The Great Commission and The End Times – Is the completion of one the beginning of the other?
When the Great Commission has been fulfilled, will The End Times begin? Are we actually working to bring about the events in Revelation when we spread the Gospel? In a sense, even without tying the two together, every second that passes by is bringing us one second closer to The End Times. It’s just a fact of time. The question is one of whether there’s a Biblical link between the two.
Let’s look at some passages and find out.
But first, before everyone gets too freaked out over the end, let’s look at the image I chose for this article. It’s an audience sitting in a theater. Or a theatre, depending on where you live. Anyway – from the image, it’s impossible to tell if it’s the beginning or the end of the performance. (OK – if you pay close attention, it is possible. But let’s say it’s not.) The truth is, that’s the way to look at the End Times as well. It’s an ending, to be sure. But it’s also a beginning. A new beginning. And we get to choose whether what comes after the new beginning is awesome or awful. The point is – if The Great Commission and The End Times are linked, then it’s an ending and a beginning. Very symmetric.
So, let’s start off by looking at The Great Commission.
The Great Commission
Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Remember, this is after Jesus was crucified and after His resurrection. Jesus has already experienced His ending (as a person) and is now in His new beginning (as a resurrected person). Of course, in Jesus’ case, it’s different because throughout He was always fully God as well as fully human. However, the point is that Jesus the person has just gone through his ending and beginning. And then He asks His disciples to go out and make disciples of all the nations.
By “all the nations”, Jesus was saying this:
1484 ἔθνος [ethnos /eth·nos/] n n. Probably from 1486; TDNT 2:364; TDNTA 201; GK 1620; 164 occurrences; AV translates as “Gentiles” 93 times, “nation” 64 times, “heathen” five times, and “people” twice. 1 a multitude (whether of men or of beasts) associated or living together. 1A a company, troop, swarm. 2 a multitude of individuals of the same nature or genus. 2A the human race. 3 a race, nation, people group. 4 in the OT, foreign nations not worshipping the true God, pagans, Gentiles. 5 Paul uses the term for Gentile Christians. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
Jesus wasn’t saying to make disciples of all the countries, as we might use the word “nations” today. He was saying to make disciples of everyone who isn’t already a disciple. As we’ll see later, that doesn’t mean that literally everyone will become a disciple of Jesus. It’s up to the individual to accept the message they were to deliver. The point was for everyone to at least get the message.
Notice also that Jesus said I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Let’s take a look at “very end” and “age” to see more about what those words meant at the time, as opposed to how we would probably think of them today.
4930 συντέλεια [sunteleia /soon·tel·i·ah/] n f. From 4931; TDNT 8:64; TDNTA 1161; GK 5333; Six occurrences; AV translates as “end” six times. 1 completion, consummation, end. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
There wasn’t any Greek word for “very”. The English word was added as a way to show the intent behind the Greek word that follows.
165 αἰών [aion /ahee·ohn/] n m. From the same as 104; TDNT 1:197; TDNTA 31; GK 172; 128 occurrences; AV translates as “ever” 71 times, “world” 38 times, “never + 3364 + 1519 + 3588” six times, “evermore” four times, “age” twice, “eternal” twice, and translated miscellaneously five times. 1 for ever, an unbroken age, perpetuity of time, eternity. 2 the worlds, universe. 3 period of time, age. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
We believe that God has a plan for His creation, that everything wasn’t just for no reason. Therefore, using a word like “completion” or “culmination” to look at what “end” really means is reasonable. We also know from various prophecies that this world is going to come to an end. Therefore, eternity is not a good choice for what “age” might mean. It has to be something like a “period of time”.
What we end up with then is Jesus saying that He will be with us until God’s plans for His creation – this fallen creation – have been completed. The End. And the culmination of those plans will be to restore His creation to what is was meant to be before the fall. The New Beginning.
Why does this matter?
“We are the first generation that can say without reservation, “We have the technology to actually fulfill the Great Commission in our generation.””
The Essential Guide to Spiritual Warfare: Learn to Use Spiritual Weapons; Keep Your Mind and Heart Strong in Christ; Recognize Satan’s Lies and Defend Your Loved Ones” by Neil T. … Continue reading
Sure, even the early church in the book of Acts thought The End Times were going to be in their lifetime. But we have to ask, were all the prophecies about the end really attainable at that time? That begs the question, are they now? And – has everyone been reached? Important questions, to be sure.
The preceding quote is from the introduction to The Essential Guide To Spiritual Warfare. Here’s the first two paragraphs, which led the authors to that conclusion.
We are seeing the greatest spiritual harvest this world has ever seen. Not since Pentecost have we seen such phenomenal growth of the church worldwide. Africa was less than 5 percent Christian at the beginning of the twentieth century. At the end of the second millennium, it was nearly 50 percent Christian. There were only about 5 million believers in China when the Communist regime took over. Now the estimates vary from 100 to as high as 150 million believers, and missiologists estimate that between 25,000 and 35,000 people are coming to Christ daily in China. Indonesia is the world’s most populated Muslim nation, but the percentage of Christians there has been increasing so rapidly that the government won’t release accurate figures.
