The Great Commission
Mat 28:19-20 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (20) 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.
Here it is again, in context:
Mat 28:16-20 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. (17) And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. (18) And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. (19) Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (20) 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.
1. The eleven disciples, or Apostles, that is Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James (The Twelve without Judas Iscariot—Acts 1:13), went to Galilee and went up on the mountain that Jesus had appointed for them to go to. At the tomb, the Risen Jesus told Mary and Mary Magdalene to tell The Eleven to meet him at the appointed place in Galilee, which they did (Mat 28:10). Thus Jesus was addressing The Eleven (His original disciples minus Judas).
2. They worshipped him but some doubted. Apparently some had not yet seen the Risen Jesus.
3. Jesus spoke directly to them and no others were present except The Eleven.
4. Jesus told them that he had all the power of the Godhead. He was no longer a man in a corruptible body, but the Glorified, Omnipotent Son of God.
5. He told them—the disciples as Apostles—that as they were going, to disciple all the nations. (Literal Greek: Going therefore, disciple all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit). So as the Apostles went out into the world they were to make disciples. It is obvious that they did this because Christianity experienced explosive growth in the First Century. Paul, who later became an Apostle, led many Gentiles to Christ.
6. Once disciples were made, they were to be baptized in the name of the Trinity. This was done as the Apostles made disciples. Note that the Apostles themselves did not do all of the baptizing. In 1 Cor 1:14-17, Paul said that he only baptized a few. Thus some of the company with him did the baptizing. It is likely so with the other Apostles as well.
The point in all of this is to raise the question, “Was the Great Commission given only to the Apostles, or was it given to the whole church?”
The answer is both. Yes The Eleven were given this instruction and they obeyed it. They spread the Gospel throughout the whole known world.
Note also that the Apostles all made disciples in diverse places throughout the world and their disciples carried on their ministry. Their disciples were members of the first churches. Thus the members of those churches became responsible for the Great Commission. Accordingly, after the Apostles died, the church followed the Great Commission. That is the church as a whole was responsible to fulfill the Commission.
It seems that today in conservative American churches that pastors are telling members that each individual member is responsible to carry out the Commission on his or her own. They sometimes put a guilt trip on members of their congregations with questions like, “How many people have you led to Christ this week?”
That is not how the Great Commission works. The church is filled with members who each have a spiritual gift or several gifts. Each one has at least one Spiritual gift. When explaining the diversified gifts in a local body of believers, Paul asked, “Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?” (1Co 12:29-30). The implied answer to these questions is “No.”
Paul explained about Spiritual gifts: “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;” (Rom 12:4-6). He goes on to list several Spiritual gifts.
This is a partial list of Spiritual gifts that Paul wrote about: administration, encouraging, exhorting, evangelism, giving, ministry, pastor-shepherd, prophecy, and teaching. Not everyone has every gift. Not everyone is an evangelist, or a pastor, or a prophet, but some are. The church as a whole, using all the spiritual gifts, is supposed to go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost and teaching them to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded us. Yes, each individual has a part in this, but the church as a whole, using all of its spiritual gifts is supposed to do this.
Therefore, not every believer is tasked to “lead others to Christ” as a vocation. The church, using all its spiritual gifts is supposed to do this. Since not everyone is an evangelist, we should not expect everyone to evangelize. Therefore the question, “How many people have you led to Christ this week?” is misguided. It seems designed to lay a guilt trip on the congregants to try to get them to bring more people into the church for the sake of numbers rather than for the sake of salvation. A better question may be “Have you witnessed to anyone this week?”
What individuals are supposed to do is to be the witnesses of Christ. Acts 1:8 “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 Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” As believers in Christ, we all have the Holy Spirit within us, and because of that, this command was given not just to the Apostles, but to all who would believe and become witnesses for Christ wherever they might reside. A witness is someone that claims Christ and wants everyone to know he is of Christ. That does not mean all Christians should do the work of an evangelist and “lead people to Christ.” As witnesses, we are always to “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1Pe 3:15). That answer is your personal testimony. Your personal testimony is what Christ has done for you. That is native to each one of us because we personally and instinctively know what Jesus Christ has done for us. Always try to be Christ-like and that will attract others to you. Always be ready to give your testimony to anyone who asks you why you are different. That testimony is planting a seed in the other person’s mind that may one day grow into fruition. The church, as a whole, is responsible to accomplish the Great Commission and the individual Christian is responsible to witness for Christ and be prepared to give their testimony to others who ask why they are different.
That in no way absolves individual Christians from reaching the lost. As we go we are to be witnesses of Christ, that is, we should let the world see that we are servants of Christ. We do that through what the KJV refers to as conversation: Philippians 1:27, “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: . . .” (emphasis added). A modern term for conversion as used in the KJV is ‘conduct’ or ‘behavior.’ It literally means good citizenship. Behave in such a way that it shows your good citizenship in Christ’s Kingdom. Peter said to have honorable conduct among unbelievers so that, even if they say you are evil, they will still observe your good citizenship (1 Pet 2:12). We will be witnesses or ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5:20) through our Christian deportment.
However, there is more to it than that. It is of prime importance that your Christian conduct is above reproach. Without that, all else is doomed to failure. Yet we are also to witness to people through our relationship and our words. As we learned above, we are to always be ready to give others the reason for our hope in Christ. Therefore, we need to constantly be aware of openings in our conversations with others that will direct our discussion toward Christ. Additionally, we need to try to make opportunities to speak about our faith in Christ. That is where our personal testimony comes into play. Let me give an example.
I was having a conversation with an individual that I knew from work. We had a common work related interest in lawn mowers. I gave him an old mower that was sitting unused in our barn. During one of our travels the subject of my involvement in the church came up. That was my opening to witness to him. So I simply told him my experience with Christ. I told him what Christ had done for me and that as a result, I was completely unafraid of death. That statement impressed him for he asked for confirmation of that fact. I gave it to him: “It is true; I have no fear of death.” Our conversation continued about my Christianity for the remainder of the drive. There was not an immediate change in his life, but several months later his life had changed for the better. His outlook on life improved and he made some changes to his life that improved it. He did not become a Christian at the time and I do not know if he has become a Christian, for I have not seen him in a while: However, I do know that I planted a seed that may grow at some time.
That is witnessing. It is as simple as that. I did not have to remember any scripture verses nor did I have to be a gifted evangelist. I simply needed to be willing to talk to him about what my Christ has done for me. That is all you need to do.
Another way of witnessing is to invite a person to go to church with you. However, this invitation should not come out of the blue. It should come as a result of an opening that allows you to invite another. You should seek to steer the conversation that way, and you should be observant for an opening in your conversation to offer such an invitation.
When you witness to another, do not expect that person to immediately become saved. That may happen, but more often does not. Witnessing plants a seed. See the Parable of the Sower in beginning in Mat 13:18, Mark 4:14, or Luk 8:5. It is a seed that may germinate in a later conversation with you or it may lie dormant and someone else will lead them to Christ. Either way, you have been a witness for Christ. For as Paul wrote in 1Co 3:6-9 (NLT) “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.”
Such acts of witnessing may offer an opportunity to immediately lead someone to Christ. If that happens, there is nothing difficult about doing that. You know the Gospel. That is what brought you to Christ. You may quote Scripture if you have it in mind, but that is not necessary; simply tell the other person how you came to Christ. That person comes to Christ in the same manner.
Here is the Gospel simply stated. We are all sinners and we cannot make our own amends to change that. Sinners cannot go to Heaven. Therefore Jesus, God’s Only Begotten Son, became a man, and died for our sins. He took our punishment. All you must do is believe in your heart the He is God’s Son and that He died and God raised Him from the dead and then confess that He is your Lord and you will be saved. God will forgive all our sins and declare us not guilty because Jesus paid our debt at the Cross. It is that simple.
Here are the scripture verses to back that up. This is known as the Roman’s Road to Salvation.
Rom 3:10-11 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
Rom 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Rom 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Rom 10:9-11 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
Rom 5:1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
Now, if you do present the Gospel and someone does profess faith in Christ, you need to let that person know that God wants him or her to attend a Bible believing fellowship (Heb 10:24; 25, Acts 17:10, 11) and that God wants that person to be baptized. The simplest way to do that is to bring him or her to church with you and lead the person to seek baptism (Acts 2:38) there. No, baptism does not save anyone, but anyone who is truly saved will desire to be baptized.