This is the final command of Jesus, regarding the Great Commission, from Matthew 28:16-20, Sec. 256 in Thomas and Gundry’s Harmony of the Gospels.
Purpose: These are some of the last words of our Savior to His faithful followers. Last words are important. Do you remember the last words of a loved one who died or moved far away? It’s rare that we would forget last words from a loved one. The purpose of this lesson is to remember these last words. Christ’s last words in this passage ought to be our first concern as the church! These last words are the church’s marching orders. This passage is often called the Great Commission. The Bible never calls it the Great Commission. It is great because our Lord gave it to us. But I often think that when normal everyday people like you and I hear that word “Great,” we immediately exclude ourselves. We think, “a Great Commission can only be achieved by great people.” I’d rather join Donn Spader in calling it the Everyday Commission for everyday kind of people like you and me.
Historical Background: Jesus has died on the cross and risen from the dead. The proof of His resurrection is his post resurrection appearances. This passage describes His eighth appearance. All four gospels and the Book of Acts give us different versions of the Great Commission. Matthew provides us with an inclusive version of the Great Commission, where the other Gospels and Acts focus on evangelism. This passage tells us why the church exists on planet earth. Jesus here calls the disciples to be purposeful in making disciples of a lost world who are heading toward a Christless eternity in Hell rather than unintentional. The imperative in this passage is our marching orders until Jesus comes.
Commanded in the Gospels: Matthew 28:19 – go (participle); 28:19 – “make disciples;” 28:19 – “baptizing” (participle); 28:20 – “teaching” (participle); Mark 16:15 – “preach.”
Jesus modeled making disciples throughout the gospels. We are told in Matthew 27:57 “…a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus” (literal translation). The Apostle John observes that “the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John” (John 4:1).
Illustrated in the Book of Acts: Acts 14:21
Amplified in the Epistles: Ephesians 4:20; Philippians 4:9; 2 Timothy 3:14
1. When did Jesus prearrange to meet his disciples in Galilee? (Matthew 28:16; 26:32; 28:7-10) Jesus had predicted and prearranged a meeting in Galilee with the disciples and the brethren. Matthew 26:32 “But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee” (Matthew 28:7-10). “Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.” 8And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. 9And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. 10then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.”
2. What post-resurrection appearance was this Galilean meeting? Jesus appeared ten times after his resurrection and before his ascension. Matthew 28:16-20 was his eighth appearance.
Ten Post-Resurrection Appearances
- Appearance to Mary Magdalene, Mark 16:9-11;John 20:11-18 [NASB Sec.248; NIV Sec.173]
- Appearance to the women, Matthew 28:9-10 [NASB Sec.249; NIV Sec.174]
- Appearances to the two disciples traveling to Emmaus, Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-32 [NASB Sec.251; NIV Sec.176]
- Appearance to Peter, Luke 24:33-35; 1 Corinthians 15:5a [NASB Sec.252; NIV Sec.177]
- Appearance to the ten assembled disciples, Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25 [NASB Sec.253; NIV Sec.178]
- Appearance to the eleven disciples, John 20:26-31; 1 Corinthians 15:5b [NASB Sec.254; NIV Sec.179]
- Appearance to the seven disciples while fishing, John 21:1-35 [NASB Sec.255;NIV Sec.180]
- Appearance to the eleven in Galilee, Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18; 1 Corinthians 15:6 [NASB Sec.256; NIV Sec.181]
- Appearance to James, Jesus’ brother, 1 Corinthians 15:7 [NASB Sec.257;NIV Sec.182]
- Appearances to the disciples in Jerusalem, Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:3-8 [NASB Sec.258; NIV Sec.183]
3. How many people assembled for this meeting? (Matthew 28:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:6) Eleven Apostles were present, and when you harmonize the chronological sequence of Christ’s post resurrection appearances we can confidently conclude that there were also “more than five hundred brethren” (1 Corinthians 15:6). If this is true, and I believe that it is, then there are huge implications. This would mean that the imperative “making disciples” was not directed only to the apostolic leaders or to the church as an institution, but to every believer. These marching orders of the resurrected Lord were directed toward more than five hundred brethren who had joined the eleven on this mountainside (Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Corinthians 15:6). I believe the local church is responsible to assist every believer in fulfilling the Great Commission.
