Just think of it. The God of the universe focused his special revelation and redeeming work on one small ethnic people, Israel, for 2,000 years—from the calling of Abram in Genesis 12 to the coming of Christ. For all that time, “he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16).
Then, at the entry of his Son into the world, all this changed.
As Jesus was leaving to return to heaven, he said, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [my] name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). This was a pivotal change in the history of the world.
God’s Careful Planning
But the command to disciple all the nations was not an afterthought. It was the plan from the moment God chose Israel. God said to Abram, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
Then Paul applied this to the gospel of justification through faith in Christ: “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’” (Galatians 3:8). So God was getting ready to reach the nations with the gospel of Christ when he chose Abram 2,000 years before Christ came.
Why, then, such a long delay before Christ came and the Great Commission was given in his name?
Why the Long Delay?
Because in God’s wisdom, he knew that the nations of the world would grasp the nature of Christ and his work better against the backdrop of Israel’s 2,000 year history of law and grace, faith and failure, sacrifice and atonement, wisdom and prophecy, mercy and judgment.
Here’s the way Paul put it in Romans 3:19–20: “Whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.” In other words, God spoke for 2,000 years to Israel so that the “whole world” would realize that there is no hope of getting right with God through “works done by us in righteousness” (Titus 3:5).