Warrior on Horse

Picture by Krzysztof Szkurlatowski; 12frames.eu



A Response to The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy by Ron Rhodes


(This serves as a link to a series that I am doing on my blog Real Church Life where I dismantle dispensationalism.)


Dispensationalist Ron Rhodes asks: Can We Know When the Ezekiel Invasion Will Occur?


Obviously, Rhodes’ question implies that he believes that this prophecy is still to be fulfilled. The particular passages regarding the re-gathering of Jews and the invasion of Israel that Rhodes refers to are found in Ezekiel 36-38. He argues that the contemporary re-gathering of Jews from many nations back to Israel “appears” to be setting the stage for the inevitable prophesied invasion. Though, he covers his back saying “Of course, it is always possible for things to reverse course, in which case the invasion could still be a long way off.”

In terms of the invasion forces, Rhodes says that Ezekiel refers to Russia heading up a coalition from the north of Muslim states including Iran, Sudan, Libya and Turkey. Firstly, though arguably possible, it seems highly unlikely that Libya to Israel’s west and Sudan to their South would form part of a “northern assault force.” Secondly, consider how the account of the armies in Ezekiel 38:4-5 don’t describe a modern army: ‘And I will turn you about and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you out, and all your army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed in full armor, a great host, all of them with buckler and shield, wielding swords. Persia, Cush, and Put are with them, all of them with shield and helmet…’ Rhodes wants us to believe that ‘…horses… horsemen…in full armor… with buckler and shield, wielding swords…shield and helmet.’

Russians and Muslims to Invade Israel on Horseback?


Using Rhodes’ literal method of interpretation, we end up with Russians and Muslims in an army fighting on horseback against Israel sometime in the future, which is most improbable. However, rather than acknowledge that the description of the armies is obviously historical and not futuristic, Rhodes instead goes against his anti-allegory dispensational stance by using an allegorical interpretation of these armies. This is most unusual coming from someone who is adamant that prophecies are to be literally understood. Yet, in order to make his end-time view work, Rhodes is forced to dismantle his dispensational view by either having a ridiculous notion that these armies are a literal description of the future or by acknowledging the armies as allegorical, thereby undermining the literal interpretation method that he demands.

Which is it, dispensationalism with an improbable future of armies on horseback, or an admission to the use of a non-literal interpretation? (For more, see debate 1 where Ron Rhodes asks, “Should Bible Prophecy Be Interpreted Literally or Allegorically?”)

Rob Morley

Other posts in this series so far:

  1. Bible Prophecy: Literal or Allegorical
  2. Toppling Dispensationalism
  3. Israel is Saved or Judged, not Replaced or Distinct
  4. The Signs of the Times – Do Current Signs Point to Prophetic Fulfillment? – PART 1
  5. The Signs of the Times – Do Current Signs Point to Prophetic Fulfillment? PART 2 – Israel
  6. The Signs of the Times – Do Current Signs Point to Prophetic Fulfillment? PART 3 – Middle East, European Union, Globalism?
  7. The Signs of the Times – Is America in Bible Prophecy?
  8. The Signs of the Times – Can We Know When the Ezekiel Invasion Will Occur? PART 1 – Israel regathered from Many Nations

Principles in Interpreting Numerology

In a recent post, entitled Responding to The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy, I pointed out the following principles that determine when to use allegorical interpretation of numbers in a text.

Allegorical interpretation should be considered if –

  • the literature is apocalyptic (a genre that uses symbolic and allegorical language)
  • there is clear use of numerology
  • numerology is used at the outset
  • numbers associated with Biblical numerology are used
  • numbers associated with Biblical numerology are used throughout
  • only numbers associated with Biblical numerology are used throughout
  • credible Biblical meaning is consistently the outcome of interpretation
  • multiple cases make chance meaning an impossible explanation

Establishing the use of numerology in The Revelation is clearly not difficult and, for the most part, neither is discovering the meaning being communicated by the numbers. And, why would it be if The Revelation was intended for our encouragement?

Finding the Meaning

The exact meaning behind the numerology in The Revelation might not always be as clear to our generation as it once was to the generation to whom it was first given. Nevertheless, enough is understood to get the essential meaning for a panoramic understanding of The Revelation. Just as with a puzzle, begin with what is clear and this will help with what is less clear or unclear.

