The Great Missionary Hope

Matthew 28:19-20 (translation by Mat Adams) Go, therefore, disciple all the nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; 20 teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you all the days unto the end of the age”


Before we get to our text this morning. I want to back up and provide some historical context for a shift we have seen in the mission of the church over the past 100 years. Today, the missions industry is driven by a short-term mindset with a goal of rapid multiplication; not the long-term, slow-growing, from-the-ground-up, training-in-theology, and building-institutions-that-last mindset that characterized our theological forefathers.

For example: Missionaries like John Eliot, David Brainerd, William Carey, Adaniram Judson, and David Livingstone; Theologians like Charles Spurgeon, B.B. Warfield, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Augustine; RC Sproul. Recognize those names? These are the heavy hitters and these are just a few among thousands.

In fact, it seems like missionaries and theologians who made the greatest impact in human history not only held optimistic beliefs about God working presently on earth to disciple the nations, but were driven by them, were motivated by them.

Renowned theologians and missionary pioneers from the past two thousand years have believed that Christ is holistically (both spiritually and tangibly) expanding his kingdom reign on earth now through his church. Pre-twentieth-century missions dramatized this optimistic outlook on the world stage. They performed their beliefs for all to see.

Let me give you two examples of my favorite missionaries…

John Eliot

John Eliot (1604–1690) arrived on the scene on the coattails of the greatest revival of Christian doctrine the world has ever seen—the reformation of the 1500s. This Puritan pastor believed, “the Lord’s time is come to advance and spread His Blessed Kingdom, which shall (in his season) fill all the Earth.” [1] So, this pastor and missionary labored his whole life for the salvation of Massachusetts and the Algonquian Indians living around his settlement.

In 1660, he earned the title Apostle of the American Indian. Eliot himself traveled on foot and on horseback, taxing his strength to the utmost, sometimes drenched by rain, facing much sickness, all to bring the gospel to the Indians.

Because the gospel was so successful among the Algonquian, these spirit-filled natives were no longer welcome inside their corrupt and pagan society. They asked Eliot to help them establish new communities entirely founded on Scripture—the culture, arts, music, ways of living, schools, medical facilities, and even their government was founded on the Law of God. Together, they built up entire towns of Christian Indians who prayed together, worshiped together, and centered their entire lives around the glorious kingdom of God. After years of toil, teaching, and evangelism he had trained several Algonquian Indians to aid the work. And by 1675, there were fourteen towns made up of believers, called “praying towns”! (May our towns become praying towns!) These towns were dedicated to “Christian fellowship, learning to read and study the Scriptures, the training of pastors and evangelists, and general human flourishing.”

It’s vital to realize that these towns must not be compared to the Indian Schools that would come about later intended to remove the “indian” from the Indians, and convert them to civilized white folk. John Eliot fought against that notion his whole life.

Among the “praying towns,” he also worked for the general welfare of the Indians. “He brought cases to court to fight for Indian property rights, pleaded for clemency for convicted Indian prisoners, fought the selling of Indians into slavery, fought to secure lands and streams for Indian use, established schools for Indian children and adults, translated the Bible (1663) and twenty other books into Indian languages.” [2]

Sadly, in 1675, King Philip raged a devastating war against the Indians which began an irreversible fate for the villages. Still, Eliot visited and discipled those remaining converts until his death. [3] He wrote, “The design of Christ in these last days is not to [destroy] nations but to gospelize them.” [4] Eliot believed the gospel would engulf the nations because “the kingdoms of the world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ.” [5]

John Eliot’s accomplishments are truly astounding. His work should be celebrated and attempted.

William Carey

William Carey (1761–1834) became a missionary with the explicit intention to disciple the nation of India. He was directly influenced by John Eliot, Jonathan Edwards, and David Brainerd, and became known as the father of the modern Evangelical missions. [6] So much could be said of this man we could take an entire semester to study his life. Of course, we haven’t the time.

