I frequently tell people that Jews for Jesus is a one-issue organization, and that issue is evangelism. That is what I like to say, but it isn’t what some people like to hear. Missions and direct evangelism are often seen as antiquated and out of step with current trends. Mission organizations and churches are tempted to compromise, to appear more relevant to today’s culture. But the best way to be relevant is to be faithful to God’s revealed Word. I doubt that He forgot to take anything into consideration—including today’s trends—when He passed on His instructions for interacting with the lost.
Recently I gave a teaching to our Jews for Jesus staff that was titled, “Messianic Marching Orders.” I wanted to include you in on some of what I told them. I hope it will encourage you (or someone you might pass this on to) to strengthen your commitment to the church’s most urgent task today.
During the forty days between His resurrection and ascension, Y’shua (Jesus) made five “Great Commission” statements (“Messianic Marching Orders”) to His followers. These were His final instructions before leaving the planet. People often memorialize a loved one by recalling, “the last words he/she said to me. . . .” Jesus’ parting words before He ascended to heaven carry the same weight for the disciples and for us.
The first Great Commission statement, chronologically speaking, is found in Luke 24:44-48:
Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things.”
I believe the key concept that makes this statement unique among the other Great Commission statements is “context.” The disciples needed to understand what they had witnessed and the task Jesus was assigning them within the larger context of God’s purposes in history. Jesus provided that context through the Hebrew Scriptures, the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.
In so doing, Jesus showed His disciples then and now the broad foundation and context upon which the Great Commission is built. The missionary enterprise of the church is not some isolated idea tenuously balanced on a few texts in the New Testament, upon which we have built this huge structure known as missions. No, the missionary enterprise of God’s people is at the very foundation of what God cares most about and has revealed from Genesis to Revelation.
We don’t know all the passages Jesus pointed to in this private Bible study. We do know that God has revealed His heart for the nations over and over throughout the Scriptures. Jesus may well have taken the disciples to Genesis 12 to show how God intended for all the families of the earth to be blessed through Abraham’s descendants. He might have pointed out that God has purpose in giving the Torah, according to Deuteronomy 4, was so that all the nations might see and say, “What a great God is this, that has given this nation such statutes and righteous judgments.” Perhaps He took them to Psalm 96, “Oh sing to the LORD a new song! Sing to the LORD all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.” Maybe He pointed out that when Solomon prayed at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, the focal point of his great prophetic prayer for God’s blessing on the nation of Israel was, “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God” (1 Kings 8:60).
But if Jesus pointed out the theological and missiological texts to provide the context for His Commission, He surely must have pointed out prophetic texts that were literally fulfilled in Him. How else can we understand verse 46, “Thus it is written and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day”?
Many Christians today lack the confidence to demonstrate how the New Testament Scriptures show that Jesus literally fulfilled specific Old Testament Messianic prophecies. Not long ago an Old Testament professor at a wellknown evangelical Bible institute taught students that Isaiah 53 pointed to Jesus only in terms of its application, and should not be considered direct prophecy and fulfillment. This is a dangerous trend among evangelicals.
We must never be ashamed to point to Old Testament prophecy and its fulfillment in Jesus, especially when it is so identified in the New Testament. Jesus declared that the Scriptures say it was necessary for Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day. That is the historical reality that undergirds the Great Commission.
Likewise we should not be ashamed to speak of issues that many wish to avoid when it comes to witnessing. Verse 47 says, “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
As we proclaim the gospel, do we talk about sin and the need for people to repent? We cannot be His witnesses if we don’t report faithfully the least popular part of the message, namely the need for repentance and forgiveness of sin.
John Stott recalls a conversation with a psychiatrist at a mental institution who said that half the people in his charge could be released if only they could be assured of forgiveness. People need to know God’s forgiveness and they can’t know it if we don’t preach about sin and repentance. It is sad but true that many avoid preaching the gospel because they are afraid people will respond with anger when we say they face God’s judgment if they do not receive His forgiveness for sin. But judgment is a reality and God calls us to risk people’s anger so that some may be saved.
Some may see missions as irrelevant to the era in which we find ourselves or embarrassing because it brings up the problem of sin. Others may lose sight of the significance of missions and evangelism because it seems out of date, and yet others because the task is just another obligation, one that becomes mundane and commonplace. We begin to lose heart or maybe even lose interest. But if we can catch a glimpse of the bigger picture, if we can only see how what we do and how we labor fits in to the great sweep of sacred history, it will give us encouragement, hope and faith and the confidence we need to press on despite discouragements and difficulties.
The Great Commission was not an isolated project or secondary aspect of God’s purposes for the world. It was the very heartbeat of His intention from the beginning of time, the foundation of His purpose in the redemption of His fallen creation. Y’shua wanted His disciples to see the continuity of God’s purposes, to understand the Great Commission within the greater context of His plan for the ages. We are part of that big picture. For all who hear His call, whether we are full-time missionaries or simply witnesses in our home, school or workplace, this is the context of our personal responsibility. We are witnesses of these things.