In many cases the text in explains itself and very often the text alludes to previous Biblical accounts. These allusions are not the interpretation of the text, but are the allegorical context. In other cases, the text refers to what literally existed at the time of writing. Even here, the literal meaning is temporary and gets superseded by the allegorical meaning. For example, the literal existence of the 7 churches is trumped by what they get to represent allegorically, i.e. all the church.

The numbers used in The Revelation hold to each of these principles. These principles, in turn, become the proofs that symbolic meaning was given to the numbers. Where interpreters have changed measurements to modern equivalents in certain versions, e.g. 12000 stadia to 1500 miles, clear use of numerology is missed and the meaning is lost.

Numbers used in The Revelation

Number Example from The Revelation Meanings and possible meanings
2 And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth (11:3-4) 2 = Double witness


·         Witnesses = Lampstands = Olive Trees

·         Lampstands = Churches


·         Olive Trees = Zerubbabel the governer and Joshua the high priest (Zech 4)

·         Elijah and Moses at the transfiguration

·         Jesus sent disciples out in 2’s

·         2 Churches = Old & New Testament churches

·         2 Churches = Smyrna & Philadelphia as ideal churches

·         Olive Trees = Kingly & Priestly authority

·         Two witnesses required to establish truth

·         God’s house on foundation of the apostles and prophets

two witnesses with authority to prophesy depicts “those who worship in the temple” (11:1), i.e. God’s people of both Old and New Testament eras

3 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates (Rev 21:13) 3 = Number of God; perfection; holiness

Sometimes used to mimic the trinity e.g. in the number 666


·         the Trinity

three depicts that only God’s people may enter

3 ½ For three and a half days members of the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb (Rev 11:9) 31/2 = incompleteness

Half of 7

7 = completeness

three and a half days indicates that time is not completed, it is not the end

4 the four living creatures…sing, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Rev 4:8) 4 = creation


·         4 corners of the earth

Fullness of the heavens and the earth; Creation

four living creatures represent all of creation

6 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings (Rev 4:80) 6 = man; day all creation was completed


·         Day man was made

·         Day all of creation was completed

six wings depicts redeemed creation’s (6) heavenly (wings) status

7  John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne (Rev 1:4) 7 = Qualitative fullness; completeness; totality

7 = 3 + 4

God + creation = perfection, “very good”, completeness

7 = God’s number in relation to creation

Sometimes used to signify mimicking of God’s perfection/completeness e.g. the 7 heads of the beast


·         Days of creation, days of the week, day God rested, Sabbath rest

seven churches represent the complete church

10 And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom (Rev 17:12) 10 = quantitative fullness


·         10 fingers (counting)

ten horns are the full number of kings not yet revealed

12 A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars (Rev 12:1) 12 = 3 x 4

God’s people in the earth


·         12 patriarchs

·         12 apostles

twelve depicts God’s covenant community

24 Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes (Rev 4:4) 12 + 12 = 24

Leaders of old and new covenant church


·         12 sons of Jacob + 12 apostles

twenty-four thrones…elders; reign given to church in the Old and New testament eras

twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders represent all of God’s people of Old and New, reigning in life (Rom 5:17) and are seated in heavenly places (Eph 2:6).

42 …they will trample over the holy city for forty-two months (Rev 11:2) 42 = 6 x 7

42 = men allowed activity in ordained time

42 months = 1260 days = 3 ½ lunar years

Half of 7 = 31/2 = incompleteness

forty-two months depicts period men are allowed, but it’s not the end or not complete

144 He also measured its wall, one hundred forty-four cubits (Rev 21:17) 144 = 12 x 12

one hundred forty-four cubits depicts complete number of God’s covenant community

666 This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six (Rev 13:18) 6 = man

3 = God

666 = Man setting himself up as God

666 = number of the beast…is the number of a person  (variant 616)

666 = Neron Kaesar (Greek)

616 = Nero Kaesar (Latin)

six hundred sixty-six depicts Nero’s reincarnation in imminent leader(Domitian) possibly later reincarnations (several world leaders and popes)

1,000 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years (Rev 20:2). 1,000 = 10 x 10 x 10

10 = quantitative fullness

3 = God

thousand years, is therefore, 10 x 10 x 10 or 103, depicting the fullness of time that God has determined

