“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:19-20
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”Mark 16:15
“Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”Luke 24:45-48
“Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”John 20:21
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”Acts 1:8
The five recorded declarations of the Great Commission that are found in the Gospels and the book of Acts provide us with a wealth of information to help us grow in our definition and understanding of a missionary and his primary duties. To facilitate our understanding of this information, we will consider five specific areas that are drawn from the texts—Authorization, Sphere of Ministry, Message, Purpose, Range of Activities. In this article, we will address the Range of Activities in the Great Commission.
Range of Activities
In the texts of the Great Commission we discover four major missionary activities. Although the work of missions is not necessarily limited to these, it should be carefully and respectfully noted that they are the activities set forth in the Great Commission itself, and therefore, should be considered among the greatest priorities. Another way of saying it is that if these four activities become secondary or subservient to other activities, then something is terribly wrong.
The first missionary activity that is set before us either directly or indirectly in each of the Great Commissions is that of “going.” In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, we are directed “to go” into all the nations,1 into all the world, and even to all creation.2 In the Gospel of John, we are not directed “to go,” but the idea is clearly understood by the fact that we are “sent.”3 In the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, neither “going” nor “sending” is mentioned, but we are commanded to be witnesses and proclaim the gospel from ground zero in Jerusalem to the remotest part of the earth.4 Even though the preeminent command of the Great Commission is the “making disciples” of all nations, the task cannot be accomplished apart from “going” to all nations!
The most cursory glance at the Great Commission proves that we cannot reach the world by merely sitting at home or blooming where we have been planted. Someone must send and someone must go! Although great advances in technology enable us to communicate with the world via radio, television, and the Internet, we cannot fulfill the Great Commission “on-line.” These things are all extremely useful tools, but they will never be a substitute for the flesh and blood missionary. Until a mature church and a strong gospel witness exist among every nation, tribe, people, and tongue, there will be the need for some followers of Christ to traverse land and sea to do the work of a missionary.
The second missionary activity that is set before us is that of being a herald or witness of the person and work of Jesus Christ. According to Mark’s commission, the missionary goes out into the world with a specific purpose—to preach the gospel!5 The word “preach” is here translated from the Greek work kerrúso, which means to be a herald or to proclaim as a herald. The word communicates something of authority and majesty. To know the gospel and to make it known must be the missionary’s magnificent obsession and his preeminent task.
In Luke’s twin accounts of the Great Commission,6 the missionary herald is called a “witness,” from the Greek word mártus, which in the judicial realm, referred to a witness of some event or occasion. To be one of the twelve Apostles, one had to be a mártus or eyewitness of the resurrected Christ.7 In a similar fashion, to be a missionary, one must be a witness, not only of the doctrine of the gospel, but also of its power and reality! The missionary is sent out to proclaim or herald, not something that He has merely heard, but something that he has experienced and has transformed his life. Like the psalmist and the Apostle Paul, the missionary should be able to declare with absolute certainty, “I believed, therefore, I spoke.”8
The third missionary activity that is given priority in the Great Commission is the ordinance of baptism.9 Although this ordinance does not save, it represents an important aspect of preaching and discipleship. The missionary is not sent out to form a secret society made up of unrelated individual disciples, but to form a confessing ekklēsía10 or church of believers whose lives are interwoven in Christ and whose love for one another is an undisputable testimony of the power of the gospel. Although it is quite biblical to say that the goal of the Great Commission is the making of disciples, it is even more precise to say that the goal is the making of disciples who publicly profess faith in Christ and join together in a united and visible local fellowship.11
The importance of the above truths simply cannot be overstated or overemphasized. The missionary’s work is not done when a few or many disciples are scattered throughout a particular land or people group. The missionary’s work is not done when there are a few or many immature fellowships that have been planted. The missionary’s work is done when there are mature, vibrant, and autonomous churches that are: led by elder-qualified men, served by biblical deacons, making disciples, administering the ordinances, practicing church discipline, and sending forth missionaries of their own!
The fourth missionary activity drawn from the Commissions is, “to teach.”12 The word is translated from the Greek verb didásko, which may also be translated, “to instruct.” The Son of God who came to offer His life for the redemption of His people spent the greater part of His ministry teaching, and He expected His disciples to do the same. He gave “teaching” a foundational role in the Great Commission,13 and He promised that those who faithfully taught the full counsel of God’s Word would be called great in the kingdom of heaven.14
It only requires a cursory overview of the Old and New Testaments to discover that “teaching” the revelation of God’s will through the Scriptures is paramount. Moses taught the people of Israel the statutes and judgments just as the Lord his God had commanded him.15 The father of every household in Israel was commanded to diligently teach these same statutes to their children.16 Ezra the scribe was honored because he “had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.”17 Levi was set forth as an example to all priests because of his faithfulness in teaching the Law of the Lord:
“True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.”18
In the Gospels, Jesus taught that His disciples were to be like scribes who were able to teach the truths of the gospel from the sacred Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments.19 In His post-resurrection appearance to Peter, He said three times, “Feed my sheep.” He was not referring to physical food, but to the spiritual food brought forth from the gospel and the Scriptures.20
Teaching is central to the Great Commission. Christianity is more than a Story to be herald, but it is also a religion that deals with the highest matters of absolute truth revealed through the inspired and inerrant propositions of the Scriptures. These truths must be studied, comprehended, and taught with the utmost care and precision so that the Story itself can be correctly understood and applied.