4. Was Thomas among the group Matthew describes as “doubtful”? (Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:36-43;John 20:19-29; 1 John 1:1) No, the doubts that Thomas had were addressed in Jesus’ sixth post resurrection appearance (John 20:26-29). John records that Thomas said, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) John records that one week after that statement of doubt Jesus presented himself to Thomas and gave him the evidence that he needed. Thomas’ response after examining the evidence was, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:17)! There were no doubts left in Thomas or any of the other apostles. We can only conclude that the “some” is a reference to a few of the five hundred brethren that were also present (1 Corinthians 15:6).
5. What activity in Matthew 28:17 prepared the disciples to passionately obey the Great Commission without reservation? (Matthew 28:17) The activity that prepared the disciples to obey this commission was bowing the knee in worship to the Lord Jesus Christ. True worshippers are relentless in fulfilling Christ’s mandate in this passage. Unfortunately many Churches are anthropological rather than doxological in their orientation. John Piper writes, “Missions in not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t … Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.”
6. What right did Jesus have to command his disciples to go all the nations? (Matthew 28:18) Jesus had authority [exousia]
7. Should Christians obey government if they forbid proclaiming the gospel by any means? (1 Peter 2:13-17; Acts 4:13-22; 5:17-32)
The Apostle Peter taught that we should obey those in government. 1 Peter 2:13-17 says, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”
In Acts 5:28 we are told that Peter had been forbidden to preach the gospel. The text says, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” Peter’s response in Acts 5:29 was, “We must obey God rather than men.”
God wants us to pray for and “lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” 1 Timothy 2:1-2 says, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” The only time we should disobey governmental authorities is when they totally disallow a biblical practice that we are commanded by Christ to obey. Then, for conscience sake, we must obey Christ who has the jurisdiction over those in heaven and on earth.
8. What is the main verb in Matthew’s version of the Great Commission? (Matthew 28:19-20) The main verb in this passage in the original language is to “make disciples” but the intent of Jesus’ command is to make disciples who can make disciples who can make disciples…” Jesus wanted to create a movement of multiplication (disciplemaking) not addition (evangelism only). Jesus didn’t merely want converts he wanted disciples.
The question has been asked, “Are disciples born or made?” They are born again to be made. The word “disciple” [mathetes] is a term that describes “a learner” [from manthano, “to learn”] in contrast to didaskalos, “a teacher,” hence it denotes “one who (follows one’s teaching” as a disciple – Vines Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words).
Disciplemaking describes the process of starting with the raw material of a seeker and seeing them become a believer, a worker and a reproducer. The word “disciple” is used to describe a person (seeker, believer, worker, and reproducer) at each level in the disciplemaking process. Seekers (John 1:35, 37; 2:2, 11); Believers (Luke 6:13; John 2:12, 17; 3:22; 4:2, 8, 27, 31, 33); Workers (Matthew 10:1; 11:1; 20:17; 26:20); and Reproducers (Matthew 28:16; John 15:8) are all called disciples.
Christian or Disciple?
- Acts 11:26, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
- Acts 26:28, Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.”
- 1 Peter 4:16, but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.
Every believer is a disciple but not every disciple is a believer. John 6:66 describes a group of seekers that are called disciples because they superficially connected themselves as learners of Christ until he began speaking the hard sayings. The early disciples in John 1 hadn’t placed their faith in Christ as their Messiah yet (John 2:11) but they were called disciples (John 1:35, 37; 2:2, 11; Luke 19:39) because they were learners in the sense that they were willing to investigate Jesus’ words and works. Other examples of disciples that weren’t believers include “disciples of John the Baptist” (Matthew 9:14; Mark 2:18; Luke 5:33; John 3:25; Acts 19:1); “disciples of Moses” (John 9:28); “disciples of the Pharisees” (Luke 5:33).