1,260 And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for one thousand two hundred sixty days, wearing sackcloth (Rev 11:3). 1260 days = 3 ½ lunar years = 42 months = time, times and half a time

30 x 42

1260 = 3 x 6 x 7 x 10

God ordained time for human activity with qualitative and quantitative fullness

1260 = 10 (complete) x 3 (God) x 6 (human) x 7 (complete)

one thousand two hundred sixty days depicts complete (10) God (3) ordained activity (prophesy) given to witnesses (6) in God ordained time (7)

1,600 And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for one thousand six hundred stadia (Rev 14:20) 1,600 = 4 x 4 x 10 x 10

4 = creation

10 = quantitative fullness


4 x 4 = creation in eras of both testaments

4 x 4 = antediluvian creation and postdiluvian creation

10 x 10 = paying the double for sin

one thousand six hundred stadia depicts creation paying completely the double for sin

7,000 seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake (Rev 11:13). 7,000 = 7 x 10 x 10 x10


seven thousand people depicts God ordained number killed

10,000 (Myriad) I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands (Rev 5:11) 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 = 10,000 = myriad

Highest number with own name




10,000 (Myriad) depicts multitude of angels

12,000 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width; and he measured the city with his rod, twelve thousand stadia (Rev 21:16) 12 x 10 x 10 x 10 = 12,000

length x width = Quantitative fullness of God’s people

12,000 (length) x 12,000 (width) = 144,000

see 11:1 – “count the number of worshipers”

twelve thousand stadia depicts one side in measuring fullness of God’s people

144,000 And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the people of Israel (Rev 7:4) 12 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10 = 144, 000

12 = covenant people

10 = quantitative fullness

3 = God

2 = both Old and New Testament eras

one hundred forty-four thousand, 10 x 10 x 10 (or 103) x 12 x 12 (or 122) depicts the fullness (10) of God’s (3) people of both (2) the Old (12) and New (12) Covenant eras

2 x 10,0002 And the number of the army of the horsemen were twice ten thousand ten thousands (Rev 9:16) 2 x 10,0002

2 = both eras

2 = men and angels

not literal 200,000,000


Psalm 68:17

twice ten thousand ten thousands depicts God’s army

1/10 Terrible earthquake destroys a tenth of the city (Rev 11:13) 10 = quantitative fullness

1/10 = 1 part of quantitative fullness


·         10 fingers (counting)

10/10 is complete destruction

a tenth (1/10) depicts very limited destruction

1/4 I looked and there was a pale green horse! Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth (Rev 6:8) 4 = Creation

1/4 = 1 part of creation


·         directions





a fourth depicts significant judgment of 1 part of a possible 4

1/3 a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up (8:7) 3 = God’s fullness

1/3 = 1 part of God’s amount


·         Trinity

a third  depicts significant judgment of 1 part of a possible 3

1/2 there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1-3) 2 = double witness (sufficient or full witness)

1 part of 2 = 1 part of a full witness

half depicts the silence is not the final silence/end


As you can imagine, those who hold to a literal view of The Revelation would have a myriad of objections to numerology being used throughout the book and far too many to handle here. Nevertheless, by way of example, I will address a question put forward by someone defending a literal view of the numbers in The Revelation. He asked, “Why should we not understand that an army of 200,000,000 is actually composed of that number?”

Firstly, consistency in interpretation of the numbers in The Revelation is in favor of an allegorical approach, because every number in The Revelation can be allegorically understood and explained. In contrast to this, those who hold to a literal view are forced to concede that several numbers are symbolic. In fact, this same author admits that 16 numbers in The Revelation are symbolic. This inconsistency is hugely problematic for credible interpretation.

Secondly, this is a strange question from a futurist, who sees this as prophecy still to be fulfilled, because the days of armies comprising horses are long gone.

The description, twice ten thousand ten thousands is where we will find the meaning, not in a literal 200,000,000.

The Cart is Before the Horse

It appears that the literal interpretation of numbers in The Revelation is what gets defended or promoted in order to protect inter-connected beliefs that have been established by that approach. Sadly, this is done in the face of admitted inconsistency and bizarre outcomes.

Rob Morley

Bible TextFor an example of how we can easily misinterpret, and, in turn, misuse scripture, let’s look at the quote from Joel 2:28 – 29 found in Acts chapter 2.

28 “And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (NIV)

When you read this passage, do you organize the verses into boxes and build formulas? If so, then this is how it would be interpreted:

[Only] sons and daughters will prophesy, [only] old men will dream dreams, and [only] young men will see visions.


Sons and daughters will [only] prophesy, old men will [only] dream dreams, and young men will [only] see visions.


[Only] sons and daughters will [only] prophesy, [only] old men will [only] dream dreams, and [only] young men will [only] see visions.

Knowing how Christians enjoy their formulas, we could easily create three denominations from these. But, are any of the above how God intended us to understand this passage? Or, did this passage simply include examples, written in a poetic way to say what the introduction in verse 28 and the conclusion in verse 29 were saying; in a nutshell, that He will pour His Spirit out on everyone and that everyone will be able to do these things regardless of age or gender.

If you’re interested, I have a related post entitled Interpreting Scripture Correctly on our blog, Real Church Life.


Photo: Alex Bruda

Photo: Alex Bruda

Which Rock is at the Foundation of your Faith?

(Reflections on Matthew 16:13-18)

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mat 16:13-18).

Issue of Jesus’ Identity

In this passage we see Jesus asking for feedback from His disciples on what people were saying concerning His identity. Then, Jesus gets more personal on this issue of His identity and He asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

Jesus’ Identity, the Foundation for His Church

Jesus tells Peter that this revelation of His identity was not from his own thinking or any other human, but that it was from God. Jesus then contrasts the namePeter” which means rock with the revelation that Peter had just had of Him being “the Christ, the Son of the living God” by referring to it as “this rock” on which He would build His church (ecclesia).

Context, Context, Context!!!

Reading from vs. 13 onwards, it is clear that Jesus is referring to His identity as “the Christ, the son of the living God” as “the rock” on which He would build His church (or ecclesia to be more accurate). Clearly, from the context of the discussion, the issue here was not about instating Peter as the foundation on which Jesus would build His church as many have been led to mistakenly believe, but rather in recognizing Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God”, the foundation on which He would build His ecclesia.

Catholics argue that Peter is being referred to by Jesus as the rock on which He would build His church, however, I am persuaded that the context here and throughout the Bible shows otherwise. While some Protestants have claimed that Peter means little rock or something smaller and that it couldn’t be Peter that Jesus is referring to, Catholics counter that with studies that and show that Peter or Cephas (his name in Aramaic, see John 1:42) also means rock (see Catholic Studies: Peter the Rock). Yet, whatever the case, the context shows that Jesus is merely playing on the meaning of Peter’s name to contrast or compare it with this huge foundational truth that he had just received, that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God”.

The Bible and History

Jesus then goes on to say, “…, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The “it” being the church built on the revelation that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Clearly all this was a task for Jesus and not for Peter. (Peter, along with many others would be witnesses to this foundational truth about Jesus, but he was not the foundation).

John’s gospel corroborates this truth in Matthews gospel when he states his reason for writing with, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:21).

History has also testified to this being the truth, because every person who has believed that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” testifies that he has been made a part of Jesus’ church.

Who is your foundation?

Have you believed that the man Jesus, who came as a baby and lived as a man like us, and whose ministry showed Him to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, died as a substitute for you because of your sins so that you may be pardoned? And, that He rose again from the dead and ascended to be seated with God with all authority, and willingly gives eternal life to anyone who will believe and receive Him?

Here is the text we looked at again. I have added the implied meaning of the text in brackets:

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood (you or any other human source) has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter (a rock), and on this rock (the rock of my revealed identity as the Christ, the Son of the living God) I will build my church (ecclesia), and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (the ecclesia, those built together on the revelation of My identity as the Christ, the Son of the living God).”


Photo by Alex Bruda

She would forever remember the day that He wrote in the sand

Have you ever wondered what Jesus wrote in the sand?

Do you remember the occasion? It was when religious leaders came to Him with a woman caught in adultery.

Some readers might immediately be thinking. “Oh boy! Another one of those nutters! No one really knows what Jesus wrote in the sand!” That’s what I might have thought if I came across a post like this.

Significant Action

More revealing than “What did Jesus write in the sand?” is “Why did Jesus write in the sand?”

I believe that Jesus was being very intentional when He wrote in the sand. Yet, despite being intentional in His actions, I’m not sure that He was necessarily trying to write anything in particular. I believe that His writing in sand was a prophetic action that pointed to a particular passage in the book of Jeremiah the prophet.

If you read the passage where Jesus wrote in the sand in its broader context and then compare it to a particular passage from the book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament, then I believe that you will understand why Jesus wrote in the sand. It was an announcement of God’s judgment.

See for Yourself

Firstly, Read John Chapters 7 & 8

To get a fuller context of the occasion read John Chapters 7 & 8. For ease of access, here are some significant extracts from these chapters for you:

7:1 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him…7v37In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water

(The clear rejection to the point of wanting to kill Him continued among the religious leaders. Then, the incident with the woman caught in adultery occurred the day after the announcement Jesus made at the feast.)

The Incident

8v1bAnd early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

8v12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true. Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself,…the Father that sent me beareth witness of meYe neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also….it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: Yet ye have not known him

The second passage to read is Jeremiah 17:5-13

Here is the important reference and connection to Jesus writing in the sand:

17v13O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.

Context is Key

Let’s consider the context of the woman being brought to Jesus. Keep in mind that the Jews had already wanted to kill Him (see John 7:1). Also, the day before the incident, “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water’ (John 7v37). Although some that heard Jesus showed signs of belief, a negative sentiment continued, especially among the religious leaders.

So, clearly, the incident occurred in the broader context of Jesus (and therefore God) being rejected. Similarly, the context of the passage in Jeremiah is God being rejected. In Jeremiah, God said that He would write in the earth those who reject Him, the living water. Likewise, by writing in the sand, Jesus was, at the very least, referring to this passage in Jeremiah. He was pointing to God’s judgment on a people that had rejected Him, the source of living water.

What Jesus May Have Written

In the tricky situation that He was in, this picture illustrates what Jesus may have written 🙂

What Jesus Wrote in the Sand

The second time He probably followed up with, THANKS, DAD!

More seriously, if Jesus wrote something intelligible, some have suggested that He might have written the names of those around Him who had rejected Him.

I personally think that writing out that portion from Jeremiah the prophet would have made the point.

Nevertheless, simply mimicking God writing in the earth, as in the passage in Jeremiah, would have been sufficient to make the point. Intentional doodling in the sand spoke volumes! Besides, had he written anything legible, surely it would have been too marvelous not to mention in the account.

Jesus = God

Jesus said elsewhere, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” He also said that He only spoke what His Father was speaking and that He only did what He saw His Father doing. With that in mind, we know that Jesus’ actions had significance and that the recording of them is significant too.

Our response to a clear revelation of Jesus is really our response to God. Rejecting Him is to reject God, the source of Living Water.

Rob Morley

Discipling Individuals or Nations?

This may sound strange to your ears, but contrary to what is sometimes taught or suggested, we have no specific New Testament mandate to teach or disciple nations themselves. I say this, even though The Great Commission in Matt. 28:19-20 may appear to be instructing us to do just that.

The Great Commission commences with, “Go ye therefore, and teach /disciple /make disciples of all nations…” As you can see, I’ve indicated how this command is rendered differently in various English translations. Now, if you simply read this segment in each translation you will notice that they don’t all appear to be necessarily saying the same thing. And, this is where the problem lies. Not that they aren’t saying the same thing, but that through superficial reading the less clear translations have been misunderstood. And, this misunderstanding is what has led to the problem of some wrongly aiming at teaching or discipling nations themselves as opposed to individuals of all nations.

To bring clarity to less clear (although not wrong) and perhaps seemingly ambiguous translations, I wish to show that in the context of carefully reading the whole of the Great Commission that all the translations are saying the same thing. By doing this, I hope to alleviate those caught up in misdirected efforts and ensure that we have a proper understanding what Jesus was wanting us to be busy with.

From the first two translations that read “teach all nations” or “disciple all nations” it can seem that discipling entire nations/tribes is what is commanded. However, when logically considering the whole command, it is clear that what is implied is to “teach /disciple individuals of all nations”.  The command continues “…baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” Clearly one cannot baptize a nation/tribe!

Even if “teaching/discipling whole nations” is somehow implied in the first part of the command, if one considers the complete command, it is only reasonable to conclude that it is by reaching individuals from all nations, rather than influencing whole nations.

Personally, I find the translations that read, “make disciples of all nations” more helpful from the outset. Clearly, whole nations/tribes can’t possibly be made into disciples, but rather people of all nations/tribes. Also, the word “of” here, although only implied in the original Greek, speaks of origin. In other words, “from all nations” or “out of all nations” could be appropriate alternate readings.

I’m certain that the words “all nations” stood out when Jesus spoke the command. They show the extent of the outreach and significantly that it was to go beyond the Jews themselves. This also fits well in the context of the New Testament message as a whole and also how the history of the early church played out. In both of these cases going to “all nations” did not mean discipling whole nations.

Clearly, discipling whole nations isn’t the intention of this scripture (and nor is it even a central New Testament idea). This command, therefore, can’t be used as the source for ideas like “redeeming cultures” and “discipling nations”. At best these ideas have only an indirect correlation here.

While it can be argued that reaching individuals from various nations may have some bearing on influencing their particular nations as a whole, nevertheless, influencing individuals and not nations remains the primary, if not only, intention of this scripture.

It is true that certain individuals like William Carrey who had a remarkable influence on India have in a certain sense discipled India, but that does not make this the meaning of this scripture. Clearly he did not baptize the nation of India nor teach the whole nation to obey all that the Lord commanded.

The correct interpretation is key in protecting this fundamental purpose of the Church from being sidetracked. While “redeeming cultures” and “discipling nations” may have its Biblical place, the intention to be reaching individuals must not be robbed from what is meant here. Misinterpreting this scripture can water down our effort to reach individuals for Christ by unduly heightening our concern for the nations’ political, social, economic and even spiritual well-being.

Although reaching individuals from nations and discipling nations may have some commonality, they are best remembered as separate so that the command to reach individuals isn’t lost in our attempt to affect society.  Also, if the Spirit of God has reaching individuals as His primary intention and we teach, strategize and put our energy into changing nations, then we’ve become off centre in our passion and useless to what is more important.

Rather than being a command to influence nations with the principles and truths of God’s kingdom, the logic of the command in Matt. 28:19-20 is to make disciples from every nation. Then, as ambassadors of God’s kingdom, these disciples are able to influence all aspects of society, and God willing, even disciple whole nations.

Rob Morley

(Note: a previous page with its comments were copied to create this post instead)

  1. […] For more on this go to Restore the Word, The Great Commission […]

  2. Good blog! I generally agree with you, so long as we don’t return to a purely individualistic interpretation of the Great Commission and deny it’s social/cultural aspects.

    I am content to say that the Great Commission results the transformation of “nations” (“ethne” in the original Greek, which means ethnic tribe or culture). How we do it – by direct discipleship of a culture or through disciplining individuals who then impact their culture – is not spelled out in the Great Commission.

    Like you, I lean towards the latter. In fact, if you look at the history of how Christians have bravely stood for Godly principles and transformed whole nations and cultures, I think we see the latter approach making a difference time and again.

    From a practical standpoint, I’m not sure how the former is even possible outside of a compulsory framework where the Church institutionally tries to “disciple” and bring “obedience” (two other components of the Great Commission) to the State and other essential social institutions. That would violate the covenantal and thus consensual approach that we see throughout scripture in God’s dealings with humanity.

    History shows the folly of the Church trying – as the Church – to disciple nations. It resulted in some of the greatest tyranny and persecution in Western history. For a host of reasons, I don’t want the Church overseeing the State by usurping the separate jurisdiction and role of the State..

    Thus, the way I have taught on the Great Commission is that it’s about discipling individuals and teaching them to obey all that Christ commands. Ideally, they are equipped in the church to use their gifts and calling (Eph. 4 – which unfortunately seldom happens) to serve in whatever circumstance and arena God has placed them. As they then become engaged in bringing God’s providence into those areas of life, culture and society, and seek to do the will of the Father (as per the Lord’s prayer) on earth as it is in heaven within their own spheres of influence, God’s Kingdom continues to advance as it permeates into all of creation. (Mark 16:15 and Col 1:15-23)

    Everyone believer is placed by God in positions and environments where they are part of the larger society – whether it is being a parent dedicated to raising Godly children within the context of our larger society, or being elected to Congress. Christians are never to be an insular enclave, but we are in the world even though we are not part of the world’s mentality.

    As we each extend God’s providence into whatever arena God calls us, we become His salt and light – bringing His flavor, preservation and illumination. If we are faithful ambassadors of His Kingdom, we can’t help but bring transformation into our secular spheres of influence – whether it is in the arts, science, raising Godly children, media, the trades, politics and civil government, or whatever.

    If we deny God’s providence over all aspects of society, then we have gutted the first part of the Great Commission – which is Christ’s triumphant declaration that he now has “all authority in heaven and on earth.” (In the Greek, “all” means …. all!)

    The attempts by some to limit or deny God’s call on others into various spheres of life (like civil government and cultural engagement) is disturbing. Regardless of how one thinks the Great Commission should work, it seems to me that we must affirm that it’s fulfillment means that nations/cultures – one way or another – are transformed.

    There is no room for a theology of disengagement in the Great Commission. In fact, it directly refutes the existentialists among us, who want only “spiritual” engagement and a purely personal, individualistic Jesus who’s providence is limited to them and their insular, introspective churches.

    • Thanks Jim for enriching this post with your comments. I like your determination to see that Christianity affects all areas of society. God’s kingdom must come on earth as it is in heaven if we are to be relevant as salt and light. While the Great Commission may be focused on reaching individuals from all nations/ethnic tribes; nevertheless, it will undoubtedly influence all of society. And, all the more, if we teach that “Every believer is placed by God in positions and environments where they are part of the larger society… bringing His flavor, preservation and illumination”, as you stated.

  3. […] Rob Moley, in his blog Restore the Word, wrote yesterday on “The Great Commission: Discipling Individuals or Nations?”. […]

(Go here for Fanciful Interpretation of the Beasts in Daniel Refuted– part 1.)

This is the misleading interpretation as I received it:

There are now FIVE PARTIES forcing Israel out of its Promised Land...

These are the VERY SAME BEASTS that the Prophet Daniel saw:

LION – Britain
EAGLE WINGS – United States
BEAR – Russia
LEOPARD – European Union
(Principally, 4-head German “Leopard” with “wings of a fowl,” French Rooster)
DREADFUL BEAST – World Government – U.N.

In this post I continue to consider this bizarre interpretation in the light of the book of Daniel and elsewhere in God’s word.

The  article’s interpretation of Daniel 7 is not only shown to be wrong in my first post, Fanciful Interpretation of the Beasts in Daniel Refuted– part 1, but appearing to be the agenda of God it is A DISTRACTION TO CHRISTIANS FROM GOD’S WILL.

When handling a similar issue where His disciples asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”(Acts 1:6), Jesus said “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).

Commenting further on what the prophecy in Daniel 7 said:

It reads, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).

Later, the prophecy goes on to say, “But the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end. And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them” (Dan 7:26-27).

My thoughts on these passages:

You and I have been grafted into Israel and are among the saints written about above. The promises in the prophecy are for us along with all other believers in the Messiah.  Believers in Jesus, both Jews and non-Jews, are co-heirs with Him of the kingdom that He received which is superior to and has authority over all other kingdoms. Jesus said in Luke 12:32 “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” This is Jesus’ kingdom which is not of this world.

Also, in John 18:36, “Jesus answered (Pilate), ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’ In Daniel we see that it is a kingdom more powerful than the kingdoms of this world. It is the “stone…cut…by no human hand” that we read about in Daniel 2:45 and it destroys the kingdoms of this world that were in direct opposition to Israel before their Messiah came.

When He came, Jesus said that not even the gates of hell, let alone the kingdoms of this world, will prevail against His Ecclesia. After His death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus said “All authority has been given to me in heaven and earth…” As His Ecclesia we walk in His authority, more than conquerors, in one sense “the untouchables”, able to carry the Good News while backed by the authority of Jesus, all the while praying that His kingdom will continue to come on earth as it is in heaven. And, just as Jesus began bringing about the kingdom of God on earth through obedience to God through the Spirit, we are called to do the same! We are in this world, but are not of it. Although this world’s inhabitants are in rebellion to God and Christ, they are loved by God and we are ambassadors of the kingdom of God to them.

In Heb 10:12-13 it says, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.” In this context we see that His enemies are still at large in the world. While sin, Satan and spiritual death have no authority as far as believers are concerned, they still operate with authority. Satan influences the kingdoms of this world as the enemies of God and Christ. This will exist until the end of this age when Christ’s enemies will become His footstool.

We read of this in Rev 11:15 where it says, “… The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” Also, in 1Co 15:24-26 it says something in the same vein with “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet…”