By Gregg Bing
One of the reasons many assume that Mark 16 is our “Great Commission” today is because they believe these were Jesus’ last words. While these may have been some of the last words Jesus spoke while here on earth, they were not the last words He ever spoke to men. Jesus’ ministry was not limited to the time He spent here on earth.
With Israel’s rejection of the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the twelve apostles during the Acts period, the Lord Jesus spoke again, this time from heaven, this time to Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:1-16). Saul, who became known as Paul, was called to be “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” (Eph. 1:1), but his commission was distinct from that of the Twelve. Paul was chosen to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13) and entrusted with a different gospel, “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). Though Paul often referred to it as “my gospel” (2 Tim. 2:8), it consisted of “the words of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 6:3) for he received it by direct revelation from Him (Gal. 1:12).
Christ also revealed to Paul a new plan and purpose of God for this present age, the dispensation of the grace of God (Eph. 3:2). This truth was a mystery kept secret from men of other ages until made known to Paul. Today, God is no longer dealing with a nation (Israel) but with individuals without distinction as to nationality, race, religion, or social status. All men who put their trust in Jesus Christ as Savior are added to a new body of believers, the Church, the Body of Christ. As members of the Church, we have a new commission from God, distinct from the commission Jesus gave to the Twelve.
Our commission as believers in the dispensation of grace is found in the writings of the apostle Paul whom God established as the steward of this present age. As we examine the letters he wrote under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we find that our commission consists of two different ministries, ministries that are brought into focus by the fact that God, according to 1 Timothy 2:4, desires two things for all men: (1) that they be saved and (2) that they come to the knowledge of the truth. Our commission is to reach out to “all men” in the area of these two needs. The first part of our commission is to
Preach the Gospel
Grace believers (those who recognize the distinct ministry of Paul for this present age) are often accused of focusing too much on doctrine (teaching) and not enough on evangelism (preaching the gospel). Some of these detractors seem to think that “preaching Jesus Christ” should be our only concern. What they don’t seem to realize is that doctrine and evangelism cannot be separated. Doctrine is, in fact, vital, especially in the area of evangelism. It answers critical questions such as: “What are we to preach about Jesus Christ?” and “What is required for a person to be saved?”
The twelve apostles preached Jesus Christ, but in accordance with the gospel of the kingdom. He was proclaimed as the Son of God, but the emphasis was on the fact that He was Israel’s Messiah (Christ), the One anointed by God to be their King. If you carefully examine Peter’s preaching in Acts, chapters 2 and 3, you find that he never mentions that “Christ died for our sins.” When the Jews asked Peter what they must do, he responded:
“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
In Acts 3:19-21, Peter further proclaimed the good news that if Israel, as a nation, would repent, then “times of refreshing” would come from “the presence of the Lord,” and He would “send Jesus Christ” back to earth to establish His kingdom and bring about the “restoration of all things” spoken by God’s holy prophets.
This is not the gospel we are to preach today! This is not the message by which a person can be saved today. During this present age of grace, we are to preach Jesus Christ, but in accordance with the revelation of the mystery, the truth entrusted to us through the Apostle Paul (Rom. 16:25).
What are we to preach or proclaim about Jesus Christ? What do people need to hear and believe about Him in order to be saved? Paul describes our gospel commission in 2 Corinthians 5, verses 14-21, a passage which focuses on reconciliation. The basic meaning of “reconciliation” is the idea of change or exchange. The word was used to describe the business of money changers who exchanged coins for others of equivalent value. Reconciliation also speaks of the adjustment of a difference. Reconciliation is the means by which sinful men are brought into a relationship with a holy God. For this to occur, a change has to take place. God does not need to change, but we do. In order to be reconciled to God, we must be made new creations in Christ (vs. 17). In this passage, Paul addresses three aspects of reconciliation.
The Work of Reconciliation
The work of reconciliation is accomplished by God Himself, “who reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ.” Paul declares that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them.” The essence of this work is seen in verse 21:
“For He (God) made Him (Christ) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Here we find what some call “the great exchange.” Christ took our sins upon Himself, paying the penalty for us, so that we might have His righteousness imparted to us. This makes it possible for us to have peace with God (Rom. 5:1).
What does it mean that Christ reconciled “the world” to Himself? It does not imply universal reconciliation—that everyone will eventually be saved. It simply means that Christ has paid the penalty for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). While everyone’s sins have been judged at Calvary, not everyone will be saved. This is evident when Paul speaks of the need to implore people “to be reconciled to God.” The reconciliation Christ accomplished for us on the cross is a gift of God’s grace, a gift that each person must receive (Rom. 5:11) by faith (Eph. 2:8-9). As servants of the Lord, we are commissioned to have a part in the process of reconciliation, for God has given us:
The Ministry of Reconciliation
“Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:20)
Our commission is to be ambassadors for Christ, His representatives here on this earth. As the Body of Christ, we are the instruments God uses to reach out to all men with the gospel of Jesus Christ. God uses us to plead with lost sinners and implore them, on Christ’s behalf, to be reconciled to God by faith.
The love of Christ compels us to fulfill this commission (vs. 14)—love for the Lord who has given us such a wonderful salvation and love for those outside of Christ, knowing that God loves them (1 John 4:7-11).
The key to fulfilling this ministry is the message God has entrusted to us:
The Word of Reconciliation
We are to implore people to receive, by faith, the reconciliation Christ provided. For this to happen, they must hear the Word of God, since “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). But, what part of the Word should we preach? What is the gospel we are to proclaim today? We are to preach the gospel entrusted to Paul, God’s steward for this present dispensation. Paul declares what this gospel is quite clearly in 1 Corinthians 15, verses 3 and 4,
“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”
This gospel that Paul preached is the same gospel we are to proclaim today—that Christ died as a substitute for our sins, was buried, and rose again that we might have eternal life. This is the gospel that people must believe to be saved from their sins. It is the only gospel by which a person can stand before God “holy, blameless, and above reproach” (Col. 1:22).
What a great commission has been entrusted to us today! May we be faithful to carry out this charge that precious souls may be brought to Christ.
Next Issue: We will look at the second part of our commission which relates to God’s desire that all men “come to the knowledge of the truth.”