Some passages are undefined concerning where a disciple is in the disciple making process. Luke reports, Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place; and there was a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon (John 6:17, 19:37). Luke here identifies a large crowd of the disciples (more than the Twelve) but distinguishes them from the “great throng of people.” Jesus taught there were certain marks of a fully devoted disciple of Christ (Luke 14:26, 27, 33; John 8:31; 13:35; 15:8). The Book of Acts uses the term “disciple” to describe those who associated themselves with the church as the Great Commission was being fulfilled (Acts 1:15; 6:1, 2, 7; 9:1, 10, 25, 26, 38; 11:26, 29; 13:52; 14:20, 22, 28; 15:10; 16:1; 18:23, 27; 19:9, 30; 20:1, 7, 30; 21:4, 16).
9. Why doesn’t the word “disciple” or “make disciples” occur in the epistles, especially if the Great Commission is for the church? (Matthew 11:29; Acts 14:21; Ephesians 4:20; Philippians 4:9; 2 Timothy 3:14). The word “disciple” or “make disciples” doesn’t occur in the Epistles because they focus on addressing the corporate assembly rather than the individual believers.
It has been said if you want to know how to disciple people study the Gospels; if you want to know how to do church planting study the Book of Acts. And if you want to know how to maintain and correct the church, study the Epistles. The root for the word “disciple” is “learn” [manthano]. Jesus used this word “learn” as an invitation to be discipled in the Gospels (Matthew 11:28-30). This word was also used in the Epistles of the Apostle Paul who discipled young Timothy (1 Timothy 3:14) and believers in the churches that he planted (Ephesians 4:20; Philippians 4:9).
The book of Acts is a historical record of the first 30 years of the church. The church had no stated reason for existence if the Great Commission wasn’t their marching orders. The first Epistle to the church wasn’t sent until more than 15 years after the church’s inception at Pentecost. The expansion of the church over the first 30 years can be clearly outlined by the early church’s obedience to the Great Commission.
The Apostles moved from Jerusalem (Acts 1:12; 2:1,5) to Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1), then even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 13:1-4; etc.). This was in obedience to the Acts 1:8 version of the Great Commission. Even though the Apostle Paul was the last apostle to be chosen, “as to one untimely born” (1 Corinthians 15:8) he also fulfilled the Great Commission to “make disciples.” Acts 14:21 says, “After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples [matheteuo], they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch.”
Matthew 28:19-20 Paraphrased – “Go into all the world and recruit students for the school of Christ through salvation, initiating them into that school through baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then teach them to obey the commands of Christ and you can be assured that He will be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”
10. How do we know that the church is to fulfill the Great Commission? (Acts 1:1, 8) First, the Book of Acts is simply a continuation of what Jesus began to do. Disciplemaking is the unfinished work of Christ. Acts 1:1 says, “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach.” We often speak of the finished work of Christ on the cross but the work of making disciples of every nation wasn’t accomplished in Jesus’ lifetime nor was it his intention. It was Jesus’ intention to create a movement of multiplication by investing his life in twelve ordinary men who could disciple others so that for generations to come the world could be reached.
The second reason is that the Great Commission wasn’t given to just the Apostles or the church as an institution but to every believer. Every believer is responsible to make disciples among their network of relationships at home, in the office, in community and in their family. Matthew’s version of the Great Commission was given to “The Eleven” and to “more than five hundred brethren” (1 Corinthians 15:6).
11. What three steps does Jesus say are involved in making disciples? (Matthew 28:19, 20)
- Step #1 is to “Go” [Aorist Participle] and preach the gospel (Mark 16:15). The Aorist tense denotes urgency.
- Step #2 involves “baptizing” [Present Participle] every new convert and establishing him or her in their newfound faith.
- Step #3 involves “teaching” [Present Participle] them to observe all the commands that Christ gave his disciples when He walked among them.
These three steps parallel the three steps that Jesus used when making disciples.
- He first would “Go” and invite seekers to “Come and See” in order to investigate his words and works (John 1:39; 46; 4:29).
- His second step was to have his disciples baptize (John 4:1-2) the new believers and invite them to “Come and Follow” him in order to become fishers of men (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20).
