Summary: Jesus’ Great Commission to the Church is often interpreted as just, “Go out and be witnesses for Christ.” Yes, it does say that … and much more. There is a place for every Christian in the Great Commission in our day.
Traditionally, verses at the end of Matthew 28 and Mark 16 are spoken of as “the Great Commission.” But many Bible scholars — I believe correctly — include portions of Luke 24 and Acts 1 as parts of the Commission. Let’s take a look at each of these and see the broad reach of Jesus’ mandate, a reach that certainly includes your fruitful participation.
Matthew 28:18-20 —
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
• Jesus has “all authority” in heaven and on earth. Therefore, this monumental task of spreading Christ’s Gospel throughout the world is DO-able!
• Because of Christ’s unlimited power and authority, any charge that He gives His Church will be accompanied by all that is needed to accomplish the task.
19 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…
KJV: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…
• “Make disciples (NIV) … teach” (KJV). Ongoing instruction is part of the Great Commission. Of course the first step is leading others to salvation in Christ. But He expects us to continue training and guiding new converts into full discipleship to Jesus Christ.
• “All nations” — it is a global commission, encompassing every place from the largest cities to the remotest jungle villages.
• “Baptizing them” — water baptism for every convert is vitally important. In Acts 2:41 we see 3,000 new converts in Jerusalem being immediately baptized.
20 …and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
• We are to teach the Lord’s commands, which He expects to be fully obeyed. Notice Jesus’ words: “I have commanded … obey everything.” There is no loose, easy-believism here! The Great Commission starts at the winning of souls, but goes further into raising up obedient disciples of the Lord.
• The Commission is valid for the entirety of the Church Age in which we are living — “…to the very end of the age.”
• And we who are laborers in Christ’s work can see fruit. Why? Because He who has all authority is “with us always.”
Mark 16:15-20 —
15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.
• “All the world” — Like Matthew, Mark emphasizes Jesus’ desire to reach the entire human race.
• “Go” — It requires a choice on our parts to be involved in the Lord’s worldwide work. It may be a “going” to your next-door neighbor or a co-worker. Or it may be a “going” to another state or even another nation to share the Lord’s liberating word with spiritually needy people.
• “Preach the gospel” — Matthew’s account emphasizes the fuller spectrum of salvation-to-discipleship. Mark is emphasizing the central importance of preaching the Good News (the “Gospel”) of salvation in Jesus Christ.
16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
• Both Matthew and Mark stress Christ’s charge that new believers be baptized in water.
17-18 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.
20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
• It wasn’t just the apostles. This verse says that “the disciples went out and preached everywhere.” To go everywhere with the Gospel certainly required far more than 12 apostles. It’s the same today. You can go forth wherever you are and speak to friends and family about the liberating truth of salvation in Christ.
• Great Commission ministry certainly centers on preaching and teaching the word of God, specifically focusing on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, was buried, and rose again. And as we share these blessed truths with others, expect the Lord to “confirm the word with signs following” (vs. 20, KJV). Expect to see healing, miracles, demonic deliverances and more in confirmation of the Lord’s word.
Luke 24:47-49 —
47 …and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
• “Repent!” — Great Commission ministry leads people to repent of their sins. Without repentance there is no salvation, no harvest of souls for the Lord. Far too few churches are preaching repentance today. Yet the Savior Himself said, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:3,5).
• Our message must also include God’s gracious reply to repentance — the forgiveness of sins!
• Every aspect of this ministry is to be done “in His name.”
• “Beginning at Jerusalem” — as in the early Church, all believers need a strong home base. Every Christian, like those hearing the Commission directly from Christ’s lips, should be locked into a Christ-centered, Bible-teaching local church.
48 You are witnesses of these things.
• “These things” — repentance, forgiveness of sins in Christ, Jesus’ name, and similar Gospel-related truths — are the essence of our message.
• And more than just speaking of these things, our lifestyles and how we live for God allow us to “be witnesses” of these truths.
49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.
• “Power from on high” — that heaven-sent power was so needed by the disciples that Jesus told them to remain in Jerusalem until they had received it. Luke recorded Jesus’ words about this necessary power in greater detail in the verses just below.
Acts 1:4-5, 8 —
4-5 …“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
• Jesus knew that the mighty baptism with the Holy Spirit would be necessary for the proper fulfilling of His worldwide commission to the Church. Again, the writer Luke emphasized Christ’s charge that they not leave Jerusalem until they had this life-changing experience. All believers today should take this seriously to heart.
8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
• Great Commission ministry is Holy Spirit ministry. Even Jesus Himself said of his own ministry, for example in the casting out of demons, that He did it “by the Spirit of God” (Matthew 12:28).
• The Christian Church’s ministry is one of divinely-given power, not one of human skills and man’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). This power was given to those early believers (and to us today!) at Pentecost, when they received the baptism with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4), with the evidence of speaking in tongues. We need that same heaven-sent power today to accomplish Christ’s call.
• And He has called us not just “to witness,” but to “be [His] witnesses” in all the world.
SUMMARY: The Great Commission is multi-faceted. And Jesus has given each one of us opportunities to fit into its large scope and to be fruit-bearing participants in this noble, worldwide calling. The Commission involves all the following (and probably even more than we have covered today):
• Jesus has all authority, so the Commission is do-able. He’ll back us up!
• We are to preach the saving Gospel in all the world.
• Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be a major part of the message.
• New converts are to be baptized immediately.
• Further, we are to teach and make disciples of the converts to Christ. As one evangelist friend put it, don’t leave the fruit (the new converts) to “rot in the field.”
• Obedience to Jesus’ commands is to be emphasized and expected.
• Where? In all nations. It’s a global outreach.
• How long? This labor for Christ is for the entire Church Age.
• And in it all, Jesus will be with us always!
• It will be a word ministry, and also a supernatural ministry.
• We will see people healed, delivered, and more, to confirm the word preached and taught.
• All our labors will be done “in His name.”
• He will empower us for the task with the mighty baptism with the Holy Spirit.
• Make sure that you have a good “Jerusalem,” a solid home church where you worship and receive ongoing training and strength for your ministry.
• Be willing “to witness” as God gives occasion. But in addition, be ready always, 24/7, to “be witnesses” to Jesus Christ by our character and lifestyles as well as by our words.