The Great Commission Matthew 28:18-20 Bible Study Notes, Cross References, Outline, and Discussion Questions
The Great Commission
I. Jesus was given complete authority in heaven and on earth (18)
II. The disciples were to go in this authority (19a)
III. The disciples were to make disciples (19b)
IV. They were to make disciples of all nations (ethne 19c)
V. This making disciples required baptizing (19d)
VI. This making disciples required teaching obedience (20a)
VII. This obedience was to the same commandments Jesus gave to the disciples (20b)
VIII. Jesus would be with them (and us) until the end of the age (20c)
What authority has been given to Jesus? Who was it given by? Explain the phrase “in heaven and on earth”.
How does the knowledge of Christ’s sovereignty connect to the great commission in the following verses?
What does this tell us about how we should go about this task and exactly what we should teach and who we should rely on?
Who was Jesus speaking to in these verses?
If Jesus was speaking to the disciples, then does this command apply to us today?
If a believer told you Jesus was only talking to the disciples here and we need not fulfill this how would you answer?
If then this does apply to you, why have you not gone? And if it does apply to you as an individual, why do you not baptize?
What does it mean to “go”?
If it only means “as you are going”, then how can new people be reached in non-Christian areas?
What is the essence of this command?
What is a disciple? Were they to be a disciple of the disciples or a disciple of Christ?
Where was this task to be carried out? To who? Is it finished?
What is the importance of baptizing?
What important doctrine is shown here?
What are we to teach to these new disciples? We are to teach Jesus’ commands?
What is the importance of the phrase “all that I commanded you.” (Wholistic, complete, not pick and choose.)
What importance is the reminder at the end of the verse?
Verse by Verse Commentary:
1. ALL authority has been given to Jesus in heaven and on earth. Jesus has complete authority over everything, everywhere. In heaven and on earth tells us of His divinity and is another direct claim to that regard. This statement of authority has direct correlation to His command to the disciples in the next verses. He has authority over Satan and his demons who oppose the work. He has authority over the governments who may persecute those who carry out the work. He has authority over the unbelievers who may scoff at the work or deride those who carry out the work. He has authority over us, meaning we will held accountable for the work. This authority was given to Jesus by the Father (Eph 1:22).
2. First we are going to discuss the “therefore”. What is the therefore there for? It means that Jesus’ statement in verse 18 is directly connected to this command in verses 19-20. The disciples might think this task was too big and impossible. The answer, Jesus has authority over everything. Jesus would be with them. Jesus would help them accomplish it. They might think that the Jews or Romans were too powerful and that the consequences would be too severe. This reminds them to take heart, because Jesus is over this as well. It would remind them that with God all things are possible and what can mere man do to me. Maybe the disciples wondered how they would support themselves if they gave up fishing to trek around the world preaching. Jesus is sovereign over this as well. The one with all authority in heaven and on earth could surely provide for their physical needs.
Verse 18 (and then 20) is much like a father who helps his kid learn how to ride a bike. The kid is scared of falling. But the father reminds the kid gently that he will be holding the seat and keep it from falling. To the child, the task of first riding a bike is monumental and dangerous. But if he knows his father is in control and will protect him, it suddenly becomes much easier and more doable.
But the statement is even more than that. It is a reminder that the authority is Jesus’ and not theirs. The disciples might be tempted to go in their own power, but this would be sin. They must go in Christ’s power (1 Thess 1:5, Acts 1:8). They might be tempted to teach their own traditions or opinions, but this would be sin. They must teach under the authority of Christ. They might be tempted to become prideful and take credit for the work that was being accomplished, but this would be sin. The glory goes to the one in charge and Jesus was in charge.
3. Go. The word in Greek is poreuomai and it has a lot of slightly different meanings: to traverse, travel, depart, go (away, forth, one’s way, up), take a journey or walk. There is some debate as to if this can mean only “as you are going”. This definition is often given to people in churches to remind them to share the gospel with others wherever they are and that it is not necessary for everyone to go to foreign peoples. However, by looking at the context I think this is not the meaning which Christ had in mind. He tells them to go and make disciples of all nations (ethne). That would be impossible to do as they were going since their normal goings about was limited to an extremely small geographical area. Today the same is true, if all Christians share merely as they go about then the places they don’t go about will not hear the gospel. That still leaves the question, is everyone to go?
