The Ends of the Earth

Gospel to the Ends of the Earth 101

Len Bartlotti 24 Apr 2024

Christ’s power-packed commission in Acts 1:8 compels us to look beyond where we are now—our own church, community, nation, and ‘people like us’—to see a world full of other peoples, places, and nations that God loves. ‘The problem,’ according to international researcher Chris Maynard, ‘is that most Christians are where most Christians are.’ That is, ‘85% of Christians live in countries where more than 50% of people consider themselves Christians.’ So for 85% of Christians, ‘if they literally lift up their eyes, they will see Christians.’[1]

‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

In light of our global mandate, how can we rediscover God as a missionary God, our identity as a missionary people, and ‘see’ what most Christians don’t see—a world of peoples without Christ? What is our Spirit-empowered part in God’s plan? What do we need to understand to help us re-prioritize our mission to ‘all nations’ and the ‘ends of the earth’?

One temptation is to treat Acts 1:8 as a multiple choice question: ‘Pick one: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, ends of the Earth?’ Another approach reduces the verse to a gradual, sequential witness strategy: ‘First Jerusalem, then we’ll get to “the uttermost parts”.’ Missions becomes an appendix, an exotic add-on to which we make forays. ‘This approach often is used by Christians to avoid moving out of their comfort zones to spread the Gospel of Christ. They will say, “I have to reach my family (my Jerusalem) before I can reach anyone else”.’ However, the verse says ‘and’ not ‘then’, ie, all contexts in no particular order.[2]

More commonly, we take a series of hermeneutical leaps: Jerusalem represents ‘my people, my locality’; Judea is ‘our region’; Samaria is ‘the despised Other’; and the ‘ends of the earth’ or ‘uttermost parts’ equals global mission. The bothersome fact, however, is that the disciples were from Galilee, not Jerusalem! ‘Jerusalem’ was not their home, neighborhood, or people. I admit, the metaphors are a useful preaching device (I’ve done it!) but are not supported exegetically. Jesus was speaking of literal historical places and cultural spheres; by Acts 10, the Spirit is advancing the Word and stirring the church into ‘ends of the earth’ mode, that is, the Gentile world. That’s where we are now!

One antidote for our near-sightedness is to keep the end in view. God begins His redemptive plan with the end in mind. ‘I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please’ (Isa 46:10). In this sense, ‘the ends of the earth’ should arguably be the first topic, not the last, on the agenda of a missions gathering!

Our strategies should “work backwards” from the end goal. What has God revealed about His end-game plan for the nations? To begin this Missions 101 exploration, let’s “work backwards” in Acts 1:8 and consider what the Bible says about God’s plan for peoples and nations at “the ends of the earth,” then close with a few brief observations about the unfinished task today. 

The ‘Hinge’ Verse of the Bible

Isaiah 49:6 has been called the ‘hinge verse of the Bible’. God the Father and the Servant Son discuss the weightiness and ultimate intention of Messiah’s coming mission. Here we listen in on their Throne room board meeting:

‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
    to restore the tribes of Jacob
    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’
(Isa 49:6 NIV)

‘It is too small a thing.’ Other English translations say: ‘It is too light a thing’ (ESV, ASV), ‘It is a light thing’ (KJV), ‘It is not enough for you to be’ (CSB) or ‘ . . . to be merely’ (CEV) a redeemer of Israel alone. However great God’s love for His people, the sense of the Hebrew evokes a stark contrast: It is so ‘small’ and ‘light’ as to be ‘trivial’ (LEB),or ‘too trifling a thing’ (TLV) in comparison with God’s larger master plan of salvation!

Yahweh reveals that “the mission is not to Israel only, but to all the nations of the world. Redeeming Israel alone was too easy; Yahweh wishes for a greater display of His sovereignty.”[3]  That greater display is revealed in the next phrases.

