Part of being a Christian is to engage oneself in the carrying out of the great commission (Matt. 28:16-20). Typically, in a Sabbath morning Adventist worship service, there is a segment set aside for reporting on and motivating the members to evangelize. The passage concerning the great commission is often read, however, perhaps due to the scheduling of the segment, or the seriousness with which it is taken and/or presented, profoundly tangible results are rarely seen.
In response to this apparent crisis, some have form evangelistic groups consisting of a coalition of the willing to flood the surrounding neighborhoods with pamphlets and books. Others have sought to fulfill the mandate through one on one conversations with those they meet while engaging in daily affairs. I prefer the latter. How one chooses to respond to the innate call of presenting the good news they have received to others must be grounded in fundamental concepts as observable in Matthew 28:16-20. This is not to suggest that one will be unable to tell the good news without a breakdown of this passage, however, it is to bring attention to what we usually miss in our haste to do what we think we ought to.
Analysis of this passage reveals that Jesus sandwiches the command (vs. 19 and 20a) between two statements concerning Himself. The first statement is one in which He assures the disciples– οἱ ἕνδεκα, “the eleven,” since Judas was no longer a part–of the authority that He has on heaven and earth (28:18). This authority is not one that He takes, but one that is “given” (28:19 NIV). We ought to deduce that God is functioning as the giver. The second statement is one in which He assures them of His continuous presence (28:20b). As if this was the last thing that needed saying, the gospel abruptly ends.
The word that is translated as “authority” in the NIV and “power” in the KJV is the Greek word ἐξουσία (exousia). The fact that He has “all” of it in “heaven and on earth” emphasizes the totality of this authority. It is unlimited and unmatched. The different spheres of reality–things visible and invisible–are all subject to this authority. Furthermore, the One with such an authority also promises His continuous presence. These were the assurances given from a tangible being that had resurrected from the dead.
Before any explanation is given on the command, there is something to note concerning whom Jesus was speaking to and the condition in which some of them were in. Jesus was speaking to disciples consisting of some who doubted if He was really there in the flesh. In spite of the doubt, “they [all] worshiped” and were commanded. Jesus did not make any distinction between those who doubted and those who didn’t, He called all of them to the task of disciple making.
There is a need to escape the habit of categorizing individuals in terms of evangelistic qualifications. In fact, we don’t know what God can do with the ones whom we believe to be inadequate. In the case of the disciples, some doubted. Today, there might be many reasons why some may think that certain individuals are not capable. Let’s not forget that it takes disciples to make disciples and none of them were perfect. The ones who continued on with Jesus were striving forward in spite of their deficiencies.
What is the great commission? It is God’s mission for His people, first through the first century disciples, then followed by preceding believers. In a way, the great commission was always God’s plan for His people. We are sent out to participate in the act of making disciples. Disciple making does not only involve baptizing, but it involves teaching. Usually, there is much excitement concerning baptism but no one is around when the water dries. The new believer is left to fend for his/herself while we watch and criticize their sincerity.
Perhaps it’s time we start really reflecting on what is our mission as the people of God. Some time ago I wrote a piece entitled, “Ecclesiology: Introductory Thoughts About the Church.” I hope to continue that series in two blogs in the future by first writing on the nature of the church, and then it’s mission–which is introduced here. I look forward to your comments.