God came down to live among us in the person of Jesus Christ. Both fully man and fully God, He demonstrated a perfect sinless life of devotion and submission to God. He set a fantastic example for us to learn from and replicate. Then He fulfilled the purpose for which He came through His suffering, death, and resurrection… providing a path for those of us who accept Him as Lord to be reconciled with God regarding the punishment of our sins.
After His resurrection, Jesus gave a clear command to His disciples regarding what He wanted them to do. We should study this command and obey it as well. It not only applies to the disciples, but to all who truly submit to Jesus Christ and therefore commit to do His work and obey His will and honor His kingdom. The command may not be easy to follow, but neither was dying on the cross easy. Jesus’ command should be very important to each of us that declare Him “Lord”.
16But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Those of us who serve Christ have our marching orders, a mission if you will. Jesus did not say… “Live comfortably and according to your own desires. When you feel like it and when it is convenient and easy, please consider telling others about me.” Not at all. Quite the opposite. Jesus commands us to go and make disciples of all the world! Do not think that this was easy for the disciples either, but rather it was a challenging task. Let’s examine the command a little more closely as we begin.
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
This statement clearly confirms to us that Jesus has the full authority to speak for God. Jesus’ tone is different now from earlier in His earthly ministry when He consistently said He could do only His Father’s will. He absolutely has authority over us and to refuse to obey His command is to rebel. You either obey or rebel. There is no “comfortable” middle ground where we sort of obey, but not fully.
But what is He asking us to do when He says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”
“Go” certainly seems clear. It is an action very different from “wait”. We should take action to fulfill the request, not wait for people to come to us and ask about Jesus.
“Therefore” refers to the sentence preceding… because Jesus has all authority, He has authority over us and He is commanding us to perform this mission. We either obey or rebel. There is no comfortable and convenient middle ground.
“…and make disciples…”
To make “disciples” is to make “learners”, people who can learn about God and then, once ready, teach others. We are not commanded to make “converts”, who accept Jesus, but then require constant care and feeding (spiritually) from a pastor or other members of the body of Christ. We are to first lead them to conversion and then prepare the new Christians to be able to “feed” themselves (spiritually), growing in their relationship with the Lord for the rest of their lives. This obviously implies that we, too, must learn first how to feed ourselves and become mature Christians, seeking and submitting to God and obeying His word while constantly learning to know Him more intimately.
“…of all the nations…”
Of whom are we to make disciples? Just those like us? Just those nearby or just those far away? No. We are to make disciples of “all the nations”. To accomplish this we will clearly have to work together as the body of Christ, united in one mission… one purpose… each using the gifts and abilities God has given us to fulfill this great commission. Everyone must participate; no one can sit on the sidelines just watching and letting others complete the mission. Notice He does not command us to make disciples of all the people… as many will reject Him and we can not force someone to accept Jesus. But we are to bring the message around the world so all can hear the good news of the gospel.
“…baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…”
Baptism is important because it represents a public proclamation of submission to God. Jesus commands us to publically acknowledge Him before others. There is no such thing as a private or secret faith. Such faith is not faith at all. Many ask if the name of God matters… YES, the name matters. God revealed through Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is very different than other false gods and false representations of God. God revealed through Father, Son, ands Holy Spirit is, by definition, different than even the incorrect Jewish belief that worships the God of the Old Testament (which is correct), but rejects Jesus as God (incorrect). All religions are not equal. Only one is correct. Those who accept Jesus will have eternal life with God, those who follow other gods will be separated from God for eternity in hell… as a result of their own choice to reject Him. If this is a hard teaching and you want to reject it, your argument is not with me, but with God, Himself.
“…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…”
How can we teach others if we do not first learn ourselves? We must study and seek God consistently and for a lifetime. Do not read the Bible in a year, read it for a lifetime. Focus on understanding and applying rather than just reading a target number of pages in an arbitrary timeline such as a year. Reading scripture was not helpful to the Pharisees and religious leaders as they were not truly applying it correctly. They read it, but did not fully understand and apply it correctly. Truly there was more rejoicing in heaven for the sinners who repented and sought forgiveness in Jesus, despite not knowing the scriptures well, than for all the “learned” and “well read” scholars that refused to submit to God. That said, when we submit to Jesus, we must take on the serious work of reading scripture and understanding it and applying it in our lives.
Note also that Jesus commands us to obey and teach others to obey “all that I commanded you”. All means all. Those truly submitted to Christ do not get to pick and choose which of His teachings they want to follow and which they reject because they do not like them or understand them or because they are unpopular. Righteousness is unpopular. So is holiness. So was Jesus Christ. Seek to please God rather than men. Obey and teach all that Jesus commanded.
Just for clarity, this includes observing all the Old Testament laws given by God. The earthly ministry of Jesus Christ did not change right and wrong so as to lead us away from following God’s law, but rather Jesus constantly lived the example of honoring God’s law including things like honoring Sabbath and celebrating Passsover, which have been incorrectly tossed aside by mainstream Christianity today. For more on this subject, read our teaching on Understanding The Law – What Does It Mean For Us Today?
“… and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
It is amazing and at times overwhelming how much significance is contained inside this command from Jesus, commonly called the Great Commission. To obey such a command may seem a daunting or intimidating task. So, too, it must have seemed to the disciples when Jesus first commanded them. That is why Jesus finishes by assuring them that He will be with them throughout this mission and beyond.
We now have the benefit of seeing the successes and failures of God’s people in living out the Great Commission 2000 years later. While individuals and groups of people often fail, God has none the less used many courageous servants to spread the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ across the world. (For more on the gospel Of Jesus Christ, read our teaching The Message Of The Cross – Salvation.)
But there is much more work to be done. The mission is not complete. Now it is our turn!
How do we begin such a task? Study and follow the example of Jesus Christ. Likewise, we can study how others, like Paul or Moses or Elijah practiced discipleship to share God’s word. We explore this in more detail in our teaching, The Great Commission – Personal Discipleship Plan.