I think the answer is in taking this command as a command to a group, not individuals. In fact the disciples did not all go to foreign peoples and nations. Some of them ministered primarily in Jerusalem to the Jews for most of their ministries. So were they disobeying the call? Not at all (Acts 1:8). It was necessary to share in Jerusalem, but also the area beyond that and beyond that. This was their job as a group. Most of the people in the world would never be won unless some went to them (Romans 10:13-15). But neither could everyone go (everyone’s gifting in the body is not the same, everyone is not physically able to, there must be people to lead and teach those left behind, there must also be people to support through finances and prayer the ones who are going).
That brings us to the next question. Does this great commission apply to us today?
Proof that this command to the disciples is applicable to the church today.
I. The disciples were to make disciples. A disciple is basically a follower. This is a chain where the disciples model Christ’s commands to the next group, who then follow the disciples by modeling Christ’s commands to the next group. If the first group of disciples was to go and make disciples, the next group should too unless this a clear “one time” situation.
II. The disciples themselves did not finish this task. When they died, most of the world was unreached. All of North and South America, much of Asia, Australia, most of South Africa, etc. were unreached. Jesus obviously intended this task to be finished one day. Revelation 7:9, Revelation 5:9. Therefore it is implied that the church should take up this task to complete it.
III. The disciples were to teach the next group to obey everything Jesus commanded them. Jesus commanded them here and in many other places to share the gospel with the lost, here being the Great Commission, the most clear time when Jesus labeled the extent to which they were to reach the lost. While there might be a few situations where Jesus’ commands to the disciples do not apply today, the burden of proof is to prove beyond a doubt why those wouldn’t apply today, not the other way around.
IV. Finally, Jesus said He would be with them, even to the end of the age. The end of the age hasn’t come yet and it doesn’t appear He was talking to only the disciples (meaning He would still be with them when they died and went to heaven). He was with the disciples and now He is with us, all believers, the church. The implication is that Jesus is with the church to the end of the age and therefore we can be confident as we accomplish this task given to us.
4. And make disciples. This is the key command in the Greek. The other commands (in English) in the verse are contingent upon this one. The teaching and the baptizing is part of this command. The verse question is what is a disciple? A disciple is basically a follower or a student. The disciples were to make Christ followers. These were not to be followers of the disciples just like Paul told the Corinthians that he and Appollos weren’t important. They were to be followers of Christ. Luke 14:25-33 tells us more about the costs of discipleship. We can infer two main things from this.
A. We need to be models of this. Paul told his disciples to follow him as he followed Christ. We need to set examples of how to live just as Jesus lived among His disciples for three years.
B. A disciple definitely conveys a deeper meaning than just believe. It shows you have to be willing to give up everything in order to follow the cause, Christ. It is not enough to just tell people to pray a prayer and then they are done. We can’t force them to follow Christ, but we can make it clear what Christ expects of them and us, and that is total commitment. These are the kinds of people who will stand firm in the face of trials, who will carry on even after we leave to move on to other areas or people. Because they are a follower of Christ, and not us, they are not dependent on us and can carry on after we leave.
5. To all nations (ethnos). This literally means to all people groups. One nation might have many different people groups inside. And many times in today’s world many people groups in one nation may be almost ignored while the dominant people group is focused on. Is this great commission finished today? The answer is no. I will just give a few stats which will show a snapshot of the situation in the world today.
World – (From the Joshua Project)
|Global Total||16,350||6.70 billion|
|Unreached / Least-Reached||6,642||2.75 billion|
|% Unreached / Least-Reached||40.6 %||41.0 %|
|10/40 Window Total||8,619||4.42 billion|
|10/40 Window Least-Reached||5,710||2.67 billion|
|10/40 Window % Least-Reached||66.2 %||60.4 %|
|Peoples Groups (without reference to Countries)||9,803|
|Unreached Peoples Groups (without reference to Countries)||4,073|
|Challenging Mission Facts|
|• Of the 16,350 people groups by country, 6,642 are still considered unreached.
• 9,708 people groups by country are not considered Least-Reached, totaling 3,950,831,000 individuals, or about 59% of the world’s population.
