Last Updated 12/2/15
2) A Dispensational Study of the Great Commission
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” (Mat. 28:19) “Go ye to all the world” (Mark 16:15), “ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). After Christ resurrection he appeared to the twelve apostles (Mat. 28:17, Mark 16:14, Acts 1:3, 1 Corinthians 15:5) and told them to teach and witness to all nations and all the world. This is generally referred to as the Great Commission. “And when James, Cephas (Peter), and John who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me… that we should go unto the heathen (Gentiles), and they unto the circumcision (Jews).” (Galatians 2:9) Considering this verse did James, Peter and John understand that they were to go to, “all the world” but only to the Jews, and was Paul agreeing to only go to the Gentiles?
During his earthly ministry Christ had instructed the apostles, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into the city of Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Mat. 10:5-6). Christ also said, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Mat. 15:24), and the apostle Paul explains, “Jesus Christ was a minister of circumcision (Jews) for the truth of God to confirm the promises made unto the fathers.” (Romans 15:8) The fathers were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and others that would follow within the Jewish Nation (Act 3:13, 22). It was clear that Christ’s earthly ministry was primarily to the Jews.
After Christ’s resurrection his message to the twelve apostles was to go to all the world. Was this what they understood, and does scripture indicate that is what happened? The twelve apostles were instructed to wait to go to, “the uttermost part of the earth” until, “the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (Act 1:8) which happened at Pentecost about 50 days after Christ’s resurrection (Acts 2:1-4). After the stoning of Stephen (Act 7:59-60) in approximately 36AD, we see that, “there was a great persecution against the church which was at the Jerusalem; and they all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Act 8:1). In 36AD the twelve apostles included Matthias (Act 1:21-26). Apostle Paul was not converted until about 37AD. There is no indication from scripture that by 36AD seven years after Christ’s resurrection in 29AD, that any of the twelve apostles had left Jerusalem, even though they had been instructed to wait only until they received the Holy Ghost before going to all the world.
“Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.” (Acts 8:4-5). Philip here is not the apostle Philip, he is the Hellenist, (Greek speaking Jew) chosen to assist with the daily ministration, (distribution of food) (Act 6:5). “Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God they sent unto them Peter and John” (Act 8:14). After Peter and John went to Samaria between 36 AD and 38 AD they, “returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 8:25), and did not continue on “and teach all the nations” or go “unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Philip who had gone to Samaria was instructed by an angel of the Lord to go to Gaza where he met an Ethiopian eunuch who “had come to Jerusalem to worship” (Acts 8:27), and it is interesting to note that the Ethiopian may have been a proselyte (a Gentile convert to Judaism) or a Jewish Ethiopian.
In about 38 AD Peter had a vision (Acts 10:9-23) to go with three men to the house of Cornelius, who was a Gentile (Act 10:28) centurion. This appears to be Peter’s first mission to a person specifically referred to as a Gentile. Peter had been to the Samaritan’s with John (Acts 8:14) before this time, but there is no indication Peter had been hesitant to go to the Samaritans within the borders of Israel. Although they are generally considered to be a mixed race of Jews and Gentiles, Christ referred to them separately from the Gentiles (Mat.10:5-6). It is possible Cornelius may have been a proselyte due to the fact that he was fasting and praying at “the ninth hour” (Acts 10:30), which was the designated time of Jewish worship (Acts 3:1). At the time of Peter’s vision (Act 10:10-17) he believed he was still under the dietary requirements (Leviticus 11) of the Jewish law, “I have never eaten anything that is uncommon or unclean” (Act 10:14) and under the requirement of the law not to keep company with a Gentile (Joshua 23:6-7, Mat. 10:5-6) “it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). If Peter and the twelve apostles clearly understood they were to go to all the world, why would it only be after the vision that Peter would say, “Of truth I perceive that God is no respecter of person: But in every nation he that fearth him, and worketh righteousness is accepted with him (Acts 10:34-35)? It is only after Peter has a vision in about 38 AD about 9 years after the cross that he indicates he believes God has shown him it is permissible to go among the Gentiles, even though Peter and the other apostles had been told to go to all the world and all nations when they received, “power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (Acts 1:8) about 50 days after the resurrection in 29 AD. Why would “they that were of the circumcision contended with him.” (Acts 11:1-2) about going to the Gentiles if Peter and the other eleven had been taking their message to all the world for nine years ? Peter returned to Jerusalem after his experience with Cornelius, and there is no indication that he or the other eleven apostles went to any other Gentiles between the time of 38 AD and 51AD when Peter again told the story of his experience in support of the apostle Paul’s ministry (Act 15:6-11).
