Understanding the Commissions: Part 3

Now we begin the third installment in this series on the commissions.  In the last two installments, we mainly studied the commission in the end of Matthew’s Gospel account.  This installment will mainly focus on the commission given at the end of Mark’s Gospel account:

Afterward He appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen Him after He was risen. And He said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In My Name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mark 16:14-18)

A few questions could come up at this point.  As this was given when the eleven sat eating, could this be spoken at the same time as the commission given in Matthew?  There is no mention here of the mountain in Galilee where they met with the Lord.  The way that Mark’s Gospel moves, it is possible that the command to preach the gospel was given at a different time than the upbraiding with unbelief, but that would seem too far fetched.  If read like any other account is read, this command was given while they were eating.  To me, this would seem to be given at a different time than the commission from the Galilean mount.

With that said, let us look at the details of the command:

  • The eleven (Go ye) were commanded to go into all the world (κόσμοςkosmos”-world arrangement, world structure, or the world as all peoples of the world.  It seems as any of these or a combination of these would fit the understanding here)
  • They are to preach the gospel in all the world-to every creature
  • The one who believes and is baptized is saved
  • The one who does not believe is damned
  • certain signs will follow the ones believing:  casting out devils, speaking with new tongues, taking up serpents, immunity to any poison, healing the sick

This command must be understood in its entirety if it is to be understood at all.  In some cases, those who do desire to take this passage in its entirety come to one or more of these conclusions:

  1. Baptism is necessary for salvation
  2. Sign gifts will follow believers
  3. That Mark 16 verses 9 through the end are not found in the “most ancient manuscripts”, therefore we do not have to deal with them, so we will find the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28.

Conclusion 3 listed above is the usual conservative evangelical and fundamentalist answer to any group insisting on baptismal salvation and/or the exercise of “Pentecostal” sign gifts. Since there is “no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9), I would not be surprised if this is what the scribes responsible for the omission in the Siniatic and Vatican texts were also trying to accomplish.

What is done more often though, is to take verse 15, to go into all the world, and to preach the gospel to every creature, and to go no further.  This though, is not handling the Word of God honestly.  We must take the entire passage into account if we want to really listen to the Word of God.

The first issue that should be addressed is the issue of “preach the gospel”.  What is the gospel that is commanded to preach here?  Now some, probably many, will say that there is only one gospel. That makes it quite simple, but is it really the case that there is only one message of good news in the entirety of Scripture?  If so, what is the authority to say this is the case?  I have quoted others on this subject in some previous posts:

The Founder of Dallas Theological Seminary on “Gospel”

The President of Moody Bible Institute Speaks on the Gospel of the Kingdom

{To be honest in this matter, it is very unlikely that Dr. Chafer of DTS, or Dr. Nyquist the current president of MBI who are quoted in the above articles would consider the gospel spoken of in Mark 16:15 to be different than the gospel of grace.  They do, however, admit freely that there is a difference between the gospel of the kingdom and the gospel of grace that we preach today.  I am contending here that the gospel that the Lord sent the apostles to preach is the very same gospel that they had been preaching before His death.  Both of these apt teachers of the word probably see this otherwise, but Christians can disagree and still respect others as teachers and learn from each other.}

Others have said the same or similar statements, making distinctions between two or more gospel messages.  The plain fact of the matter is if I or someone else were to tell you that I have good news for you, your first response would likely be something on the order of “good news about what?”, or “what is the good news?”  It should not be difficult to see that in Scripture, we can understand that the gospel (good news) that is being spoken of can be defined by its context.  Let us look at the gospel in this passage to determine what is that good message that is to be preached.

An obvious glad message in this context is that the Lord Jesus is alive, though He was crucified.  The disciples were upbraided with their unbelief, so now they are being given a glad message for the world to believe.  They had been given a message before the Lord was crucified three chapters earlier:

And the gospel must first be published among all nations. (Mark 13:10)

Now a particular gospel message is not given here in Mark, but the context is clearly “things to come”, and the 70th week of Daniel’s prophecy is clearly in view.  What is more, this is a “parallel passage” to Matthew chapter 24, where we read:

And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Matthew 24:14)

This is good news about a King and His coming Kingdom!  And what is more here, the King who was crucified is now risen!  The gospel of the Kingdom is good news that can be believed because the King cannot be defeated even by death!  In fact this gospel of the Kingdom is addressed in the very beginning of Mark’s gospel record:

Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel. (Mark 1:14-15)

In a previous post, I again quoted Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer on this issue of repentance in the light of the anticipation of the prophesied Kingdom:

A Requirement of the Offered Kingdom

Another thought regarding the content of this good news is to look at the content of the message that the 12 Apostles proclaimed after this commission was given.  The early chapters of the book of Acts give us the details:

Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a Man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that He should be holden of it. … Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, He would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that His soul was not left in hell, neither His flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand, Until I make Thy foes Thy footstool.
         Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, Whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
         Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
         Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
          And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. (Acts 2:22-24, 29-40)

It should be recognized in this passage that the very good news that we rejoice in as believers is not mentioned here at all.  Sure, one may say that the death, burial, and resurrection are all spoken of here, and that is absolutely true.  The subject of His death is not here as good news though.  His death is spoken of that this Jesus, whom they crucified, is the One that God has made both Lord and Messiah!  He is pointing the finger at them declaring them guilty of the murder of God’s Annointed.  What is more, this murder victim is alive!  I cannot think of any case where the murderer would think it was good news for the murder victim to come back to life.  The good news (gospel) here, is that the offer of repentance and remission of sins that was to be first preached in His Name beginning at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47) would cover even this horrific deed.