Let me give you a brief resume…

  • Cary learned Sanskrit and translated the Bible into Bengali, spoken by millions of Indians, and the official language of India today.
  • Supervised the translation of the Bible into thirty-three other Asian languages
  • Wrote dictionaries and grammars in four Indian languages
  • Started the Horticultural Society of India, and wrote numerous scientific papers in Bengali, the native language
  • Founded nineteen mission stations
  • Established more than one hundred schools (which included education for girls as well as boys—strongly opposed by the Hindu upper classes)
  • Started two colleges
  • He started the first newspaper in India which became the prototype for news distribution to the whole country.
  • And famously, he fought hard against Satti, the sacrificial burning of widows on their husband’s funeral ashes, his work eventually won the day and Satti was abolished in the 1840s.
  • He also started countless churches and Sunday Schools for children.

Of course, Carey’s road wasn’t easy and most of us do not have the courage to follow in his footsteps. Like most missionaries prior to the 20th century, his journey was marked by unspeakable hardship. He lived through the death of 3 of his children, his first wife never recovered the loss of her babies and ultimately took her life. Carey would remarry only to lose his next wife after 13 years. His third wife remained with him until his death in 1834.

As a result of his commitment to meeting both spiritual and societal needs he became possibly the most influential person in India’s history. [7]

State of Missions Today

Today, nearly all missionary camps adopt Carey, Eliot, Edwards, and their colleagues as their founding fathers. Their grand exploits—including printing, language development, Bible translation, teaching, preaching, and the transformation of whole societies—inspire missionaries to forsake the world and travel to a foreign land.

However, their theologies, particularly their eschatology, their belief that the nations can and will be discipled rarely inspire missiological hope and praxis. [8] In other words, optimistic hope that nations can be discipled is not the driving force of missions today.

I believe seeing what the Puritans saw in the text of the Great Commission just might bring the course-correction the Church needs today.

So, let us turn now to our text and see what exactly fueled those world-changing missionaries.

The Text

Our full text this morning is Matthew 28:18-20. This passage is widely known as the Great Commission. But I want to draw our attention to two verses that I believe hold a major key to understanding Eliot and Carey’s optimism.

18Jesus said to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go, therefore, disciple all the nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; 20teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you all the days unto the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, literal translation mine)

1) All Authority

I’ll begin with verse 18. After Jesus tells his disciples to meet him on a mountain in Galilee, he declares, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

All authority. In heaven and on earth. Why did he say that? Hadn’t they just witnessed him casting out demons and forgiving sins, proving his authority in the spiritual realm? He proved his authority over nature by healing people’s physical bodies, calming storms, and turning water into wine. In fact, these very disciples had even performed similar miracles and exorcisms themselves under his authority. They knew he had this kind of authority before his death and resurrection.

So, Jesus was saying something more here.

Narnia Illustration

I love reading C.S. Lewis. Dave alluded to his series The Chronicle of Narnia a couple weeks ago. In which, Lewis paints a magnificent picture of Satan’s false authority.

Remember the White Witch. She appears as the Queen of Narnia. Slowly we learn, she’s not the real queen of Narnia. The real King has been gone for a long time. And the White Witch has placed the whole land under a deep winter. Peter and his siblings discover her treachery and make it their mission to take back Narnia. But the Narnians are deceived and need to be woken up. As the Narnians awake from their enchantment, they begin to believe that Aslan is the real king, most without ever seeing him. As Narnians awaken to the reality of Aslan, they are enlivened and begin to take back Narnia for their King. The snow literally melts away as the nation is renewed.

This is no fantasy, Lewis was simply re-telling the story of the world.

Jesus Overcomes Demonic Strongholds

During the Old Covenant era, demons and principalities ruled the cities and nations. When Jesus comes to earth, he confronts the rulers and principalities (both the spiritual and physical ones). This is why demonic activity is prolific in the NT. Jesus is poking the bear, and during his ministry, the demons are being informed that their reign is over. Jesus is the rightful king and he’s taking back his property.

I love the way Peter Liethart said it. Jesus’ main message was “the kingdom of God is at hand.” God is taking charge of the world, and he’s doing it through Jesus; therefore, everyone, including rulers, had better get ready for a change of regime.” [9]

In Luke 4, when Satan offered all the kingdoms of the earth to Jesus during the temptation in the wilderness, they were in fact Satan’s to give.

Jesus called him the “ruler of this world” in John 14:30.

But through his death and resurrection Jesus overcame sin and death by being sinless and dying. He bound Satan on a chain, so he can no longer blind the nations. As a result, the good news of Christ’s reign and his glorious kingdom is free to go forth to the ends of the earth. God the Father transferred all the authority of earth over to Christ! This is no throw away statement.

