Make Disciples FROM All Nations Or OF All Nations?

Are we to make disciples of people FROM all nations or are we to make disciples OF all nations? I suppose you could make an argument that, at least in English, both options are grammatically possible. The text reads as follows:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20 ESV)

In the last couple of years it has become increasingly common to hear people attempting to make the argument that the Great Commission is actually a call for Christians to begin “making disciples of all nations and states”, that is, to begin focusing our teaching and outreach toward political entities and social structures. That, they argue, is what is meant by making disciples “of all nations”.

But is that rational?

Does that make sense of the original text?

R.T. France is worth quoting at length here, he says:

“Ethnē (‘nations’) is the regular Greek term for Gentiles, and it has been argued that this command therefore actually excludes the Jews from the scope of the disciples’ mission. But to send the disciples to ‘the Gentiles’ is merely to extend the range of their mission, and need not imply a cessation of the mission to Israel which has already been commanded, and can now be taken for granted. Moreover, the phrase panta ta ethnē (‘all nations’) has been used previously in 24:9, 14; 25:32 in contexts which probably all include Israel in ‘the nations’. And surely there can be no suggestion in Daniel 7:14 of the exclusion of Israel from the dominion of the Son of man, who himself represents Israel. This then is the culmination of the theme we have noted throughout the Gospel, the calling of a people of God far wider than that of the Old Testament, in which membership is based not on race but on a relationship with God through his Messiah” [1]

The thrust of the Great Commission, according to biblical scholars like France, is to widen the focus of the preaching and teaching ministry of the disciples to MORE than just the people of Israel. They are to make disciples now of ALL nations – that is of people from all the Gentile nations. The Bible reader will recall that earlier in The Gospel of Matthew Jesus had said:

“Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. ” (Matthew 10:5–6 ESV)

The Great Commission is Jesus rescinding that order. Initially he wanted the disciples to focus only on the Jews, but now they were to make disciples in every tribe, tongue and nation on planet earth.

Further, to suggest that the command to “make disciples” means something like “transform political structures” or “institute legislative reform” is to overlook the interpretive context of Matthew’s Gospel. Leon Morris says here:

“In this Gospel a disciple is both a learner and a follower; a disciple takes Jesus as his teacher and learns from him, and a disciple also follows Jesus.” [2]

To make a disciple is thus to introduce another human being to the person, work, teaching and Lordship of Jesus Christ. It is an overtly personal, as opposed to political undertaking.

Will there be political implications as a result of this radical change of allegiance?

Undoubtedly.

But those changes lie significantly downstream.

The Great Commission means what they told you it means back in Sunday School. It means to go to people all over the world, and also to the people right next door, and to tell them the Good News about Jesus Christ. It is to baptize them, teach them, empower them, equip them and send them – thanks be to God!

Pastor Paul Carter

To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. To access the entire library of available episodes see here. You can also download the Into The Word app on iTunes or on Google Play.

[1] R. T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 419-420.

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, Pillar New Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 746.

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