By Christopher VanDusen
Since the church is a kingdom of priests according to Revelation 1:6, it stands to reason that the church is on earth to serve as mediators for people, or as intercessors between them and God. On the flip side, since the church is God’s people, and God is saving His enemies through the message they possess, then it also stands to reason that, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, Christians are ambassadors for Christ, and play a part in building His kingdom of priests. This is part of the #1 mission of the church, and of every Christian, which is defined in the Great Commission.
The Great Commission is found in Matthew 28:16-20, which says,
“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘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.'” (ESV)
We’ll skip ahead to the Great Commission itself, which must apply to the church today, since it’s part of “all that [Jesus] commanded” the disciples, which they were to teach their disciples to obey, extending to today.
Jesus’s Great Commission has 4 main parts, which are:
- The Infinite Authority that Necessitates It (v. 18)
- The Initiation of Disciples from the Nations (v. 19a)
- The Immersion of Disciples in the Triune Name (v. 19b)
- The Instruction of Disciples to Obey Christ (v. 20)
First, Jesus describes the infinite authority that necessitates the carrying out of His commission:
“‘ . . . All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
What does this mean? It means that God the Father has given Jesus all authority, or power, both in heaven, God’s dwelling place, and on earth, or humanity’s dwelling place. In other words, Jesus is the King of the universe, and owns it all.
Based on this authority, Jesus commands His disciples, including Christians today, to initiate disciples from the nations:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . .”
The Greek word translated “go” isn’t actually a command in the original, but an indicative verb that literally means “having gone”. Jesus is implying that His disciples are going to go from Galilee in Israel, and “make disciples of all nations”.
But what does it mean to “make disciples”? Well, a disciple literally means a “learner”, “student”, or “follower”. And who were the apostles supposed to persuade people to follow? First, the Lord Jesus Christ, their own Master and Teacher, and secondly, themselves, as His commissioned teachers and preachers.
Now, how were the apostles to make disciples? First, they had to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to people, so they could start to learn from Christ. In fact, Paul tells the Ephesians in Ephesians 4:20-21 that they “learned Christ” and “were taught in him”. There is only one way to initially become a disciple of Christ — by learning and believing the good news about Him. And what is that good news?
Paul defines it for us in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (ESV)
First, the gospel, or good news, is the message that people will be saved from God’s wrath and their sins if they receive it and hold it fast. Second, it’s the message that “Christ died for [or because of] our sins”, and “that he was raised [from the dead] on the third day”. Paul further explains in Acts 17 that the gospel includes God’s command for everyone to repent, or change their minds, because He’s going to judge everyone righteously through Jesus. In sum, it’s the good news that God sent His Son to die for our sins, to rise from the dead, to become the King of the universe, and that He commands all to change their minds and trust in Christ’s death and resurrection as the only grounds of His forgiveness of their sins. Once someone puts their trust in Christ as the gospel defines Him, they become a disciple of Christ in that moment.
The second command of the Great Commission is to immerse disciples in the triune Name:
“. . . baptizing them [disciples] in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . .”
The Greek word translated “baptizing” (from baptizo) literally means “immersing”, “dipping”, or “submerging”. Baptism is a rite of initiation into the visible fellowship of the saints, and a profession of faith in Christ by the one letting themselves be baptized. The substance in which people are to be baptized is water, representing cleansing power, and a grave, from which the baptized person is lifted, representing resurrection. The apostle Peter commands his hearers to be baptized in Acts 2:38 by saying,
“‘. . . Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (ESV)
The Greek word translated “for” in this verse is eis, which can either mean “to”, “into”, or “because of”. In this case, it has to mean “because”, since the New Testament elsewhere says that no deed or ceremony results in the forgiveness of one’s sins. Therefore, Peter is saying to his audience that they need to be baptized because of the forgiveness of their sins, or in response to having their sins forgiven by God.
In the Great Commission, Jesus commands His disciples to baptize other disciples “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. What does this mean? The word “in” is actually translated from eis, which again can mean either “to”, “into”, or “because of”. All meanings are possible in this verse. Jesus may be commanding His disciples to baptize “in”, or “because of”, the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, it’s more likely that He’s commanding them to baptize disciples “to” or “into” the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Why? Because by adding to the command “make disciples” the continuous present verb “baptizing”, he’s explaining how they are to “make disciples”. First, they are to baptize them.
