The Great Commission of Jesus Christ
by Prof. Johan Malan
Summary: The Godly mandate of the mission command embraces three different activities that must be carried out.
The mission of the Christian church for the whole period between Christ’s first and second comings comprises of an assurance, three commands and a promise.
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:18-20).
These words were spoken only to saved people to whom the command was given to take the gospel of salvation to all nations in all the world.
The mission command is the greatest and most important command given to any group of people on earth. It embraces the most difficult task that has ever been undertaken and in the execution thereof brings those that adhere in confrontation with the most formidable enemy that there is, namely the kingdom of darkness controlled by Satan and his demons.
A fixed assurance of Christ’s power
The mission command is a task that is far greater than human capabilities and cannot be carried out in our own strength. It is not within the abilities of man to stand against the kingdom of Satan and to overcome it. You cannot save yourself or any other lost soul that is under Satan’s power, but the Lord Jesus gives his disciples the fixed assurance: “ All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” He came to seek and to save that which is lost (Luke 19:10) and our task is to lead lost souls to Him. His saving power is through the Holy Spirit that is working to give those that are lost salvation and to break the bonds of sin.
Have you in your own life experienced the fact that Jesus Christ came to destroy the works of the devil? (1 John 3:8). It is the only name that is given to man through which we can be saved (Acts 4:12). Through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross He destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil (Hebrews 4:12). There is no other religion or saviour through whom a person can be freed from Satan’s power! The Lord Jesus Christ’s instruction to Paul and every other disciple is: “Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” (Acts 26:17-18).
The power of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is not only at work in the saving of sinners, but is also given to empower all disciples to proclaim the gospel to agnostic and even hostile people:
· “[Jesus] said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses to these things. And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: But tarry ye in Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” (Luke 24:46-49).
· “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).
· “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:4).
It is not enough that a disciple should only know that Jesus Christ has all power in heaven and in earth – he also needs to be clothed with this power through being filled with the Holy Spirit. Have you ever humbled yourself before the Lord, examined yourself in the light of His Word, and waited on Him to purify your heart and fill you with His Spirit? Only then can you be a successful disciple who can help others to make peace with God and to be clothed in His power. This power gives you the boldness to preach the Gospel (Acts 4:31) and equips you for the struggle against evil (Ephesians 6:10). However, many believers do not know the scriptures or the power of God (Matthew 22:29).
The first command: preach the gospel of salvation
The first command is that we are to preach the gospel and make disciples in all the nations. People are to hear the gospel so that they can repent and be saved. Paul’s message to the unsaved Greeks was: “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now cammandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30).
The saving grace of Jesus Christ is to be preached to all people. By doing this we let the light of the gospel shine in a dark world, so that everyone that is living in the darkness of sin and are lost, can realise that they must come over to the wonderful light of the Lord Jesus through repentance and salvation (1 Peter 2:9).
The Holy Spirit convinces people of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement through the preaching or reading of the gospel (John 16:8). Those that deny that they are lost sinners resist the calling voice of God through the Holy Spirit, to their own destruction.
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10).
Those however, that are lost, and that acknowledge and confess their sins with regret, will be saved. Paul says that godly sorrow of this nature brings about “repentance to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Such a person appeals to the righteousness of God that was made possible by Jesus Christ on the cross, where the price was paid for everyone’s sins. Someone that has made peace with God on the grounds of the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross “shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death into life” (John 5:24).
The second command: baptize those that repent
Someone that is saved is already spiritually baptised into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). Water baptism is an outward symbol of the abovementioned baptism, the same way that communion is a symbol of the Lord Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. The command is clear: “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). Water baptism therefore does not have the power to save, as a person can only be saved through faith in Jesus Christ. The Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip: “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptised?” And the answer was: “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.” And his reaction was: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts 8:36-37). He was baptised on the grounds of his confession of faith.
What is the purpose of the water baptism, as it obviously does not have the power to save? It is an outward testimony, a confession in public by the person concerned that Jesus Christ is his or her Saviour. The Bible also links a verbal testimony to salvation as proof that it is genuine: “That thou salt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou salt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10). At the baptism the one concerned confesses Jesus Christ with his or her mouth and doing this fulfils the Lord Jesus Christ’s command to be baptised.
Christianity is a public matter that is carried out and confirmed in the open in various ways through the testimonies of believers.
The third command: intensive instruction
Following a person’s salvation is a phase of intensive schooling in the Word: “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Why must those that have received salvation be schooled in the Word? So that they can live a holy life and be of service in Christ’s kingdom. In Psalm 119:11 the psalmist says: “ Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Jesus said: “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3). There are so many clear commands on sanctification in the Bible that any earnest Bible student can do nothing other than to give them serious consideration.
· “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification… He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 4:3,8).
· “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Peter 1:15).
· “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
Sanctification means “purified and set apart for Gods service.” A life of sanctification must necessarily lead to a person being willing and available for service. We have already indicated that a person who is filled with the Holy Spirit, will be a witness for Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8). He will not be able to remain silent about the great and wonderful things that the Lord has done for him. It is a spiritual truth that real faith leads to works and serviceability as faith without works is dead (James 2:26).
A convert that is well schooled in the Word of God and has accepted the requirement of a total commitment to sanctification, will under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit accept the task of spreading the gospel further. Paul has this to say to the young Timothy: “Preach the word, be instant in season, out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Here is where the mission command has completed its full circle: The disciple that has guided other people to the Lord and given them a thorough schooling in the Word of God, has now trained disciples that have received the power of the Holy Spirit and also have built up a working knowledge of the Bible. They can then spread the Word further and also make disciples. The work of the Lord must continue on earth in this way until He comes.
The promise: Jesus Christ is always with us
A distinct promise accompanies the mission command: “And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” We are never alone in this work. Jesus Christ is always with us through the Holy Spirit while we are carrying out his great commission.
The fact that Jesus Christ made this promise until the end of the world in reality means “until the end of this age” because the Greek word aeon is used, that means, a long period. The New King James version correctly says: “Lo I am with you always, even until the end of the age”.
We have the assurance in these dark days of the nearing end of the church age, that the Lord Jesus is still with His faithful witnesses to empower them, to encourage them, to open doors for them and to provide their every need from the riches of His grace. He does not promise them moonshine and roses, wealth and a problem-free life but survival in the midst of difficult circumstances and victory in the struggle: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:18,19). The servant that perseveres with the Lord’s work will be richly rewarded (Matthew 24:45-47).
Jesus Christ will come when all nations (not all individuals) have been reached with the gospel. In this spiritually dead and morally decaying world you can hasten Christ’s coming by taking part in extending His kingdom: “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God…” (2 Peter 3:11,12).
The command for world evangelisation is still as binding as when it was given almost 2000 years ago, therefore every Christian must be actively involved in some way. Besides the fact that we should be supporting missionaries and evangelists with prayer and money, we should also be doing something to spread the gospel in our own areas. Conversations can be conducted with people and pamphlets or booklets containing good messages on repentance and spiritual growth can be distributed.
Come let us make a great effort in this time so near to the end of the church age, to win unsaved family members, friends, colleagues and other people for the kingdom of heaven. This great task cannot be left in the hands of the church alone, for the following two reasons: (1) Many people do not go to church any more, and (2) In an increasing number of churches people are no longer clearly enlightened as to the biblical demands for rebirth and sanctification. The power of the Holy Spirit is still at our deposal to spread the news of Jesus Christ’s saving grace: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8).