The (five) Great Commission(s)

from ThinkTheologically blog


Did you know that there are five texts in the New Testament that contain different facets of the “Great Commission” – and without each of them, there may be something lacking in our understanding of what Jesus wants to do through His church? I have personally come to see all five texts together as the composite “Great Commission.”

Here are those five texts, followed by a few observations and conclusions.

Matthew 28:18-20

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been handed over 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Mark 16:15-18 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.

Luke 24:45-4 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.”

John 20:21-23 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Acts 1:8 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.

Here are some of my own observations about each of these texts:

In Matthew the disciples were charged and commissioned to…

  1. disciple of all nations (e.g., every ethic group),
  2. administer water baptism as a sacrament of initiation to new followers of Jesus,
  3. teach the things that Jesus taught, and to call for obedience to Jesus in every area of life, and
  4. the promise of the abiding presence of Jesus would be available to all of them for the purpose of fulfilling the task until all the work was done (e.g., “the end of the age”).

In Mark the disciples were…

  1. to proclaim good news to all creation,
  2. to administer water baptism to new believers as an act of obedience, and
  3. promised that powerful signs would accompany the proclamation of the good news (i.e., casting out demons, spiritual language, supernatural protection, and the administration of healing through prayer and the laying-on of hands).

In Luke the disciples were called to…

  1. proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all nations, and
  2. do these things in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It was imperative that absolutely no attempt to fulfill Jesus’ commands was to be made by the disciples until they were “clothed with power from on high.”

In John the disciples…

  1. were sent by Jesus Himself as His earthly representatives, in the same way that He was sent by the Father,
  2. were marked by the Holy Spirit as belonging to Jesus, and empowered by the Spirit for the tasks ahead, and
  3. were to be primarily occupied with helping people process the issues related to forgiveness of (i.e., release from or retaining of) sins.

Finally, in Acts the disciples were commanded by Jesus to…

  1. receive power from the Holy Spirit, and
  2. be his witnesses – ultimately to the far-reaches of the planet.

Theirs would be a global impact.  The whole world would be touched.

This is very different from present habitual pursuit of really good attractional church services on Sunday mornings, and well-organized programs, classes, and seminars during the week in clean, modern, well-furnished facilities, which use the latest-greatest equipment and technology.  Much of what is thought of as ministry today is better categorized as institutional advancement facilitated by both managing and suppressing the fickle appetites of come-and-go-consumers, in the power of human ingenuity.  We are in danger of telling ourselves that we are indeed alive (or believing it because we’ve built such a reputation) simply because we are busy, complex, and “state-of-the-art” (see Rev. 3:1).

I share that last part because the first Christians did not have our “ministry delivery system” and they grew by millions and millions of people in a matter of decades. They had (and they lived) the (five) Great Commission(s) in organic, every-day, intentional ways.

These five texts tell us our focus, our activity, and our mission no matter who we are or where we live. The Great Commission is utterly non-dependent on so many of the things we have come to see as essential to the work of the Church of Jesus. In fact, I am in a place in my own life where I am convinced that doing without many of those things will allow me to finally do what these texts envision without all the clutter, baggage, and diversion of resources away from the mission of God and His people.

As an exit question, what would your “church life” look like if you decided to live out the imperatives and values of these five texts, and to do nothing else?  How radical would that be? What would you do differently? What would change?

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