Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.Acts 2:36-39
The Great Commission is foundational to the growth and expansion of Christianity. At the close of His earthly ministry, prior to His ascension to the Right Hand of God, Jesus Christ authoritatively directed the disciples to take the Gospel to all nations: thereby, making evangelism a global initiative. It is, therefore, critical for Christians to have an accurate understanding of Christ’s final exhortation to His followers.
When asked to provide the Scriptural basis for the Great Commission, most believers immediately turn to Matthew 28:19-20. These verses provide an incredibly appropriate conclusion to the first Gospel and are certainly a good starting point for any Bible student. However, Matthew was not the only Gospel writer to record the last words of Jesus Christ. A careful examination of the endings of each Synoptic Gospel (i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke) is imperative to a comprehensive understanding of the Great Commission. The purpose of this study is to painstakingly analyze the entire biblical record relating to the Great Commission, discovering its intended meaning and its contemporary application.
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.Matthew 28:18-20
After Christ had completed His redemptive work on the cross, having vicariously atoned for the sins of all humanity, He was preparing to ascend to the Right Hand of God (Acts 2:33; 7:55, 56; Ephesians 1:20; Hebrews 1:3). The disciples were assigned the task of carrying out the work of Christ in the earth (John 14:12). Before leaving them to such an awesome undertaking, Jesus reminded them that He possessed all authority in heaven and on earth. In doing so, He reaffirmed Himself as the source of their authority (Luke 10:19) as they took the Kingdom of God to all nations.
The reference to baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is not merely a formula for baptismal ceremonies; it is rather a call to intimacy with the one true and living God. The Bible explicitly affirms the existence of only one God (Deut. 6:4; Isaiah 43:10); however, God has revealed Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16, 17; II Corinthians 13:14). Whenever a person is born-again through the Word of God (James 1:18; I Peter 1:23), he or she is immersed by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13). This baptism eternally unites believers with the one Spirit, one Lord, and one God (Ephesians 4:4-6). Water baptism symbolizes and accurately depicts our spiritual union with God in His fullness.
Christ stressed the importance of obedience to the Word of God in true Christian discipleship. In John 8:31, Jesus told the Jews who believed on Him, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.” Obedience to God’s Word is characteristic of those who have received the full Gospel message.
Finally, Jesus assured the disciples of his abiding presence (John 14:20) throughout all ages. After the death of Moses, the mediator of the Old Covenant, Joshua succeeded his leadership. Joshua was responsible for leading the nation of Israel from the wilderness, where they received the Law, into the land of promise. God promised Joshua that He would never fail (leave) him, nor forsake him (Joshua 1:5). In like manner, Jesus, the mediator of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:6), who fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17), assured His disciples that He would never leave them (Hebrews 13:5). The disciples were now being sent forth to bring a lost world out of the wilderness of sin, through faith in Jesus Christ, into the promise (John 1:17; Galatians 3:9-29).
Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.Mark 16:14-18
Before sending His disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations, Christ rebuked them for their lack of faith and the hardness of their hearts. For how could they preach the resurrection, if they themselves did not believe? Although being reproved may not feel good, it is an indispensable part of spiritual growth and maturity.
Faith is absolutely essential to effectively operating in the realm of the supernatural. Without it, no one’s work or ministry can be pleasing to God (Hebrews 11:6).
Verse 16 uniquely connects belief in the Gospel and the ordinance of water baptism. Proponents of the Doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration, the false belief that water baptism removes sin and imparts new life, usually cite this verse as proof for their belief. It is also taught that water baptism and spirit baptism constitute one baptism, which always occurs simultaneously. This is based in part on a faulty understanding of Ephesians 4:5 and is inconsistent with the clear teaching of Scripture concerning salvation.
A deeper examination of the text reveals that faith is the determining factor of salvation, not water baptism. The text says, “He that believeth not shall be damned.” It doesn’t say, “He that is baptized not shall be damned.” This suggests that the basis of the condemnation mentioned in verse 16 is unbelief, not the lack of water baptism.
