The Great Commission and Acts 1:8 constitute a portion of what Jesus shared with His followers just before His ascension. Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8 provide the marching orders for Christians. So much more than just calling us to evangelism, Jesus’ last words called believers to a world-wide mission of disciplemaking. I think it good to consider these passages together.
Matthew 28:18-20 states: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Acts 1:8 reads: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Over the last few months, I have been immersed in studies on the “Parable of the Good Samaritan,” the history of the Samaritan people, and the Jewish/Samaritan relationship. The interest in Samaritans came due to my participation in the Tel Hadid excavation. I believe that the peoples sent to Tel Hadid by the Assyrians may have been some of the people who would later become the Samaritans (we’ll see as the dig unfolds).
After all this reading on the Samaritans, I came back to Acts 1:8. Traditionally, people preach the section on Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth utilizing some version of the following:
- Jerusalem = your city
- Judea = your state
- Samaria = your region or the regions in proximity
- The Ends of the Earth = everywhere else
Could the phase offer more than a starting point for the proclamation of the Gospel? I think so. Is it possible that Jesus meant something like this:
- Jerusalem = my family/my people
- Judea = my neighbors
- Samaria = my enemies (and we know how Jesus expects us to treat our enemies)
- The Ends of the Earth = everyone else
When we understand the first-century Jewish/Samaritan relationship, we see just how shocking the mention of Samaria would have been to Jesus’ followers. I believe this is intentional. The Samaritans were the enemies of the Jews and Jesus is continuing to emphasize that His Gospel is for all people. In this rethinking of Jesus’ phrase, people are the point, not the geographic locations. People are always the point for Jesus … He wants people to experience forgiveness and eternal life. And many of those people Jesus cares about are people we identify as our enemies. Jesus wants those “enemies” as His disciples. And the discipleship process noted in Matt. 28 is never quick or easy. Ingesting these two passages together presents a startling picture of discipleship. We simply aren’t up to that task alone …. thankfully Jesus can change our hearts and make brothers and sisters out of our enemies.