I was part of a church once that had a post-millennial flavor to their teaching. In a nutshell, the people who say Jesus is not returning until we take over everything. And that there really won’t be any tribulation, basically in the long view, things will get better and better and better until we win. I couldn’t swallow this down because it seemed to need to dispatch with too much of the Bible. For example that Revelation was written before 70 A.D. and was mostly all about that. In other words, the bad stuff in in the past. Only good to come!
Now right along with this triumphalist perspective, was the interpretation of Matthew 28:18-20 especially “go and make disciples of all nations” This was interpreted to essentially mean “take over the world.” This is sometimes called dominion theology. I rejected all of this. After a lot of research, I took the “amillennial” position, following Augustine. And I generally interpreted “go and make disciples of all nations” to mean “out of the nations make some disciples.” I even read it in the Greek.
Now I’m taking a closer look. The Greek behind this phrase is literally “disciple all the nations.” That’s it. That’s what it says. I asked a New Testament scholar about this and he confirmed it saying that the only reason it is translated “make disciples of” is because “disciple” is not a verb in standard English. Now it gets interesting when you start to look at what a nation is. A nation is not in the Bible a geopolitical entity. That would have been a “kingdom.” or the “empire.” A “nation” or “ethne” is a people group — humans with a shared language, culture, ancestry, history that make them unique.
An “ethne” is also a “people other than the Jews” and is translated by translators choice in many other places as “Gentiles” which is misleading in many cases. So you could also read this passage as “disciple all the Gentiles.” Read that way (remember Matthew is the more “Jewish” Gospel), Jesus is saying “do to the Gentiles what was done with the Jews. Bring them under my authority.”
We have read this passage as meaning to go and gather up a few disciples, but it doesn’t say that or imply that at all does it? It actually teaches that we should disciple nations. That is, whole people groups. Now this is really difficult for the protestant mind. We really don’t see things that way. We see Christians as a small part of a large and hopeless pagan society. This is because we are looking specifically at how many individuals will be born again. It’s obvious that even at high points of history relatively small numbers of people were heaven bound. So we assume that we’re just supposed to be this minority that floats through history evangelizing other individuals.
The postmillennialists have seized on this and talked about take over, but they’ve missed it. In reality, this scripture is a piece of strategic genius. Jesus is saying “Gain influence over the corporate entity” because that corporate entity — the “nation” is what disciples everything else. In a tribe, that’s a chief. You gain influence over him, and all of his people will be baptized, regardless of whether they are really “born again” and that society will begin to implement Christian rather than pagan values. In a modern state, that means things like media, arts, government… These centers of culture actually disciple and train our youth what to think and therefore shape our future, and ultimately lay the foundation for who will or will not be saved. Discipling nations is not about “take over” in the long term sense. It is about advancement. It is about soul winning. If you only win individuals and ignore the culture, you lose, because the culture disciples you and your children. You must disciple the culture itself. A child who was taught the ten commandments in school is not only much more likely to get saved, but they are also less likely to do the kinds of things that push people away from God — such as abuse children.
America is being destroyed because the only people who believed the Bible after 1900 were people who didn’t believe in discipling cultures, just people. So we have a culture that is heathen. We have slowly started to fight back, but it’s a massive fight. More in these implications in a later post.