“Now they which scattered abroad upon persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene which, when they come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians (1675), preaching the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 11:19-20) Although scripture does not indicate the twelve apostles made other trips up to the time of the council at Jerusalem with Paul in 51AD, others that were scattered preach outside Jerusalem to “Jews only” and “Grecians” (1675 Greek speaking Jews). Some commentaries believe Grecians should indicate Gentiles also although this word states “Greek speaking Jews” in the Strong’s Concordance. If those scattered were preaching to Gentiles also, as might be expected at the church of Antioch, they were teaching the Gospel of the Circumcision that included the Mosaic law, and that is why it would have been so important for Barnabus to go to Tarsus to seek Saul (Apostle Paul) (Act 11:25-26). Peter would later go to Antioch but it is unlikely this was to preach to the Gentiles considering Paul said, “I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” (Gal. 2:11) Peter was eating with the Gentiles but when certain came from the church in Jerusalem, “he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.” (Gal 2:12) There are many indications that Peter and James who was Jesus’s brother and the head of the church in Jerusalem (Mat 13:55, Acts 12:17) had taught and were in full agreement with the “many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law.” (Acts 21:20)
There are two other instances of scripture related to the apostles outside Jerusalem. One is John stated to be, “in the isle that is called Patmos” (Rev 1:9). History indicates John was there in exile and possibly in prison, and there is no scripture that states he had a ministry to the Gentiles. Some believe John was writing to churches established by Apostle Paul or his followers in Asia, but Paul stated, "(15) and they all which are in Asia be turned away from me," (2 Timothy 1:15). Also the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 1:11, the churches of Smyrna, Pergamos, Sardis, and Philadephia are not mentioned in scripture outside of Revelation. This leads to three other possibilities about the churches in Revelation: (1) They could be Jewish synagogues (See Rev. 2:9, 3:9 synagogues of Satan); (2) They could be churches that will exist in the future; (3) They could by churches related to Paul's ministry to the Gentiles, that turned away from Paul's gospel of the uncircumcision, to the gospel of the circumcision taught by John and the other 11 apostles and their followers. The second instance is when Peter writes, “The church that is at Babylon, saluteth you;” (1 Peter 5:13) which some feel indicates he is writing from Rome, where history indicates he may have been martyred. Others believe he may have written from a Christian synagogue at Babylon, or may have been writing from Jerusalem which he referred to as Babylon due to its corruption and destruction that was to come (see Revelation 11:8).
The fact that the Jews would have a ministry to the Gentiles was not a mystery to them, it was repeatedly mentioned in the Old Testament (Isaiah 66:18-24, Zechariah 8:20-23, 14:16). The confusion about the Great Commission was when it would happen, and what the message would be to the Gentiles in comparison to Paul’s message. Peter’s message to the Jew’s was to repent and turn to God so that, “he may send Christ” (Acts 3:19-20). The Jews were to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38), and believe Christ is the Messiah (John 1:41) and accept him as their King (Mat. 27:11) as a nation, which is the Gospel of the Kingdom (Mat. 24:14). We know now that the Jews (Israel and Judah) will not accept Christ as a nation until the end of the tribulation (Hosea 3:5, Isaiah 66:8, Zechariah 12:10, Ezekiel 36:24-38) when he will confirm the New Covenant with them (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The Jews expected that Christ would return and establish his Kingdom before their ministry to the world, Old Testament scriptures like these listed above and others indicated the mission to the Gentiles would follow the return of Christ and the restoration of the Kingdom (Acts 1:6, 3:19-21). Lord Jesus told them, “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.” (Mat. 10:23, 24:30, Revelation 1:7) It is unlikely this statement made by Christ was referring to the statement Peter made about Christ’s transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16), considering the verses directly before this verse (Mat. 10:16-22) tell of a time of the apostles persecution that did not begin until after Christ ascended. Also Christ states, "For the son of man shall come...with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works." (Mat. 16:27-28), before the statement of his coming in Matthew 16:28, which of course did not happen at his transfiguration.
The twelve apostles believed that the message they were to take to the world was the Gospel of the circumcision and the kingdom, that not only included repentance and the requirement of water baptism (Acts 2:38), but also the observance of the law (Acts 15:5, 21:20-25, 22:12, 10:14,28, Galatians 2:14). This was not surprising since Christ had told them, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law… Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or tittle shall no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Mat. 5:17-18). The Old Testament tells of a time in the future (the Millennium, Revelation 20:1-3) when “the law shall go forth of Zion” (Isaiah 2:3, Micah 4:2), and circumcision (Ezekiel 44:5-9), observance of New Moons, Sabbaths, Feasts and Sin Offerings will be required (Ezekiel 45:13-25, Isaiah 66:22-24, Zechariah 14:16-19). The Great Commission for Israel will begin at the start of the tribulation with Jesus Christ’s selection of 144,000 Jewish men (Revelation 7:1-8), as He chose the 12 apostles before (John 15:16). This time “And this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” (Mat. 24:14)
There is no proof from scripture that the 12 apostles traveled with apostle Paul, or had any ministry to the Gentiles other than the house of Cornelius and possibly Samaria, both within the borders of Israel (Mat. 10:23) Paul made a strong point that the gospel he preached was not learned from any man (Galatians 1:11-12), and that he spent very little time with the twelve apostles (Galatians 1:18, 2:1). Paul’s message of the gospel of grace (Acts 20:24) without the covenants for Israel including the Mosaic law, the Gospel of the Uncircumcision (Galatians 2:7-9), was clearly different from the message of the twelve apostles and their followers. The point of this article was not that the 12 apostles did not minister to any Gentiles, or that apostle Paul did not minister to any Jews, since they obviously did. The point is that the fact that the 12 apostles ministry was primarily within Israel, and Paul's ministry primarily outside Israel, was a strong indication of the differences in their message and mission. These differences will be discussed in other studies at this site. The differences between the message of Paul and the 12 apostles was understood by them, and so they agreed Paul would go to the Gentiles and they would go to the Jews. Apostle Paul’s message is the gospel of the grace “Christ died for our sins according to the scripture; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day”(1 Corinthians 15:1-4), without the Mosaic Law. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul’s message to the uncircumcision is also “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law” (Ephesians 2:15), and, “for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14) The message apostle Paul gave was not the same message as the 12 apostles, or the same message the 144,000 Jewish men will teach in the future. Our Great Commission is to take the message of the Gospel of the uncircumcision in Paul’s Epistles to all the world. Confusing these two messages accounts for much of the confusion and disagreement within Christianity today and throughout the past.