All authority belongs to Jesus. 28:16-20
In the gospel of Matthew, the Great Commission is the final instruction that Jesus gives to his disciples. They join him on "the mountain" and he sends them out into the world.
v16. There is a strong tradition of Jesus "going before" the disciples to Galilee. Obviously, this was a time of teaching, although presumably direct contact with the risen Lord was limited. It was during this time that Jesus met with his disciples and commissioned them for their missionary task.
v17. The response of the disciples to Jesus is rather difficult to understand. Some "worshipped" Jesus, ie. prostrated themselves before him. By this act they recognized his divinity. Yet, some "doubted", ie. they stood back, not quite sure that this was actually Jesus. It seems that Jesus was not always easily recognizable after his resurrection. Both Mary Magdalene and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus failed to recognize Jesus at first sight.
v18. Jesus claims absolute authority and thus, the right to make the following demands of his disciples. Of course, with the right goes the power. What Jesus commands can be done because he enables the doing of it.
v19-20. Jesus' instruction to his disciples can be divided into three parts:
i] "Go and make disciples of all Nations". It is probably best to translate this phrase "while you are on your way, make disciples from all nations" ie. As the disciples move about in Palestine and beyond, they are commissioned by Jesus to undertake a program of disciple-making. Jesus is certainly not telling the disciples to Christianize the Nations, rather they are to evangelize them. Jesus then goes on to tell them how.
ii] "Baptizing them into / in the name." There are two key words in this phrase: "baptizing" and "the name." Baptizing simply means "immersing", and "the name" refers to a person's being, here of God (a person's name represents them). God's being is revealed here as multi-personal, he is for us, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The disciples are to immerse people in / under the authority of God's person, ie. tell them all about the Lord, or in simple terms, communicate the gospel to them.
iii] Those who respond to the gospel must then be instructed in the Christian faith, in particular, instructed to rest in faith on God's promises. Jesus concludes with a particularly beautiful promise, "I will be with you always to the very end of the age." Here Jesus promises his presence and power to those who follow him; He will be with us to the completion of this age.
The Great Commission
I don't know whether it bothers you, but I have always wondered why Jesus, a person who never baptized anyone, would set up an ongoing world-wide baptism program. It just doesn't sound like Jesus.
When we read the gospels we find that Jesus and the disciples are all about communicating the gospel. Sure, water baptism is there, as a visible way of expressing a person's response to the gospel, of their repentance, but it isn't presented as an essential step in God's disciple-making program. So, why is baptism given such prominence in the Great Commission?
The word "baptize" is a Greek word which has been brought unchanged into the English language. This has caused some problems, for whereas the Greek word has both figurative and literal meanings, in English we tend to give the word only a literal meaning. We usually understand the word "baptize" to mean dip or immerse in water. The word would be better translated "immerse", for in the New Testament it carries three figurative meanings: immerse in teaching, immerse in the Spirit and immerse in suffering. Here, in the Great Commission, it probably means immerse in teaching, but teaching into what?
The New Testament maintains the tradition of not referring to God's actual name, so here, just "the name", the unmentionable "name", whose person is known to us as "Father, Son and Holy Spirit", ie. the triune God. The reason for this is that a person's name is a reflection of their character, their person, a name never spelled out in the Old Testament for fear that the very mention of it would consume the writer, or speaker. Only the consonants were written, YHWH. The English "Jehovah" is a rough guess. The term "I am" is a much less threatening title and so was often used.
So, to be "immersed" in "the name" of God, is to be immersed into his very being, his person, his character, and this under his authority. The question is, how do we do this? The popular understanding of this phrase is that we do it by dunking or sprinkling water on someone while reciting the words. It is more probable that to immerse someone in the "name" means to flood them with an understanding of God's character through his revealed word. In simple terms it means to teach them about God. In the context of the command "make disciples", it probably means to proclaim the gospel. So, Jesus is instructing his disciples to make disciples in all the world by proclaiming the gospel.
Although the Great Commission was given to the eleven apostles it applies to us as well. Let us see to it that the gospel is made known throughout the world. We do this with a word in season, a donation to the Bible Society, a gift to a missionary society, and so on. By means such as these we make disciples under the power and authority of Jesus.
Discuss different ways your study group could work to get the gospel out into your local community. Identify practical ways of doing this, rather than resting on personal evangelism techniques which most of us are ill-equipped to employ.
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