At first the answer to this question might seem obvious… the Church! In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus tells us that our churches should be about the work of evangelism and discipleship. Thus one might conclude that the fulfillment of the Great Commission lies in our hands. But is this really the case?
In Galatians 2:8 Paul writes, “For God, Who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcision, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles” (emphasis mine).
In this passage, Paul is trying to help the Galatians see how God was at work through both he and Peter in their respective ministries. Peter was primarily to help the Jewish people (“to the circumcision“) understand the implications of seeing Jesus as the promised Messiah, while Paul’s commission was to take the good news of Jesus to the non-Jewish people (“to the Gentiles“).
In fact, you can see this play out in the Book of Acts. Chapters 1-12 deal primarily with Peter’s work among the Jews. In chapters 13-28, however, we see a shift in the story’s focus as Luke begins to introduce Paul’s missionary endeavors to the Gentiles… Now, back to Galatians 2:8…
A more literal translation of this passage could actually read, “…God was at work by means of Peter and by means of me…” Why? Because Paul uses something in Greek called the dative of means… I think I just heard the sound of someone starting to snore! Stay with me… I promise this is going somewhere. Writers in the first century would use this form to communicate the way in which something was/is accomplished. For example, Frank hit the nail with a hammer could also read Frank hit the nail by means of a hammer. They both communicate the same idea; the hammer is the means by which the agent (Frank) completes his task.
So what we see here is that Peter was God’s means for reaching the Jewish people with the Gospel and Paul was His means for reaching the Gentiles with the Gospel. They were both instruments in the hands of God!
Why is this important? Because understanding how the Church relates to the Great Commission is critical. Though we play an important role, we are not the ultimate agent of the Great Commission’s fulfillment. Rather, we are instruments in the hands of the One who is. Paul alludes to this same idea in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7…
“I [Paul] planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”
Our confidence in the fulfillment of the Great Commission does not have its roots in “best practices” or “proven methodologies” (though we are wise to prayerfully develop a biblical strategy), but in the sovereignty of the God. In verse 18 and verse 20 Jesus encapsulates the Great Commission with assurance of His unchallenged and unequaled authority…
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Who fulfills the Great Commission? King Jesus. Whom does He use? His Church. Let us approach our task then, not with an heir of panic, but with a steady confidence, knowing that our King will complete what He has set out to do.