Five Distinct Commissions
V. Counter, Kingsteignton, S. Devon
The Commissioner is Christ Himself, so that in Matthew 10. 5; Mark 6. 7 and Luke 9. 2, He is seen sending forth His twelve appointed disciples, whom He called apostles. Their commission was limited by Him to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. They were prohibited from going to the Gentiles, or to the cities of the Samaritans. The message they carried was, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand", which had first been announced by John the Baptist and
then by the King Himself. In the same way that the King had demonstrated His power, so He gave them authority to perform mighty works in His name, all of which served to foreshadow the time when the King would be established in His kingdom; though He was at that time rejected.
(1) Luke alone of the evangelists speaks of the commissioning of seventy other disciples, whom He sent two by two "into every city and place, whither he himself would come", Luke 10.1. These were empowered almost identically to the twelve, and they also declared the same message.
(2) After the return of the seventy there was a break in the King's programme, for He was rejected by His people and crucified by wicked hands. Nevertheless, it is wonderful that, in the hour of His being apprehended, He said of the apostles, "let these go their way", John 18.8. He alone knew that another commission awaited them, and that, after witnessing a good confession before Pilate, He, the King, would rise again to charge them with it.
(3) In the Gospel which concludes with the King still in His earthly realm, He commissioned the eleven apostles again, in words which have been taken by so many since as their "marching orders": "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen", Matt. 28.18-20. The geographical limits placed upon the scope of the earlier commission were now removed, for consequent upon the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the message was to be proclaimed universally. But, coupled with the gospel of the kingdom was the offer of personal salvation, provided through His death and resurrection. The eleven were told that, "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved 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 among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem", Luke 24. 46-47. The first seven chapters of The Acts of the Apostles show how the twelve, Matthias now making up their number, preached "a Prince and a Saviour", and with the Holy Spirit now come charged the nation with the denial of the Holy One and the Just, and the killing of the Prince of Life. Finally, Stephen laid the charge against the nation of having killed those who had been sent by God in Old Testament times, and at last of betraying and murdering the Just One Himself. At this stage the preaching that a kingdom would be set up on earth became irrelevant for the time, although all New Testament writers affirm that there will be such a kingdom. May it have been that the reluctance of the twelve to leave Jerusalem formed part of the divine purpose; namely that they should remain there until the nation of Israel had finally made up its mind? There would have been but little point in carrying the message of the manifestation of the kingdom to "all the world" before the metropolis had been gained.
(4) "The witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul", Acts 7. 58, introduces the one by whom a fresh commission was principally to be obeyed. The death of Stephen and the conversion of Saul marked a turning point in God's ways. When Paul said, "I persecuted the church", 1 Cor. 15. 9, he indicated that the truth of the church was known and taught by the twelve before the peculiar aspect of the church as the body of Christ was revealed to Paul. Besides this, there were other revelations given in abundance to him personally, and for which he received the thorn in the flesh. However, with the body of Christ in view, the ascended Lord gave gifts to (in) men. These gifts are enumerated in Ephesians 4.11 as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. All were given from on high with a view to establishing the saints for the work of the ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ. No doubt the twelve are included in these apostles, although they sought more to establish the members of the body who had formerly been of the circumcision.
With Israel's total rejection of the gospel which offered the Gentiles equal blessings and privileges as themselves, the preaching took a fresh turn, its object being to lead men to the Saviour and link them with a new society wherein there is neither Jew nor Gentile, and where all distinctions of that kind are unknown. A new hope is presented in the soon-coming Saviour, Phil. 3.20; 1 Thess. 4.16, whilst the manifested kingdom of heaven, as preached until Stephen's death, is postponed until the coming day.
Our responsibility today is to follow the apostles in what we declare, although the truth of Christ's coming earthly kingdom should be made known as a warning to sinners, and for the instruction of saints. Today's commission is seen at the close of Luke's gospel, while Romans 1-8 gives the charter of our proclamation.
(5) The 144,000 may well have in view those who in a future day will take up the commission to preach the gospel of the kingdom after the rapture of the church, Rev. 7. 4-8.