The Great Commission is a common phrase in most evangelical circles. Although, in a recent study by Barna research, when asked of church goers, “Have you heard of the Great Commission?” 51% said no, and 25% said yes, but, “I can’t recall the exact meaning.”
This is an alarming statistic, but we should have known this. The fruit of this statistic has been playing out in the decline of Western Christianity for decades.
When asked about the content of the Great Commission, most people will reference Matthew 28:19-20 or quote a portion of it.
“‘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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” -Matthew 28:19-20, ESV
This is a great Great Commission passage, but it provides a narrowed focus of the task Jesus left us. To overcome the lack of knowledge of the Great Commission among church goers, church leaders need to expound on the diversity, depth, and divine promise that is in the Great Commission.
There are actually several Great Commission commands that Jesus gave at different times. Each Great Commission passage has a specific mandate and emphasis.
Here are five Great Commission passages listed in biblical order:
- Matthew 28:18-20
- Mark 16:15
- Luke 24:46-48
- John 20:21
- Acts 1:8
It’s a common assumption that each of the passages above are really the same message recorded differently by each of the gospel writers. However, these passages were actually all given at different times over the 40 days between Jesus' resurrection and ascension. The biblical order of the gospels doesn’t provide the chronological order. Once the passages are viewed separately and in sequential chronological order, they provide some great insight to the task of the Great Commission.
Let’s look at the passages in chronological order and make some observations.
“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’” -John 20:21, ESV
Jesus gave this commission in Jerusalem on the night of the resurrection. He told 10 of the disciples that He was sending them.
“And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.’” -Mark 16:15, ESV
Jesus also gave this commission in Jerusalem eight days after the resurrection. He told 11 disciples this time to go to the whole world.
“‘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 … .’” -Matthew 28:19, ESV
This time, Jesus spoke to the 11 disciples in Galilee about two weeks after the resurrection. The mandate to them was to make more disciples.
“… and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’” -Luke 24:46-48, ESV
Back in Jerusalem, Jesus spoke to the 11 disciples on the day of ascension and told them to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
“‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’” -Acts 1:8
Moments before the ascension, Jesus addressed the 11 disciples (and possibly more) on the Mount of Olives one last time, telling them they would receive power from the Holy Spirit.
The contextual clues show us that Jesus expressed the expectation of His followers to carry on His ministry. He also provides a repetitive and incremental communication of information, where each instance highlights a specific mandate and emphasis.
The individual emphases provide clarity to those seeking to fulfill the Great Commission.
- The Model (John 20:21): We should look to the Lord Jesus for our model of ministry. Jesus has a pattern laid out in the New Testament for engaging in the task given by the Father.
- The Magnitude (Mark 16:15): Jesus continues the narrative of the Old Testament that the knowledge of God’s glory is to cover the Earth as the water covers the sea. He clearly commands to go into all the world. Stopping short of that goal is settling for less than a biblical vision of the Great Commission.
- The Method (Matthew 28:18-20): Jesus had spent his three-year ministry investing in a few. Not only does Jesus tell us that He is our model, but he is emphasizing the method of making disciples, baptizing, and teaching obedience to all nations.
- The Message (Luke 24:46-48): Jesus wanted to ensure that the message His disciples were carrying was clear and concise. We are to carry a message of repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus to all nations.
- The Means (Acts 1:8): We cannot do this in our own power. Any attempt to fulfill the Great Commission without the power of God’s Spirit is more about an individual’s pride and self-glorification than the glory of God to all nations. Walking out the Great Commission is about walking boldly in the Spirit, carrying the message of the gospel to the whole world, and making disciples as Jesus modeled.
This should help you see the diversity and depth of the Great Commission, but what about the divine promise?
Jesus in His Olivet Discourse gives the reader a glimpse into the end of times. In Matthew 24, we see not a commission, but a divine promise:
“‘And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.’” -Matthew 24:14, ESV
John writing about the heavenly vision sees the fulfillment of this divine promise.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” -Revelation 7:9-10, ESV
Would you take the next step? Start with viewing your ministry through these five emphases and evaluate the work according to what Jesus has called His disciples to be about. If you find that you would like to grow in an area, you can reach out to East-West for a free evaluation and initial coaching conversations.