I was thinking about the first century church and I was wondering why God
didn’t let the great commission be accomplished in the first century. He
knew that a lot of people would not hear the message due to false
teachings, traditions, other religions, illiteracy and because in some
places in the world Jesus wasn’t preached. Why did God wait through the
centuries for a church to accomplish it?

You are asking me to speculate about God’s motives for doing something
when he did not tell us his motives. This is clearly something one should
do with caution. Let me start with a scripture. In Romans 5:6 Paul says,
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ
died for the ungodly.” Paul says here that Jesus came “at just the right
time.” God’s plan all along was to prepare a people first through whom to
send the Savior. But first, God chose a single man of faith. Abraham was
that man. It took quite a while (about 500 years) from the time of Abraham
for God to raise up a nation–Israel for him to live among. It was then
about 1400 more years until the people of Israel were ready to receive the
Messiah. During that time, God had to do a lot of discipling of his people
through suffering, captivity, plague and warfare.

After all this preparation, “at just the right time,” God sent Jesus to
Israel. It is worth noting that this was perhaps the first time in history
in which one single nation (Rome) and language (Greek) controlled such a
high proportion of humanity. Besides, Jesus came during what is known as
the Pax Romana, the Roman peace. This was perhaps the greatest period of
general peace in such a large portion of the earth to allow the gospel to
spread as it did. Again, God sent Jesus “at just the right time.”

However, as you point out, for practical reasons, the great commission (go
into all nations) could not be completed back in the first century. It was
quite impossible for the early disciples to go to the indigenous peoples
in North and South America, in Australia or most of Africa. Nevertheless,
the message of Jesus spread over huge portions of the world, basically all
of the “known” world at that time in only a few generations. Would you
have had God wait another 1700 years to send Jesus so that he could have
come when it was literally possible for information to travel over the
entire world? Would the nation of Israel have even existed for that long?

It certainly is possible to question God’s timing in sending Jesus. Should
he have done it earlier, before world empires and written history existed,
so that the influence of someone even as great as Jesus could have faded?
Should he have waited many more centuries, allowing hundreds of millions
to die without even the remote opportunity to hear the gospel? It appears
to me that God sent Jesus into the world “at just the right time.”

John Oakes, PhD

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