Evangelical churches have for the most part jumped on the bandwagon to modernize their marketing strategy by including web content. Yes, they’ve gotten with the times and delved into utilizing this “new fangled” promotional approach. While these websites do a pretty good job at laying out the history of the church, giving you directions to their building with a Google map and informing you when not to call the pastor, some have actually included their statement of faith. Generally, if a statement of faith is not included, well, it often means that they don’t want to bore their readers with theology or to them, it really doesn’t matter what anyone believes. Some have even gone as far as to openly declare their mission statement and these ecclesiastical pursuits are often written in a pretty hip way, well, at least they think so.
But mission statements are important, and we shouldn’t minimize them or refrain from having one in our churches, especially one drawn directly from the scriptures. Yes, there are mission statements in scripture and the New Testament has its own authentic and pointed mission statement. This mission statement is the greatest of them all since it lays out the great ecclesiastical purpose directly from the commissioner Himself, Jesus Christ. The risen Lord expressly laid out the objectives and this means that churches are to be rooted in this missiology. The Great Commission is where we find our orders. Within the term commission is the expression mission which really lays out the mindset in which the words of Christ were communicated. The texts of Matthew 28:18-20 are a mandate instructing the task and we should know these duties well.
We are in a war in this world, and I believe the last few years have shown us that there is little objectivity left for compromise. Truly neutrality has shown itself to be a myth! To win this war, we’d better have a very good understanding of these orders left to us by the Lord and not sway too far from them. We are well to be reminded of this mission statement often since it influences the effectiveness of our task in this life. If we look at churches in our North American society, we can conclude that we really need a memento. We’ve lost touch with the content of these passages and in return we see the effects of it all around us. The puritan’s life testimony and the great missionary missions of past days whether Carey or Livingston had as their focal point the Great Commission. They strived for something more than hiding in their church buildings and being content with feeling good with their ecclesiastical click. Their impact upon the world was transforming and the nations were really impacted by their work. They pushed forward with the gospel, and little stopped them from taking it to the nations. In the last 150 years, we’ve lost this strut and surrendered our pursuit to others who abhor our mission. The gates of hell are withstanding our assault since there is little push to invade the enemy’s kingdom. The enemy is now pushing back and making us look very bad. We’ve allowed the message of secularism to trump ours because we haven’t really gotten our heads around how glorious our message is and sadly in many churches, the gospel is now but a footnote. We used to take care of our neighbour, build schools, build hospitals, feed the poor, take care of our kids and our parents, also our widows and orphans. We’ve left that to the secular world, and they’ve used it against us. Now, they’ve decided to attack and push their debaucheries, and it continues to get uglier by the day. The real reason this is happening is not so much that we’ve deemed these things as unimportant but that we’ve lost our mission. We’ve lost our ability to influence the culture because we’ve become a people who honestly have forgotten our marching orders. When is the last time you’ve asked yourself if Christ is the Lord of your life and is He truly given His rightful place as the Lord of your church and especially does He rule over the earth? I’m not talking in a verbal ascent kind of way, but truly He is Lord above all and do you and your church function in this way. Unless Christ is Lord of both these spheres, well then, you have nothing. Your worship is nothing, your evangelism is nothing and all your works are naught. What we need to become is the church that the gates of hell cannot withstand, we need to become ambassadors of a king who reigns over the heavens and the earth and to whom the nations belong. We need to obey Him and as a community of Christians recognize why He deserves this obedience. A brush up is in order so let’s go to the text.
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Run for the Hills
The charge to His disciples begins back in v.16: But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. While the expression “The Twelve” was the predominant title for the disciples, the Lord now refers to them as “The Eleven” obviously the original first fruit followers minus Judas. This special designation set them apart from other disciples who had come to Jesus. They were a chosen group with a chosen mission. These same apostles who ran for their lives when the Lord was arrested (Matthew 26:56) are now the same men He would utilize to begin the great world endeavour. The very purpose He issued for them in Matthew 10:1-15 was now at hand, and it was time to embark on fulfilling the outcome He predicted.
Jesus’ ministry began in the hills of Galilee and now so will the work of the apostles. The Eleven were previously commanded to meet Him there (Matthew 26:32; 28:7), the place where He spent most of His ministry. It would be a fitting place to begin their journey to all the nations (Jews & Gentiles) since it was the most populated mix of these ethnicities in Israel. It was referred to as Galilee of the Gentiles for a reason (Isaiah 9:1; Matthew 4:13-16). The Hills were a favourite place of the Lord. They were the place where the Lord had taught and prayed (Matthew 5:1; 14:23). This was the mountain that the Lord had assigned to meet, and this time, instead of running away, they truly ran for the hills to meet Him!
The Dual Reaction
The dualistic reaction in v.17 to seeing Jesus was manifest in some bowing the knee in worship while others were doubtful. Worship in scripture is ascribed to Yahweh and in this instance, it’s pointing to Christ as the God king. This is the place where they will be exposed to two competing truths, that the Son of God is the King of Israel crowned in glory and at the same time the One whose name would now appear in the triune formula of Baptism. Those who were doubtful were among the eleven and were perhaps unsure if it was in fact the Lord Jesus resurrected or possibly, they were unsure how to act when seeing Him. The reaction to the Lord Jesus generally produces worship or doubt and yes, there are many today who don’t bow the knee to Him, even those who profess Him as Saviour.
The King Revealed
Prior to giving them their orders, we mustn’t miss the foundational statement in v.18, one that will be the essence behind their mission. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the reality of what is missing in our churches in the 21st century so pay special attention. Throughout the gospel of Matthew, the reader is presented with the declaration of His kingship. We are confronted with this reality in the narrative on His genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17), His birth (Matthew 2:1-3,9-13), in His confrontation with the religious leaders (Matthew 26:64) and on several occasions to His disciples (Matthew 10:23; 16:27-28; 24:30). This declaration of Sovereign kingship shouldn’t be overlooked or minimized. You see, without it, there was no true mission at all and even today, if we “go” without understanding the statement in v.18, we are not “going” in the proper way. Jesus states: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth”. This is unquestionably a fulfillment of vision of the Son of Man in Daniel 7:14. “And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom… His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed”. The realization of this kingship and kingdom was a theme that the Lord expressed repeatedly (Matthew 16:28; 19:28; 24:30-31; 25:31-34; 26:64) and its inauguration happened within the lifetime of the apostles. The scope of his rule as David’s successor stems not only in the heavens as some will have us believe, but it is also over the earth as well. The glory, dominion and kingdom don’t stay in heaven, they populate the earth! We are not waiting for Christ to come and rule over the earth, He is reigning in a real sense over the lands today and that reign has impact around the globe! The term “all” denotes the idea that every ounce of heaven and earth are under His authority. To have authority means that you have the right to govern and power to influence. Every government, every religion and yes, even your boss, are under the authority of Christ. Christ now has boundless rule and, in all spheres, including Israel, the nations and the heavens themselves. Truly God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:8), Christ is seated at the right hand of power far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (Ephesians 1:20-21). We are not waiting for Him to be King of Kings and Lord of Lords; this is His current status (Revelation 17:14; 19:16). He has all authority and in return men and all institutions in the earth are expected to obey Him. The Kingdoms of the world that were offered to Christ by the enemy (Matthew 4:8) are now His! Part of making disciples is teaching obedience to His commands and this only works if He has authority over them. We see in v.18 the true nature of His Kingship which was not merely sitting on the throne of David in Jerusalem, but a universal dominion over both heaven and earth. While every empire in history will fall, the final Messianic Kingdom will never fade away! This establishes the truth of His ownership of all things and this needs to be acknowledged prior to going forth with the gospel of the kingdom to the nations. The heralds of the kingdom must plan to spread His Lordship throughout the earth and press forward with authority to which not even the gates of hell can stop this from happening (Matthew 16:18). The Kingly authority behind the great commission is the reason we are called “Ambassadors” of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 6:20) and we need to return to thinking ourselves in this way.
