Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teachingh them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
(Mt 28:19–20)

This mandate issued by Jesus contains the job description of every Christ follower. No one naming Jesus as Lord and Savior is exempt from faithful witness to this charge. What follows are a few gleanings that unpack what this means.

  • Although Jesus commanded the Eleven, he did so in their role as disciples. Therefore, all who claim to be a disciple of Jesus are bound to this command.
  • Jesus did not command the Church per se, but individual members who make up the Church. This is no decree for a “church growth” movement. It is a proof-text for every individual believer to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5; cf., also Lk. 24:47; Jn. 20:21; 2 Cor. 10:1-5; 1 Pt. 3:15).
  • There is no other plan in place for God to bring salvation to the lost but by a faithful presentation of the Gospel message from faithful individuals (cf., Jn. 17:20; Rom. 10:14-15).
  • Though entrance into the kingdom is exclusively through Jesus Christ, members of the kingdom are included without distinction (“all nations;” also see Rom. 10:12).
  • Making disciples of “all nations” does not necessarily entail leaving our homes or even our neighborhoods and workplaces. Every believer has opportunity to carry out this command in their immediate surroundings.
  • A commitment to the Gospel is necessarily Trinitarian (“in” or “into the name [note: ‘name’ is singular] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”).
  • Making disciples does not stop with a profession of faith. Although “baptizing” is coordinate with a profession, “teaching them to obey” is a life-long enterprise.
  • There must be an observable balance in the Great Commission. “If non-Christians are not hearing the gospel and not being challenged to make a decision for Christ, then the church has disobeyed one part of Jesus’ commission. If new converts are not faithfully and lovingly nurtured in the whole counsel of God’s revelation, then the church has disobeyed the other part” (Blomberg, Matthew, p. 433).
  • Churches and individuals should be able to measure some degree of effectiveness, however meager, in both evangelism and edification (on the latter see Rom. 15:1-2, 14). How else would one know whether the Church is being the Church and disciples are being disciples?
  • Finally, no one is left to their own resources in faithfully carrying out this mandate. Jesus promises to be with each person to enable, encourage, and inspire the effort of spreading the Gospel. In fact, Jesus surrounds and embraces every disciple with his presence (the Greek syntax reads “I with you am always” or ἐγὼ μεθʼ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας). Not only is Christ immanently present, but there is never a time when he is absent (“always”).

For many of these insights here I’m indebted to D. A. Carson’s The Gagging of God and his chapter “Athens Revisited” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns.

10 Comments

  1. I’d like to add a point that if we profess to be Christians, we must show the world that we are Believers, and thus teach them how to obey, by living the Gospel every moment of every day. Being “Sunday Christians” isn’t enough.

  2. Hey Becky…thanks for dropping by!
    Absolutely agree. Just as Christ is with us always, so must we always be faithful to our role as disciples. There is no time off or vacation from discipleship.

  3. Hi Paul –
    Do you think that there is any significance in the word order of “making disciples” followed by “baptizing”? I know my particular tradition tends to want to rush to the baptizing part first and then typically fails at the “making disciples” part. Should emphasis be placed on making disciples and then baptizing – at least to the point to where the person can “count the cost?” Thoughts?

  4. Hi Shawn:
    In a word; no I do not think there is any significance to the word order and the mis-placed emphasis on one over the other. However, I would argue, as did Blomberg (see bullet #8 above) that to be strong in baptizing while ignoring teaching (or vice versa) is not faithful to the mandate. Both are necessary; neither alone is sufficient. Imagine, by way of illustration, that I told my children that I would be a better husband than a father. I’m charged to be both a good husband and father because that is my role.

  5. I think the word order should not be overlooked. Make disciples is a command while baptizing and teaching are participles. As such they are grammatically dependent on the command. Baptizing and teaching are the actions (the means) we are to take after making disciples. Hope this helps.

  6. Paul – I’m on board with Blomberg’s (and your) observation. I definitely think there ought to be a balance, unfortunately I think that balance is missing. At least as far as my experience goes, that has been the case.

  7. I agree that there is significance in the word order and that the participles express the means by which the command is to be carried out. To me, the commission is the key verses of the Gospel, and the means expressed relate to the order that we find in the Gospel. Baptism (chapter 3) comes before the first lesson in discipleship (chapters 5-7).
    However, I believe that water baptism is symbol for the “cleansing” that the Spirit does to the conscience (1 Pet. 3:21). A person must have a clean heart before he can advance in instruction regarding obedience to our Lord’s commands (Ez. 36:25-27). However, since a person is normally cleaned of conscience before he receives the symbolic ritual, some instruction in obedience may precede the ritual.

  8. Hey David….thanks for chiming in here. You raise a very important observation that the activities of baptism and teaching are what it looks like when we are making disciples. They are the means of carrying out the command.

    Greetings Bill and thanks for reading. Very good take on the manner in which Matthew lays out the storyline of Jesus’ ministry. Theologically I could not agree more; one must have a relationship with Christ before growing in Christ from his teaching. I’ve yet to encounter an unbeliever who is being sanctified ‘-)


  9. Balance is the Key to life in Harmony. The struggle appears to be the Proper Balance of just about Everything in lilfe

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