In Christianity, the Great Commission is the instruction of the resurrected Jesus Christ to his disciples to spread his teachings to all the nations of the world. The most famous version of the Great Commission is in Matthew 28:16–20, where on a mountain in Galilee Jesus calls on his followers to make disciples of and baptize all nations in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The Great Commission is similar to the episodes of the commissioning of the Twelve Apostles found in the other Synoptic Gospels, though with significant differences. Luke also has Jesus dispatching disciples during his ministry, sending them to all the nations and giving them power over demons, including the Seventy disciples. The dispersion of the Apostles in the traditional ending of Mark is thought to be a 2nd-century summary based on Matthew and Luke.
It has become a tenet in Christian theology emphasizing ministry, missionary work, evangelism, and baptism. The apostles are said to have dispersed from Jerusalem and founded the apostolic sees. Preterists believe that the Great Commission and other Bible prophecies were fulfilled in the 1st century while futurists believe Bible prophecy is yet to be fulfilled at the Second Coming.
Some students of historical Jesus hypothesize the Great Commission as reflecting not Jesus’ words but rather the Christian community in which each gospel was written. (See Sayings of Jesus.) Some scholars, such as John Dominic Crossan, assert that Jesus did commission the apostles during his lifetime, as reported in the Gospels. Others, however, see even these lesser commissions as representing Christian invention rather than history.
It is not known who coined the term Great Commission, which was popularized by Hudson Taylor.
Scholars such as Eduard Riggenbach (in Der Trinitarische Taufbefehl) and J. H. Oldham et al. (in The Missionary Motive) assert that even the very concept did not exist until after the year 1650, and that Matthew 28:18–20 was traditionally interpreted as having been addressed only to Jesus’s disciples then living (believed to be up to 500), and as having been carried out by them and fulfilled, not as a continuing obligation upon subsequent generations.
New Testament accounts
The most familiar version of the Great Commission is depicted in Matthew 28:16–20,
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
According to Matthew 10, Jesus commanded His disciples to proclaim the arrival of the kingdom of God and to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons…” Mark 6 and Luke 9 also record this instruction. The Great Commission is the commandment to proclaim good news – the kingdom has come and it has come with demonstration of power. No power, no kingdom, no good news. Later, Paul prophesied that one of the signs of the last days would be that mention of the power of God would be silenced. He warned Timothy to not associate with those who have a form of godliness but do not speak of the power (2 Timothy 3:5). To the Corinthians, he said he did not come with eloquence or wisdom but with “demonstration of the power of the Spirit so that faith would rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:4)
Other versions of the Great Commission are found in Mark 16:14–18, Luke 24:44–49, Acts 1:4–8, and John 20:19–23. In Luke, Jesus tells the disciples to preach repentance and forgiveness, and promises that they will have divine power. In John, Jesus says the disciples will have the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins and to withhold forgiveness. In Acts, Jesus promises the disciples that the Holy Spirit will inspire them. All these passages are composed as words of Christ spoken after his resurrection.
The call to go into the world in Matthew 28 is prefaced a mere four chapters earlier when Jesus states that the Gospel message will be heard by representatives of all nations, at which time the end will come.
The commission from Jesus has been interpreted by evangelical Christians as meaning that his followers have the duty to go, make disciples, teach, and baptize. Although the command was initially given directly only to Christ’s eleven Apostles, evangelical Christian theology has typically interpreted the commission as a directive to all Christians of every time and place, particularly because it seems to be a restatement or moving forward of the last part of God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12:3. Some Christians, like members of the Bruderhof Communities, see their life of church community as taught in Acts 2 and 4, as their part of proclaiming the gospel to all men.
Commentators often contrast the Great Commission with the earlier Limited Commission of Matthew 10:5–42, in which they were to restrict their mission to their fellow Jews, who Jesus referred to as “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. (Matthew 15:24)
Preterists believe that the Great Commission was already fulfilled based on the New Testament passages “And they went out and preached everywhere” (Mark 16:20), “the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Colossians 1:23), and “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations” (Romans 16:25–26).
The Jewish Encyclopedia: Gentiles: Gentiles May Not Be Taught the Torah states:
R. Emden (יעב”ץ), in a remarkable apology for Christianity contained in his appendix to “Seder ‘Olam” (pp. 32b–34b, Hamburg, 1752), gives it as his opinion that the original intention of Jesus, and especially of Paul, was to convert only the Gentiles to the seven moral laws of Noah and to let the Jews follow the Mosaic law — which explains the apparent contradictions in the New Testament regarding the laws of Moses and the Sabbath.
- Castleman, Robbie F. “The Last Word: The Great Commission: Ecclesiology”(PDF). Themelios. 32 (3): 68.
- John 20:21–23
- “Bruderhof – Fellowship for Intentional Community”. Fellowship for Intentional Community. Retrieved 2018-01-17.
- “Proclaiming the Gospel”. Bruderhof. Retrieved 2018-01-17.
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