Last words are extremely important. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gives his disciples his standing orders. We call this the Great Commission.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.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 28:18–20 ESV)
In some cases, Jesus gives commands to his disciples that are meant just for that group and that time (e.g. “Remain in Jerusalem”). Other times, they are general commands that are meant for all disciples at all times. This is the case with the Great Commission.
Here are eight things that we can learn from the Great Commission.
- It is based on Jesus’ authority. Too often we start reading at v. 19 and forget v. 18 but they are all part of the same statement. It is a good rule of thumb that if we see the word “therefore,” we should discover what is there for. What Jesus commands us to do emerges out of the authority he has received from the Father.
- We are to go. The command is not just to be ready when people come to us, but to actually initiate something ourselves. This is never easy. Even the early church preferred to stay in Jerusalem until persecution forced them to scatter. This does not mean that we must go overseas as missionaries. Rather we just need to be proactive.
- We are to make disciples. Often the Great Commission is interpreted as being about converting unbelievers. That is part of it but it goes much farther than just getting someone to pray the sinners prayer. Making disciples requires a greater commitment than just evangelizing.
- We are to go to all nations. The word translated as “nations” is the same word that is translated elsewhere as “Gentiles.” As we see later in Acts, the early Christians really struggled with moving beyond ethnic Jews to Gentiles. It was outside their comfort zone. The Great Commission assumes that we will interact outside of our own group despite our discomfort.
- We are to baptize. Without going into detail about differences in baptism, I will say that Jesus expects these new disciples to be integrated into the Christian community. Baptism is more than just community, but being joined together with other baptized believers is essential.
- We are to teach. While some would say that this generation only wants community and experience, we are not off the hook when it comes to teaching. This teaching can come in many different forms, from corporate gatherings to one-on-one mentoring. The Church must not neglect its teaching activity.
- Disciples are to observe commands. In an attempt to avoid images of legalism, some churches are loose with expectations of obedience. I am not talking obedience to the church, as that way leads to legalism. I am talking about obedience to what Jesus commands us. Salvation is by grace and not works, but that does not mean we get to disobey Jesus.
- Jesus’ presence makes it possible. The Great Commission starts with the authority of Jesus and ends with the presence of Jesus. The Great Commission is not something for us to do in our own power. We do the best we can with the gifts God has given us and rely on the presence of Jesus and the strength that comes from that.