Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

The Great Commission of Matthew 28 (1)

Usually when I do evangelism training I have a time when I discuss the Great Commission as we find it in Matthew 28:18-20. After reading the verses, I explain to them that the Greek language in which the New Testament was written has different types of verbs. This helps us to distinguish between the main verb and auxiliary verbs. In Matthew 28:19, which we know as the Great Commission, we find four verbs, namely:

  • Go
  • Make disciples
  • Baptise
  • Teach

Then I ask them to tell me which one of these they consider to be the main verb. (Before you continue reading, what do you think?) In the majority of cases people consider the first verb, Go, as the main verb, but usually there are some who would guess the second or the fourth. (Very seldom do people consider Baptise as the main verb). However, the correct answer is the second verb, Make disciples. The implication of this is that the main task of the church, according to the Great Commission, should be to create disciples (devoted followers) of Jesus Christ. What’s so amazing about this?
Traditionally it was seen that to go was the real issue. Therefore people were really only considered to be missionaries if they went somewhere, preferably as far as possible from home. But we don’t need to go away from our home country before we can be missionaries. Wherever we are, God wants us to be in the process of making disciples. Which is pretty much what Bob Roberts also says. I heard this interpretation of the Great Commission for the first time from David Bosch and after studying the Greek text I realised that he was right and suddenly this part made so much more sense to me. Of course, some people will still be called to leave their home countries on a permanent base in order to become a missionary. Others will leave their home countries for short-term outreaches. All of these are still valid, but being a missionary now becomes a daily commission for each and every Christian.
A better way to translate this verse to illustrate the true meaning, may be something like: Therefore, wherever you are going (or: as you are going along your daily life), make disciples of all nations, baptising and teaching them as well. This means that God calls us to be missionaries wherever we are: at home, at work, at school, at a sports club. Wherever we go, we need to keep our eyes open for opportunities to help others to become devoted followers of the Lord, Jesus Christ.
If we understand this verse correctly, our Christian faith gets a whole new meaning. For sure there are people who are called by God to be full-time missionaries, but if all Christians could start looking for opportunities to share Christ with others (regardless of which method they use do it), what a different place this world could be! The fact is that all Christians are in trusting relationships with people who are not Christians as well as with others who are not disciples of Christ. I believe that God wants us to keep our eyes open for opportunities which may come our way during our daily lives when we can witness to such people about our faith. People may differ about the method used. People may feel that we need to do this differently in the post-modern world which we find mostly in Western countries. All this is beside the point. In whatever way works the best for me and for the people whom I socialise with, I should be busy making disciples. This is the principle given to us as the Great Commission.
Once Christians agree on that, they can look for the best way to do it.


Thursday, September 20, 2007 - Posted by | Building relations, Church, David Bosch, Evangelism, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Theology


  1. […] articles which I wrote on how I believe we should understand the great commission in Matthew 28: The Great Commission of Matthew 28 (1) and The Great Commission of Matthew 28 (2). What I wrote there was essentially how Bosch explains […]

    Pingback by Transforming Mission - Chapter 2 « Mission Issues | Friday, March 27, 2009 | Reply

  2. […] Here’s some more information on the context and language of this verse: Site 1 Site 2 Site 3 […]

    Pingback by Things I didn't know about the Great Commission (Part 1) | Children's Ministry Online | Friday, April 17, 2009 | Reply

  3. What I have been wrestling with is the “Who?”

    Who is supposed to be making disciples?
    1) Each believer under the authority of their local church
    2) Each local church as a group (each person participating in some aspect of making disciples– going, baptizing, teaching)
    3) The pastor(s) of each local church

    The implications of each beleiver needing to go, baptize, and teach in order to be obedient to the command to make disciples are enormous. (Should my wife be teaching disciples to obey Christ’s commands? Should me or my children be baptizing those we are making disciples of?)

    Bottom line, if the command is personal to each believer, how can each believer be obedient to this command? (I have never been in a church where I could reserve the baptismal so I could baptize people I was discipling.) It would seem the easiest, and most often applied, approach would be to say the command is not to the individual but to the church as a whole with the majority of the command to be performed by the pastor(s).

    Part (maybe all) of the answer is in the Greek text. Can it be definitively shown that the command is to the individual (you singular) or to the group (you plural)? If to the individual, can it be shown that the command was a) only to those disciples present or 2) only to church leaders/pastors (ie- those called specifically to preach/teach/baptize?)

    I look forward to hearing other people’s understanding of how this passage should be translated and applied.

    Comment by Eric Waldo | Tuesday, February 9, 2010 | Reply

  4. […] Here’s some more information on the context and language of this verse: Site 1 Site 2 Site 3 […]

    Pingback by Things I didn't know about the Great Commission (Part 1) | Childrens Ministry Online | Tuesday, January 25, 2011 | Reply

  5. Historically, until William Carey (18th century) the commission was understood to be an Apostolic Commission which they fulfilled (Rom.16:25-27; Col.1:5&6). This requires our understanding the phrase ‘end of the age’ to refer to the ‘Jewish’ age. At first this might seem unlikely until you consider the trajectory of the book of Acts in which the overwhelmingly Jewish church becomes an overwhelmingly Gentile church, and the truth which for centuries was locked up to the Jews, is sent to the Gentiles and then by the Gentiles into all the world.

    Whilst this interpretation shocks the sensibilities of present-day Christians, it is important to see that this does not absolve the church of the responsibility to evangelise. It simply means that we perhaps ought not to use this text to establish this responsibility.

    Comment by David | Friday, April 27, 2012 | Reply

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