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Bible Insights

The Great Commission

Go and Make Disciples

Today’s passage: Matthew 28:18–20

Focus verse: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19)

As Jesus prepares to return to heaven, he has one final bit of instruction for his disciples. He commissions them to continue what he started and tell others the good news about how he died in their place to save them from their sins.

The Bible records these final instructions in three places—here in Matthew, as well as in Mark and Acts. Each differs from the others. We’ll cover each one in turn in our next three readings.

The most common one occurs in Matthew’s biography of Jesus. Over the years I’ve heard many preachers speak on this passage. It’s often called the Great Commission.

It’s great because no other commissioning charge is more important than telling the world about Jesus.

Jesus begins by saying that all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to him. Implicitly he imparts this authority to his followers. Based on this he tells them to go and make disciples—everywhere.

He doesn’t tell them to make converts. He tells them to make disciples. Contrary to how most churches behave today, converts—or new members—isn’t the goal.

Disciples are what matters to Jesus. If it matters to Jesus, it should matter to us.

Jesus also tells them to go to all nations. Two thousand years ago most Jews assumed the promised Savior was coming for their nation only and no others.

Yet a careful reading of the Old Testament reveals that God planned all along that Jesus would save Gentiles, too, not just the Jews. The Scriptures allude to this multiple times.

As Jesus’s followers go and make disciples, they’re to do two things: baptize and teach.

Baptism is a public testimony of aligning with Jesus. Most of his followers today make much about baptism, arguing over how it should occur and what it means.

In considering these issues, we must remember the rebel crucified next to Jesus. Jesus promised him salvation based on his verbal assent, and he was never baptized.

Though baptism is important, the meaning behind it is even more important. Hold on to this truth.

The other thing the disciples are to do is teach. Jesus wants them to teach people to obey everything he commanded them to do.

But the people are supposed to obey Jesus’s commands, not the Old Testament ones. This is a key distinction.

Jesus commanded little of us. We’re supposed to follow and believe in him (Matthew 16:24 and John 11:25).

Next, we are to love God and love others (Matthew 22:37–40, Luke 10:27, and 1 John 3:23). If we do these things, we’ll be in great shape.

Jesus concludes by saying that he’ll be with us always, even to the end of time. And he’ll do this through the Holy Spirit who will arrive in a few days.

Questions:

  • What should our response be to Jesus’s final instructions to his followers?
  • What are we doing to obey Jesus’s essential command to make disciples?

Prayer: Jesus, wherever we go may we tell others about you and make disciples.

Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and his return to heaven in The Victory of Jesus. The Victory of Jesus is another book in Peter DeHaan’s beloved Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series. Get your copy today.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Make Disciples Not Converts

We Should Do What Jesus Commands and Push Secondary Pursuits Aside

Jesus wants us to be his disciples. Each of the biographies of Jesus mention this. To be his disciple means to set all else aside and follow him (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, and Luke 14:26–33).

As his disciples he expects us to produce fruit, that is to help other people become disciples too (John 15:8). It’s clear. We need to make disciples.

Matthew’s biography of Jesus records his final instructions to his followers before he returns to heaven. Jesus tells his followers to go everywhere and make disciples (Matthew 28:18–20, which some call the Great Commission).

He doesn’t say he wants them to go and make converts. He wants disciples. Though believing in God is the first step, it’s not enough. Jesus wants more. He wants followers who go all in for him.

Much of today’s church has missed this call for discipleship. Instead they focus on conversions, such as praying a prayer, being baptized, or making a public declaration of belief in Jesus.

But this is just the first step on a lifelong journey of faith, a journey into discipleship.

Jesus commands us to make disciples, yet few churches do this on a corporate level. And few people do this on a personal level.

When a person says “yes” to Jesus, that’s wonderful news and the angels celebrate (Luke 15:10). Yet too many churches then abandon those new believers and leave them to flounder (Luke 8:11–15).

Instead they should invest in that person and help them become a disciple of Jesus, just as he commanded. Then that person can go out and make another disciple.

If we all made disciples—just as Jesus instructed—there would be many more people following him and the world would be a much better place.

Jesus told us to go out and make disciples. We need to take this command seriously and obey it. We can start today.

Read the first post in this series about things we must change in our discussion about our church buildings and facilities.

Read more about this in Peter’s thought-provoking book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

The Four Parts of the Great Commission

Explore Jesus’s Parting Words

A few weeks ago we looked at Jesus’s final instructions as found in each of the Bible’s four biographies of him. Melding these together, we came up with three steps.

First is to follow Jesus, second is to wait for Holy Spirit power, and three is to go and tell others.

