“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” -Matthew 28:18-20
Each of the four Gospels describes Jesus commissioning His disciples before His ascension. The disciples were to proclaim the gospel to the world (Mark 16:15), proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins to all nations (Luke 24:47), and were being sent by Jesus with the power of the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-22).
The most famous commissioning is recorded in Matthew 28. It is known as the Great Commission, the final charge from Jesus to His followers. These three verses contain a declaration, a command, and a promise from the Savior of the world.
Yet many believers don’t know what the Great Commission is. In a 2018 Barna study, 51% of churchgoers said they were unfamiliar with this term. Only 17% of respondents said they knew the term and the Scripture associated with it.
Even though 17% of churchgoers know the Great Commission, it doesn’t mean all of them are obediently following it. Given that this was Jesus’ final command before leaving this earthly realm—His “famous last words” in essence—it’s crucial that His followers today heed the task laid before them.
The first step in doing so is understanding what the Great Commission is.
What is the Great Commission?
Its name hints at its core meaning. The Great Commission is a commission, a task, a mission that was originally assigned to Jesus’ apostles. The central task is to make disciples. To do this, one must go to the lost and then baptize and teach believers to obey Jesus’ commands.
The commission is accompanied by a declaration that Jesus has all authority in Heaven and on Earth (Matthew 28:18) and a promise that He will be with us to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
The Great Commission is recorded in the New Testament, but its origins date back to Genesis. God promised Abraham that all the peoples on Earth would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:3). Matthew emphasizes this point when he begins his account of Jesus’ life by tracing His lineage back to Abraham (Matthew 1:1-17).
Therefore, the Great Commission was not a new concept Jesus introduced but the realization of God’s covenant to Abraham.
Is it still relevant?
With the expansion of the internet, it can be difficult to believe that anyone has not at least had the opportunity to hear or read the gospel. Yet more than 3.2 billion people worldwide are unreached with the gospel, according to the Joshua Project.
Within those 3.2 billion people are more than 7,000 unreached people groups. These people groups either live in areas that are remote with limited access to the rest of the world or in places with high levels of Christian persecution, thereby limiting the spread of the gospel.
Without believers actively seeking to take the gospel to the unreached, there is little to no chance these people groups will ever receive the good news. It is the responsibility of believers today proclaim Jesus’ name to those who have never heard.
Jesus also indicated the task would be ongoing when He said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20).” He promised to be with believers in this commission to the end of the age, so the mission must continue until that time.
So is the Great Commission still relevant? The answer is yes; it is relevant and urgent. The task did not end with the original disciples, and it is still not over today.
Are all Christians supposed to partake in the Great Commission?
The Great Commission was not meant just for the original disciples. In Acts, it says persecution caused the church in Jerusalem to scatter, and “[t]hose who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went (Acts 8:4).”
That early Church modeled that as new believers were discipled, they in turn preached the gospel and discipled others. This is because all believers are called to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) and to be ready “to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15).”
This means every obedient follower of Jesus is called to participate in His Great Commission.
However, not every disciple of Christ is called to be a missionary. To say the only way to be a part of the Great Commission is by traveling overseas is a narrow view of the task. Even Paul, a great missionary for the Lord, did not ask the Roman Church to join him in his travels. Rather, he asked his fellow believers to assist him on his journey (Romans 15:24) and to join him in prayer (Romans 15:30).
So though God does not expect every believer to become a cross-cultural worker, all Christians can support and advocate for Great Commission work. It may look like stewarding financial resources to support a missionary overseas or praying for missionaries and unreached peoples.
With that said, believers should not discount the possible call on their lives to work on the front lines. It could be a calling as short as a weeklong mission trip or as long as a 30-year deployment. The point is to discern how God is leading you to participate in His mission and to faithfully respond to that leading.
Approximately 2,000 years after Jesus gave the Great Commission, it is still one of the least understood and least recognized commands in the Bible.
Over the next few weeks, we will explore the commission line by line in hopes of developing a better understanding of it and encouraging active involvement in it.
This relevant and urgent commission, which is rooted in the Old Testament, is for every believer to make the name of Jesus known among the nations. Go and be a part of God’s great redemptive work.
“The Great Commission is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed.” -Hudson Taylor