The first thing that we find in the Great Commission is not the imperative, but the authority of the One who gives the imperative:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto me” (Matthew 28:18).
My father, who passed away in 2014, left final instructions concerning his funeral arrangements, the participants, his favorite hymns, his favorite Scripture verse, etc. The Great Commission, found in various forms in each of the Gospels and in the Book of Acts, constitutes the final instructions of the One who died and rose again and who is alive forevermore. Final instructions are not to be ignored, especially when given by the One who received all authority in heaven and on earth. This plenipotentiary in His final orders to the Church gave us the imperative of making disciples of all nations. The fact that He has received all authority in heaven and on earth tells us something about the imperative:
- It is not optional.
- It is not negotiable.
- It is not limited to certain groups or churches or individuals.
It may not be immediately clear to us that this imperative is unlimited in scope or time, applying to all peoples at all points in history between the two comings of Christ, his first coming and his return. Yet the imperative given to the Church by our Commander in Chief is
- to make disciples of all peoples everywhere,
- baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
- teaching them to obey all his commands, including this final command to make disciples of all nations.
Thus as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are to obey all his commands including the command to make others what we ourselves have become: disciples of Jesus Christ. The cycle begins with the first disciples and continues unto the end of the age:
disciples who make disciples who make disciples…
until He returns.
Who is this One who has received unlimited authority to issue such an imperative?
- He is the head of the Church (Ephesians 1:22).
- He is the One who said, “I will build My Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
- He is the One who declared, “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14 ESV).
- He is the One to whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
- He is the One to whom has been granted the right to pass judgment because he is the Son of Man” (John 5:27). He will judge the world in righteousness and God has provided proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:31).
- He is the One who said, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done” (Revelation 22:12 NIV).
Yes, this One to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given, this One has given to His Church the final imperative of making disciples of all peoples everywhere, final instructions that we ignore at our own peril:
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,'” Jesus asked, “and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46 ESV).
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21 ESV).
The degree to which the Great Commission is central to our lives and to the mission of our churches indicates the degree to which we are submitted to the One who has received all authority in heaven and earth.