Most of us have probably heard of the Great Commission, but do we really understand its meaning? What is the Great Commission and what does the Bible say about it?
A commission is “an instruction, command, or duty given to a person or group of people.” Christians use the term to refer to Jesus’ final command to His disciples after his death, burial and resurrection. Matthew 28:18-20 contains the command:
“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.”
The Bible never actually uses the term the “Great Commission” The term was coined by missionaries in the late 1800’s and is now widely associated with a missionary’s call to go make disciples of all nations.
In order to understand the biblical meaning of the Great Commission, we must study Jesus’ words carefully. Jesus began by saying that all authority in heaven on earth had been given to Him. If authority had been given to Him, it must not have always belonged to Him. If it didn’t always belong to Him, who held this authority before Jesus? The answer is found in Luke 4: 5-7 which describes Satan’s temptation of Christ in the wilderness: “The devil led him [Jesus] up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Clearly, Satan held authority over earth prior to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. However, Jesus, through His work on the cross, defeated Satan and won back this authority that He is now using here to instruct the disciples.
After establishing His authority with the disciples, Jesus then instructs them to “go and make disciples of all nations”. But what is a disciple? The Greek term for “disciple” in the New Testament is mathetes. Mathetes means a “follower” or someone who adheres completely to the teachings of another, making them his rule of life and conduct. A disciple is more than just someone who identifies themselves as a Christian. A disciple’s main goal is to be like Jesus.
“All nations”. What did Jesus mean when He said all nations? It’s simple. He meant all nations. And all nations includes the United States of America. We do not have to leave our country to obey the Great Commission. Yes, we must GO and yes we must make disciples of all nations, but we can do it where we stand, right here and right now.
So how does one go and make disciples of all nations? Jesus did not leave us guessing. If you keep reading Matthew 28, Jesus gives us two ways to make disciples of all nations: first baptize [the nations] in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and second teach them to obey everything He has commanded us.
Baptism is a public confession of faith which identifies the person being baptized with Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Baptism can only come after hearing the Gospel. A disciple, obeying Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations, must first tell others about the Gospel. Once the Gospel is heard and then believed, the believer can make a public confession of faith.
After the public confession of faith, we are commanded to teach the believer to obey all Jesus’ commandments. Before a person can obey the commandments, they must first know the commandments. The commandments must be taught and then continuously demonstrated by other disciples.
This seems like a lot – a big command, making disciples of all nations. But the last thing Jesus’ said is “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus is with us. Jesus has not left us as we take up our cross and encourage others to do the same. Jesus is right here with us until the end.
As you can see, the Great Commission is more than the command to simply GO to other nations. The Great Commission is to GO AND MAKE disciples in your home, your local church, your City, your state, and your nation. The Great Commission is publicly confessing your faith to others through your words and your actions so that they can see Christ’s love working through you and maybe just maybe when they see Christ’s love in you, they will also accept the Great Commission and they too will GO MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS.