When thinking about the mission that our Lord Jesus Christ gave to His Church, almost immediately our minds go to a number of places within the Scriptures, the first of which are probably the following passages:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)
Both of these passages are describing what’s often called “the Great Commission” that our Lord gave to His disciples right before He ascended to the right hand of His Father. Notice the distinction between the two passages: the first one, from St. Matthew’s Gospel, says that the Apostles are to make disciples of all nations, and baptize them in the name of the blessed Trinity. Traditional Christianity holds that the “them” of this great commission refers not only to the individual disciples of the nations, but also to the nations themselves. This idea is more emphasized in the next passage from St. Mark’s Gospel, which commands the Apostles to go and preach the gospel to all creation, thereby showing the universal extent of the gospel message. What I want to do in this post is show how these two passages are the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s plan for creation.
As usual, when explaining a narrative thread that stretches throughout the whole Bible, we must go back to the very beginning. After creating mankind in the Divine Image, the Lord tells Adam and Eve:
“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)
The first humans were created to subdue the earth, and have dominion over all creatures. What makes this language so significant is that it frequently shows up throughout the Old Testament, almost exclusively in the context of conquering an enemy or an enemy nation. There are many passages I could cite to demonstrate this point (see Deuteronomy 9:3, Isaiah 45:1, 1 Chronicles 17:10, and Psalm 144:1-2), but of all that are there, one stands out among them. After conquering the nations from Jericho to Hazor, Prophet Joshua narrates:
“Then the whole congregation of the people of Israel assembled at Shiloh, and set up the tent of meeting there; the land lay subdued before them.” (Joshua 18:1)
After carrying out the Lord’s command to conquer these nations, the people of God had successfully subdued the whole land, meaning that which was once used for the worship of idols and demonic practices, is now being consecrated to the God of Israel. This supports the traditional view that the original task of Adam and Eve “to subdue the earth” is about consecrating the earth to the Lord God, and offering it to Him as a living sacrifice. Thus Israel, being the nation God elects to continue man’s purpose in the postlapsarian world, carries out this task by destroying pagan nations, and rebuilding (resurrecting) them as nations that worship the Lord.
Once this is understood, it makes sense of a very common theme that we see throughout the Old Testament, namely the conversion of the nations. That the nations will be converted to worship the one God of Israel is something that almost all of the Prophets discussed (see Isaiah 66:18, Psalm 102, Malachi 1:11, Jeremiah 3:17). The first explicit reference we find is in Genesis when, after showing his faithfulness and obedience to the Lord, our forefather Abraham is given the following promise:
“And by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:18)
What exactly the blessing of “all the nations of the earth” entails is something that the Prophet Isaiah describes in great detail:
“It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:2-4)
There’s a lot of important information being said in this passage, and so it’s crucial we take the time to unpack it. First, Isaiah says that the things he’s about to discuss shall come to pass “in the latter days.” Being Christians, we of course believe that we are currently living in the latter days (Hebrews 1:2), and so what is being said here is relevant to us as the Church. In fact, this is made explicit by Isaiah when he states that in these latter days, the house of the Lord will be established on the highest mountain, raised above the hills. Very similar imagery is used by our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
Our Lord here is of course describing His people, the Church, the House and Kingdom of God. Christ says that the light of the Church is not to be hidden, but is to be like a city on a hill shining on others so that they may glorify our Father in heaven. This corresponds to what Isaiah says about “all nations and many peoples” flowing to the house of God, which is above the hills, so that they may give glory to Him by “learning His ways and walking in His paths.” Indeed, Isaiah says that the word of the Lord shall “go forth from Jerusalem,” exactly how St. Luke documents the beginning of the Church:
“And that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47)
After this, Isaiah goes onto say that the Lord will “judge between the nations and decide for many peoples”, once again noting a distinction between “all the nations” and the “many people” who come from the nations, showing that these two cannot be separated from each other: God does not just call individuals to Himself, but rather He calls entire nations and cultures to give Him glory. This point is emphasized in the last portion of the passage, which declares that the nations and the people will “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” The significance of this is that the nations will go from possessing weapons (swords and spears) to possessing gardening tools (plowshares and pruning hooks), which is once again a call back to the original task of Adam and Eve to “keep and till” the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15), showing that all of the nations will become what Israel was supposed to be: the fulfillment of God’s purpose for humanity. This is indeed why our Lord speaks about the Church’s mission in terms of a harvest (Matthew 9, 13), and why St. Paul refers to converting Gentiles as “reaping the harvest” (Romans 1:13), because it is precisely through the Church that the earth will be subdued and tilled by the human family, and it is for this reason that Isaiah says “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” because in the New Covenant “there is neither Greek nor Jew, but you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Thus we see that the blessing that Abraham’s descendants bring to the nations is their incorporation into the family of God, and their participation in the divinely instituted purpose for mankind: to imitate their creator by bringing life to all of creation, thereby solving the problem of Genesis 2:5 when “the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground.” Because through the faith of Christ we all become the sons of Abraham (Galatians 3:7-9) so that we may work the ground and bring the waters of baptism to the earth, in order to prepare it for the Kingdom of God. This is further confirmed by Prophet Daniel’s discussion of the coming Kingdom:
