The Great Commission


The Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20)

If I could go to the very end of Matthew, I want to end with this one note. I want to end on this note of the Great Commission. Jesus has died, he’s been raised from the dead, and then you have this final scene beginning in Matthew 28:16. This is called the Great Commission; it’s Jesus’s commission not only to the eleven disciples, but to all disciples of all times: “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them (16). When they saw him” (when the disciples saw the resurrected Jesus) “they worshiped him, but some doubted (17).” They doubted perhaps what was the right way to respond to him. There was no question that they knew who Jesus was and that he had been raised from the dead. “Jesus came and said to them,” and here’s the Great Commission: “All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me (18). Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (19), teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (20).”

The starting point of Jesus’s authority is that he is the resurrected Lord. He possesses all authority and he commands in his Kingly authority that you and I accomplish the Great Commission. This is a very freeing thing to me when it comes to evangelism. I don’t need someone’s permission to talk to them about Jesus, because he who has all authority has told me to go do it. That frees us up to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. From a position of authority, Jesus says, this is what I want you to do.

The English reads, “Go therefore and make disciples.” The important thing to note here, and it’s impossible to bring it in the English clearly, is that there’s only really one imperative there, it reads like there are two, go and make, but there’s only one imperative and that is make. The Great Commission is to make disciples. Now the word translated as “go” picks up some of that imperatival force. Certainly the disciples are supposed to go to all the nations to preach, and certainly people among us are to go and preach, but the thrust of the Great Commission is that all followers of Jesus Christ make disciples. We are in the cloning business and we are to invite others to follow, not us, but to follow Jesus. We are to be disciples making disciples, that’s the Great Commission.

How do you make disciples? Well there are two participles, and that grammatical clue is the clue to the meaning, baptizing and teaching. How do you make disciples? Well, you baptize them. In other words, you must be involved in evangelism. You must be involved in presenting the claims of Christ to a lost and dying world. When they respond, you respond with baptizing them. Now you notice it’s baptizing in the name, which is singular, of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit which is plural. This is one of the prime Trinitarian passages in the Bible. One of the prime passages that assumes the trinity that God is one and that God is three. We’ll talk about that more in weeks to come, but part of the Great Commission is to make new disciples, baptizing them.

The second participle is teaching. How do you make disciples? “20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” In other words, this is what we generally call discipleship. The Great Commission is not only making new disciples, it is making fully devoted disciples of Jesus Christ. Often the Great Commission is understood only in terms of evangelism and that’s not accurate because Jesus doesn’t want the church to be a mile wide and an inch deep; that’s not the point. He wants it to be a mile wide and mile deep. The Great Commission is to make new disciples and then to help them to grow up to be fully devoted disciples of Jesus Christ. He says, “20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded,” and actually there’s a Greek word that’s left out in this translation because it’s bad English to bring it into English. The King James says, “all things whatsoever I taught you,” and the Greek is emphatic that way too. Part of the Great Commission is teaching people everything that Jesus taught his disciples. There is no biblical mandate for a church that is mile wide and an inch deep, it is not fulfilling the Great Commission.

We must make fully devoted disciples of Jesus Christ, but notice one other word here, “teaching them to observe,” he didn’t just say teaching them. Sitting in the class and learning all the facts and reading Systematic Theologies and listening to new lectures—none of that fulfills the Great Commission, but we are to teach these disciples to observe. How do you do that? In other words, this is not an intellectual thing only, it’s a behavioral thing, it’s a life style thing. How do you do that? How do you teach people to observe absolutely everything? You have to model it, don’t you? You have to model it. There’s no other way to do it, and in making fully devoted disciples we must be committed to the one-on-one and the one-on-three kinds of relationships, the mentoring relationships, the small groups as well as a larger group.

That’s the Great Commission. All authority is with Jesus and he said, make more just like yourself who will follow, not you, but me. You do that in the evangelization, in the baptizing, and in the discipleship in making fully devoted disciples by teaching and modeling the truths of Christ so it affects their lives. Then Jesus ends with this wonderful praise: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” To the very end of time, I’ve given you this command, I know it’s going to be a task, it’s going to be hard, but I promise I will be with you to go make disciples.


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