- His third step was to invite them to “Come and be with him” (Mark 3:13-14; Luke 6:12-13). It was during this stage of disciplemaking that Jesus taught them the ministry and life skills needed to be successfully deployed as workers in the harvest field.
12. What is involved in the task of going? (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47) The first step in making a disciple involves reaching out to unchurched unbelievers. The early church gathered to worship and scattered to evangelize. The goal of the word “go” is to preach the gospel and win people to Christ (Matthew 28:19). Every believer is to “go” and share his faith with his family, friends and co-workers. The scope of this task is “every nation” including our own. Every believer is responsible to “go” next door, to the next cubical at work, or to teammates on the sports field. Wherever you are, that’s your “Jerusalem” and God commands you and empowers you to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). Mark tells us in his version of the Great Commission to “preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). Luke’s version of the Great Commission adds that we are to proclaim “repentance for forgiveness of sins” (Luke 24:47).
13. Who should we target when we begin to make disciples? (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8) We should start where we are. The disciples were from Galilee but they were in Jerusalem so that is where they started from.
14. What is the key word for missions? (Acts 13:1-4; Romans 10:15) The key word for missions is not “go” but “send.” Romans 10:15 says, “How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”‘ God wants us all to be “World Class Christians” who are committed to cross-cultural Disciplemaking and global church planting. (Romans 10:15; Acts 13:1-4).
15. Why is baptism so important as the second step in the disciple-making process? (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38, 10:48, 22:16; 1 Corinthians 6:11) The reason baptism is so important is because no one has ever seen a salvation. The spiritual regeneration of a man or woman is a miraculous work of the Spirit inside of a person (John 4:14; 7:37,38; Titus 3:5). We can only see the results of a salvation.
Baptism is the fruit of a genuine repentance. The newborn child is now a “son of obedience” rather than a “son of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2; 5:6; Colossians 3:6). There is a natural desire that a new believer has to take the first step of obedience. Jesus taught disciplemakers to use baptism as an early litmus test to discern whether someone has been genuinely saved.
Mark 16:16 says, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” This verse is not doctrinal in nature but missional. The gospel writers didn’t give us the Great Commission to help us define the essence of the gospel, but to describe what to look for as evidence of a true salvation. It’s only natural that we should see a new convert’s willingness to submit to baptism after they’ve made a genuine profession of faith.
When we go to the epistles, the doctrinal books of the New Testament, baptism is clearly not a part of the Gospel. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:17 writes – “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel…”. It’s clear that baptism is not part of the gospel. The Gospel isn’t the good news that if you trust Christ and get baptized you’ll be saved. It’s faith in Christ alone. If baptism were required, Paul certainly wouldn’t have said, “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius” (1 Corinthians 1:14).
Mark 16:16 at first glance appears to teach that you must be baptized in order to be saved. A closer examination reveals that “faith” is the issue. Notice it doesn’t say “He who does not believe and isn’t baptized will be condemned.” To say that this passage demands that a person be baptized it would have to say “but he who does not believe and isn’t baptized will be condemned.” The thing that condemns a person is their unwillingness to place their faith (believe) in Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross and his resurrection.
Perhaps this illustration will help: If you get on a bus that’s going to New York and sit down, you’ll reach your destination. But what happens if you get on the bus and don’t sit down, will you still get to New York? Yes. In the same way, if you put your faith in Christ and aren’t baptized, you’ll still get to heaven. If you choose not to get on the bus, you won’t go to New York. In the same way, if you choose not to trust Christ as your Savior, you won’t get to heaven.
Once again, the reason Mark so clearly ties baptism to salvation is because he wants to stress the importance of baptism as an outward sign of what has already taken place inwardly. The earlier a person identifies with Christ and his body (the church) publicly the more dynamic the witness and the more consistent the growth spiritually.
16. How soon should a person be baptized? (Acts 2:41, 8:36; 16:30-33; 22:16 9:9, 18) The New Testament teaches that the command to be baptized should be obeyed by the new believer as soon as possible.
- “at once” (Acts 8:36) – Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”
- “same hour” (Acts 16:30-33) – And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.
