This is the fourth part in a series about the Great Commission. Read last week's blog about multiplying disciples.
“‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations … .’” -Matthew 28:19, emphasis added
For hundreds of years, if not more, Christians have debated whether Jesus called His disciples and those who would come after them to take the gospel to the far reaches of the Earth.
Some have argued that enough gospel work exists where Christians live to worry about evangelizing people in other nations.
That was the mindset of many believers in England in the 1700s, when virtually no missionaries were deploying to proclaim the gospel around the world. This troubled a young English pastor, who had studied Matthew 28 and read the works of former missionaries.
Convinced that the Great Commission called Christians of every generation to go to the nations, the pastor advocated for the Church’s involvement in overseas missions. In response, one minister said to the pastor, “Sit down, young man! Sit down and be still. When God wants to convert the heathen, He will do it without consulting either you or me.”
Unswayed, that pastor, named William Carey, began a missions organization and eventually moved his family to India to spread the gospel.
But nearly three centuries after Carey’s stand, many Christians are still uncertain what Jesus meant when He said “go” to “all nations.” Does obeying the Great Commission require going to different parts of the world, or is it enough to make disciples at home?
People from Every Nation
To understand what Jesus meant by saying “go,” it helps to first understand what He meant by saying “nations.” Nations are often thought of as countries, places with boundaries and governments.
But in Matthew 28, “nations” comes from the Greek word ethne, meaning people or ethnic groups. Within a single country, there could be hundreds or even thousands of people groups. The United Nations recognizes 195 independent countries in the world today, yet more than 17,000 people groups reside within those countries.
Jesus does not simply want disciples from 195 different countries. He wants people “from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Revelation 7:9)” to worship Him. Jesus is looking for followers from every ethnicity and people group.
Of the 17,000 people groups that exist today, more than 7,000 are considered unreached with the gospel, according to the Joshua Project. To put it another way, more than 3.2 billion people have never heard the name of Jesus. That is more than 40% of the global population.
Because Jesus wants disciples from all people groups, “all nations,” the gospel must go to the 17,000-plus ethnic groups around the world, especially those who have never heard the good news.
Going to Every Nation
“And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” -Romans 10:15
In order for more than 7,000 unreached people groups to hear the gospel, believers must go preach where the unreached live. The vast majority of unreached peoples are located in Northern Africa, the Middle East, and South/Southeast Asia, also known as the 10/40 Window.
There are several reasons why people living in these areas are largely unreached and require believers to physically go to them. For one, some people groups live in hard-to-reach places, such as mountainous terrains or rural communities. They are miles from the nearest city, often have no internet connection, and, therefore, no means to communicate with people outside of their area. The only chance they would have of hearing the good news is by someone travelling the distance to take it to them.
But even in more populous, urban areas where people have cellphones and computers, unreached nations are often hostile toward Christians. Laws may forbid Bibles or churches, leaving little to no opportunity to learn about Jesus. In these places, Christians must faithfully and carefully proclaim the gospel to others.
Reaching the unreached demands going to them.
Now, although most unreached peoples live in the 10/40 Window, others are spread throughout the globe. In the melting pot of North America are hundreds of people groups, many of whom are from unreached places. Believers can and should find unreached peoples without leaving their city. Doing so does contribute to Great Commission work. At the same time, it does not negate the necessity of going to the nations and proclaiming the gospel to all peoples.
Your Role in Reaching Every Nation
Because of Carey’s heart for the nations, he and his team translated the Bible in more than 40 languages and planted dozens of churches in India. Carey chose the missionary route.
But as discussed before, not all believers are called to be overseas missionaries. Workers for the Great Commission need faithful supporters who are willing to give to and pray for the mission.
Knowing that Jesus wants disciples from all people groups and doing so requires taking the gospel to those people, believers should ask themselves how God is calling them to “go.” Are you called to travel to the unreached? Are you called to faithfully steward your finances to support gospel work among the unreached? Are you called to pray for those who have never heard the name of Jesus and the missionaries working to reach them?
However God calls you to participate in the Great Commission, all believers must take seriously the command to “go and make disciples of all nations … (Matthew 28:19).”
“Disciple making is not a call for others to come to us to hear the gospel but a command for us to go to others to share the gospel.” -David Platt