For almost 40 years, a deeper understanding of the “nations” (panta ta ethne) in Matthew 28’s “Great Commission” has shifted mission strategy toward a sharper focus on people groups that have little or no access to the good news of God’s love. It’s gratifying to see how many non-clergy today can talk knowledgeably about the unreached and refer to passages like Revelation 7:9 and Matthew 24:14.
What I hear too little about, however, is the relationship between “the multitude too great to count” and martyrdom.
When you hear missions speakers eloquently visualize the vast crowd gathered to worship before God’s throne, how often do they also refer to Revelation 7:14, which identifies them as believers “coming out of” the Great Tribulation? When you are inspired by a challenge to take the name of Jesus to “every language, people, tribe, and nation,” how often does the speaker point out that verse comes hard on the heels of Jesus’ warning that his faithful ones will be hated, arrested, persecuted, and killed because of their allegiance to him?
The first believers took the good news out of Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, not because a motivational speaker inspired them, but because they were fleeing for their lives. When Jesus told them they would be his “witnesses,” he used the Greek word from which our word ‘martyr’ derives. The Great Commission to “all peoples” was advanced by the suffering of God’s people.
It is no coincidence that Scripture sets the “last days” push to the nations in the context of the Great Tribulation. Where disciples today are multiplying, it often is in a context of great persecution.
By the same token, where disciples today are not multiplying, it often is in a context of no persecution. That is not a coincidence either.
The Lord uses persecution, suffering, and death to take the Gospel to all peoples. Are you prepared to be sent out?