One of the last commands given by Jesus Christ while on the earth, this is one of the central truths of the gospel for Evangelical Christianity. The most popular version of the Great Commission is in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28, verses 18-20:
"18Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'" (NIV)
Two of the other gospels and the Book of Acts contain other similar commands:
"15He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.'" (Mark 16:15-18, NIV)
"46He told them, 'This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48You are my witnesses of these things. 49I am going to send you what my Father has promised, but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.'" (Luke 24:46-49, NIV)
"7He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'" (Acts 1:7-8, NIV)
There are three major components to the Great Commission:
- The assertion of Christ's authority to give a commission to the disciples:
- All power on heaven and earth has been given to him (ref Matthew 28:18).
- The gospel is preached in Christ's name (ref Luke 24:47), which gives him the authority to determine the manner in which it is preached.
- The expectation that Christ placed on the apostles and the Church at large:
- Preach the Good News - It is a cardinal responsibility of the Church to reach out and preach the gospel to everyone.
- Make disciples of all nations - not just the Jews, but the Gentiles as well. This goes beyond just preaching the word, but includes helping believers to develop in their walk of faith.
- Baptize them - this is an issue of much debate in the Christian world, whether baptism is necessary for salvation. The Catholic faith believes that baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation. Evangelical denominations (like the Southern Baptist Convention) generally hold that baptism is the first step on the road of discipleship, but not necessary for salvation, citing the example of the two criminals crucified next to Jesus (found in Luke 23:39-43).
- Teaching them to obey - this actually holds two mandates. The first is teaching the commands of Christ so that believers know what to obey. The second is encouraging them to make obedience to these commands the habit of their life.
- Be witnesses for the faith - this may seem much like the first expectation, but the Webster's definition of witness also includes being a character witness. The lives of believers are often more of a witness for the faith than their words could ever be.
- The promise of the support of the Trinity in their endeavors:
- The presence of Christ - He promises to be with the disciples always.
- The power of the Holy Spirit - Every instance of Christ's final command includes
this promise, which was fulfilled on Pentecost.
- The sign gifts - driving out demons, speaking in tongues, immunity to poison, and laying on hands for healing. These gifts were definitely evidenced in the Book of Acts as being possessed by the apostles, as well as many of the other believers. Many people wonder why these gifts don't seem to be as much in evidence today. There are a few theories proposed regarding this:
- The sign gifts were given primarily to show the delegated authority of the disciples, as they had no body of written doctrine to support their preaching. As the New Testament writings were created, the authority of the apostles and elders of the early Church began to be more sufficient, so the sign gifts decreased.
- Sign gifts decreased because the power of the faith of the Church declined, allowing sin and science to make miracles seem less possible.
- They have not decreased, but humanity has endeavored to find a scientific explanation for the miracles in psychosomatic healing, deception, and other causes.