Now, in our age, Jesus has all authority on earth. Not Satan, not demons, principalities, or any other powers. Yes, those predators roam around waiting for a weakling to be separated from the herd, but they are living under Christ’s rule and reign now. Not later.

Paul makes this explicit in Ephesians 1:19-23.

and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power [that is, the Father] toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, [this is not saying Jesus is merely head over the church, that he who is the head over all things! Is a gift to the church] 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

And he will continue to reign until all his enemies are under his feet (1 Cor 15:25).

Also, in Colossians 2:15, Paul declares that “[Jesus] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them.” This is not figurative language, this is what Christ actually accomplished at the cross. He disarmed and triumphed over the rulers and authorities of the earth and shamed them.

So the only authority that Satan has is a pseudo authority like the White Witch. Because of the fall, we are all born into his dark enchantment and need to be awakened to see the King.

Satan is not ruling an earthly kingdom anymore, people merely give him their allegiance. Believers are not plucked from the kingdom of Satan. Rather Scripture tells us believers are rescued from the authority of darkness (Colossians 1:13, emphasis mine). Satan does indeed attempt to entrap the nations in darkness (1 John 5:19).

Christianity is an offensive movement. We advance the kingdom together, slowly by slowly, simply by bringing light into the darkness.

I imagine a person with a flashlight walking a nighttime wooded trail. The light passes through, but the dark remains. That’s not how missions is supposed to be. It should be that pioneers drive their covered wagon into dark territory, plot out the land, start a bonfire, and wait for the rest of settlers until the whole village arrives and build an entire city of light until the whole land is lit up!

Just as Aslan rules Narnia, so Christ rules earth. Just like the Narnians, Christians have lost the desire to fight for their land and King and have sequestered themselves from the world.

According to our text, Christ has ALL AUTHORITY ON EARTH! And not just our hearts. He is the King of the real world. Christ was exalted and is seated at the right hand of God the Father where he sits ruling over the nations until all of them are reconciled unto him (1 Cor. 15:25, Ps. 2). His authority extends not just over the Church or good Christians, but over all things—including the rebellious nations of the world.

He is the king of the Muslims! Christ the king of Iran! He is reigning over India right now! Over Ethiopia. And he is judge and king over America!

If we think and act like Satan reigns and rules the nations we will hide in fear. Fear makes people passive. And it’s a proven fact of history that Christians have given up the schools, science, food industry, medical industry, higher learning, and of course, the government. Worldwide corruption, blatant idolatry, legal debauchery, and rampant poverty are the result. The brokenness is so great that we don’t even know where to begin anymore. So, most of us never even try. Today, we are not even aware that we should try.

But we must. No matter how daunting the task seems. We look to our glorious King and take orders from him.

So what were his orders?

2) Disciple the Nations

They are found in the next verse, 19.

“Go therefore and teach (or disciple) all the nations.”

In order to understand what Jesus is saying in our passage, I need to take you to seminary for a moment. Please bear with me. My prayer is that before your eyes glaze over or close entirely, and you fall asleep, that this would be a moment for you to see the Word of God up close, in the original language, and it would transform your understanding of the mission of the church.

Look at verse 19. If you have a bible written after 1862, your text looks something like this…

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations

Before 1862 it looked like this…

Go therefore disciple all the nations


The original Greek text is simply this.

πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη

The Words

Let’s tackle each word.

ParticipleParticleMain VerbAdjectiveArticleDirect Objective

1) Go. Poreuthentes is a participle. It can be translated either ‘go’ or ‘going’. But it’s really a mute point when you know the grammar of the rest of the text.

2) Therefore. Oun simply means therefore.

3) Disciple. The Greek word here is a verb mathēteusate from the noun matheteuo, which means, a disciple or student of a teacher. Matheteuo is the word used for Jesus’ disciples. That’s why they call him Rabbi, teacher. But here in the Bible, and only here, Jesus has turned this word into a verb. Meaning, teach an object or turn that object into a disciple. Now, there is another word for teach, so Jesus chose this word intentionally. We are to turn something into his disciples. Hence, the typical rendering ‘make disciples’. But the word simply means to teach or to disciple something.

4) All. Panta means all.