The fifth and last missionary activity that we must mention before closing is prayer. Prayer is not mentioned in the five Great Commissions of the Gospels and Acts, however, in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ taught us that prayer was absolutely essential to advancing the kingdom. In Matthew 6:9-10, Jesus instructed His disciples to pray in the following manner and the references to the Great Commission are hard to miss:
‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
What is the Great Commission but the advancement of God’s kingdom throughout the earth so that “from the rising of the sun even to its setting, His name might be great among the nations”21 and His will might be obeyed by “every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues”?22 How is such a seemingly impossible task to be accomplished? Although God has called His people to fulfill the Great Commission, they can only do so to the degree that they are working with God and God is working through them. Whatever is to be done, it must begin in prayer, be permeated with prayer, and end in prayer.
Another significant text regarding the Great Commission and prayer is found only three chapters later in the book of Matthew:
“Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore, beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.’”23
In the days of Christ’s ministry, the harvest was great, and an army of capable workers was needed. However, the means by which Christ commanded an army to be raised was anything but pragmatic. He did not advise His disciples to put an ad in the paper or hold a missionary recruitment conference, but rather to beseech the Lord of the harvest for a labor force that would match the task. In our present-day the need is as great as ever and seemingly just as impossible to meet. Rarely has there been so great a time to throw down the fragile crutch of pragmatism and turn to the Lord of the harvest for a numerous and capable missionary force.
Finally, when faced with the opposition of demons (Matthew 17:14-20) and that of earthly authorities (Matthew 21:12-22), Jesus again directed His disciples to the unlimited power of God through believing and prevailing prayer:
“And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.’” (Matthew 21:21-22)
We live in a time of great opposition from both earth and hell, from men and demons. Either one alone is enough to halt the church and bring her missionary endeavors to an abrupt end. However, the church and the missionary have recourse that is beyond the powers of the combined strength of all opposition. It is the power of God in response to the prayers of His people. In the book of Revelation, the feeble prayers of the persecuted church ascend to heaven, but they return to earth with great power:
“Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”24
This should be a great comfort for those who would give their lives for the advancement the kingdom of heaven and it should be an equally great motivation for us to lay aside the impotence of the flesh, stand upon the Word of God alone, and wait upon the power of God for a mighty response to prayer.
- Matthew 28:19
- Mark 16:15
- John 20:21
- Luke 24:47-48; Acts 1:8
- Mark 16:15
- Luke 24:46-48; Acts 1:8
- Acts 1:21-22
- Psalm 116:10; II Corinthians 4:13
- Matthew 28:19
- The word ekklesía is translated, “church” in the New Testament. It is formed from the prefix ex (out of) and the verb kaléo (to call). The church is made up of those who have been “called out” of this world and “called to” the worship and service of God, not only as individual believers, but also as a collective body, fellowship, or community
- The reference to “disciples who publicly profess faith in Christ and join together in a united and visible local fellowship” is biblically accurate. Christians must be ready to publicly profess faith in Christ in the face of great hardship and even in the face of physical persecution and death (Matthew 10:33; Luke 12:9; II Timothy 2:12-13; Revelation 2:13; 3:8). However, at the same time, great wisdom is required. Although at times, suffering and martyrdom cannot be avoided, it is not the goal and should not be pursued. The wise individual Christian and church will walk in a balance of zeal and wisdom; ready to die and yet avoiding unnecessary conflict. As Christ told His disciples, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
- Matthew 28:20
- Matthew 28:20
- Matthew 5:19
- Deuteronomy 4:5
- Deuteronomy 6:7
- Ezra 7:10
- Malachi 2:6-7
- Matthew 13:52 – “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”
- John 21:15-17 – In the New American Standard, Jesus commands Peter to “tend” and “shepherd” His sheep. The word “tend” is translated from the Greek verb, bósko, which means to “feed” or “graze.” The word “shepherd” is translated from the Greek verb, poimaíno, which means to act as a shepherd, and implies not only the role of protector and healer, but also of feeder.
- Malachi 1:11
- Revelation 7:9
- Matthew 9:36-38
- Revelation 8:3-5
Paul is the founder of HeartCry Missionary Society and currently serves as its missions director. He also ministered as a missionary in Peru for ten years. He has preached hundreds of sermons and has authored a dozen published works. Paul lives in Radford, Virginia, with his wife Charo and their four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.More By Paul David Washer