If the crucifixion and resurrection serve as the message of the good news about Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit when He comes at Pentecost is the power that enables the believer to effectively share that message (John 16:7; Acts 2), then a methodology is needed for seeing this happen day in and day out. Thankfully, God has provided our marching orders in what is commonly known as the Great Commission.
Before diving in, we must consider the word “commission” since it has been almost unanimously attached to this section of Matthew’s Gospel. Looking for a definition, we find:
1. the act of committing or entrusting a person, group, etc., with supervisory power or authority.
2. an authoritative order, charge, or direction.
3. authority granted for a particular action or function.
4. a document granting such authority.
To be commissioned, or to receive a commissioning, is to be entrusted with something, supplied with orders about what one has been entrusted with, and having a greater authority that now accompanies you because of the commissioning received.
Every believer in Christ has been entrusted with a task that always lies before us, along with Divine orders which accompany that task, and the Divine authority placed upon us for the successful execution of that task. This is complete and without exception. So, what is this task?
Matthew 28:16-17.This scene is centered on the rendezvous point previously set forth in Galilee as was told to Mary Magdalene (Matt 26:32; 28:7, 10; Mark 14:28; 16:7). When we remember the Apostle Paul’s comments regarding Jesus’ appearance to “more than five hundred brethren at one time” from 1 Corinthians 15:6a, it would seem that he is alluding to this meeting in Galilee. We know that Jesus’ appearance to Paul (1 Cor 15:8; Acts 9:3-5) did not occur until well after the ascension of Christ, and the other two instances mentioned after the appearance to “more than five hundred brethren” in 1 Corinthians 15 are appearances to James and then to the eleven (1 Cor 15:7). This sequence allows for the mountain appearance in Galilee to include not just the eleven as mentioned in Matthew 28:16a, but also many more disciples totaling over five hundred in all.
This understanding is significant because it bolsters the commissioning of Jesus Christ to believers beyond the apostles. One could read this verse and wrongly conclude that such a command was meant for only that place and time and that the eleven were “special people,” being unlike us today, therefore they alone have received this special commissioning. But any attempts at exemption would be unfounded. To be frank, and to also say this in love, the excuses that we often use to justify our disobedience to the written Word of God are nothing short of abhorrent before our holy God and Creator. Such inferior reasonings are put forth to assuageour consciences, putting out of our minds that we are rejecting the conviction and leading of the Holy Spirit.
When this myriad of disciples came to the mountain and the Lord Jesus appeared to them, many worshiped Him (meaning “to prostrate oneself, to have adoration”) while others doubted (Matt 28:16-17). The word for “doubtful” here is distazōmeaning “to have doubts concerning something, doubt, waver” and “to be uncertain about taking a particular course of action, hesitate,”and is used only one other time in Matthew 14:31 when speaking about Peter doubting the Lord once he was out on the water. It would seem that both definitions could be applied in this situation, with some of the brethren doubting that the Lord Jesus had been resurrected (which corresponds with the first definition), and this leading to a subsequent doubting of His commissioning to follow (corresponding with the second definition), though the first definition would be best suited as the intended meaning of the author.
Matthew 28:18-20.Every phrase that Jesus speaks is of the utmost importance and deserves our careful attention and complete understanding. Let us consider Jesus’ words.
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and one earth,”(Matt 28:18b). Our first observation would be the emphatic entrusting of authority to Jesus Christ. “All” speaks to the totality and completeness of a thing. “All” is a key word in this passage, with four occurrences, with every one of them instilling confidence for the task being commissioned. In having “all authority,” we understand that there is no bit of authority that has not been granted to Him in regards to the heavenly or earthly sphere.
The heavenly is that in which demons and angels war. As seen before, “Satan is the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2), and the ruler of this world (John 14:30). The earthly realm is where we live now, and where Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8b). The demonic influence, the world system that Satan has orchestrated (Acts 26:18), and the lust and pride that exude from our fallen nature (1 John 2:16) would all be included.
The first grand truth of this commissioning is Jesus’ place in the midst of all of this. It is one of “authority.” “He spoke as one already in heaven with a world-wide outlook and with the resources of heaven at his command.”This authority stands as the promised power of the Lord Jesus Christ, being mentioned first in order to correctly set the stage for the commissioning that would follow. Had Jesus not said this (meaning that He did not have this authority), His Great Commission would be one that would only have the flesh serving as its power, and the power of the flesh is only toward sin (Jas 1:14-15), having no real power at all (John 6:63; Rom 8:8). Charles Stanley writes, “We can confidently bring the truth of Jesus to the world because we have Jesus’ divine authority to back it up. Our job is to be His faithful messengers; His job is to prosper His Word.”
“Go therefore…”(Matt 28:19a). The word “go” is a passive aorist participle which is typically explained as conveying “not a command to go, but the assumption that the listener will automatically be going. In other words, the idea expressed is ‘as you are going.’”Some may say, “As we are going about throughout life,” or, as the marginal note of the NASB reads, “having gone…” “Going” is commonly explained as the first of three participles (along with “baptizing” and “teaching”) used that constitutes what it is to “make disciples.”
However, Greek grammarian Robert H. Mounce has considered this argument and disagrees. While the word “go” in Matthew 28:19a is, in fact, a participle, its function should not be interpreted as a noun, as would be a possibility in English grammar (commonly known as a gerund). He writes that the participle is “picking up the mood of the main verb. Since matheusate(“make disciples”) is an aorist active imperative, poreuthentesshould be translated ‘Go.’ Jesus’ instructions are proactive; we are to move out into the world, not simple [sic]make disciples when we happen to be there.”
He goes on to state that he “found that in the New Testament there are twenty-seven occasions where poreuthentesis followed by a main verb in the imperative mood. The result? In every case the participle should be translated as an imperative.”From this, we can conclude that “make disciples” (as will be discussed in the next section) stands as the main imperative verb, but the participles of “go,” “baptize,” and “teaching” are all to be considered as imperatives that stem from the main verb.
Why does this matter? This understanding shows us the importance of each facet being listed. “Go,” “baptizing,” and “teaching” are all carrying the mood of the imperative to “make disciples.” Each piece should be considered as a command with the same weight as “make disciples.” We ARE to “go,” we ARE to “baptize,” and we ARE to “teach,” because our lives, from the moment that we trusted in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, are to be lived in obedience to the task of making disciples that has been placed before us. This means that we are to be a people who have been called to intentional living. We are to do this by the power granted in the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, and we are to confidently move forward because the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ is never apart from us (Matt 28:20b).
The use of “therefore” points us back to the fact of “all authority” being given to Jesus. Jesus alone has been given all authority by the Father. No church, creed, theological system, or denomination has any power whatsoever. All of the power/authority necessary is that of the Lord Jesus, and only by His authority is there power to accomplish the task.
“make disciples of all nations…”(Matt 28:19b). With the phrase “make disciples” we have the main verb and plain imperative listed. To be clear, an imperative is a command, and this command is being issued in light of the authority given to Jesus. The word “disciple” is pathēteuō in the Greek which means “to cause one to be a pupil, teach,”with the idea of giving many convincing proofs while also beseeching or begging people to follow Christ in greater understanding so that their lives are changed. For those who are unregenerate (lost), this, of necessity, implies that we are actively telling others about Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. Again, this is the importance of intentional living.
As we move forward in this passage we will examine the “what” of making disciples, but the question that always overwhelms the believer’s mind is “how.” How do I make disciples? This is a legitimate question that is partially answered in the “what” of baptizing them in the name of the Trinity and teaching them what Jesus has commanded (Matt 28:19c-20a). But to give a larger view that answers the “how” question, we must always look to the sufficiency of the Word of God. We would do well to pay attention to verses like 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which says,
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
The Word of God equips the disciple so that “every good work” can be handled adequately.
We also find in 2 Peter 1:3 that,
“…His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”
While the Holy Spirit is the power, the “true knowledge of Him” would be gained through the Word of God.
These two passages alone give us the textbook from which the believer in Christ is to be discipled. While sound supplementary materials are helpful, they are no replacement for the Word of God, for it is the Word of God that is used by its Author, the Spirit of God, to enact change in the believer from the inside out, conforming each one of us to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29).
A good summary verse for discipleship can be seen in Colossians 1:28 which says,
“We proclaim Him (Jesus Christ), admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”
“Teaching every man” would have its basis in God’s Word, for Christ is the subject of written revelation, being the One that we are proclaiming. Any admonishment that one would receive must come from a source greater than ourselves because we are in need of discipling as well. The goal of educating believer’s in God’s Word and calling upon the Holy Spirit to enact such truth in their lives is for thepurpose of presenting them as mature (“complete”) in Christ. We want God’s people to be walking with Him daily, depending upon Him everyday, because that is what God wants. We were not designed to be apart from Him.
With “make disciples” we also see the second of four “all” statements with “all nations,” being the boundaries to which we are to “go” in making disciples. There is something to be said for local discipleship, and it should most certainly be occurring amongst every saint within the local church body. “All nations” calls for us to branch out to every people group. One cannot deny that the thrust of this passage calls for this process of making disciples to be stretched beyond comfortable walls. Every nation on Earth should have the opportunity to be discipled by the truths of God’s Word. “All nations” includes every nation, and every nation should be led to, and educated in, the Truth which is the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
With “make disciples” being the imperative in this passage, the direction of the Christian is clear. “Any activity unrelated to or inconsistent with this assignment is, in terms of Jesus’ commission, a failure to carry it out.”Thinking through what we understand of the Judgment Seat of Christ, it is no doubt that whether or not we were using our time to “make disciples” while on Earth will be a primary consideration for the Lord Jesus Christ.
“…baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…”(Matt 28:19c).
In this passage we have Jesus advocating the authority of the Godhead, also known as the Trinity. All three are included, with Jesus considering Himself equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. All three are God, being three in Persons, but One in essence.
“The order is that they have first become disciples through personal faith in Him, followed by baptism as their personal confession of their faith, and a pledge of discipleship as acknowledged members of the body of believers.”This ordinance is the identification of the believer with Christ in His death and resurrection. Just as Jesus has died for sins, so the believer is publicly expressing that he or she has died to sin, and just as Christ was raised from the dead to a new life, a resurrected life, so too is the believer raised to a “newness of life” (Rom 6:4b). This identification is crucial, being an outward expression of what has already taken place in Christ. One can easily see the importance of this ordinance being explained to the believer so that they are mindful of all that Christ has done in giving them “new life” and their full accepted place as now being “in Him” because of Him and His sufficient work.
These are beautiful and necessary blessings for the disciple to understand and embrace!
“teaching them to observe all that I commanded you”(Matt 28:20a).
The third participle (which, again, takes on the mood of the imperative verb of “make disciples”) is the necessity of teaching. It should be noted that this teaching is unto a particular point: that the one being taught would become a regular observer of the things being taught to them. This helps us to understand that the idea of teaching goes beyond that of simply relaying information and then expecting them to “get to work.” If we follow the section on to the end, we would see that what is being taught to them are all the things which Jesus commanded. This holds the key! Jesus’ commands are meant to be followed, not simply understood. From this we can conclude that the one teaching Jesus’ commands to another must be “observing” those commands as well. This encourages the one beingdiscipled and creates an atmosphere of mutual edification between believers.
It must be quickly noted that this is the third “all” statement. All that Jesus commanded must be taught. This command is clearly stated, and while we will momentarily see that some things are not applicable to the Church Age, it does not change the fact that those things should be taught, for all Scripture is God-breathed.
The word “observe” is tēreōmeaning “to retain in custody, keep watch over, guard,” “to cause a state, condition, or activity to continue, keep, hold, reserve, preserve,” “to persist in obedience, keep, observe, fulfill, pay attention to.”Observing all that Christ has commanded is for the disciples to persistently retain, uphold, and obey what Christ has set forth as His orders to the disciples. From what we can understand about the Gospels, we know that there was a turning point in Jesus’ ministry when He no longer offered the kingdom to Israel and began looking forward to His death and resurrection (Matt 12). Thus, we would conclude that what Jesus has taught His disciples that does not relate to the message of the Gospel of the Kingdom as being presented to Israel in the first century should be consider as applicable teaching that has carried over into the Church Age.
For instance, we know that Jesus’ teaching in John 13-16, with its emphasis on love and obedience, should be considered as valid commandments that hold for the church today. While there would certainly be a need to consider the progressive revelation of this section and the fact that the Holy Spirit would be indwelling them in Acts 2, we can certainly see that the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of a new dispensation does not negate the commands that Jesus is giving them. They would be the bedrock of the Church at itsbirth in Acts 2 at Pentecost in Jerusalem. These foundational commands would serve as the core of the teaching that would be threaded through every believer. It is Jesus’ teachings that should be considered as the main content (along with the Old Testament) when we are reading that “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42a).
Another vital observation here is that we must understand that discipleship is relational. It involves being with other believers in Christ. If we were to define discipleship, we would say that it is life invested into life in order to cultivate Life in the here and now. It is one believer meeting with one (or more) believers for the purpose of encouraging the Abundant Life that Christ has provided to be the “hope and stay” of each of our lives.
Earl Radmacher once wrote, “one of the greatest problems of evangelicalism today is that many Christians who are saved are not beingsaved, that is, they are not growing in Christ and dealing with sin in their lives. Many American Christians are in the spiritual nursery feeding on milk. We desperately need to get believers out of infancy and into the infantry.”Discipleship combats the impoverished state of personal holiness that is saturating the fabric of today’s Christianity, saving us from the power of sin in our daily lives. Believers are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18). This is the pursuit of holiness.
Our lives have been redeemed, and we are declared righteous by God, but this does not mean that our conduct has become righteous. Any Christian that has been saved for five minutes can attest to this. The “renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2) happens through regular time in the Word of God, prayer, and mutual periods of fellowship, all of which take place in making disciples. For the sake of holiness, it is our responsibility to disciple and to be discipled so that we are“speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspectsinto Him who is the head, evenChrist, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph 4:15-16).
Christ is our Life and He wants to live His life through each one of us. Only that which He produces in our lives is pleasing to the Father. This can be seen clearly in a basic observation from a well-known verse regarding the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Notice that this is not your fruit. It is the Spirit’s fruit in your life. We have nothing to do with it. We simply set aside ourselves because of the acceptance of God’s Word as the only Truth in existence, and move forward trusting what God has said rather than what man has said, or how we feel. Yielding to God’s Word and allowing Christ to be our All in All is what brings about the Spirit’s fruit. This is living a life that we could not otherwise live because it is Christ living His life through us. These are the types of results that we should see in ongoing discipleship.
For some of us, we know that we are supposed to make disciples, but many of us do not because we have believed that we don’t know how. No doubt that this is an honest reply, but it stems from a deceptive line of thinking. Many believe that they must be a well-seasoned teacher of the Bible, a rugged missionary with years of experience, or a seminary student on the brink of graduation. One’s personal specialization or gifting is not under consideration with this imperative to “make disciples.” This line of thinking has placed the question of obedience on whether or not one feels that they are qualified for the task rather than paying attention to what Jesus has commanded. This type of well-intentioned reply has SELF at the center, not Jesus Christ. This leads us to Jesus’ closing comments.
“…I am with you always, even to the end of the age”(Matt 28:20b).