Meanwhile, more than 2,500 Christian radio and television stations broadcast the gospel daily to an audience of 4.6 billion. I had the privilege of speaking to the staff of HCJB in Quito, Ecuador, at their annual meeting. I was impressed with their commitment and their technological expertise. The same holds for TransWorld Radio and Far Eastern Broadcasting, who are working together with HCJB to blanket this planet with the good news. They can now package a radio station in a suitcase and broadcast the gospel anywhere in the world. We are the first generation that can say without reservation, “We have the technology to actually fulfill the Great Commission in our generation.”
This is why it matters. If we are hurtling to the time at which God’s plans for His creation are being completed – with The Great Commission fulfilled, could that possibly be the beginning of The End, and therefore the beginning of The End Times? If – I repeat If – it is, then we need to be prepared. A while back I did a full series on every phrase in The Lord’s Prayer. One of them, Your Kingdom Come … on earth …, looked at the time when God’s Kingdom would truly come to earth – and asked if we are really aware that’s what we are asking when we say The Lord’s Prayer. I’m guessing – probably not. And yet, while Jesus did give signs of the end of this world, He also said the the time is unknown except to the Father – and He warned us about not being ready.
The Day and Hour Unknown
Mt 24:36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
Mt 24:42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Mt 24:45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Now, I’m not predicting when The End is coming. I am pointing out that it could happen at any time. I’m also pointing out that all sorts of things in the world – as they always have – are set up for tremendous wars. I’m also pointing out the technology to do what’s described in that Introduction is also available. So without actually giving a date / time, I do think it’s important for us to be always aware that it could be “now”.
At any moment – there could be an end – and a beginning. However, there are certain conditions to be met. Let’s take a look at some passages related to them.
With those thoughts in mind, let’s proceed.
bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head
Spiritual Blessings in Christ
Eph 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
Yes, to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. Before we look at that, the “even Christ” may be a bit confusing. So let’s look at a couple other translations to make this verse a bit more clear.
First – the version above is the 1984 NIV. The 2011 NIV has been slightly reworded to make it clearer.
10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
Second, we’ll see Young’s Literal Translation, where we’ll see that the later NIV translation is more in line with the literal, in terms of what it means.
10 in regard to the dispensation of the fulness of the times, to bring into one the whole in the Christ, both the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth—in him; Young, R. (1997). Young’s Literal Translation (Eph 1:10). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
So if all things on heaven and on earth are to be brought together, unified, under Christ – we can see a possible connection between that unification being completed and the culmination / completion of God’s plan for His creation. We can see that maybe The End Times will come when we are all ready to be brought together under Jesus. When we’ve all had the chance to accept or reject Him. And then we’ll also be ready for the Beginning – the new beginning with the new heavens and the new earth. No longer corrupted, but now as God intended.
so that all nations might believe and obey him
Notice the word “might”. It doesn’t say “will”. There’s nothing saying everyone will believe and obey Jesus. But unless everyone is at least exposed to the Gospel, they don’t have a chance to believe and obey Jesus – or to reject Him. So we’re back to the notion of everyone must hear the Good News. If you don’t recognize the phrase, it’s from the closing at the very end of Romans.
Ro 16:25 Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.
I think a look at the word “mystery” is in order here. It’s not a mystery in the sense that we use the word today.
3466 μυστήριον [musterion /moos·tay·ree·on/] n n. From a derivative of muo (to shut the mouth); TDNT 4:802; TDNTA 615; GK 3696; 27 occurrences; AV translates as “mystery” 27 times. 1 hidden thing, secret, mystery. 1A generally mysteries, religious secrets, confided only to the initiated and not to ordinary mortals. 1B a hidden or secret thing, not obvious to the understanding. 1C a hidden purpose or counsel. 1C1 secret will. 1C1A of men. 1C1B of God: the secret counsels which govern God in dealing with the righteous, which are hidden from ungodly and wicked men but plain to the godly. 3 in rabbinic writings, it denotes the mystic or hidden sense: of an OT saying, of an image or form seen in a vision, of a dream. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This is pointed out more clearly by Paul in a later letter to the church in Colossae.
Col 1:24 Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
One final point – while “saints” tends to mean those sanctified by the Pope and known as Saints, in the time of the early church “saints” meant “the Lord’s people”. So saint’s back then means what we today would call believers.
So once again, we are back to fulfilling The Great Commission. Back to preparing for the time when The End can come. And then the New Beginning can come.
until the full number of the Gentiles has come in
Next, let’s return to Romans to look at fullness again.
All Israel Will Be Saved
Ro 11:25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
Ro 11:27 And this is my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”
So, what does “the full number of Gentiles” mean? Was there a preset number – when that number is reached does the world end? Or is it something else?
Full number actually comes from one Greek word.
