“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:16-20 NIV)
Although this isn’t the last instruction by Jesus to his disciples – after all, they are in Galilee not Judea where he ascended – this is a very apt ending to Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life. As we read the various narratives of Jesus’ time on the earth they all centre around him teaching people with many of them becoming his disciples. Now it was time to pass this on to those who would continue this mission.
What Jesus said here was with authority. He emphasised that all the authority in the earth was his, but not only the earth but also what was in heaven as well. In other words, he was telling them that he had the backing of God himself. This is important, especially when you consider that there are many who say they are Jesus’ disciples yet reject what he taught so plainly here.
The eleven disciples, those who are often called ‘apostles’, were to take over what Jesus had been doing. Even though he would no longer be physically in the world, they were to go to all the nations and continue to make disciples.
The term ‘disciple’ is the one we find most frequently in the apostles’ writings to speak about those who have given their lives to Jesus. Although this is not a word in common usage outside religious circles today, we realise this is talking about become a pupil or student of Jesus – literally they were to be ‘learners’. In many cultures, even before first century Judea, a teacher would have those whom he taught travel with him. They learned from his teaching as well as from their observation of him. This is what Jesus had been doing. The apostles were to continue doing this, to continue making disciples of Jesus.
Notice how this was to be done: they were to be baptised in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. When something is done in the ‘name’ of someone or something else it is by their authority. This is exactly what God wants done – and the Father, Son and Spirit are united in this. How does a person learn what to do to become a disciple? To ask the question, if we understand what the word ‘disciple’ means, is to answer it – they had to be taught.
But the teaching does not stop when a person is immersed into Jesus (the transliterated word ‘baptise’ literally means ‘immerse’). In many ways this is when the teaching begins. When a person becomes a disciple they become a lifelong student of Jesus. They were to be taught everything that Jesus had told the apostles. This was written down so that we too, almost two thousand years later, can still learn and obey what Jesus taught them.
We often call this the ‘great commission’. It was originally given to the apostles but, as they were to teach those who became disciples everything he had commanded, that would include the teaching of going into all nations to make disciples. This was not only their commission but it is ours today.
As we come to the end of what has been a very different year dominated by a global pandemic and as we look to a new year with vaccines being available, consider the mission that Jesus has given us. How are we going to reach those around us and those throughout the world with the good news of Jesus?
Readings for next week: catch up week