Looking specifically at Matthews record of Jesus’s words in Matthew 28:19-20, we have the passage many people call the Great Commission. In this we have four action verbs.

Go: Step One of the Great Commission

Jesus tells his disciples they are to go. This is the opposite of stay. But staying is exactly what they do. They stay in Jerusalem—as initially commanded—waiting for the Holy Spirit. But once the Holy Spirit shows up, they continue to stay.

It isn’t until a wave of persecution sweeps through the church in Jerusalem that Jesus’s followers scatter. Finally, this forces them to go, as Jesus instructed.

Matthew doesn’t record where they are to go, other than everywhere. Luke, however, gives more details in the beginning of his writing in the book of Acts (Acts 1:8).

There Jesus says that under Holy Spirit power he wants his followers to tell others about him in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the rest of the world. (Again, notice that being filled with the Holy Spirit proceeds the going phase.)

From these four locations we can interpret four areas of ministry. Jerusalem, which is where we live; Judea, which is our own people group; Samaria represents other people who live nearby; and the ends of the earth mean everyone else.

Make Disciples: Step Two of the Great Commission

As Jesus’s followers go on their missionary journeys, they are to make disciples. He doesn’t say to make converts, though the implied prerequisite for discipleship is following Jesus. Instead he says to make disciples.

Conversion is a onetime effort. We make the decision to follow Jesus in an instant, but discipleship takes a lifetime. Too often the focus today is getting people to say “yes” to Jesus.

Evangelists track their number of salvation decisions, but they seldom talk about the difficult follow-up work of making disciples.

In fact, they often convert people and then leave, with no discipleship work whatsoever—abandoning their converts and letting them flounder.

Since Jesus doesn’t talk about conversion—even though it’s implied in making disciples—we can wisely surmise that Jesus cares much more about disciples than decisions.

Baptize: Step Three of the Great Commission

For our third action word we read baptize. This is phase one of making disciples. Notice that baptism doesn’t come before the instruction to make disciples, but after it.

It’s the first aspect of making disciples, not a prerequisite for discipleship.

Some people, however, place baptism ahead of discipleship, often stopping at baptism and never making any effort to disciple the people they baptize. This brings us to the fourth word in the Great Commission.

Teach: Step Four of the Great Commission

The fourth action step in the Great Commission is to teach. Like the word baptize, teach is part of making disciples.

It’s phase two of the discipleship process. And though baptism is a onetime action, teaching is ongoing. Teaching is the long-term effort of making disciples.

There are other aspects of teaching, which Jesus doesn’t detail in this passage, but we can infer from his actions we read about in the Bible. After teaching comes application, in which the disciples go out and do the things they learned about.

We see this when Jesus’s disciples baptize others (John 4:1-2), heal others (Matthew 10:1, Mark 6:7), and point others to Jesus (Luke 10:1).

In these last two instances, they must go. This takes us full circle, implying that the final step of discipleship is to go and repeat the process.

From Jesus’s charge in the Great Commission, he wants his followers to go everywhere, make disciples, baptize, and teach them.

How does this apply to us today?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 26-28, and today’s post is on Matthew 28:19-20.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Should Christians Follow Jesus, Be His Disciple, or Go as a Missionary?

Choose Labels With Care For They Reflect Our Identity and Theology

By definition I am a Christian, but I’ve always shied away from that word. It means different things to different people, not all of which are positive. For too many, Christian is a negative label implying narrow minded, bigoted, or hate-filled people.

Since these things make me cringe and don’t describe me, I typically avoid saying or writing the word Christian. Instead I say I’m a follower of Jesus.

I could also say I’m a disciple of Jesus, but I’m wary of that for fear that I too often fall short. Others say that they’re missionaries for Jesus, which implies following him and being his disciple. But that label never clicked with me either.

What insight does the Bible give us about which label we should use?

Christian

Interestingly, the word Christian only appears three times in the Bible, twice in Acts and once in 1 Peter. People who know Greek tell me it means “little Christs.”

It may have first been a derisive term (Acts 11:26 and Acts 26:28), which was later accepted by Jesus’s squad (1 Peter 4:16).

But the fact that the Bible rarely uses Christian is telling. I wonder if we should avoid it too, especially given how emotionally laden this word has become.

Follower of Jesus

In the Bible, the idea of following Jesus occurs a lot in its various forms. This includes, they “followed him” (27 times), “follow me” (22), “followed Jesus” (5), and “following Jesus” (2).

The command Jesus seems to give most often to people who approach him is to follow him. Though he sometimes says, “repent and follow me,” the idea of following implies a prior repentance. Think of repent as doing a U-turn; we must do a U-turn if we follow Jesus.

