The Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20; Luke 24:45-49; John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8)
A. From Matthew
“Matthew 28:18-20 contains what is commonly called the Great Commission. These are Jesus’ last words recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, although we know from the other Gospels and Acts that these were not Jesus’s final words before His ascension. By ending his Gospel with these words, Matthew draws attention to the importance and centrality of the commission–for Matthew, the Great Commission summed up Jesus’s entire post-resurrection message.
Matthew provides some context for these important words.
Following the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the eleven disciples travel to Galilee to a certain mountain in obedience to Jesus’s instructions. Matthew notes that when Jesus appears to them, they worship him, but some continue to doubt. There on the mountain Jesus communicates the earth-shaking results of his resurrection–Jesus now has all authority in heaven and on earth. As a result, his followers must now go out into the entire world to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them and teaching them everything that he has commanded.
The central command of the commission is to make disciples, that is, the develop genuine, lifelong followers of Jesus.
Jesus’s command to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Points to a Trinitarian understanding of God and to the deity of Jesus. Jesus affirms his continued presence and empowerment until the end of the age. His followers are not being called upon to embark on this mission alone. Jesus will be with them.
Because of Jesus’s resurrection, the message of God’s kingdom is no longer to be limited to the Jewish nation but must be proclaimed to every nation and every person everywhere in the world.
Matthew makes clear that this is a direct command from Jesus, the resurrected king of the world, to his followers. The Great Commission is not a mere wish or suggestion; it is a command that is just as valid and relevant for Jesus’s followers today as it was when it was first given.
B. From Luke
Luke’s version of the Great Commission is recorded in two places and was spoken near Jerusalem just prior to the ascension. The Lukan Great Commission states that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You will be witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:47-48), accompanied by Jesus’ promise that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Matthew’s description of perpetual presence is repeated in Luke’s account in terms of supernatural empowerment of the Holy Spirit for the activity of witness to the entire world.
C. From John
The Johannine Great Commission–“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you”–is followed by the symbolic impartation of the Spirit and a description of the forgiveness of sins that will accompany the church’s proclamation of the gospel. The followers of Jesus are sent by Jesus into the world just as God sent Jesus into the world. Jesus’s followers share his mandate and missions and are empowered by the Spirit in their work.
The continual reappearance of the Great Commission motif using different words in different contexts indicates not that the individual Gospel authors mixed up Jesus’s words but that the theme of the Great Commission is a major element of his post-resurrection teaching (Matt. 28:18-20; Luke 24:47-48; John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8), which goes on over a period of forty days (Acts 1:3).
Jesus continually emphasizes it in different contexts and with different words. It is imperative that the disciples not miss this important command. They are to go into the entire world in the power of the Spirit, sent by Jesus as witnesses to his resurrection and his kingdom. The centrality of this element of Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances must not be missed or downplayed.
Being a Christian is defined in Jesus’s post-resurrection teaching as obeying the Great Commission. It is the mandate that is to define the very existence of his followers.”
-Andreas J. Köstenberger and Justin Taylor with Alexander Stewart. The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2014), 199-202.