Deuteronomy: The Great Commission of the Old Testament

Christians often think of Deuteronomy as boring legal code – a second-giving or re-run of the law. Why then did New Testament authors find it their third favorite book of the Old Testament to quote?

Deuteronomy warmed the hearts of God’s people of old because the book is Moses’ powerful life-end sermon that served as the Great Commission of the Old Testament. It was crafted to set hearts aflame with love for God and a vision for his kingdom among those who awaited the Messiah by faith. Jesus spoke the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 to his disciples at the end of his time on earth, and those words enlarged hearts for God and set the course for his disciples through time until he comes again.

Consider the similarities in the life-circumstances of the preachers:

  • Moses preached Deuteronomy at the end of his life on earth as his people were sent into a new and daunting mission.
  • Jesus preached the Great Commission at the end of his life on earth as he sent his people into a new and daunting mission.

Consider the similarities in redemptive history:

  • Moses preached Deuteronomy after the Old Testament picture of salvation, deliverance from Egypt, had been accomplished.
  • Jesus preached the Great Commission after accomplishing our salvation at the cross and empty tomb.

Consider the divine authority that undergirded each commissioning:

  • Moses reminded the people of God’s authority and power. ‘Your eyes have seen all that the LORD your God has done to these two kings. So will the LORD do to all the kingdoms into which you are crossing. You shall not fear them, for it is the LORD your God who fights for you’ (Deuteronomy 3:21-22).
  • Jesus asserted “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

Consider the command to “Go”:

  • Moses told the nation of Israel waiting to cross the Jordan and take the Promised Land to “go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you” (Deuteronomy 4:1)
  • Jesus told his disciples to “Go therefore…”

Consider the scope of the task:

  • Moses called the people to take a particular piece of land: “take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you” (Deuteronomy 4:1)
  • Jesus sent his disciples to “make disciples of all nations.”

Consider the mission:

  • Israel, in the incubator of the Old Testament era, was to make disciples of one nation: “See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’” (Deuteronomy 4:5-6).
  • Jesus called his followers to make disciples of all the nations who will live out the disciplines ordained in God’s word.

Consider the unique identity that the people were to bear – separated from the world as God’s own people:

  • Moses called people to remember their allegiance to the one God who had saved them as his own possession and given them his name: “Hear O, Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4) “And the LORD has declared today that you are a people for his treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 26:18). “And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 28:10).
  • Jesus commands us to baptize his followers into the singular name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Consider the spiritual meaning of the sign and seal of the covenant in each case:

  • Moses declared that God was looking for the sign of the covenant to signify and seal spiritual reality in Israel: “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).
  • Jesus told his disciples to “baptize” as a picture of spiritual cleansing and renewal.

Consider the scope of the instruction and practice of life for God’s people each case:

  • Moses said: “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 32:46).
  • Jesus told his disciples to be “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Finally, consider the promise:

  • Moses concluded by reminding God’s people that the their comfort in the midst of their commission to take the land was that “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).
  • Jesus comforted these words with “And, behold, I am with you always to the end of the age.”

Moses spoke to God’s people in a time when they stood at a spiritual crossroads. God had delivered them from bondage by his grace, he had given them their constitution as a nation, and he had promised them the land. Would they advance forward by faith as his disciples with courage and fidelity or not? Would they complete their mission and take the land and dwell in it as his disciples? So with Jesus’ disciples as they stood on the mountain that day.

Christians love the Great Commission because it tells so much of the will of God for our lives – we find our bearings in it. Why would it be a surprise that the Great Commission of the Old Testament would have been so deeply loved by the people of God as they sought to fulfill his command and purpose for their lives as they awaited the Savior?

And how much are we missing, if we do not delight in Deuteronomy which shows us in miniature and embryonic form so much of what life is to be for the people of God? Yes, the ceremonial law has been fulfilled, and the laws of Deuteronomy are not to be directly imported into our situation. But we ought to see the character of God laid out in that era through this sermon. It points us to Jesus in more ways than we have time to delineate here. Thus, we should be motivated with great love for the Lord to serve him and keep his commandments, and fulfill his mission for us in response to his grace.

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