The Great Commission and the Church Age
Question: Many Christians regard the Great Commission as providing their marching orders. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus said, "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. . . ." However, some Christians who want to be dispensationally correct point out that the Great Commission was not given to the Church. Is the Great Commission for the church?
Answer: We certainly want to be dispensationally correct. We don’t want to Judaize the New Testament and blur, or even remove, the important distinctions between Israel and the church.
It is also true that the church did not begin until later. Some dispensationalists say that the Church Age began at Pentecost. Others who are called "post-Acts 28 dispensaltionalists" believe that the Church Age did not begin until the ministry of Paul. However, I do believe that the Great Commission is for the Church Age.
Though the Church Age had not yet begun, God’s focus was now moving beyond Israel to include the gentiles. The Great Commission mandates the disciples go and teach all nations, whereas a few years earlier Jesus said, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:5-6).
Question: So the change of our Lord’s focus actually pre-dates the Book of Acts?
Answer: I believe it does. There are many examples from the ministry of Jesus underscoring His ministry to gentiles. We can cite His ministry to the Syrophoenician woman in Matthew 15.
Question: If our Lord’s change of focus pre-dates Acts, what is the significance of the events of the Book of Acts?
Answer: In Acts we have record of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. The abiding presence of the Holy Spirit to equip and energize the disciples made possible what Jesus had already taught during His ministry on earth. In the Gospels the Lord Jesus said, "This is what I want you to do." In Acts, the Lord Jesus said, "Here’s the power to do what I have already commanded you to do."
Question: If the Great Commission is for the Church Age, then water baptism must also be for the Church Age.
Answer: I believe it is. The Apostle Paul, “the Apostle of the Mystery,” never indicated that baptism was not for the Church Age. In fact, Paul baptized a few individuals. Though preaching was his emphasis, he wrote, "I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius . . . And I baptized also the household of Stephanas" (1 Corinthians 1:14-17).