Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Great Commission: It Just Adds Up

I would dare say that most evangelical Christians have heard of the “Great Commission” and could give one or two points from it—go, make disciples, maybe something about baptism and teaching, but probably nothing else.  I dare say that very few know the entire passage:
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.”  (Matt 28:18-20)
These instructions given in Galilee are not the entirety of all of Jesus’ final commissioning.  Luke will write of later occurrences wherein Jesus gives more detail, first in Jerusalem:
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.  But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”  (Luke 24:45-49)
then in the proximity of Mount Olivet:
He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  (Acts 1:7-8)
These three passages comprise the fullness of the Great Commission,† each passage giving important information regarding the task given to the apostles. Moving chronologically, notice where Jesus begins—he is the seat of authority.  From this basis, he laid down a definite ongoing plan to the apostles for growth of the Kingdom of God.  There is a call to go, and a command to make disciples through his authority by baptizing and teaching* with an assurance of his ongoing presence.  These men were given an outline for what their lives would be like as they lived before others in the power of the Holy Spirit without explicit instruction as far as the extent of their travel or the practical manifestation of Jesus’ presence.  This passage could be assigned the designation “Great Result” of the faithful proclamation of the gospel.

Moving to the Jerusalem account, Jesus opened their understanding of his death and resurrection and explained that they would be empowered to take his message of repentance and forgiveness to all ethnic groups.  This was not a new concept to the Jews, since the scriptures state that the nations would praise God (Psa 67:3-4; 72:11-17), but the expectation was that the nations would come to Jerusalem (2 Chr 6:32-33).  Jesus now points the apostles outward: Jerusalem is the epicenter of the movement, not the hub.  We can refer to this passage as the “Great Message.”

Lastly, just before he was taken up, Jesus tells the apostles near Olivet that they will finally receive the promised empowerment through the Holy Spirit in order to perform the task he gave them.  The plan was to start from where they were and move out gradually, and thus not overlook any people group.  All would hear the message of the gospel in this controlled thrust.  This passage can be described as the “Great Empowerment.”

Taken together, we can ascertain the Lord’s plan in preparing his disciples to carry the gospel out.  To sum up in mathematical terms, we have:
Great Result + Great Message + Great Empowerment = Great Commission
Jesus gives his Church the task, message, empowerment, authority, and target audience to announce his remedy for sin.  May his glorious gospel go forth as his people make it known.

*  While the Greek word poreuthentes is a participle that can be translated “going / as you go,” Robert H. Mounce makes a case that “Jesus’ instructions are proactive; we are to move out into the world, not simple [sic] make disciples when we happen to be there.”  In other words, Jesus was telling the apostles that they would certainly be going out and, as they went, would make disciples.  See
†  I am reticent to use Mark 16:15-18.  Though verses 9-20 are entirely accurate in the information they convey, it was most likely added later and is nothing more than a brief synopsis of Jesus’ post-resurrection ministry and the later apostolic era.

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