The Great Commission refers to the assignment Jesus gave His disciples shortly before returning to heaven following His resurrection. The commission is found in Matthew 28:18-20.
“Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”
“Make disciples of all the nations,” Jesus commanded them.
A disciple is a follower. That’s what these eleven disciples were—followers of Jesus. Earlier in his Gospel, Matthew tells how Andrew, Peter, James, John, and the others left their daily occupations to follow Jesus (see Matthew 4:18-22). They became His disciples by following Him—physically as He traveled around Judea and Galilee and also by following Him in their actions and beliefs. A disciple of Jesus is someone who follows Him by becoming like Him.
In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded the eleven to go out into the world and find men and women who would follow Jesus just like they had followed Him. And that is exactly what they did. The question is: Does the Great Commission apply only to the eleven disciples—the ones to whom Jesus was speaking? Or does it also include us?
The Great Commission includes all of us; Jesus asks all of His disciples to make other disciples. The apostle Paul was not among the eleven. Yet he was one of the foremost in making disciples throughout the known world of the first century.
The last recorded words of Jesus to His disciples were these: “You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This is another way we know that the Great Commission is for us—and not just for those first eleven disciples. Jesus intended that “making disciples” would go forward in ever-widening circles until it reached “the end of the earth.” The early Christians carried the gospel to most of the then-known world. But it takes you and me—all of Jesus’ followers—to continue making disciples in every spot on the globe.
Jesus’ words point out another important thing about carrying out the Great Commission: We make disciples where we are. The disciples were to start in Jerusalem—right where they were. We are to make disciples in the place we live, among our neighbors and friends and those to whom we come in contact. One of the most effective ways to make disciples is to let others see you living a Christ-like life day-by-day (see Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12).
Becoming Jesus’ disciples involves learning about Him and His teachings. Disciples are to “observe all things” that Jesus commands. So part of making disciples is helping others learn about Jesus and how He wants us to live. If we study the Bible with a sincere desire to follow Jesus in all His teachings, the Holy Spirit will help us (see John 16:13, 14).
Those who have made a firm decision to be Jesus’ disciple are to be baptized to demonstrate that decision publicly. Baptism symbolizes that a person has been resurrected from his or her old life of sin to walk in newness of life (see Romans 6:1-4).
Can you imagine how those eleven disciples must have felt when they heard the Great Commission? How were they ever going to be able to “make disciples of all the nations”? They weren’t educated. They weren’t important leaders among the Jews. They were just a little, insignificant group of men who had only recently been fearing for their lives as they went through the terrible ordeal of seeing their Master put to death. How could they hope to carry out the Great Commission?
The answer is: They didn’t have to do it in their own strength! And neither do we! Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” Jesus gave the eleven disciples the authority—and the ability—to make disciples for Him. They carried out the Great Commission in the strength and authority of Jesus Himself. That authority is ours as well. Like the eleven, we have the authority and power of Jesus backing us up as we carry out the Great Commission and make disciples for Him. Jesus assured the eleven (and us), “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” He will never leave us or forsake us (see Hebrews 13:5).
Shortly before He died on the cross, Jesus said, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world, as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). Jesus wants to return and put an end to this world of sin. But that cannot happen until the gospel goes to all the world. That’s why the Great Commission is so important.