Tony Evans notes that beyond the eleven disciples, and the “more than five hundred brethren at one time” (1 Cor 15:6a), that there was a third group that met with the Lord Jesus on the mountain in Galilee, who were meeting there in spirit. “This includes all believers from that day until Jesus comes again. How do I know we are part of the Great Commission meeting? Because Jesus said His commission to make disciples is in effect ‘even to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20), which hasn’t come yet. So the Lord’s instructions are for us too.”Jesus’ encouragement of being with us until the end of the age means that He is ever-present during the Church Age. This is the second bookend in contrast to the power that His authority promises to the believer in Christ.
Read verse 18-20 again. Notice that the believer has two promises that bookend his or her four responsibilities.
A. ALL AUHTORITY HAS BEEN GIVEN TO JESUS IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH- v.18b; This is the promise of His power.
1. GO- v.19a
2. MAKE DISCIPLES- v.19b
3. BAPTIZING THEM IN THE NAME OF THE TRINITY- v.19c
4. TEACHING THEM PERSISTENTLY TO RETAIN, UPHOLD, AND OBEY WHAT CHRIST HAS SET FORTH- v.20a
A’. HE IS WITH US ALWAYS, TO THE END OF THE AGE- v.20b;
This is the promise of His presence.
Do we believe this? Jesus is with us. Now. And will be until the Church is raptured. He is here, always available, and ever-welcoming our reliance on Him to make the difference in our lives as we disciple one another. This section contains the last “all” statement, being thatJesus is “always” with the believer. This is more than His attribute of being omnipresent. This speaks to the necessity of His presence in accomplishing the task of making disciples. All that we do is to be done in faith (Rom 14:23). This includes making disciples. Followers of Christ are not made in the power of the flesh. Only the power that Jesus supplies can complete this task so that it is approved by the Father. Fleshly methods are the devil’s tools. We must heed the Lord’s promises and be quick to hold them fast!
Are we making disciples?
If not, why not?
Jesus has commanded it, giving the promise of both His power and His presence in the process.
Personal inadequacy is an unacceptable excuse because leaves Jesus’ command undone, and makes the decision to obey based on us and not Him.
If you are not in a discipleship relationship, ask a dear beloved brother or sister today. Unite together for mutual encouragement and edification, reproof and correction, as only the Word of God can administer it. Look for the Holy Spirit to be your Guide and to “lead you into all truth” (John 16:13b).
Let us GO, and MAKE DISCIPLES, BAPTIZING them in the name of the Trinity, and TEACHING them to persistently retain, uphold, and obey what Christ has set forth in His Holy Word.
“Commission,” Dictionary.com, [online], Accessed on 24 April 2019.
BDAG, p. 252.
A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament(Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Mt 28:18.
Charles F. Stanley, The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version(Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles, 2005), Mt 28:18–19.
Edward E. Hindson and Woodrow Michael Kroll, eds., KJV Bible Commentary(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994), p. 1963.
See D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), p. 595.
Robert H. Mounce, “The Participle as Imperative (Monday with Mounce 12),” Zondervan Academic, [online] at https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/the-participle-as-imperative, Accessed on 24 April 2019.
BDAG, p. 609. “It is important to avoid the implication of duress or force, that is to say, one should not translate ‘force them to be my disciples’ or ‘compel them to be my disciples.’ This might very well be implied in a literal translation of a causative such as ‘to make.’ In order to avoid a wrong implication of a causative, it may be important to use some such expression as ‘convince them to become my disciples’ or ‘urge them to be my disciples.’” -Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, p. 470.
D. Edmond Hiebert, “An Expository Study of Matthew 28:16–20,” Bibliotheca Sacra149 (1992): 348.
Hiebert, “An Expository Study of Matthew 28:16–20,”: 350.
BDAG, p. 1002.
Earl D. Radmacher, Understanding Christian Theology, ed. Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), p. 883–884.
Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On (Chicago: Moody Press, 2008), p. 901.