Jesus gave us the Great Commission to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. This command was given to the apostles and was to be in force until the end of the age. What does it mean to make disciples of all nations? Some would say that we are just to be a witness to the nations not expecting to convert the whole world. Others would say that we are to plant a church in every people group in the world and when that is done, our task is completed. All peoples would then be reached. How extensive was the Lord’s command? An article in a recent issue of Mission Frontiers written by the late Ralph Winter and David Taylor gives the story of the modern mission movement from William Carey up to the upcoming Global Mission Consultation in Tokyo in May of 2010. The article closes with a good summary of what the church’s objective for missions should be – “What we see in this brief history is a journey of movements which have taken us ever closer to the heart of the unfinished task – from ‘evangelizing the whole world,’ to ‘a church for every people,’ to ‘making disciples of every people.’ All three are necessary! All three are biblical. And the result of it all should be the fulfillment of our Lord’s Great Commission, which is that all peoples would be discipled. Here in this final objective of discipling peoples, the gospel of the kingdom is being applied to every sphere and pursuit of life – from government to economics, and from education to health and science….Thus the theme and vision of Tokyo 2010 may take us one step closer to that reality – back to the ultimate objective of the Great Commission – which is not just getting people to come forward at an evangelistic meeting, and not just about forming local assemblies of believers, but about discipling entire nations with the gospel of the Kingdom – teaching them to obey everything Christ has commanded from Genesis to Revelation.” (September-October 2009, p.23) This sounds more like what Jesus had in mind when He gave the Great Commission. We are to disciple the nations of the world, not just to be a witness to them before they are destroyed as some teach today but a much more comprehensive command that has the conversion of the whole world to Christ as its object. This Great Commission is a command to spread the kingdom of Christ to all nations and bring them into subjection to Him through the preaching of the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The prophet Isaiah envisioned a world where the Kingdom of God prevailed. He wrote, “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9) Should this not be our vision for today’s world? It was the vision of pioneer missionaries such as David Livingstone who wrote to his faithful wife, “I will go, no matter who opposes: I know you wish as ardently as I can that all the world may be filled with the glory of the Lord”. To someone else he wrote, “I am trying now to establish the Lord’s kingdom in a region wider by far than Scotland. Fever seems to forbid; but I shall work for the glory of Christ’s kingdom – fever or no fever.” (Puritan Hope p. 179)
Isaac Watts in his great hymn Jesus Shall Reign reflects on the teaching found in Psalm 72:8 – “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” His hymn begins with these words –
“Jesus shall reign where’er the sun does his successive journeys run; His kingdom
stretch from shore to shore, til moons shall wax and wane no more….”
Watts looked forward to a time when the gospel would prevail all over the world. It would be a time when the moon would shine bright all of the time meaning a time of great blessing on the world. The next verse says,
“For him shall endless prayer be made, and praises throng to crown his head; His
name, like sweet perfume, shall rise with every morning sacrifice, with every
Prayer would be offered to the Lord everywhere. Continuous prayer and praise would rise up all over the world to our Great God and Savior. This reminds us of the wonderful verse in Malachi 1:11 where the Lords says, “My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations…” The Lord Jesus also pointed to such a time when the worship of God would be offered in every place not just in Jerusalem. In John 4:21, 23 Jesus tells the Samaritan woman – “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.”
Watts in the next verse says,
“People and realms of every tongue dwell on his love with sweetest song;
And infant voices shall proclaim their early blessings on his Name….”
People and nations of every language will sing praises about the love of Jesus and young children will learn early to bless His wonderful name. The next verse says,
“Blessings abound where’re he reigns; the prisoner leaps to lose his
chains, the weary find eternal rest, and all the sons of want are blest….”
This reminds us of what Isaiah prophesied about the Christ when he wrote, “…I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”(Isaiah 42:6-7) Wherever the gospel goes these things happen. Those who are prisoners of sin are freed and the weary find rest in Christ. Wherever Jesus reigns in the hearts of people blessings come.
The final verse of Watts’ hymn says,
“Let every creature rise and bring peculiar honors to our King, angels descend with
songs again, and earth repeat the loud Amen…”
The angels descended when Jesus was born and sang to the shepherds and announced good tidings – “…Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2:10 KJV) Watts has the angels descending again and this time the whole earth repeats a loud amen to what they say. The whole world now honors the Great King Jesus. Watts like many who came after Him looked forward to a day when Jesus would reign throughout the world, not so much that only after He returned that He would set up His kingdom and reign on the earth but that through the preaching of the gospel in this age His reign would spread throughout the world. Even now Jesus reigns from Heaven and His reign is to spread throughout the earth. This is the message of Watts great hymn.
The ray of hope for the world today is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the spread of His kingdom. It is for this that we must work and pray. It is to Psalm 86:9 that we must look and believe – “All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name.” Charles Spurgeon in commenting on this verse says, “…we look for a day when the dwellers in all lands shall learn righteousness, shall trust in the Savior, shall worship thee alone, O God, ‘and glorify thy name.’” (Puritan Hope p. xiv) May we also look for that day and speed its coming.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version unless indicated otherwise.
Murray, Iain H. The Puritan Hope. The Banner of Truth Trust, London, 1971.
Watts, Isaac. Jesus Shall Reign. written in 1719 - taken from the Trinity Hymnal. Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, 1961.
Winter, Ralph and Taylor, David. Seeking Closure: The Story of a Movement from William Carey to Tokyo 2010 - Mission Frontiers, Pasadena, CA, September - October 2009.