gives us great comfort and assurance knowing that Christ reigns at the Father’s right hand just as prophesied so many years ago. And, we look forward to the day when He shall come again and we shall be with Him for all eternity. But, until that day, we march forward knowing the power of His Gospel and His sovereign authority. We are given the grace-gift of working in His kingdom which is victorious and shall never be overcome. His rule and reign is expanding even now as sinners are saved by the Gospel’s power and the nations are being discipled. There is much work to be done, may we be faithful to keep our hands to the plow of that which our Lord has called us!
1 See the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession on the law here: