The Four Parts of the Great Commission
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.Jesus cares much more about disciples then decisions. Click To Tweet
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?
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God 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.