That they must believe and be baptized here is consistent both in Mark and in Acts.  As the people declared that “His blood be on us, and on our children”(Matthew 27:25), so they now must be “baptized every one of [them] in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).  This would be identification with His Name as the Messiah as they also identified themselves as guilty of murdering Him.  Peter, by the Holy Spirit confirms this guilt.  The one who believes and is baptized will be saved.  The one not believing, whether baptized or not, will be damned.  The question is, could one refuse baptism and be saved?

And all the people that heard [John the Baptist], and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him. (Luke 7:29-30)

The one who answered in faith to this call would not reject the counsel of God against himself.  He would be baptized with the baptism of repentance.  Period.

Now this commission, as seen from the passage we are studying, along with the account of Peter’s address to the “men of Israel”, on the Jewish holy day of Pentecost (Shavuot, “Weeks” Leviticus 23:15-21), shows that the 11, soon to be 12 again with the appointment of Matthias in Acts chapter 1 were sent to baptize.  It is absolutely a part of this commission.  The answer of faith to God’s command is to do as He says.

The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: (1 Peter 3:21)

Peter was God’s spokesman.  He was speaking by the Holy Spirit. He was the one to whom the Lord said:

And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:19)

Now, let us take a little excursion and ask a question: Were the Twelve and the Apostle Paul laboring under the same commission? Notice that Paul says to the Corinthians:

For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. (1 Corinthians 1:17)

Baptism was bound to the gospel preached by the Twelve.  They were Apostles sent to baptize.  John the Baptist preached baptism.  He preached the “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4).  This is very consistent with Peter’s message at Pentecost.  But Paul was not sent to baptize. He was sent to preach the gospel.  Again, could the same commission be both to baptize and not to baptize?  Yes, Paul baptized some, but he was not sent to do so.  He was sent to evangelize. He was sent to preach the gospel. What is more:

But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12)

Paul, the Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God to the Gentiles did not receive his gospel message or commission from anyone but from the Lord Jesus Himself.  This includes the Twelve.

Paul follows up that which he said about Christ not sending him to baptize but to preach the gospel with this:

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. … But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23-24)

This is the good news about the cross.  Paul does not preach the cross as a crime to be repented of, but as a glad message, a gospel to be believed.  It is the gospel by which we are saved!

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. (Galatians 6:14)

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached [evangelized] unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached [evangelized] unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures: (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

The cross, where mankind declared their enmity against God and His Christ, is the very place of propitiation, where God is satisfied (Romans 3:25).  It is where we are reconciled to God (Colossians 1:20-22).

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:7-8)

Yes, Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles who the Lord Jesus Himself called “a chosen vessel unto Me” (Acts 9:15), had a distinct commission separate from this commission to the Twelve.  They had their job to do, and he had his. They preached the gospel that they were given to preach, but the nation that was to first receive it (Luke 24:47) rejected the King, His Kingdom, and the messengers that He sent after Him to preach the good news of the Kingdom.  Only the MARVELOUS GRACE of our gracious God could intervene against His righteous judgment upon all nations, including His chosen Nation.  It did, and is still intervening after nearly 2000 years.  But “behold NOW is the accepted time; behold, NOW is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).  The day of wrath will come, and the Kingdom will be established in spite of man’s opposition.

In the next study, we will explore the second part of this commission and the signs that will follow.  Until then, “receive not the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1).  Christ Jesus died for your sins. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and THOU SHALT BE SAVED.

2 thoughts on “Understanding the Commissions: Part 3

  1. Mom

    Good article. It is good to note that though the 12 HAD preached a different commission than Paul they soon learned the Gospel of the Grace of God as evidenced in both Peter’s and John’s epistles. In those epistles neither Apostle said, “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins”. And even that verse of I Peter 3:21 states that, “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us…by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” does not express water baptism. What thinkest thou?

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    1. To me it seems that the meeting recorded in Galatians where Paul and Barnabas received the right hands of fellowship that they would go to the Gentiles, and that the apostles at Jerusalem would go to the Circumcision was a turning point. They perceived of the grace given to Paul, and that includes the gospel that he received. I am not certain as to whether Peter wrote 1 Peter before or after the offer of the Kingdom was withdrawn. It seems quite certain that 2 Peter was written afterward.
      If the baptism in 1 Peter 3:21 is water baptism, it is explaining how submitting to what God has said, as He was saying though John the Baptist and all others who preached to repent and be baptized, is not a need to clean the flesh with water but to answer in a good conscience to God. If he is speaking of actual baptism into Christ, then he is definitely speaking truth that was likely revealed to him when times began changing.

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