I received the following question:

Is there a commission that Jesus gave the apostles, but they didn’t fulfill it yet?

Yes, I do believe that there is a commission that the Lord gave His disciples that they did not complete yet. First, let’s consider the ones that they did complete, so that we can compare and contrast it with the ones they didn’t. First, consider Luke 24:46-49.

46. 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, 47. and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48. And you are witnesses of these things. 49. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”

Most of this is not in the form of a “command,” as the commissions in Matthew and Mark are, but notice that the Lord does clearly state here what He expects His disciples to do now that He has risen from the dead. First, He does command them to tarry in the city of Jerusalem “until you are endued with power from on high.” Implied in His words before that, however, is what He wants them to do next once they are endued with that power. Once this is done, He wishes that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Although one could argue about whether or not this commission was completed, there can be no doubt that this commission was at least begun by the apostles, since they definitely preached “repentance and remission of sins” (Acts 2:38,) beginning at Jerusalem, to the nation of Israel, after they had been endued with power from on high.

Secondly, consider the commission of Mark 16:15-18.

15. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18. they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

The command here is to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Logic would tell us that preaching to birds and squirrels would not be useful, so we assume that human creatures are meant. But a look further at the Greek reveals that this would be better translated, “in every creation,” matching up very well with the statement in Mark 16:20, “And they went out and preached everywhere,” proving indeed that this commission was not just begun, but fulfilled by those to whom it was given. This is confirmed beyond all shadow of a doubt by Colossians 1:23. “if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.” “To every creature” is the same Greek phrase as in Mark 16:15, proving that this commission was not just begun, but also fulfilled.

Moreover, we see in the book of Acts that at least four of the five signs that “will follow those who believe” were indeed experienced by the apostles. Namely, casting out demons (Acts 16:18,) speaking in tongues (I Corinthians 14:18,) taking up serpents (Acts 28:3-6,) and laying hands on the sick for them to recover (Acts 5:12-16.) The only one not mentioned is drinking any deadly thing. Poisoning was a common method of assassination at the time. If you wanted to kill someone, you would poison his drink or his food. He would unexpectedly die, but since no good method for autopsy or tests for poison were known, none could prove why he had died or who had done it. These apostles were some of the most hated men on earth at the time, and the idea that someone would try to assassinate them with poison is quite likely. However, they were promised that they would be immune to such poisoning, and thus they could not be assassinated in this way. Yet, with such a power, it is natural that no one but the would-be assassin would ever know or realize what had happened. He certainly would not be about to come forward and say, “Hey, I tried to poison you, but nothing happened.” So, though this probably did happen, it was not confirmed, and indeed was not even confirmable, and thus was never recorded. Yet the point remains that this commission was carried out, and all the signs followed it as they should have, as can clearly be demonstrated.

Finally, let us consider the commission of Matthew 28:18-20.

18. And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20. teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Most are inclined to ignore the actual wording of this commission. They get so far in their thinking as the word, “make disciples,” and then go off on how this is something that we are called to do today. Well, it certainly is true that we can both lead people to Christ and encourage them to learn and grow in the faith, thus becoming a disciple. Yet, there are significant problems if we continue examining this commission beyond this point. The phrase “of all the nations” cannot be ignored. We all have a pretty good idea how to make a disciple of an individual. Yet how would one make a disciple of a “nation”? This question is ignored almost universally by those who examine this commission.

The things that we speak of nations doing, as opposed to individuals, are the things done by that nation’s leaders. Whether in the most oppressive dictatorship or the most freedom-loving republic, nations are always considered to act through their leaders. Though the people must bear some responsibility, more or less depending on the type of government, the primary responsibility for the actions of the nation still rests upon the country’s leadership. Thus, for a nation to be discipled, its leaders must be discipled.

Notice too that the Lord commands them to disciple “all” the nations. He does not suggest that they just disciple those that are willing to listen, or those that care to hear. The command is to disciple “all.” How can He possibly expect them to bring any single nation under tutelage? We know that nations are generally reluctant to give up their power to any kind of religious body. But the Lord has a basis upon which they are to accomplish this with “all” nations. It is the fact that “all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” With all authority thus His, no nation would have any choice but to submit to the teaching of the disciples.

Then, they are commanded to be “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Most ignore the fact that this is said concerning nations, and take it as being a command regarding baptizing individuals. In fact, many justify their own baptisms today by this passage. And yet, if we examine the record closely, we would find that not one example of anyone being baptized in the name of the “Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” can be found anywhere in our record of the Acts period. Instead, all we see are people being baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38,) “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8:16, 19:5,) or “in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48.) This difference between Christ’s command and the disciples’ actions has caused many to wonder if they were unfaithful to the commission that they were given. Among others, great debate has been sparked as to whether baptism should be performed in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, or in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Some are likely to baptize one way and some another. Yet as a rule they all fail to recognize that reason the apostles did not follow the command to baptize in the name of the three, the Father, Son, and Spirit, was because they recognized that this was not a command regarding baptizing individuals, but regarding baptizing nations. Thus, the disciples were not unfaithful to this commission, for they were not carrying out this commission. They were baptizing individuals, not nations.

Then, they are to be “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” This is followed with a promise. “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” So we see that the reason they are making these disciples is to teach them to observe the things the Lord wishes them to observe. The Lord is basically commanding His disciples to make their own disciples out of the national leaders of every nation! This would be for the purpose of teaching them how it is that God wishes them to rule and to exercise their authority from now on. What a radical change would take place in the world of men if all our national rulers came under such teaching! And once a nation had come under this divine schooling, that nation was to be baptized as such, being identified as a nation with the three members of the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is the purpose of this commission, and the command given to the disciples through it.

One would search the record of the New Testament Scriptures in vain for any mention of any single nation being baptized, either by these disciples or by anyone else. A few individual rulers were certainly reached, but as a whole no nation’s leaders were ever brought to a place of discipleship. Nor do we have any record of any of the disciples going to a nation and demanding such a thing. Not one nation was ever taught to observe the things God wished them to observe, that we can see any sign of. Certainly today the nations are still free to observe whatsoever they happen to want to observe at the time. There is no nation that we can point to today, nor is there any nation we can point to in the past, that was ever taught to observe those things that God wanted them to, save only the nation of Israel in Old Testament times. And surely we cannot argue that even that nation today acts according to the things the Lord Jesus and His disciples have taught them to do!

So, this is most definitely a commission that was never fulfilled, or even began to be fulfilled, in the past. It appears that its fulfillment must totally wait upon a future time. And I think a clear clue is given as to when that time will be. For surely we can see that, though “all authority in heaven and on earth” might be given to the Lord Jesus at this time, it is self-evident that He has not yet taken this power in hand. The authority that is exercised in the world is often in absolute rebellion to His will. He has still to act in a way that would even start to bring all authority on earth under His control. Yet I believe that this will happen someday, and when it does, all nations will be brought under the teaching of the Lord’s disciples, exactly as this commission suggests. This is the commission that has never yet, but must still be, fulfilled.