• Of the 16,350 total people groups, 6,642 are identified as Least-Reached using Joshua Project criteria, totaling 2,747,244,000 individuals. Of these 6,642 groups, 5,710 are in 10/40 Window countries. That means 86% of all unreached people groups are in the 10/40 Window.
• 932 of the Least-Reached groups are NOT in the 10/40 Window, totaling 75,050,000 individuals. These groups are relatively accessible to the Good News of the Gospel.
• Of the 6,642 Least-Reached people groups, about 3,457 (52%) are small groups under 10,000 in population (or population unknown) and all these groups total less than 8,000,000 individuals. Of the remaining 3,185 least-reached groups, about 1,292 are under 50,000 in population. That leaves 1,893 Least-Reached groups 50,000 and over in population. A vibrant church in a large group may take the gospel to a number of smaller satellite people groups that have ethnic similarities.
Definition of unreached according to Joshua Project – An unreached or least-reached people is a people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group.
6. Baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is part of making disciples. Baptism is a very important step of obedience and sign of identification as a disciple of Christ. This verse should stress on us the importance of baptism. It shows that “just pray this prayer” is not what being a disciple is about. Being a disciple requires identifying with Christ (I will be ashamed of the one who is ashamed of me and my words.) and a commitment to Christ characterized by obedience, the first step of which should be baptism. This verse is one of the few in the New Testament which clearly shows the doctrine of the Trinity.
7. Teaching them to observe/obey all that I commanded you. This is another aspect of discipleship. A disciple must know what he or she should do. It is very easy for us as teachers to get into the mindset of teaching truths, teaching doctrines, teaching knowledge, teaching facts, etc. But this is not what it says to do here. What does it say? Teaching to obey. All the facts, truths, and doctrines in the world are no good if there is no obedience. This tells us that the job of being a discipler is also simple. You don’t need to know all the facts, truths, and doctrines. You don’t need to have a Bible degree. You don’t need to understand everything. You should be a modeler. And you should teach the people to obey. Anyone can come to the Word of God, Christ’s commands, and see basically what they are to do. The Christian life is not complicated. Probably 99% of the principles in the Bible are very clear. So then what is my job? My job is to encourage you to obey the things that you know are true. I know a lot of the time I don’t teach new knowledge and that is OK. I simply remind you of what you have learned and encourage you to do it. The same is true for you when you share to others. If you are a disciple, you know enough to being discipling others. You may not know all the answers, but you can open up the Word together and decide to do it.
The next thing we learn from this phrase is that they were to teach to obey everything Jesus commanded them. This tells us several things:
A. Everything. Christians cannot pick and choose. We can’t say, yeah we like eternal life, but we don’t like giving. We want to love our friends, but we don’t want to love our neighbors. We want to give thanks when things are going smoothly, but we don’t want to when things aren’t going well. It is either total commitment, total obedience, or disobedience. Of course we cannot be perfect, but part of Christ’s commands included repentance and confession.
B. They were to obey all of Jesus’ commands. This means they weren’t required to obey all of the disciple’s personal ideas, opinions and preferences. This reminds us that Christ is in charge and we are only tools building His kingdom, not our own little fiefdom.
8. The last part of the final verse is a final reminder of Christ’s presence. This presence is comforting, emboldening, and empowering. If Christ was not with us, we could not hope to complete or even begin this great task. But with Christ’s presence everything is indeed possible.
Application: Do you know that every two seconds (start the snap), an unbeliever dies and goes to hell for eternity?
Since we are teaching to obey, we should all consider how to obey this command. If we just know the great commission, this whole time has been wasted. As part of the church, we should all be involved in fulfill the great commission. We cannot do it individually, but we can contribute with our gifts as part of the church.
Are you contributing to this great task? What can you do to contribute or contribute more?
Discuss in depth. Open discussion. Prayer, giving, sharing, mission trips, going yourself as a cross-cultural missionary. See www.joshuaproject.net for more information.
for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
2 Cor 5:18-20
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
1 Peter 3:15-17
15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel
9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
1 Cor 13:1-3
13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16 as you hold out the word of life ?in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.
We want to help you study the Bible, obey the Bible, and teach the Bible to others. We have therefore created a library of almost one thousand (and growing) inductive Bible studies, which are available for free. This takes a lot of time and hard work.
Help us continue to create Bible study resources by supporting Study and Obey for as little as $1.