- “same day” (Acts 2:41) – Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
- Three days after being saved (Acts 9:9, 18; 22:12-16) – “And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:9). “Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized” (Acts 9:18). The Apostle Paul was saved while en route from Jerusalem to Damascus. His conversion experience temporarily blinded him. When he received his sight, Ananias asked him why he had waited so long to get baptized. Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there, came to me; and he stood and said to me, “Brother Saul, receive your sight.” And at that same hour I looked up at him. Then he said, “The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. ‘And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:12-16).
17. What is the curriculum that is to be taught in the third step of the disciple-making process? (Matthew 28:20) The third step in the disciple-making process is “to teach” the disciplee “to observe all that I (Christ) commanded” (Matthew 28:20). This involves equipping believers so that they possess the character and competence needed to reproduce themselves.
Jesus gave 244 Discipleship Commands in the gospels and they fall into 43 command topics. Christ gave specific commands at the “Win” (6), “Build” (4), “Equip” (31), and “Multiply” (2) levels or phases of disciplemaking. The Bible promises ten special blessings to those who learn and obey these commands.
The Bible promises that if you obey the commands of Christ you will…
- Be Jesus’ friend. “You are My friends, if you do what I command you.” (John 15:1)
- Enjoy God’s love. “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Fathers commandments, and abide in His love.” (John 15:10)
- See your prayers answered. “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.” (1 John 3:22)
- Prove your love to God. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15)
- Experience the security of your salvation. “By this we know that we have come to know Him,if we keep His commandments.” (1 John 2:3)
- Know Jesus more deeply. “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.” (John 14:21)
- Have close fellowship with God. Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word;and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” (John 14:23)
- Genuinely love others. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments” (1 John 5:2)
- Avoid many of the burdens of life. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)
- Be known as Jesus’ disciple. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
18. What is the goal in teaching this curriculum? (Matthew 28:20; 1 John 2:3; John 14:15) The goal of the teaching is found in the infinitive – “to observe all that I commanded you”. We have not discipled an individual until they are obeying what they learned.
19. What is the promise Jesus gives to those who make disciples? (Matthew 28:20) Jesus said, “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus here promises two things:
- He will”manifest His presence” in a unique way when we are making disciples – “all the time not sometimes” (always);
- This commission doesn’t have a short shelf life. This is the mission of the church that is to be fulfilled until He returns.
Sources: The questions and answers for this study were gleaned from the following resources.
- Serendipity Bible for Groups by: Serendipity House, Zondervan Publishing House, 1 998
- Personal Disciple-Making by: Christopher B. Adsit, Here’s Life Publishers Inc., 1988.
- Go, Missions by: Ronald Blue, pages 341-353 Bibliotheca Sacra, Volume 141, October December 1984, Number 564. A Theological Quarterly Published by Dallas Seminary Press
- The Expositors Bible Commentary Volume 8 by: Frank E. Gaebelein, Zondervan Publishing House, 1984.
- An Expository Study of Matthew 28:7 6-20 by: Edmond D. Hiebert, pages 338-354. Bibliotheca Sacra, Volume 149, July-September 1992, Number 595, A Theological Quarterly Published by Dallas Seminary Press.
- Discipleship and the Church by: A Boyd Luter, Jr., pages 267-273. Bibliotheca Sacra, Volume 137, July-September 1980, Number 547. Published by Dallas Seminary Press.
- The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Matthew 24-28 by: John MacArthur, Moody Press, 1989
- The Great Commission by: Cleon Rogers, pages 258-267. BibliothecaSacra, Volume 130,July-September 1973, Number 519, A Theological Quarterly Published by Dallas Seminary Press.
- Oxford NIV Scofield Study Bible by: C.l. Scofield, page 1124, John 20:16 Study Note. Oxford University Press, Inc. 1967.
- “Who Sends the Missionary?” Voice Magazine by: Timothy B. Shorb, pages 8-10, May/June; Published by Independent Fundamental Churches of America.
[Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber Jr.]
© Copyright 1994 Richard D. Leineweber Jr.