“And 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.’ Amen” (Matt. 28:18-20).
The Gospel of Matthew closes with what we often refer to as the Great Commission. These were the apostles’ marching orders. All four gospels contain a version of this commission, and the book of Acts (which is a historical account of its partial fulfillment) begins with the Lord commissioning His apostles to preach the gospel “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (1:8).
Have we ever stopped to consider why it is called the “Great” Commission? Read this passage again, and this time look for the word “all.” It appears, in some form, four times. Among the definitions of the word “all” are: “the whole extent or quantity of the entire number of, the greatest possible, etc.” (Webster’s New World Dictionary). I believe this Commission’s greatness can be understood and appreciated if we will look at the significance of these four “all’s.
1. “All Authority.” This Commission is given by the authority of Christ. Authority refers to right or power. The entire Gospel of Matthew stresses the authority of Christ. The authority of His teaching is shown in the Sermon on the Mount as well as in His encounters with His enemies during the week before His crucifixion. His authority over nature, demons, and sickness is shown by His miracles. His authority over death is shown in His resurrection.
Before His ascension, Jesus told His apostles that He had been given all authority in heaven and on earth. No other authority remains. The command to “go therefore and make disciples” was given by the all-authoritative Christ. No man has the right to cancel this commission, which is why the apostles continued to preach even when men threatened them to stop (Acts 4:18-20, 5:28-29).
2. “All the Nations.” This Commission is great because it is universal in scope. It is a universal command because mankind has a universal problem (sin) and a universal need (salvation).
The Jews may have been God’s chosen people, but they were not the only ones in need of salvation. All of mankind is lost in sin, and God’s desire is that all men be saved. “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4; c.f. 2 Pet. 3:9).
The invitation of the gospel is all inclusive; no one is left out. “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). Jesus left the apostles with a Commission that makes salvation available to all of mankind.
3. “All Things I Have Commanded You.” The Commission is great because it maintains the growth of the church. The process of making disciples does not end with the baptism of newly taught believers. That is really just the beginning. New converts must be fed the milk of the word, and challenged to grow and learn how the Lord wants them to live. Unless they are grounded in the faith, many new converts will fall away (Matt. 13:20-22). The Lord knew this, which is why He said the teaching process must go on after baptism.
Notice that disciples are to be taught to observe “all things” that were commanded by Christ. The idea that all Christians really need to do is to embrace one or two central ideas about the gospel is wrong. Jesus binds us to everything He has commanded, not just the content of the Sermon on the Mount, the “Golden Rule,” or John 3:16.
The Commission’s greatness can also be seen in the fact that it is perpetual. As they made disciples, the apostles were to teach them to observe all the things that Jesus had commanded them to do. The last thing He commanded them to do was to go and make disciples. As each person is won to Christ, they are taught to win others.
4. “I Am With You Always.” The Commission closes with the greatest promise. God has not wound up the universe and let it go to run its own course through human history. This verse is the promise of the providence of God being present and active in our lives today.
As we pray for open hearts and open doors, the Lord answers by giving us opportunities to preach and teach His word (Col. 4:3). We are equipped through His Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We are perfected through life’s experiences (James 1:2-4). We know that there is no hardship that we will face in spreading the gospel in which the Lord is not with us, answering our prayers and seeing us through. As long as the world turns, this promise will stand.
Conclusion. The apostles had a work to do, and they did it. By the time Paul wrote the book of Colossians (around 65 AD), the gospel had gone to “all the world” (Col. 1:6). How was this great feat possible? The apostles responded to the authority of Christ, they took the gospel to everyone they could, faithfully passed on everything Jesus had commanded, and found the strength needed to continue through hardships and doubts in the promise that the Lord was with them.
The Great Commission did not end 2,000 years ago. Remember, it is a perpetual commission. As disciples of Christ today, we have the same challenge and the same promise as did our counterparts in the first century. The only question is, “Will we be as faithful in carrying it out as they were?”