“A light to the nations.” Israel’s corporate mission as a light to the nations (Isa 42:1–9) is “reassigned to the Servant individually, who fulfills Israel’s obligations to Yahweh in order to restore their relationship” and fulfill God’s mandate.[4]

“My salvation to the ends of the earth.” Through the Servant (cf. Isa 53), “the entire world—not just Israel—will have access to Yahweh’s salvation…nations would one day be included in the people of God.”[5] Foreigners would be welcome to offer joyous worship, acceptable sacrifices, and prayer inside the Temple as a part of God’s holy people, “for My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isa 56:7).[6]

The Ends of the Earth

The phrase “ends of the earth” is used 46 times in the Bible. Sometimes the phrase speaks of approaching judgement on God’s people, as when God “stirs up from the ends of the earth” an army from Babylon or “from the north” (Jer 6:22; 50:41). Other times, it forecasts foreboding, all-inclusive judgement on sinful humanity: “The tumult will resound to the ends of the earth, for the Lord will bring charges against the nations; he will bring judgement on all mankind and put the wicked to the sword…This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Look! Disaster is spreading from nation to nation (goy); a mighty storm is rising from the ends of the earth.’” (Jer 25:30-32).

Conversely, the prophets foresee a great salvific reversal! Gentile nations will one day “come from the ends of the earth and say, ‘Our ancestors possessed nothing but false gods, worthless idols that did them no good’…Therefore I will teach them—this time I will teach them my power and might. Then they will know that my name is the Lord” (Jer 16:19-21 NIV).

Metaphorically, “ends of the earth” means “as far as one can go.”  All the world. All humanity, and all compartments of humanity. Every race, nationality, ethnic and language group. All peoples everywhere.

“As far as one can go”—that’s something to think about! It is likely far, far away from our home zone or comfort zone, and Christianized contexts where the church is domestic and the Gospel (often) domesticated by a one cultural group or setting. “The ends of the earth” challenges us to consider: “How far” are we willing to go—geographically, culturally, socially, in prayer, service, suffering and sacrifice—to ensure that all peoples everywhere have a witness to the gospel?

Note, too, the Hebrew parallelism in the above verses: the near equation of “nations” (Hebrew, goyim) and “ends of the earth.” The “uttermost part” (KJV) or “ends of the earth” are the dwelling places of Gentile “nations,” non-Jewish peoples (goyim). “The ends of the earth” encompasses all peoples in all places, across time and space. No person, in any ethnolinguistic or social grouping, anywhere, escapes God’s scrutiny. This is critical for understanding the importance of the “people group” paradigm and prioritising “unreached” or “least reached peoples”—those sociocultural, linguistic, or ethnic groups with no viable, indigenous, church planting and disciple making movement among them.

Dave Datema explains that in the Old Testament, “goy can be applied to human groupings defined by a diversity of affinities/boundaries (ancestry, language, land, government) and became synonymous with non-Israelite Gentiles. In the Septuagint, goy is usually translated as ethnos,” the Greek term Jesus used in Matt 28:19, “disciple panta ta ethne.[7] These ethne or nations, universally, collectively (non-Jewish peoples), and individually (human groupings or people groups), are the focus of our commission and God’s redemptive plan.

“All the nations” was understood by both Matthew and his readers as a reference to both universality (everyone everywhere) and particularity (in all their diversity), meaning that it was impossible for them to conceive of the world as a collective whole without simultaneously seeing it in its many and diverse constituent parts. Panta ta ethne is both/and not either/or. It means the inclusion of all the nations/Gentiles in all of their God-given diversity. Ethne does include in its semantic range the idea of various human groupings and boundaries, including ethnicity. It is not a new or modern idea that people group proponents are reading into Scripture. It is rather an ancient understanding flowing naturally from the Old to the New Testament.”[8]

Swing Back: The Original Great Commission

The Isaiah 49:6 “hinge verse” swings back to the original “Great Commission” and “all peoples” mandate of Genesis 12 (long before Matt 28:18-20):

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”
(Gen 12:1-3)

The late John R.W. Stott, a founding leader of the Lausanne Movement, called these verses, “The most unifying verses in the Bible; the whole of God’s purpose is encapsulated here.”[9] “The Living God is a Missionary God,” he declared, not a petty tribal deity, but the Creator of the universe, of earth, and all humankind. In Gen 12 God sets in motion a plan to defeat the powers of darkness (cf. Gen 3:15) and redeem a people for Himself from among the fallen and scattered peoples of the world (Gen 3-11). Stott says, “God chose one man and his family in order, through them, to bless all the families of the earth.”[10] Through one chosen people, blessing was to flow to “all peoples on earth,” all nations, all places.

