The Future of Jesus (Part 1): Discipling the Nations before the Second Advent

What kind of future should we expect before the return of Christ and the general Resurrection and Final Judgment?

In Daniel chapters 2 and 7, we have two visions representing future history from the time that Daniel lived. Both visions give us a timeline of four successive empires that are Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman. In the time of Rome, this history is brought to an end. In chapter 2, it is said to be ended by a rock from heaven that is thrown to earth and then grows into a great mountain:

And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure (Daniel 2:44–45 ESV)

So this kingdom is set up then, at that point in calendar history, not later. Furthermore, it is not invisible nor inconsequential to these very public empires with all their cultural power. It is a direct rival and replacement.

The vision in Daniel 7 is shows the ending as a great verdict and enthronement of “one like a son of man.” We are told (more than once) that this figure represents “the saints”:

I approached one of those who stood there and asked him the truth concerning all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of the things. “These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.” (Daniel 7:16–18).

As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom (Daniel 7:21–22).

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;
his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
and all dominions shall serve and obey him (Daniel 7:26–27).

The break here could be seen as slightly less dramatic than in Daniel 2 (see 7:12), but it gives us the same picture of history (future history from Daniel’s time).

The kingdom is established during the Roman Empire. And it is a public, visible kingdom that cannot fail to clash with the essential elements of the kingdoms or empires that preceded it.

When Jesus took upon himself the title “the Son of Man,” he was (among other things) invoking Daniel’s prophecy. After he was executed by the wicked actions of the various parties, including the (albeit reluctant) Roman governor, the official Roman seal was put on the stone blocking the entrance to his tomb.

But Jesus was not to be defeated by the beasts. He rose to new life.

Yet, when he met his disciples on a mountain, Matthew tells us that their response to Him was mixed: “And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17). What were they doubting? They probably doubted that the Kingdom had come as Daniel prophesied. The corrupt priests were still in power. Herod still reigned. Rome still had control of the world.

So how did Jesus respond? We know from Acts 1 and elsewhere that Jesus ascended into the sky and was taken from sight in a cloud. But before he ascended he said these words:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you all the days to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18–20).

The disciples are to bring all national/ethnic groups (ethnoi) into submission to Jesus by teaching them everything Jesus commands so that they observe it.  This involves not just teaching a moral code, but initiation into a new society through baptism. With these marching orders come two assurances: first, that Jesus has gained cosmic authority and second, that he will be with his disciples as they carry out his commands.

The claim to have now gained all authority (especially followed by ascending into a cloud!) was and is immediately recognizable as an appeal to a prophecy in Daniel’s visions:

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).

The Great Commission (as Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18–20 has come to be called) is obviously carried out through conversion and discipleship of persons. We baptize persons, after all. But just as obviously, that is only the beginning. All nations are supposed learn to observe all that Jesus has taught. Note the word “all” is used four times:

  • All authority
  • All nations
  • All that I have commanded
  • All the days until the end of the age

I don’t see how one could get from these words the idea that, before the end of the age, fewer than all the nations will be discipled. I think we see confirmation that this discipleship will take place in Revelation 20. Granted, Revelation is highly symbolic, and I wouldn’t expect to persuade very many Christians on the basis of a text from Revelation alone. But I point this out for consideration.

Revelation 20 tells of a “thousand years” when the martyred saints come to life and reign with Christ. This is a period of time before the general resurrection and the final judgment. In describing those who reign on thrones, Revelation 20:4 virtually quotes Daniel 7:22. I doubt this period of time is limited to a literal thousand years. Like God owning the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10), a thousand could easily be an understatement.

Since the Bible teaches that there is one bodily resurrection at the end of history (1 Corinthians 15; John 5:28–29; Acts 24:14–16), I take the “the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:5) as a way of speaking of the elevation of the souls of the saints in union with the (literally) resurrected Jesus Christ.

During this time, Satan is chained in a bottomless pit to prevent him from deceiving the nations (Revelation 20:1–4). After the thousand years, Satan “must be released for a little while” (v. 4).

If the chaining of Satan is done so the Great Commission can be carried out, then what happens at his unchaining “for a little while” is not surprising. Satan “will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth” (Revelation 20:8a). This is not identical language to the Great Commission, but it sounds quite comprehensive. Satan’s deception campaign requires him to travel widely.

Why does Satan need to deceive these nations? What has happened to them while he was restrained from deceiving them? It seems pretty obvious that they were taught the truth while Satan’s power to mislead was taken away from him.

Consider what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough (2 Corinthians 11:1–4).

The basic point here is that Satan deceives people who have been taught and believed the truth. He deceived Eve, and Paul worried that Satan was also deceiving the Corinthian Christians whom he had discipled. Satan’s worldwide deception tour is evidence that all these nations will be Christian nations for a long time before Satan is released to deceive them.

Daniel’s visions aren’t the only places in Scripture that point out that God wants to see his Gospel overwhelm the world for a lengthy period of time. God clearly wants to see the nations discipled. Thus God tells Isaiah, speaking to his servant, that he considers it to small a thing for Israel to be restored and saved as a nation by God:

It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Thus says the LORD,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation,
the servant of rulers:
“Kings shall see and arise;
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
because of the LORD, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you (Isaiah 49:6–7).

God cares about all the nations and he wants to save them. That was his purpose in calling Abraham, so that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Or as the Apostle Paul paraphrases it (mashing up several promises):

And 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).

Much more needs to probably be written about this topic, but that will need to await later posts. I think it would be appropriate to end this one with Psalm 67:

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm. A Song.
May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
that your way may be known on earth,
    your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
    let all the peoples praise you!
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
    for you judge the peoples with equity
    and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
    let all the peoples praise you!
The earth has yielded its increase;
    God, our God, shall bless us.
God shall bless us;
    let all the ends of the earth fear him!

Mark Horne is a member of the Civitas group, and holds an M.Div from Covenant Theological Seminary. He is assistant pastor at Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, and is the executive director of Logo Sapiens Communications. He writes at, and is the author, most recently, of “Solomon Says: Directives for Young Men” from Athanasius Press.

Originally published 17 May 2024 at Solomon Says:

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