5) The Nations. Ta is the article, ‘the’. Ethne is ‘nations’. There has been a lot of work done on the last word, ethne, the plural form of ethnos. This is where our word ‘ethnic’ comes from. It means nations.

All I want to point out here that ‘nations’ is a pluralled plural. Meaning in its singular form it is a group of people. And pluralized, as in our passage, it refers to many groups of people. Same as the words tribes, clans, or families.

Anyone who wants to dive in further about the word ethnos come talk to me after service or turn to chapter 5 in Let the Nations be Glad by John Piper.

The Grammar

Ok, so those are the literal words of the Greek. Now, the grammar.

Subject is built in: you.

Main Verb is ‘disciple’ (matheteusate).

And its object is ‘all the nations’ (panta ta ethne).

This is a fact. This is not an interpretation. What I’m saying is not controversial. The grammar of the Greek is built into the text by its prefixes and suffixes. So, we know matheteusate is the verb and panta ta ethne is the object based on their endings.

I bet you didn’t expect to have to go to English/Greek Grammar school this morning! Sorry, not sorry. Because I believe it’s important for understanding the text.

So, here’s where we run into the problem.

πορευθέντεςοὖνμαθητεύσατεπάντα τὰ ἔθνη
GoThereforeMakeDisciplesOfAll the Nations
ParticipleParticleMain VerbDirect ObjectGenitive

Every one of our Bible translations since 1862 (except the MSG, 2002 and GNT, 1992) has chosen to use the word “make” as the main verb. So the Greek word matheteusate is rendered as “make disciples.” This is significant because it changes the object of the passage to “disciples”. Rather than its proper object “all the nations”. And then in order for it to make sense, translators added a very tiny word ‘of’. Which turns the phrase “all the nations” into a genitive construction, “of all the nations”. Genitives denote description, relationship, or possession. So the sense we get from this grammar is that we are to make disciples from or in relation to “all the nations.”

This is why when people quote the Great Commission they nearly always say that we are to make disciples in, among, or from all the nations. I still catch myself doing this. I only say that to point out that’s just the way we tend to read this text. And that connotation begins to shape our theology.

Understanding the Text Properly

Now, having said all that, it is possible to understand the English text correctly. As long as your understanding is that Christians are called to make all the nations into Christ’s disciples—to “make disciples of the nations.”

Please don’t hear me wrong. We are absolutely called to evangelize and make disciples in, from, and among all the nations. I’m only saying that Jesus has a bigger end game. And evangelizing and discipling individuals is how we reach that goal and he receives the nations as his inheritance.

My hope is that by looking at the original language this morning, regardless of our eschatology or theology, we will see that “disciple” is the verb and “all the nations” is the object of that verb. This should not be controversial. When people say “disciple the nations,” they are simply quoting the Greek text.

And, according to this specific text, we are called by our King to make the nations his disciples.

Again, we are called by our King to make the nations his disciples.

Anthropomorphic Language

Just about the time we realize the grammar of verse 19 is “disciple the nations”. We come to the next verse and see that Jesus tells us to baptize and teach them as well. How do we do that? Well, we don’t drown them with a flood. No, we simply treat them like the Bible treats them, as a collective, as a body. This is simply the language of the Bible.

In the Old Testament, nations were anthropomorphized frequently. In other words, the nations were spoken of as “human.”

Nations were referred to as men and women, they performed all kinds of actions that humans do. Nations ran, gave birth, sinned, nations worshiped idols, nations rage against God, nations rebelled, and nations repented.

In the Great Commission, Jesus is picking up that Old Testament language. Nations must be baptized into the kingdom and obey their King as a unified body. Therefore someone must go to them and disciple them.

Individual vs Corporate

I’m confident by now you can see there’s a difference between making a disciple and discipling a nation.

One is individualistic and the other is corporate.

One seems fairly easy, the other seems impossible.

Often we try to wiggle our way out of this passage. We tend to make it sound simpler so that it is easier for us to accomplish it. “God only means some people inside of a nation.” So…

“We settle for a few converts in the [Tigray region], when Jesus is commanding us to disciple all of [Ethiopia].” —Wilson

This is nothing new. We see in the Old Testament that God has always had a heart for the nations of earth. Abraham was promised by God that through him all the nations would be blessed, not some people from the nations. Then that corporate covenant was repeated to Isaac and Jacob, and continues today. God’s people were always meant to bless the nations of the earth (Gen 12) not destroy them. Because God desires that all nations worship him alone. In our text, Jesus is taking that job away from the Jews (those who rejected their Messiah) and passing it on to the Church (those who believed in the Messiah).

