God first makes the case clear that the gospel is for all nations in the story of Pentecost, which finds its roots in the story of the Tower of Babel. You’ll recall from our discussion in Chapter 3 that Deuteronomy 32:8 tells us that when God divided up the nations, he handed each nation over to a son of God (that is, a supernatural being). He then chose the people of Israel as His own nation.
According to the Bible, this dividing of the nations happened at the Tower of Babel. In this story, we come across a stubborn people who don’t really seem to be following God all that well. Instead of filling the earth as both Adam and Noah were told to do (Gen 1:28, 9:1), everyone is instead trying to build a tower that will keep them located in one place (Gen 11:4). And since archeologists are fairly certain that this tower was a ziggurat (which was a stairway of sorts meant to reach up to the heavens so that spiritual beings could walk down to the earth), we see that the Tower of Babel likely represents some kind of faulty religious idea. Perhaps they were trying to cram God into their box of how they wanted Him to operate, or perhaps they were doing something connected to the giants, since they were trying to make a “name” for themselves (Gen 11:4) in building that tower, and the giants were known literally as the “men of the name” (Gen 6:4). Whatever the case was, there is enough going on in the Tower of Babel story for us to tell that things are sketchy.
God responded to all of this sketchiness by changing everyone’s languages, which propelled them away from the tower and into the new nations that fell under the sons of God. This was their punishment. Rather than have the one true perfect God lead them, they now had lesser imperfect beings lead them.
With all of this in mind, we see that Pentecost becomes the great reversal of Babylon. Just as everyone was in one place at the time of Babel, so was everyone in one place on the day of Pentecost. But while the people of Babel were propelled away from God by their languages, the people of Pentecost invited the nations back to God by their languages.
Pentecost is the Holy Spirit’s “Welcome Home” ceremony and an “Empowerment Service” to complete Jesus’ Great Commission. Authority in Heaven and Earth was once divided amongst spiritual beings and humans, but now the cross has ensured that all authority in Heaven and Earth rests in Jesus alone. And so on Pentecost the Holy Spirit leads the charge in forcing Christians out to reach the nations that were once disinherited by God. They will extend the invitation to come home.
Peter will eventually come to understand this when he watches a person outside of Israel receive the Holy Spirit (Ac 10). Philip will see just how indiscriminate God’s invitation is when the Holy Spirit sends him to evangelize to an Ethiopian eunuch on the fringes (Ac 8:26-40). Paul will eventually realize that God has called him to be an apostle to the gentiles (Eph 3:1) and he will begin to make his way to the ends of the earth to share the good news.
But though the early church was learning to reach outsiders, they didn’t always get it right. For example, one time Peter was eating with some Gentiles when he saw some super-religious Jews walk towards him. He was afraid of what they might think of him eating with outsiders, so he left their dinner table and all of the other Jews that were with him followed suit. In doing so, they brought racial division into the church. Paul had some strong words for Peter for that one (Gal 2:11–14).
Stories and narratives like this should go to convict us today. For most of our churches are built around the things that divide us rather than the Jesus who unites us. We often church-shop with the intention of finding a like-minded and similarly-cultured church that we can relate to. And even when there is diversity in our church, that diversity is often divided into locations throughout our sanctuary.
We’d think that 2,000 years of following the Great Commission would have made us a bit more intent on fighting this issue, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It seems we’re sometimes more willing to raise up missionaries to go to other cultures than to open our own doors to other cultures. The early church calls us to repent and not to make the same mistakes that they did. They have given us examples of both what to do and what not to do, and they expect that we will take note.
There is no space for racism in the Church of the Great Commission. By all means, the Church cannot complete its mission with racism in their hearts, for it would hold them back from the very thing they were assigned to do.
In the end, God is coming back not for a white bride, but a diverse one. This woman will have within her glimpses of every nation, tribe, and tongue. Within her will be found representatives of people from every last false god that once held power. Every spiritual being once granted authority will feel the loss of having people from their nation stripped right out of their hands by Jesus. The gods will be sentenced to the finality of death while the humans who once followed them will move onto Heaven because they have chosen to follow Jesus.
To be truly evangelistic, we must be truly antiracist. We must open our hearts to those whom God has opened His heart to. We must lay down our pride and privilege and wash feet, for our God laid down His pride and privilege to do just that for us. We who often find ourselves at the top of the chain of command in the Church in the west, must recognize that we are largely Gentiles who “eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Mt 15:27). We should be humble enough to realize that we were not born into the line of the chosen, but were extended the opportunity to join the chosen. And then we should practice that same kind of humility when we go to offer others the same chance.
God is not content to come back until He has obtained the masses. And so the Great Commission continues on, and we are bound to it until Jesus returns. For our God longs for the world, and He will have it.