This is fundamentally where the wheels come off in the mind of Christians today. If we don’t understand that the foundation behind the great commission, the authority of Christ over everything, and if we don’t believe that His reign extends to the earth, then we have little reason to go, to baptize and to teach the commandments. Christians who “go” to preach the gospel, baptize and disciple people without expecting these discipled individuals to showcase the Kingdom in their family life, their church affiliation, their employment and even in influencing the culture and the moral and ethical decisions of their governments. Christ is Lord over all these aspects, and we must disciple with a goal to proclaim these commandments that He left for us.
Prior to moving on, take a moment to reflect upon this glorious truth and ask yourself if you, your family and your church live as though Christ is Lord! Prior to moving to the nations, this needs to firstly be established within these institutions and in your own thinking.
It is the nations (ethnos) that are the target of the Messianic Mission. Some have argued that the Lord’s instructions to go to the nations is to be taken in contrast to Israel. The term “nations” can be rendered as “Gentiles” in distinction to the Jews, but Israel is not excluded from the mission, far be it! The apostles didn’t run off to Ephesus right away, but they went to Jerusalem, Judea and then to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:9). We are seeing here the extension to the gospel mission rather than a break from it. There is a switch in scope from a focus solely upon the lost sheep of Israel to the nations as a fulfillment of the covenant of Abraham (Genesis 12:3).
The promise in the OT about Nations coming to God is quite extensive. We aren’t left guessing on this one. Jesus was promised the nations as His inheritance and the ends of the earth as His possession (Psalm 2:8). These nations are ruled by the Lord and the families of these nations will worship before Him, remember Him, and turn to Him (Psalm 22:27-29; 86:9). This rule will be from sea to sea, from the river to the ends of the earth (Psalm 72:7; Zechariah 9:9-10). All the kings of the earth will also bow down before Him and all the nations will serve Him (Psalm 72:11). In the last days, the Mountain of the Lord will be established as the chief of mountains, which will result in all the nations will stream to it, they will come to have God judge between the nations and there will no longer learn war nor lift up their swords against each other (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:6-9; Micah 4:1-4). The kingdoms of the earth will be given to the saints of the Lord and all the dominions will serve and obey Him (Daniel 7:27). This, ladies and gentlemen, happens in history and we need to recognize that the reason we are going out to the nations, baptizing them and discipling them is because they belong to Him! How this international adherence and worship happens is laid out in the gradual growth of the Kingdom through the Great Commission. In Matthew 28, we have the beginning of the growth of the mustard seed into a mighty tree and the stone commencing its expansion into becoming a great mountain or the genesis of the waters from Ezekiel’s temple flowing into a mighty river. The discipling of the nations is how the kingdom is populated and its permeating affect in the world is not limited to the church. It really impacts the world and all aspects of culture. Baptism and teaching the nations obedience to Christ’s words is the result of this infiltration. The world is the Lord’s and much like the land of Canaan was given to the descendants of Abraham, in the form of a takeover (Numbers 13:30-14:1) , we are to move into the world and take the world for Christ through the gospel. Not through politics, arts, the education system or by the sword, but through the gospel of Jesus Christ which will eventually and naturally affect all these aspects.
What we must be careful to recognize is that the commission in Matthew 28 is not inherently only to preach the gospel to the nations, although this is laid out in Mark 16:15. For many, this is merely a reciprocation of Mark’s words, but to others it becomes so much more. They were commanded to make disciples. The term “Methetes” (disciples) means more than simply making “believers” but someone who is in the process of being taught. This is much more than merely giving them a message as a flu shot to get to heaven, it is taking in of individuals to transform them into something different. It is focused upon their sanctification.
The launch of Jesus’ commission doesn’t begin here but at Pentecost. The Great Commission is the expansion of the Creation mandate. When God created man, He placed Him in the garden and commanded him to be fruitful and multiply. This command was given on several occasions in scripture to populate the earth (Genesis 1:26-28; 9:1-7). In a similar fashion, under the new creative mandate, God is calling His people to populate the earth (Acts 1:8, Romans 10:18; Colossians 1:23), but this time with those who are of the new birth.