The Church’s Mission is Holistic

Even in the first century, the disciples knew their mission didn’t stop after evangelism. In Romans, Paul said his goal was to “bring about the obedience of the nations, by word and deed” (Rom 15:18). So, we move from entering the kingdom spiritually into living out the kingdom life tangibly.

James tells us that if we only use our words to share the gospel, our faith is worthless.

James 2:14-26 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;

26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

Miranda and I believe the physical poverty of Ethiopia is directly connected to their theological poverty. People remain in poverty when the Church walks by and shares the gospel, and then goes home and eats dinner. When we don’t disciple them how to live in every sphere of life.

If the church only focuses on the spiritual side of the Great Commission and neglects the physical aspects (mainly because they’re not taught the extent of our task) syncretism sets in. The whole community suffers—street kids sniff gasoline and pick pockets; widows roam the streets with a baby on their backs begging for money; fathers neglect and abuse their families.

When families remain broken, the nation remains broken.

When families remain broken, the nation remains broken.

Poverty is generational, but so is God’s covenant. To a thousand generations.

If we can teach families how to obey all that Christ commanded through godly pastors, we can set the nation on a trajectory of thousand generations of blessing.


Discipling the nations is the Church’s mission. That includes America, but extends to the four corners of earth (Rev 7:1).

This passage is not just about push pins and strings on a missionary map in the hallway of the church. It’s about all of us, each one in this room, working together to change the whole world in the power of the gospel. That’s the charge he left us.

We’re all sent! Some are sent here or there. Some go, some stay. We need both. Senders and goers. Of all kinds of life experiences, abilities, and skill sets. So, support a missionary, or be one.

This week is all about foreign missions and how you can be involved in discipling the nations, so take advantage of the opportunities the missions team is placing in front of you. They don’t do this for themselves, they do this to help us, Grace Church, as a body fulfill the Great Commission.

You are God’s voice, his workers on earth.

Pray to the Lord of the Harvest for what role he wants you to play.


So, what is the great missionary hope?

William Carey believed that Jesus’ command to disciple the nations and teach them to obey all of Christ’s commands “implied that the nations could be discipled.”[10] His confidence was not founded in social action, rather it was in the power of the gospel. One author wrote, “Carey became a reformer because he understood the breadth of the theological concept of the ‘kingdom of God.’ He believed that if we disciple nations, we will increasingly see God’s will being done here on earth.”[11]

The Word of God is powerful to transform lives, families, and societies in America and Ethiopia. Transformed lives are the key to lasting transformation in the world. The Word of God is so powerful, the Holy Spirit is so unstoppable, God so loves the nations that he can, he wants to, and he will transform all the dark kingdoms of earth into kingdoms of light.

And in the church age, the authority of King Jesus has paved the way and given us Holy Spirit strength to carry out our mission. So we pray, “Father, your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” And then, together, we work in faith to that end.

Let’s pray.


[1] Eliot’s letter to Cromwell in John Eliot, Thomas Mayhew, and Richard Mather, Tears of Repentance, (London, 1653).

[2] John Eliot (1604-1690), Boston University School of Theology,

[3] Brent Meyers, “John Eliot: A Successful Application of Missiological Methodology,” Bound Away: The Liberty Journal of History 4, no. 1 (2021): 15.

[4] Adams, The Life of John Eliot, 315.

[5] Adams, 315.

[6] David Kingdon, “William Carey and the Rise of the Modern Missionary Movement,” Reformation Today 14, Summer (1973): 33,

[7] Mangalwadi, xiii.

[8] Thomas Schirrmacher, “William Carey’s Postmillennialism and World Missions,” Chalcedon Report, Christianity’s Glorious Future: Optimistic Eschatology, no. 430 (May 2001).

[9] Leithart, Theopolitan Reading, 27.

[10] Vishal Mangalwadi and Ruth Mangalwadi, The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for the Transformation of a Culture, 1st U.S. ed (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 121.

[11] Mangalwadi and Mangalwadi, 121.