4138 πλήρωμα [pleroma /play·ro·mah/] n n. From 4137; TDNT 6:298; TDNTA 867; GK 4445; 17 occurrences; AV translates as “fulness” 13 times, “full” once, “fulfilling” once, “which is put in to fill up” once, and “pierce that filled up” once. 1 that which is (has been) filled. 1A a ship inasmuch as it is filled (i.e. manned) with sailors, rowers, and soldiers. 1B in the NT, the body of believers, as that which is filled with the presence, power, agency, riches of God and of Christ. 2 that which fills or with which a thing is filled. 2A of those things which a ship is filled, freight and merchandise, sailors, oarsmen, soldiers. 2B completeness or fullness of time. 3 fulness, abundance. 4 a fulfilling, keeping. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
Notice the concept of fullness / fulfilling. It’s not a magic number, like once that number is reached it’s over. And it’s not like a game is being played and the first one to reach 21 points wins. But it is real life and death – the second life / the second death. And it’s for everyone. And it’s not over before the Gospel has been spread to “all the nations” – to all the people.
Summary, so far
Maybe there’s a link between The Great Commission. The evidence seems to point that way.
Maybe there isn’t. After all, God’s in charge – not us.
We can look for evidence all we want, but we will never know the time.
On the other hand, we need to be aware at all times, because the end could come at any time. If this helps one person to be more aware – it will have been worthwhile. If it saves even one person – it’s more than worthwhile.
Hearing is not believing
Remember earlier, I said, “As we’ll see later, that doesn’t mean that literally everyone will become a disciple of Jesus.“
Well, it’s time to return to that topic. Because The Great Commission is to reach everyone. But every single person who is reached still has to make a decision for themselves whether to accept or reject the message of the Gospel. Jesus has already told us that many will reject it.
The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast
Mt 13:31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”
Mt 13:33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Mt 13:34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”
The Parable of the Weeds Explained
Mt 13:36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
Mt 13:37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
Mt 13:40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”
Tough words. But they aren’t mine. And they aren’t words that any of us can change. They are what they are. But then, the Good News of The Gospel is also what it is – a gift, a way for us to avoid being burned in the fire. If we choose to accept the gift.
The End Times will come. They are promised in the Bible. Judgment will come. It’s also promised in the Bible. Salvation is available, to those who hear of it. That’s also promised in the Bible.
As far as The End is concerned, there is one other “end” we should look at. The end of our lives on this earth. As far as “being ready for the end”, on an individual basis, the end of our life on earth is even more final than the beginning of the end of the world. Why? Because when our life is over, so is our chance to turn to God. And if we already have turned to Him, our chance to work on fulfilling the Great Commission is over when we pass from this world. When Armageddon comes, there’s a good chance we’ll be raptured, or die during the tribulation period, but even that awful time still provides a window of opportunity. The Bible makes it clear that most will reject that chance. But however slim the chances are, it is still a chance – whereas when the heart sops beating and the brain no longer functions – all opportunities are gone. Forever.
Too many people will say, “I’ll get around to God later.” Maybe after college. Or maybe after getting married. Maybe after the kids grow up. Or maybe after the career is well along the way. Maybe after the career is over. After … And then we get older and think it’s too late. We blew it.
Well, yes, if we wait – we did blow it. At least we blew the time that we spent on something else besides God. Because God Could have and should have been part of all those things we waited for. I dare say, had we included God in those things, then one of two things would have happened. One – they would have been much more fulfilling. Or two – God would have led us someplace else that would have been more fulfilling.
So we waited and waited. Is it really too late? If you’re reading this, then the answer is no. You’re alive. You haven’t died yet. And The End hasn’t come yet. And as long as both of those statements are true, then you still have time to work on The Great Commission. More correctly, God still has time to use you in fulfilling The Great Commission. There are more opportunities than you might think.
For more on that thought, see part 2 – “Lord, you have been our dwelling place”, from Psalm 90.
A prayer of Moses the man of God.
Ps 90:1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
Ps 90:2 Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
Ps 90:3 You turn men back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.”
Ps 90:4 For a thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
Ps 90:5 You sweep men away in the sleep of death;
they are like the new grass of the morning—
Ps 90:6 though in the morning it springs up new,
by evening it is dry and withered.
Ps 90:7 We are consumed by your anger
and terrified by your indignation.
Ps 90:8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
Ps 90:9 All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
Ps 90:10 The length of our days is seventy years—
or eighty, if we have the strength;
yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
Ps 90:11 Who knows the power of your anger?
For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
Ps 90:12 Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
As I said, for more on this, see part 2 – “Lord, you have been our dwelling place“, from Psalm 90
|(OK – if you pay close attention, it is possible. But let’s say it’s not.)
|↑2, ↑3, ↑4, ↑7, ↑8
|Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
|The Essential Guide to Spiritual Warfare: Learn to Use Spiritual Weapons; Keep Your Mind and Heart Strong in Christ; Recognize Satan’s Lies and Defend Your Loved Ones” by Neil T. Anderson, Timothy M. Warner
|Young, R. (1997). Young’s Literal Translation (Eph 1:10). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.