Implications of the Study
Now that the grammatical and syntactical analysis of the key components of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19–20 is complete and the ambiguity of the participles resolved, attention must turn to the implications of the above study for individual Christians, the 21st-century church, and mission/evangelism organizations. The implications of the above study will focus on three areas: (1) appropriation of the Great Commission for the 21st-century church and Christians, (2) how to make disciples, and (3) how to be a disciple.
The Great Commission for the Apostles and for the 21st-Century Christian
What is frequently overlooked or neglected in preaching and teaching on the Great Commission is the recognition that Jesus’ words are directly addressed to the eleven apostles, not all Christians (Matt 28:16–18). Recognition of the stated recipients of Jesus’ last words is important for correct interpretation and appropriation, especially regarding the command to “go” (28:19). As noted in the other uses of the participle “go” that adopt the force of the immediately following imperative in the Gospel of Matthew, it is expected that the command be carried out immediately. Now that all authority has been given to Jesus, Jesus commands his eleven apostles to go immediately and make disciples. The going is for the purpose of making disciples.
Further, the command for the apostles to go and make disciples is an all-consuming command. The command to “go, make disciples” is to characterize and consume the lives of the eleven apostles. In short, the command to make disciples is to be the apostles’ life’s work. The eleven are not to go about their former business of fishing or tax-collecting while making disciples. Instead, they are to focus their life on making disciples. The model of going and disciple making that the eleven are to employ was set forth by Jesus for them in Matthew 10:5–14, when Jesus first commanded the apostles to go and proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt 10:6–7). As seen in Matthew 10:5–14, the apostles are not to go back to their jobs to raise money for the mission; they are to leave with only the clothes on their back and begin doing the Lord Jesus’ work. The Lord Jesus and those who receive the apostles’ message will support the apostles. The same method for going as presented in Matthew 10 seems to be presented in Matthew 28:18–20. Further confirmation that Jesus’ instructions to the eleven in Matthew 28:18–20 to go and make disciples was intended to be all consuming can be found in Acts. In Acts, the apostles do not return to their former jobs, but instead dedicate their lives to making disciples.
Understanding what Jesus commanded the apostles is important because it curbs directly appropriating the command “go, make disciples” to every Christian of every age. If the command “go, make disciples” was intended for every Christian, then any Christian who has not left their work and their home and dedicated their entire life to making disciples is found guilty of disobeying Jesus. In short, if the command “go, make disciples” was given to every Christian, then every Christian should become a full-time missionary. However, this is not what Jesus is commanding in the Great Commission; he is only commanding the eleven remaining apostles to “go, make disciples of all nations.” Therefore, I do not believe teachers and preachers should preach the Great Commission as if Jesus directly gave it to all Christians, because the text clearly states he did not; it was given to the eleven remaining apostles and they fulfilled this commission in the book of Acts.
Does Jesus issuing the Great Commission to the eleven apostles, then, mean that it has no relevance for Christians and the church in the 21st century? No, I do not believe it is irrelevant for 21st-century Christians or the church. First, the reality that Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth means that every and any Christian can make disciples with the same confidence and authority that the eleven apostles had. Therefore, all Christians should be encouraged to make disciples in whatever circumstances or geographical region they find themselves. Second, there is evidence in the letters of the New Testament, most of which were written by the apostles, that suggests all Christians should proclaim the good news of Jesus and try to make disciples (Rom 10:14–15; 2 Cor 5:16–21; Eph 6:13–17; Phil 4:8–9; Col 4:5–6; 1 Thess 1:6–8). However, the letters of the New Testament do not state that all Christians should become full-time missionaries as the eleven apostles did. Thus, what Jesus says about making disciples is important for the 21st-century Christian and church.
Adam Robinson holds a PhD in New Testament with a minor in Old Testament. He is the Instructor of Biblical Studies at NewLife College located in Queensland, Australia. Adam’s goal in teaching is to help develop mature disciples of Jesus.