This unfolding story forms the backbone of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, what Steve Hawthorne calls “The story of His glory”: “God reveals His glory to all nations that He might receive glory from all nations.”[11] God’s purpose and desire, for the praise of His glory, is to have a “People from All Peoples,” a “Family from All the Families of the Nations.” “The ends of the earth” have been in view from the very beginning!

Missionary God, Missionary People

The people of God are a missionary people, “set apart from the peoples” and their idolatry, immorality, and customs (Lev 20:26; Ex 19:6). Israel was “consecrated” to God, a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”—an identity applied to the Church in 1 Peter 2:9-10. This “priestly people” has a “priestly duty” to mediate blessing to the nations (cf. Rom 15:18). God displays His holiness, power, and majesty through the obedient love and loving obedience of His covenant people. This challenges us to ensure that our lives, ministries, relationships, and witness display God’s holiness, glory, and power.

The Exodus revealed God’s power and righteousness “in the sight of the nations” (Ps 98:2 ESV). Israel’s deliverance from Egypt was not done in a corner! The story was trending on ‘social media’ in the ancient Near East—all nations “trembled in anguish” (Deut 2:25)!  God told Pharoah, “I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Ex 9:16).

In Israel’s Temple, Yahweh’s name, presence, and power were a missional attraction for foreign peoples and nations. Solomon prayed, “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name —for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel” (I Kings 8:41-43). The hearts, hopes, and prayers of every leader can imitate Solomon’s world-sized faith and intentionality: “So that all the peoples of the earth may know You!”

Through the prophets, God reminded the people of their identity as “witnesses” to His Lordship. When called to the stand in a court of law, a witness cannot remain silent! A witness testifies about what he/she knows, has seen or heard. God calls His people to a witness that is bold, clear, and unashamed, God-centered, and global: “I have revealed and saved and proclaimed— I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God” (Isa 43:12, 10; 44:8).

Missions is a melody. We go to the nations with songs in our hearts! It’s easy to worship in a sanctuary, hall, or stadium filled with passionate believers and a spirited band. But in the hard places, we may cry, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Ps 137:4). But even there, in the dark hours and lonely places, God is with us. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). How can we develop in our own souls and in NextGen “go-ers” and “senders,” the kind of perseverance, resilience, and dependence on the Spirit’s power needed to “sing a new song to the Lord” in a strange land?

Swing Forward: The Coming Savior and the Ends of the Earth

Just as the Isaiah 49:6 “hinge” swings back to Gen 12 and God’s unfolding mission in the Old Testament, it swings forward to the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah 49:6 connects the end with the beginning by revealing the means by which God’s purposes will be fulfilled, as well as the redemptive end, namely, “salvation to the ends of the earth.”

What is the means? God’s sends His chosen Servant, His only Son: “I will make you a light for the nations.” This was the Christ’s self-understanding: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor…” (Lk 4:18; cf. Isa 61:1-2). He came not only as Israel’s Messiah, but as the Lamb of God, the Savior of the world: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45; Mt 20:28). “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn 2:2). Christ’s sacrifice is not only sufficient, it is effective: “He shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isa 53:11 RSV).

The “Great Commission” in Mt 28:18-20, then, is neither a new thought nor the afterthought of an exiting Messiah! It is an affirmation, reiteration, and authority-packed mandate to carry forward and fulfill God’s original “ends of the earth” purpose. “Make disciples of all nations (panta ta ethne), baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

The difference now is that the Cross and Resurrection guarantees the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan by defeating sin, death, and the powers of darkness over the nations! “I will build My church (ecclesia) and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). “With your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9).

Empowered Witness

The book of Acts recounts the inexorable progress of the Word of God through a people empowered and sent by the Holy Spirit. “The word of God spread; and the number of the disciples multiplied” (6:7). “The word of God increased and multiplied” (12:24). “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily” (19:20). Religious opposition, imperial decrees, repression, persecution, tribulation, or death—nothing can stop the Gospel, “because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Rom 1:16). As Gamaliel advised the Sanhedrin, “I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (5:38-9).Driven by the Spirit, the Gospel has today advanced such that in every country on earth, there are believers in Christ and communities of faith! But there’s still work to be done.