Now that the Lord established the power and authority behind the mission, it’s time to give them the expectations. The Lord commands them to “go therefore”. We mustn’t forget that the term “therefore” behind the command is backed up by the previous statement of His universal dominion and spreading out to the extent where all the nations are included. There are three actions commanded by the Lord, Go, baptize and disciple. The great commission is an introduction to the pursuit of seeing people transformed within. Within the term “disciple” is the term “discipline”, a training to bring about a result, in this case, the obedience of the commands of Christ. In the spreading of the mission to the whole world, they were to bring nations under the authority of Jesus Christ.
The Dualistic Task
The means by which they were to create disciples was twofold: Baptize them and teach them to obey the commandments. Note that baptism comes first prior to teaching, which, let’s face it, is quite the contrary to how most churches make disciples. While I’m a Reformed Baptist, I still believe that baptism is the beginning of the learning of obedience as an act of faith, then furthered by teaching the commandments so stop waiting to get them baptize. We don’t need to wait and teach them prior to being baptized until they have earned a degree as systematic theologians. I believe teaching these commandments is something to be accomplished then the recipients are of sufficient age to conscientiously learn obedience. It is the washing to prepare for the work of the priesthood! This baptism is under the Trinitarian formula (Father, Son & Holy Spirit) although we are left without a single reference in the New Testament to this formula being used again. The disciples baptized solely in the name of Jesus. The singular “name” is striking in that we see the one name containing the essence of the three divine persons. Their baptism would be the marked by an allegiance to Yahweh, as Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Discipleship is in the name of the three persons who were similarly involved in the beginning of the mission of Christ (Matthew 3:16-17).
The second act to form disciples was teaching them all His commandments. Christ the good teacher is now looking to pass on this Christ-like feature to His disciples. The expression “commandments” was found elsewhere in Matthew (5:19; 15:3; 19:17; 22:36-40) as expansions of God’s commandments through Moses. These commandments were given by Christ and by His authority are they to be obeyed. This is similar language to Israel’s commission to take possession of the promised land (Deuteronomy 4:1; 6:1). Christ has been given the nations, we need to take possession and conquer the nations within the earth with the sword of the word of God, the preaching of the gospel, baptism and with the commandments of Christ Jesus the Lord.
The disciples would not be left to their own since this crowned Christ would be seated on the throne of heaven and at the same time, He would be with them all the days until the end of the age. These are words of comfort that they will need as they venture out alone to complete the command. God’s presence would be with them in Christ (See John 14:16-17; 16:7). His presence would be with them but also with those who would become disciples from their work. This would span until the end of the age when the Lord would return in glory to defeat the last enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26).
Not So Fast
The primary thing to notice in the commission is the order. They weren’t to go preach, see them saved and move on. The disciples were to take the time with the new converts and in return we as a church should train them in the things of the King. How many people have we brought into the church, and they’ve been left to the wayside? How many have exhibited growth, not simply from personal study, but from the discipling produced by those within the church? This is more than simply delivering a weekly message from a pulpit but was a command to create a training session for these new converts. They were to know the word and in return, were to use it to disciple others. We are to create a people who will stand for God’s justice and for the poor while abhorring openly sin. As Spurgeon once put it: “A Church that does not exist to reclaim heathenism, to fight evil, to destroy error, to put down falsehood, a church that does not exist to take the side of the poor, to denounce injustice, and to hold up righteousness, is a church that has no right to be.”
The war that we are currently involved in is a war that will ultimately be won when Christ returns. Whatever interpretation one has regarding the Great Commission and it’s success, we all agree that it will that the final victory is won by Christ. We are looking to the glorious hope of His appearing to consummate His Kingdom. But Christ doesn’t return to slay all enemies, He returns to deal with the ultimate enemy, death. When His Parousia occurs, His enemies will already be subjected under His feet and made a footstool (1 Corinthians 15:23-28). Until then, we as a people, as a church, must continue this kingly effort to see people saved from their sins, to see them go through with the command of the Lord in baptism and to train them in the commands of the Lord of heaven and earth.
 This is not to say that all puritans or 17th-18th century missionaries agreed with my interpretation, but a majority held to this analysis.
 Matthew 20:17; 26:14,47; John 6:67,71; 20:24; Acts 6:2; 1 Corinthians 15:5
 Προσκυνέω referring to worship or reverence towards.
 See Acts 2:38; 8:16; 19:5; 22:16
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