Disciple of Jesus

Disciple, which means an “active adherent” or “someone who embraces and spreads the teachings of another,” occurs in the Bible a lot.

t occurs nearly three hundred times in the New Testament, all in the four biographies of Jesus and the book of Acts.

Disciple emerges as the preferred descriptive term in the Bible for those who follow Jesus, a.k.a. Christians.

I suppose disciples refers to the early church, but church isn’t used nearly as often (114 times), mostly by Paul. Besides church is perhaps an even bigger misused and misunderstood term.

Missionary of Jesus

In last week’s post on the Great Commission, which many see as a call to be a missionary, the word go emerges as the first action step.

Missionary refers to someone who goes to persuade or convert others, but it doesn’t appear in the Bible at all. It’s a word we added after the Bible was written.

I wonder if we should likewise avoid using it. That doesn’t mean being a missionary of Jesus isn’t biblical or is wrong, but it does imply it might be the wrong label.

Let’s go back to the definition of disciple. A disciple is someone who embraces and spreads the teachings of another person, in our case Jesus. This means that as a disciple, we are by default a missionary—or at least we should be.

Frankly, that makes me squirm a bit. It’s easy for me to be a missionary for Jesus in the words I write, but it’s a much more challenging task to be a missionary with the words I say, at least to those opposed to Jesus.

Conclusion: Be a Disciple of Jesus

Though we can call ourselves Christians or identify as part of the church, being a disciple of Jesus emerges as the most accurate, biblical, and appropriate label to use.

Both following Jesus and being a missionary for Jesus are embedded in what it means to truly be a disciple of Jesus.

I’m going to start making that mental shift from being a follower of Jesus to being a disciple of Jesus.

Will you join me in this journey? It could change everything.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Jesus’s Final Instructions as Found in the Four Gospels

Consider What Jesus Expects of His Followers—and Us

A while ago we looked at the final words in each book of the New Testament. This provides us with interesting information. However, more enlightening is to look at the final words of Jesus in each of the four biographies of him in the Bible.

While you may be most familiar with what Matthew records as Jesus’s final instructions, let’s start with what John says.

John Writes to “Follow Jesus”

The Gospel of John ends, not with any profound instructions, but instead Jesus focuses on reinstating Peter to the group. Twice Jesus reminds Peter to “follow me” (John 21:19, 22).

By extension we can apply this to us today. Jesus’s most essential instruction, the foundational starting point, is for us to follow him.

Luke Writes to “Wait for the Holy Spirit”

Now let’s move to the book of Luke. Dr. Luke writes that Jesus reminds his disciples that he will send them a gift (the Holy Spirit) from Papa and that they are to return to Jerusalem and wait for that gift (Luke 24:49).

Then Jesus ascends to heaven.

Dr. Luke picks up the story in Acts. There he writes that Jesus’s followers were in constant prayer as they waited for Jesus’s special gift (Acts 1:14).

As they paused and prayed, the Holy Spirit showed up in an awesome display of supernatural power (Acts 2:1-13).

Mark Writes to “Go and Preach”

Mark’s account of Jesus has three different endings. As a writer I get this. It’s sometimes difficult to know how to end a book. So I’m okay with a few different attempts to get it right.

The oldest of manuscripts of Mark ends without Jesus giving any final instructions. It stops abruptly at Luke 16:8 with the women standing at Jesus’s empty tomb and an angel instructing them to tell the disciples.

But they’re afraid and don’t. That’s not a good ending.

A few manuscripts of Mark, tack on an added passage after Luke 16:8: “After this, Jesus himself also sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.”

This helps some, but it feels rushed and is an unsatisfying ending.

Other manuscripts of Mark don’t contain that extra passage, but they do include versus 9–20, which reads like an epilogue. In this text, we do hear Jesus’s final instructions.

He essentially says, “Go everywhere and tell everyone about me” (Mark 16:15).

Matthew Writes to “Go, Make Disciples, Baptize, and Teach”

Last, we get to Matthew’s more well-known account. In what’s often called The Great Commission, Jesus tells his followers, “Go everywhere, make disciples, baptize, and teach about me (Matthew 28:19-20).

Putting It All Together

Can we combine these four thoughts from John, Luke, Mark, and Matthew to provide one comprehensive instruction? How about a three-step procedure?

Jesus’s final instructions are to:

  1. Follow Jesus.
  2. Wait for Holy Spirit power.
  3. Go, make disciples, and then baptize and teach them.

It starts with us following Jesus, but we need to make sure we don’t do anything without the Holy Spirit.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Bogged Down Reading the Bible?

10 Essential Bible Reading Tips, from Peter DeHaan

Get the Bible Reading Tip Sheet: “10 Tips to Turn Bible Reading from Drudgery to Delight.”

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