In this post I offer a brief reflection on the Great Commission. These are the final words recorded in the book of Matthew (chapter 28), and as such, they bear special weight for the church today. Let’s first read the passage and then make several key observations.
Matt 28:16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Clarification: Who is the Great Commission For?
I have heard Christians question whether or not the great commission is really something you and I as Christians today are responsible for. “After all,” they say, “Jesus gave this command to the apostles, not to us.”
It’s a fair question. But there are several reasons why we should view this command as applying to you and me as Christians.
First off, in this passage, Jesus doesn’t address these men as apostles. He addresses them as disciples. Insofar as we are disciples of Jesus as well, this command has bearing on our lives.
Second, Jesus’ command applies to us because it hasn’t been accomplished yet! The command was to make disciples of “all nations.” This has not yet happened. So the task is not yet finished. The commandment carries on to today.
Now, let’s look at more of the details of this passage.
Verse 16: Mountains
In obedience to Jesus, they went to the mountain, “to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.” Mountains are where men met with God; it was where Moses received the Law; it was where Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount; it was where the disciples saw Jesus transfigured. And it is where this “new Israel,” the church, is receiving its marching orders.
Key point: the church exists, and our mission to reach the world exists, because Jesus has assembled us. He is the one who initiated this plan, not us.
Verse 17: Doubt
“They worshiped him, but some doubted.”
Out of the eleven, all of them worshiped him. Out of the eleven, some of them (three? four?) doubted. It is possible, it seems, to worship in doubt. I don’t know if it was a joyful doubt, like “I can’t believe this is true!” or if it was a skeptical doubt, like “I must be dreaming; dead men don’t rise.” Regardless, though their hearts doubted, they assented to what they saw – Jesus arisen – and they worshiped.
Key point: the great commission begins with a worship that transcends doubts. The disciples’ worship prepared them to receive the command to make disciples of all nations. Are you struggling to accept the great commission? Return to the root of worship.
Verse 18: The Authority Behind the Great Commission
Jesus says He has been “given” (ἐδόθη) authority. In the Greek, it is the first word He says to His disciples. Putting a word first in Greek is a way to emphasize it (like putting something in bold). So Jesus really wants to emphasize: He has been given something.
What is given by the Father? Authority over everything. The Father has recognized Jesus as King, crowned him as King of everything. It reminds me of Daniel 7:13-14.
“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.
By saying that Jesus has received authority, He is likely also saying that this prophecy from Daniel has been fulfilled. And according to Daniel, there is a very specific reason why this authority is handed over to the Son of Man. It’s so that all nations would worship Him.
Key point: missions and evangelism are able to happen because Jesus has already been crowned king. And the point of this outreach is so that Jesus would receive worship from all over the world.
Verses 19-20a: The Commands of the Great Commission
We come at last to the specific directions. It has four specific commands:
- Make disciples
As you may have heard before, in the Greek, the word for “Make disciples” is prioritized. The other three commands are actually further descriptions of what it looks like to make disciples. So let’s ask two questions: first, what is a disciple? And second: how are disciples made?
What is a disciple?
A disciple is someone who is a lifelong learner and follower of Jesus. It is someone who has turned from their own efforts to fix themselves and have trusted entirely in Jesus. It should be noted again that Jesus is talking to disciples (verse 16) and at the same time telling them to make disciples (verse 19). In other words, the command is to multiply yourselves.
And we get a glimpse at what discipleship is all about in this passage. The disciples are described as those who:
- Obey Jesus: in verse 16, they obeyed Jesus in coming to the mountain.
- Worship Jesus: in verse 17, we saw that they worshiped Him in spite of their doubts.
More could be said. But these are foundational.
How do we make disciples?
So what does it take to make a disciple? Jesus describes it with three other commands.
It involves going. This going is often literal: you must actually move your body from where it is to somewhere else. But it is also a command for us to come out from our comfort zones. It’s a command to be active in your community. This command challenges us to not spend all our time with just Christians, but to “go,” to live amidst people who need Jesus, to make friends with all kinds of people.
It involves baptizing. The command to baptize is shorthand for conversion. This assumes the person has heard and responded to the Gospel in faith and repentance. It also shorthand for introduction into the church. So our mission as the church is to go to the peoples of this world, introduce them to Jesus, see them come to faith, and introduce them into the church.
It involves teaching. If “going” emphasizes being with people, then “teaching” emphasizes speaking to them. It is popular in today’s world to picture all spiritual conversations as a “give and take.” I enlighten you with my perspective, and you enlighten me with yours. And there is some truth to this: I often do learn a lot through my evangelistic conversations. But Jesus was picturing the preaching of the Gospel to be one where the Christians are passing on knowledge that the other person did not have before.
And this teaching is ongoing. We are to teach disciples everything that Jesus has commanded. So the Great Commission extends all the way from evangelism to discipleship; it is a seamless whole.
Verse 20b: I Am With You
The book of Matthew begins and ends with promises of God’s presence.
- Matthew 1:23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).”
- Matthew 28:20 “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Evangelism is built on the hope of God’s presence. As you make disciples, Jesus is with you. As you go, baptize, and teach, He is right there with you.
And this is not a weak Jesus who is with you. This is God almighty, the Son of Man who has received all the kingdoms of this world. He is with you always. So be encouraged!