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
The “Son of Man” that Prophet Daniel speaks about is our Lord Jesus, Who specifically identifies Himself as the one to be “seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). To Him will “all nations, and peoples of every language” direct their worship, and His Kingdom shall have no end. Notice once again there is a distinction between “the people” and “the nations” who come to worship our Lord. This is because Jesus Christ is the new Joshua, in fact our Lord’s name in Hebrew, ישוע (Yeshua), is synonymous with “Joshua,” and this is no accident. Like the old Joshua, Jesus will conquer the nations. Except this time, instead of destroying nations with the sword, our Lord will destroy the nations with baptism, and raise them up again to give glory to His Father. It is for this reason that our Lord is given “authority, glory, and sovereign power” along with “everlasting dominion” over “his kingdom that will never be destroyed.” As St. Paul explains:
“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 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. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. “For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection under him,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one.” (1 Corinthians 15:21-28)
Here, St. Paul declares that Christ is the first fruits of the resurrection, and all who belong to Him will be raised. Then, after He “destroys every rule and authority and power,” Christ “delivers the Kingdom to God the Father.” This is incredibly important because it reveals that the Kingdom of God is not something that only exists at the end of time, rather the Kingdom is that which will be given to the Father at the end of time, demonstrating that the Kingdom is already here. This means that it is the purpose of the Kingdom now to destroy all powers and authorities, “for He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet.” Thus, Christ’s reign over the Kingdom, which is His Church, is already happening, and it is therefore the job of the Church to subject all enemies to Christ, and then the final enemy, death, will be destroyed once and for all.
Recall the Great Commission of our Lord: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The Apostles are told to baptize the nations in the name of the Lord, the blessed Trinity, because baptism is a form of death, a form of destruction. When we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ’s death, and we are raised again from the waters into a new life (Romans 6:3-4). Baptism is all about killing and destroying our former selves, in order to put on our new selves in Christ. Thus, when a nation is baptized, it is destroyed in what it was, and raised again in what it now is. It is in this sense that the Church wages war on the nations, thereby destroying them as Christ’s enemies, and raising them up as members of His Body. Indeed to this very day, every Sunday morning, Orthodox priests shout Psalm 118 from the altar: “all nations compass me about, but in the name of the Lord will I destroy them”, signifying their purpose as the priests of God, which is the destruction (baptism) of the nations in the name of the Lord (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
And this indeed has been the mission of the Church from the very beginning: not just to bring individual people to Christ, but to subject entire nations and cultures to Him. It is for this reason that St. Paul so adamantly wished to preach the Gospel in Rome (Acts 19:21) and why our Lord personally told him “you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11), because St. Paul’s ultimate mission was to convert the Roman Empire to Christianity. This is why, when he’s accused of wronging the Jews, St. Paul appeals to Caesar:
“If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!” After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!” (Acts 25:11-12)
Clearly, St. Paul believes that Caesar is his lawful, God-appointed ruler (a point he makes very clear in Romans 13:1) because he states that Caesar has the right to hear his case, and he will obey the Roman court’s sentence even unto death. And given the fact that St. Paul used his trials as an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel (Acts 24:24-25, 26:28), even converting several members of Caesar’s household (Philippians 4:22), it’s very clear that Paul’s prophesied personal audience with Caesar (Acts 27:24) had the intent of bringing the Roman Emperor himself to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sadly, it would not be St. Paul who baptized the Emperor, rather that job fell to Queen St. Helena. It was she who converted her son, Emperor St. Constantine the Great, to the one God of Israel, and with him, the entire Roman Empire. After St. Constantine declared Orthodox Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, thousands of pagan temples were destroyed and replaced with beautiful Christian Churches. Thousands of pagans turned away from their ancient gods, and began to glorify the Father of Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit. The baptism, and thus destruction of old Rome was then immortalized with the relocation of the capital city to Constantinople, symbolizing the beginning of a new, resurrected empire that would no longer offer sacrifices to demons, but rather to the Lord of Hosts.
And this would only be the beginning. After St. Constantine, and especially after Emperor St. Theodosius the Great, almost all of the formerly pagan Western and Eastern European empires would bow their knees before our Lord. It would in fact be the Emperors who convoked all seven Ecumenical Councils of the Church, thereby preserving Orthodoxy from the snares of heresy. The Emperors would also come to have their own seats at the Divine Liturgy in order to show the true union between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the earth that the Church makes possible. Even to this day, the (eastern rite) Orthodox Liturgy is full of symbols from the Byzantine Empire, with the Imperial Insignia making an appearance on the walls of the sanctuary, and even the lamps, fans, and cross that the servers carry with the Holy Gifts during the Great Procession. All of this is done to proclaim the fact that Jesus is Lord, the conversion of the nations has begun, and He will reign until all enemies have been put under His feet.
“Who shall not fear and glorify thy name, O Lord? For thou alone art holy. All nations shall come and worship thee, for thy judgments have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:4)
This post was largely inspired by the excellent work of Seraphim Hamilton, specifically his post “Why I am Postmillennial,” as well as Fr. Stephen De Young’s article “Sts. Paul and Constantine,” both of which I highly recommend reading!