Jesus Doesn’t Send a Christian to the Nations, But a Church

The Great Commission was given to a community.

Western readers have tended to read the Great Commission passages (especially Luke 24 and Matthew 28) in light of the autonomous individual. We interpret the commissioning scenes as tasks assigned to individual Christians.

But a proper focus on the corporate dimension of these accounts helps us understand the commissionings in light of the identity Jesus bestows upon a community.

Jesus does not send a Christian to the nations, but a church.

A “Fulfilling” People

By seeking and saving the lost in His ministry, Jesus has formed a new people, the true Israel, who will finally fulfill God’s purposes in the world, in light of God’s own work in fulfilling the promise He made to Abraham. Jesus sends a community to the world, in fulfillment of his work in Israel.

A Foreshadowed People

The communal witness of the church is foreshadowed and promised in the Old Testament, and it sees its arrival as the Holy Spirit descends to fulfill God’s promise in the New Testament. To interpret the commissioning texts as applying only to individuals is to miss the rich, biblical overtones throughout the Scriptures that envision a community serving as salt of the earth and light of the world.

A Gospel-Formed People

The church is united as a witnessing community, but it’s the gospel we witness to that constitutes our identity. After all, the gospel is centered on the Sent One who witnesses to the Father. The person and work of Christ make possible the existence of this witnessing body.

A God-Exalting People

The terminology of witnesses in Luke 24 likely echoes the Lord’s words to Israel in Isaiah 43:10-12:

“You are My witnesses” – this is the Lord’s declaration – “and My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. No god was formed before Me, and there will be none after Me. I, I am Yahweh, and there is no other Savior but Me. I alone declared, saved, and proclaimed – and not some foreign god among you. So you are My witnesses” – this is the Lord’s declaration – “and I am God.” (HCSB)

Don’t miss the high Christology on display here. By adopting the same words of Yahweh to Israel, “You are my witnesses,” Jesus is associating Himself with God, and He is associating his followers with Israel.

The implication is that Jesus is the embodiment of Yahweh and His followers are the true Israel who will finally fulfill the task given to God’s people. Witness flows from knowing Jesus.

A Spirit-Empowered People

There is an eschatological dimension to the corporate nature of the “witnesses.”

It is true that Acts 1:8 focuses on the geographical expansion to the ends of the earth, not the eschatological promise of Christ being with the disciples to “the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Still, there is a strong element of eschatology in Acts 1:4-8, since Christ’s last words in Acts are preceded by a question from the disciples regarding the timetable of the kingdom’s restoration to Israel. Their desire to know the timing of God’s kingdom coming in its fullness is rooted in Jewish eschatology. When Jesus brushes off their question, He does not do so because it has no validity, but because He desires to focus on what the disciples are to be (and therefore do) in the meantime.

The disciples will indeed be an eschatological people, not because they know the signs and the times, but because they are indwelled by the Spirit who empowers their witness to the ends of the earth. John Stott is right to describe the church as the “pilgrim people of God.”

The corporate witness of the church is missionary in its purpose and eschatological in its framing.

Presence and Proclamation

The most concentrated power of witness is in the corporate, common life of the church united on mission for Christ. The church that is truly “present” in a community will necessarily proclaim the gospel. The communal identity of the church is essential as an undergirding of our proclamation as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission.

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Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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comment_post_ID); ?> Thank you Ed for sharing your insights into the Church Growth Movement. I have my reservations with Church Growth models because it has done more damage than good in the Body of Christ. Over the years, western churches are more focused on results, formulas and processes with little or no emphasis on membership and church discipline. Pastors and vocational leaders are burnt out because they're overworked. I do believe that the Church Growth model is a catalyst to two destructive groups: The New Apostolic Reformation and the Emerging Church. Both groups overlap and have a very loose definition. They're both focus on contemporary worship, expansion of church brand (franchising), and mobilizing volunteering members as 'leaders' to grow their ministry. Little focus on biblical study, apologetics and genuine missional work with no agenda besides preaching of the gospel.
— Dave
comment_post_ID); ?> Thank you for sharing such a good article. It is a great lesson I learned from this article. I am one of the leaders in Emmanuel united church of Ethiopia (A denomination with more-than 780 local churches through out the country). I am preparing a presentation on succession planning for local church leaders. It will help me for preparation If you send me more resources and recommend me books to read on the topic. I hope we may collaborate in advancing leadership capacity of our church. God Bless You and Your Ministry.
— Argaw Alemu
comment_post_ID); ?> Amen!!
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