But how does this relate to what the phrase, “in the name of”, means? Well, if this is part of how disciples are to made, then it makes more sense for Jesus to be commanding them to immerse them “into” God’s name, then by the authority of God’s name. A disciple is a follower of someone, and if the way in which people become a disciple of Jesus is by beginning to follow God, then it makes sense that the initiation rite would involve them publicly professing their faith in and obedience to the triune God. Hence, one can see Jesus as telling His disciples, “make disciples, baptizing them into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”.
But what exactly is the “name” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Well, all throughout the Bible, God’s names represent who He is, and that’s what Jesus is referring to here. The “name” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the name that They all share — God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and the Savior of people. Thus, when Jesus commands His disciples to baptize people “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, He’s commanding them to symbolically immerse people into a loving and obedient relationship with the divine Being. To allude to a passage from 2 Peter 1, they are professing by being baptized that they’ve been “made partakers of [or participants with] the divine nature”, not by obtaining a divine nature, but by coming into a saving relationship with God through faith in Christ.
The third command that Jesus gives His disciples is to instruct disciples to obey Him:
“. . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
This is pretty simple. The third and final way of making disciples is to teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded His disciples. But what did He command them?
Well, His most important commandment is in John 15:12, where He says,
“‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.'” (ESV)
In the context, He’s speaking only to His disciples, so He’s telling them to love one another in the same way that He loved them. However, Jesus even tells them in the Sermon on the Mount to “love your enemies”, so Jesus wants His disciples to love everyone. In fact, love is the fulfillment of all of Christ’s law, as Paul says in Galatians 6:2:
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (ESV)
However, Christ commanded His disciples to do many other things which explain how they are to love people (as well as how to love God). It’s all of these commands that He refers to in the Great Commission.
Nevertheless, because this Great Commission still applies today, Christ has since added other commandments in the rest of the New Testament. The apostle Paul teaches this in 1 Corinthians 14:37 by saying,
“If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.” (ESV)
Here, Paul is asserting that every command he wrote to the Corinthians was a command from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. But how is this possible? Because Paul was an apostle, or “commissioned one”, of the Lord Jesus Christ, and, in Scripture, only says that which is ultimately from Christ Himself. In fact, the apostle Peter implies this when he categorizes Paul’s letters as Scripture in 2 Peter 3:15-16:
“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (ESV)
Notice that Peter speaks of the other Scriptures in relationship to Paul’s letters, implying that they also are Scripture.
Also, the divine authority of Paul’s letters aren’t confined to his writing, but obviously to the rest of the New Testament. Because they are from God the Holy Spirit, who was sent by Christ to inspire the letters and writings of the apostles and their associates, all New Testament commands are ultimately commands from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hence, in our day, in order to teach disciples to obey all that Christ commanded, Christians must teach them to obey every command in the New Testament that applies to them, since those commands are ultimately from Him.
So, if you’ve received, are standing in, and are holding fast to Christ’s death for your sins and resurrection from the dead to His throne as the only grounds of God’s forgiveness of your sins, are you seeking to make disciples of people by sharing the gospel with them?
Are you ready and willing to baptize those who come to believe the gospel?
Are you teaching other disciples of Christ to observe all that He has commanded us to do?
If you can’t honestly answer “yes” to these questions, then you are disobeying your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, or may not be saved. If you’ve changed your mind and trusted in Him as your risen Lord and crucified Savior to receive God’s forgiveness, then you will have the desire to see other people do the same. People can only do this if they learn the gospel.
Therefore, if you aren’t obeying Christ’s commission, first ask yourself if the only basis of your hope and assurance of God’s forgiveness of all of your sins is Christ’s death for your sins and resurrection from the dead. If you can’t answer “yes”, then change your mind now and depend only on Christ, His death for our sins, and resurrection, to receive God’s forgiveness and peace with Him. You are naturally a rebel against God, and do what He hates, and deserve to be punished by Him for eternity. But He promises to forgive all who will change their minds and trust in the Lord Jesus, His death, and resurrection as the only means of obtaining their forgiveness from Him. Be reconciled to God.
If you know you’ve been saved, then remember that you can’t obey the Great Commission on your own. That’s why Jesus told us,
“. . . behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
He is with us as we seek to make disciples of people, to baptize them, and to teach disciples to observe all that He commanded us to do. If the Lord wills, in the next post, we’ll study how we are to obey the Great Commission. In the meantime, your mission is to seek to make disciples and teach other disciples to obey our Lord.
All Scripture quotations taken from:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.