In Acts 1:8, the Risen Christ promises the “power” to be “my witnesses.”  This power compels us to get out of our home zone and comfort zone, and cross every geographical, cultural, linguistic, and social barrier, to “the ends of the earth.” Without the abiding power of the Holy Spirit, our efforts are fleshly and ineffective: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zech 4:6). “Compelled by the Spirit I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there” (Acts 20:22). “Compelled…going…not knowing”—the order of the verbs is important! —this is the faith and Spirit-filled journey of Spirit-filled believers sent to be witnesses even “to the ends of the earth.”

Today, especially in cities, the nations are not “far off,” but near, at our doorstep! From Dubai, Singapore, and Sao Paulo, to New York, London, Brussels, and Marseille, the church must now impart the basic knowledge, understandings, and relational skills needed for cross-cultural witness as an essential component of discipleship. Ministry among unreached peoples includes diaspora and immigrant ministry among nations that are now our neighbors, many of whom maintain transnational connections.

“Sending,” however, is still needed. Some data suggests that many of the largest “frontier people groups” are only minimally represented in diaspora and migrating populations. Pioneer workers are still needed in the homelands. This is not a colonial or Western activity, a form of cultural imperialism, or ideological hegemony. Today’s mission is polycentric, “from every nation to every nation.” Sending begins with the Triune God. We need cross-cultural disciple makers “where Christ is not known” (Rom 15:20-21). May God give us eyes to see those “hidden peoples” who are not yet incorporated, or not “incorporable,” in existing churches and fellowships (due to barriers of understanding or acceptance).

Our calling to transformation does not negate our calling to world evangelization. We are called and privileged to declare—to testify, speak up, tell the story, proclaim—the Good News of salvation in Christ! Transformation without proclamation is abdication. The synergy of Word and Spirit is a theme throughout Scripture. The Spirit inspires, compels, and brings forth anointed speech. As “ambassadors for Christ,” we have ambassadorial authority and a duty to announce, implore, and appeal, in wise, winsome, and heartfelt ways, in the heart languages of all peoples, the “message of reconciliation”: “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:19-20). “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Rom 10:15).

Breathtaking Vision

The least reached peoples and the “ends of the earth” take us to the heart of the biblical narrative. As we embrace God’s desire for “a people from all peoples,” we see new global realities, and the persistent needs of the unevangelized.[12]

The final vision is breathtaking: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne…” (Rev 5:6). The incense prayers of God’s people and a new song fill the atmosphere:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
(Rev 5:9)

In this scene, the People of God are one, but many—multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual. United in faith and worship, with distinctions both visible and audible! Every ethne has its place in the heavenly stadium.

As New Testament scholar Gordon Fee outlines this panorama of radiant worship, the “new song” acclaims the means of his redeeming act (“with your blood”), the effect of that sacrifice (“you purchased for God”), the breadth of redemption (“members of every tribe and language and people and nation”), its goal (“made…to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God… they will reign on the earth”), and God-centered, God-ordained climax, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”[13]  We are invited to respond both with wonder and adoration, as well as with faithful cruciform witness (Revelation 6:9–11; 19:10) to “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 1:2; 20:4).

The Dimensions of the Task

3.4 billion people—40% of humanity—in 7,300 “unreached people groups (UPG)” (less than 2% Evangelicals and 5% Professing Christians). 2 billion of these in “frontier people groups,” with virtually no Christians of any kind, no known gospel movements. 1600 “unengaged UPGs”, with no known initiatives to reach them. Without access to the Gospel and church movements. Pioneer cross-cultural workers needed.[14] “This is the land that remains” (Joshua 13:2).

The Complexity of the Task

3500 Muslim unreached people groups (UPG), 2203 Hindu UPG, 511 Buddhist UPG, 925 Tribal UPG (ethnic religionists). Cultural, social, religious, political, prejudice, linguistic barriers. Urbanization, globalization, migration, affinity groups, multiple identities, deaf, global youth culture, persecution.

