The Great Commission

“Ye shall be witnesses unto me … unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
—Acts 1:8

THE WORDS OF OUR TEXT were spoken by Jesus to his disciples shortly before he left them to return to his Father in heaven. It was forty days after his resurrection, and ten days before Pentecost.

When the disciples “were come together” they asked Jesus, “Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) The longings of the disciples that their nation be restored to its independence, and that the Messianic kingdom begin to function, is understandable. They were disappointed when their Master was crucified, but now they knew by “many infallible proofs” (vs. 3) that he had been raised from the dead, so they hoped that the time had come for their kingdom desires to be realized.

They doubtless recalled Jesus’ parable of a “certain nobleman” who went into a “far country” to receive a kingdom and then to return. (Luke 19:11,12) Jesus had been away. At least they had seen very little of him since his crucifixion. Perhaps many days had elapsed from the time of his last appearance until he met with them on Mount Olivet for this final short interview. Perhaps they may have thought he had already been to that ‘far country’ and now had returned and would establish his kingdom.

Whatever their reasoning, they soon learned that the time had not come for the kingdom to be set up, and for Israel to be freed from the Roman yoke. “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power,” Jesus said to them. (Acts 1:7) This has been a lesson which all the Lord’s people have had to learn. There are times and seasons in the Divine plan— very definite ones—but in most instances their significance has not been understood prior to the time of their application.

The time features of the Divine plan relating to this end of the age were not understood in advance, or until the period to which they applied had been reached. Now, many of those important milestones are in the past, and many of the Lord’s people, like the disciples of old, feel like asking, ‘Wilt thou at this time’ establish the kingdom? Again the Lord’s answer comes, ‘It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.’

This is a difficult lesson to learn. Over and over again time ‘stakes’ have been placed, only to see them recede into the distant past with nothing apparently significant occurring in connection with them. Yet, new dates are set which may also prove to be meaningless. There is great sincerity associated with this endeavor. But is it not still true that the times and the seasons are in the Father’s hands? The hope is that the dates, if not too far in the future, will stimulate zeal and courage to press on in the narrow way. Discouragement may result when the dates prove to be wrong. It is much better to keep ourselves reminded that our consecration is unto death, and to gird on the armor of Truth with the determination that we will keep fighting the good fight of faith until we have finished our course in death.

Jesus had more than a negative reply for the disciples when they asked him about the time. He not only told them that it was not for them to know the times or the seasons, but also that there was work for them to do. They were to tarry briefly at Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them, and then they were to be his witnesses, beginning at Jerusalem, and carry the message unto the uttermost parts of the earth.

The circumstances are somewhat different today, but in principle the situation is very much the same. The last genuine time measurement thus far revealed in the Divine plan was the ending of the Gentile times in 1914. World developments since then have turned what was a disappointment to many at that time into a glorious assurance. Like the ‘infallible proofs’ given to the disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead, we now stand in awe at the indisputable evidences that the “times of the Gentiles” did end in 1914, and that consequently the kingdoms of this world are being broken to pieces like a “potter’s vessel.”—Luke 21:24; Ps. 2:9

But the last members of the ‘feet’ class are still this side of the veil. Doubtless the Lord is sympathetic with our efforts to find out how much longer it will be ere the kingdom is established. However, we are left here because there is still a work to be done. The Lord’s consecrated people are still witnesses for Jesus and for the Word of God. Through our witnessing, the Lord continues to carry on the harvest work which marks the “end of the world [age].”—Matt. 13:39

If the Lord should speak directly to us today as he did to the disciples on Olivet, his admonition would be very similar. He would remind us that the important thing is not to discover when the last members of the church will pass beyond the veil and the kingdom be established, but to be faithful as his witnesses, seeing to it that the Truth we proclaim to others, working in conjunction with the experiences of life as they are overruled by Divine providence, is shaping us as New Creatures more and more into the Divine image.


In many places in the world conditions were never more favorable for proclaiming the Truth—not favorable in the sense that large numbers are ready to accept the message, for they are not. But favorable in that there is little outward opposition.

Those sincerely looking for a better understanding of the Bible and of the plan of God are only to be found as one here and one there. We are speaking now of those ready to embrace the Truth fully, and consecrate themselves to the Lord. Millions would like to know the meaning of present world distress. When they hear the Truth they listen briefly, and perhaps say in their hearts, I hope it is true, but are not willing to pay the price of espousing an unpopular cause. However, even these receive a measure of comfort.

But, whether they hear, or whether they forbear to hear, it is our privilege to tell the whole world these blessed tidings. Our world of activity may be a restricted one, or the Lord may grant us wide opportunities of service. In any case, our responsibility is to be faithful. Those first disciples were given an expanded opportunity to witness for Jesus through the gift of tongues. By this means, Jewish representatives of many parts of the then-known world heard the message while they were in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost.

But the disciples did not stop with this. As arrangements could be made, they traveled from place to place themselves, and thus a knowledge of Jesus and the kingdom was spread abroad. Today we also have our individual opportunities of bearing witness to the Truth, by word of mouth and by the printed page; and cooperatively we can project the message by radio, television and the internet throughout the far reaches of many continents.

Truly it is a wonderful time in which to be living! We know that the full fruition of our hopes must be near. The fact that we do not know exactly when gives faith the opportunity to rise above our own uncertainty and lay firm hold upon the promises of God, while we continue to lay down our lives in his service. Those first disciples did not have to wait long for the Holy Spirit to come, but when it did come they “were all with one accord in one place.” (Acts 2:1) We today are not waiting for a new Pentecost, but we are waiting for deliverance, and for the kingdom.

It is as important to us as it was to those in the ‘upper room’ that we all be ‘with one accord in one place.’ We should be in one accord with respect to the great foundation doctrines of the Truth, such as the ransom, and we are. Also, symbolically speaking, we should be in one place, the place of full devotion to the Lord, to the Truth, and to one another, standing together for the defense and proclamation of the Gospel of the kingdom. By this spirit of true Christian oneness, we can all be in one place, whether we live in America, Europe, Africa, Asia, or Australia.

On all of these continents, consecrated hearts and voices are being lifted up in praise to God for his goodness in blessing them with “ears” that could hear, and hearts that could appreciate the “joyful sound” of present Truth.—Matt. 13:16; Ps. 89:15

The general public today has been made conscious of the fact that the world in which they live is much larger than their own little local community. The Lord’s people have become aware of this also, and particularly through the promises of God that, if they are faithful unto death, he will use them as channels of blessing for all the families of the earth. So it is natural, and a source of rich blessing, to realize that our fellowship in the Truth is worldwide.

When we allow the realization of this fact to possess us, and consider the difficulties with which some of our brethren are confronted, our own trivial cares and problems do not seem nearly so important. When we consider that God is giving strength to his people in every land, regardless of how severe their trials may be, it gives us courage to press on faithfully in the use of the opportunities which are ours for continuing to lay down our lives as ambassadors of Christ.

Jesus said, ‘Ye are my witnesses.’ This is still true.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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