Matthew 28:19–20 contains what has come to be called the Great Commission. Jesus gave this command to the apostles shortly before He ascended into Heaven, and it essentially outlines what Jesus expected the apostles and those who followed them to do in His absence.
It is interesting that, in the original Greek, the only direct command in Matthew 28:19–20 is “make disciples.” The Great Commission instructs us to make disciples while we are going throughout the world. The instructions to “go,” “baptize,” and “teach” are indirect commands—participles in the original text. How are we to make disciples? By baptizing them and teaching them all that Jesus commanded. “Make disciples” is the primary command of the Great Commission. “Going,” “baptizing,” and “teaching” are the means by which we fulfill the command to “make disciples.”
A disciple is someone who receives instruction from another person; a Christian disciple is a baptized follower of Christ, one who believes the teaching of Christ. A disciple of Christ imitates Jesus’ example, clings to His sacrifice, believes in His resurrection, possesses the Holy Spirit, and lives to do His work. The command in the Great Commission to “make disciples” means to teach or train people to follow and obey Christ.
Many understand Acts 1:8 as part of the Great Commission as well: “But 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.” The Great Commission is enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are to be Christ’s witnesses, fulfilling the Great Commission in our cities (Jerusalem), in our states and countries (Judea and Samaria), and anywhere else God sends us (to the ends of the earth).
Throughout the book of Acts, we see how the apostles began to fulfill the Great Commission, as outlined in Acts 1:8. First, Jerusalem is evangelized (Acts 1–7); then the Spirit expands the church through Judea and Samaria (Acts 8–12); finally, the gospel reaches into “the ends of the earth” (Acts 13–28). Today, we continue to act as ambassadors for Christ, and “we plead on Christ’s behalf: ‘Be reconciled to God’” (2 Corinthians 5:20, CSB).
We have received a precious gift: “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Jesus’ words in the Great Commission reveal the heart of God, “who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). The Great Commission compels us to share the good news until everyone has heard.