The disciples would not have for a moment mistaken the mandate to refer to the political nation-states of the world, or confused the imperative of the Great Commission to non-Jewish people in general. Each of the eleven were from a region called ‘Galilee of the Gentiles” (the Greek word translated “Gentiles” in Matthew 4:15 is the same word ethne which means “peoples” or “nations” in Matthew 24:14 and 28:20). Galilee in that day was known for a multiplicity of diverse peoples living with different languages and customs.
They knew themselves as descendants of Abraham, destined to bless the clans and extended “families” of the world. The knew of the Messianic Son of Man —
“He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.”
For years they had traveled with Him, watching and helping as He systematically covered entire regions. He had sent them more than once to specific peoples and places, always directing them to enter into significant relationships to stimulate lasting movements of hope in Christ’s kingdom. The gospel was not to be announced without actually going to the places where people lived. Now He was sending them to distant lands to do more of the same to leave behind household-based movements of discipleship and prayer.