There is a huge difference between a “confession of faith” and an “expression of faith.” Salvation is granted upon one’s confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and repentance of sins. Baptism, however, is an expression of faith and an appropriate response to the Gospel, in obedience to Christ’s command. Admittedly, there is a close connection between salvation and water baptism; but, they are not the same event. “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:17).” Thus, water baptism is an outward expression of an inward conviction.
This scriptural truth is demonstrated in Acts 10:44-48. Here, the house of Cornelius was baptized by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13) and granted repentance unto life (Acts 11:15-18), prior to their baptism in water. It’s hard to see how anyone could deny this simple biblical truth. These verses illustrate the distinction between water and Spirit baptisms; but, they also confirm that water baptism should immediately follow genuine conversion.
The Gospel is not water baptism, speaking in tongues or doing good works; the Gospel is the message of Christ’s birth, life, death, burial, resurrection and victory of Satan, sin and death. Jesus promised His disciples that their ministries would be followed by miraculous signs and wonders, including casting out demons, speaking in new tongues (languages), supernatural protection and healing the sick. Indeed, God confirmed the preaching of Gospel with signs, wonders, special miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost (Hebrews 2:4).
Luke’s Testimony (Part 1)
And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.Luke 24:44-49
Jesus used the Old Testament to show the disciples that He was truly the Christ (Messiah). He unveiled all of the types and shadows pointing to Him (Colossians 2:16-17), and opened the eyes of their understanding: making it possible for them to properly handle the Gospel message. Christ is clearly presented as the very Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20) of the Gospel and the Captain of salvation (Hebrews 2:10).
All who earnestly repent of their sins and believe the Gospel message are promised remission (forgiveness) of sins. True repentance is more than a mere asking for forgiveness; it is a total change of mind and direction. Whenever a sinner earnestly repents of past wrongdoings, he or she can be confident that their sins have been forgiven through faith in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 10:43).
The disciples were instructed to preach the Gospel beginning at Jerusalem. To equip them for the task that lie ahead, Jesus told them to tarry (wait) in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father. This promise, which is the Holy Spirit, was sent to infuse and endow the disciples with supernatural power to fulfill the Great Commission.
Luke’s Testimony (Part 2)
When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.Acts 1:6-8
Now that their understanding of the Scriptures had been opened, the disciples had a firm grasp on the reality of Jesus’ humanity and divinity. They knew without a doubt that He was the Son of the Living God: literally, God manifested in the flesh (I Timothy 3:16).
As the Messiah, Jesus was the King and Redeemer of Israel; but, the disciples had the wrong perspective about His Kingdom. They were looking for Christ to establish an earthly kingdom and to deliver Israel from the tyranny of Rome. In the future, there will be a literal kingdom in which Christ will reign on the throne of His father David (Luke 1:32); however, this was not the purpose of His first coming. Those who were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) will come to know Him personally during the interval between Christ’s first and second comings: giving Christ an innumerable host of saints from all generations to reign with Him during the Millennial Kingdom (Revelation 20:4).
The disciples were empowered with supernatural strength (might) to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom to all nations. They would become witnesses in Jerusalem (Acts 2), in Judea (Acts 8:1), in Samaria (Acts 8:14-17) and throughout the entire world (Mark 16:20).
The Great Commission cannot be presented properly without examining all of the verses contained in this study. Each account must be viewed as collectively comprising a single, unified command. The essence of the Great Commission may be summarized as follows:
Upon the authority and power that I have received and now confer unto you through my name, having your faith strengthened through my rebuke of your unbelief and removal of your hardened hearts; with a firm, steadfast conviction and belief in My resurrection from the dead, go into all the world, preaching the gospel of repentance and remission of sins. Make disciples of all nations, who through water baptism, identify with and publicly affirm their faith in My death, burial and resurrection. Teach all men to whole heartedly observe and obey all that I have commanded you and I will confirm the word you teach and preach with signs and wonders. Through the power of the Holy Ghost, which I shall send to live in you and work through you, lay hands on the sick, cast out demons and speak in new tongues without fear of person perils; no venomous serpent or deadly poison shall be able to hurt you. Be absolutely assured that My Presence shall abide with you until the end of all ages. Amen.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.Romans 1:16