The Do-ability of the Task

Global Church—1 billion Great Commission Christians (living faith), 13% of humanity. Progress through movements in China, among Buddhists in Asia, tribal groups in Oceania and Latin America, some movements among Muslims and Hindus in SE Asia. Growing partnerships between agencies, collaboration between western and majority world, regional and international networks. Media and diaspora ministries. Vibrant prayer movements. “Ask of me and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession” (Ps 2:8). “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18). “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8).

The Priority of the Task

99% of international workers serve among the 3/4 of the world’s population where 99.99% of all followers of Jesus live. 1% of all international workers serve among the 1/4 of the world with 2 billion people, 5,000 people groups, and 0.01% Christians. Jesus left the 99 to find one lost sheep. “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.Rather, as it is written: ‘Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand’” (Rom 15:20-21). “Our hope is that… we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you” (2 Cor 10:15-16).

The Urgency of the Task

“‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Rom 10:13-15). “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Rom 10:17). “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations (ethne), and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14).

The Motivations for the Task[15]

  • Glory to God—Love of God and a passion for His Glory (John 17:4; 1 Pet 2:9; Rev 4:11; 5:12).
  • Obedience to God’s command—Commission to proclaim Christ and make disciples (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).
  • Love for others—Desire for their salvation and good (Luke 15:11-31; Rom 9:1-3; 2 Cor 5:14-15).Need—Compassion for the spiritual and physical needs of the Lost (Matt 9:35-38; 10:1; 14:13-31; Luke 19:41).
  • Reward—God’s pleasure and approval (1 Cor 3:11-15; 2 Cor 5:10-11; 1 Thess 2:19).
  • Hope—Passion and vision of the fulfillment of God’s purposes (John 4:34; 17:4; Rev 5:9; 7:9).


  1. Chris Maynard, “Shining a Light into a Dark Corner: Looking at Mission Information Work.” Global CMIS, 2018.
  3. Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., Whitehead, M. M., Grigoni, M. R., & Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Is 49:6). Lexham Press.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.; cf. Isa 2:2–4; 56:3-8
  6. Note that, in context, the house of prayer ‘for all nations’ does not refer to a place of intercession for those outside the temple (eunuchs, foreigners), but to prayers by offered inside by people previously excluded but now welcomed by God; this house is ‘for all nations’ to offer joyful, acceptable worship.
  7. David Earl Datema, “Panta ta Ethne: A Biblical Case for the People Group Concept in Mission,” in People Vision, (ed.) Leonard N. Bartlotti, William Carey Publishing, forthcoming 2024.
  8. David Earl Datema, “The universal particularism of panta ta ethne: A biblical case for the continued viability of the people group concept in mission,” in Missiology: An International Review, Vol 50 (2), 2021, p. 9, revised and republished in Bartlotti (ed), People Vision (forthcoming, 2024).
  9. “The Living God is a Missionary God,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Pasadena: William Carey Publishing, 2009, p. 3.
  10. Ibid., p.4.
  11. Steve Hawthorne, “The Story of His Glory,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Pasadena: William Carey Publishing, 2009.
  12. Leonard N. Bartlotti, “Reimaging and Re-envisioning People Groups,” in Evangelical Missions Quarterly, Vol 56 (4), 2020, revised and republished in People Vision, (ed.) Leonard N. Bartlotti, William Carey Publishing, forthcoming 2024.
  13. G. D. Fee, Revelation: A New Covenant Commentary, Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011, p. 88.
  14. Figures from , Dan Scribner, R.W. Lewis, and Chris Maynard. For a helpful theology of data and the importance of data in missions, see Chris Maynard, “Honouring Data in Missions,” WEA Missions Commission, Aug 26, 2023. .
  15. John 17:4; 1 Pet 2:9; Rev 4:11; 5:12; Matt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; Luke 15:11-31; Rom 9:1-3; 2 Cor 5:14-15; Matt 9:35-38; 10:1; 14:13-31; Luke 19:41;1 Cor 3:11-15; 2 Cor 5:10-11; 1 Thess 2:19; John 4:34; 17:4; Rev 5:9; 7:9.