The Great Commission

By J. L. Leifeste

“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned’” (Mk. 16:15-16).

Jesus Christ delivered a commission (an authorized task) first to His apostles. After the beginning of the church on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), it was a requirement for all of His disciples. Matthew 28:18-20 provides added light on this commission. There, Jesus tells the apostles, “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” (Matt. 28:20). He had given the apostles the command to “Go…,” so that commission is part of “all things” which every baptized person must be taught to “observe.” (Also see 1 Cor. 4:1; 2 Cor. 3:6; Eph. 3:10-11; 4:11; 1 Tim. 5:17; 2 Tim. 2:2; 4:2, 5; Heb. 5:12; Matt. 9:37-38). Many people do not understand the full importance of this command. This “great commission” should be studied as it was delivered in order to understand what it entails.

Authority must exist for someone to direct others.

“He…” This is the One resurrected Jesus Christ, the Son of God, with the authority of God (Matt. 28:18; 16:16; 17:5; 28:1-8). He built His church (Matt. 16:18). He is the Head over those who come to Him (Eph. 1:22-23; 5:23; Col. 1:18). And obedience to Him is important because He will one day judge the world according to His words which He gave us in the New Testament (Jn. 12:48; Rom. 2:16).

“said to them…” The commission was delivered first to the apostles, then through them to all disciples.

The first part of the commission states a certain action.

“Go…” Jesus gave His apostles, and all Christians, a command to act. This means that Christians must not remain idle and accomplish nothing (see Jn. 15:1-8). The word “go” indicates traveling to accomplish the rest of the commission. In the world today, it can include any form of transportation and also the use of mail service, radio, television, recorded tapes, etc.

“into all the world…” explains where Christians must go. This includes every area inhabited by humans.

The second part of the commission shows reasons for going.

“and preach…” Every Christian must actively take some part in spreading the gospel. Also, the example of one’s life is a form of preaching. We must be sure that our life exemplifies true Christianity.

“the gospel…” This is the message of “good news” that must be proclaimed everywhere. It is pure as the apostles and disciples witnessed and received it (Lk. 1:1-4; Gal. 1:8-9). It is not myth or fiction created by some man or men. This gospel tells that Jesus came to earth as the Son of God, gave His life for our sins, and arose from death on the third day (1 Cor. 15:1-4). Through Him, spiritual salvation is now available to all people (Rom. 3:23; 1:16; 5:8; 6:3-5, 23; 8:1).

“to every creature.” The gospel must be preached to every person who is mentally able to understand and obey it. It must be preached to all people of every nation and every ethnic group (Matt. 28:19; 2 Pet. 3:9; Jn. 1:29; 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4-6).

The third part of the commission expresses its importance and consequences.

“He who believes and is baptized will be saved…” A responsible person must believe that Jesus is the Son of God who was sacrificed for our sins and arose from death (Lk. 24:1-7; Jn. 3:16). This person must then repent of sins and confess his or her belief in Christ (Acts 17:30; Rom. 10:10; 2 Pet. 3:9). This person is then immersed in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:20-21). At that moment, the person’s sins no longer exist. As this person continually tries to follow the word of God, He helps the person with constant, spiritual cleansing (1 Jn. 1:7). The statement that the person must be immersed (baptized) shows that baptism is part of a true and full belief in the gospel.

“but he who does not believe will be condemned.” A responsible person who hears the good news and does not believe it rejects God, the Son of God, and the work of the Holy Spirit. Only the bitter torment of eternal agony awaits this person. It was not necessary for the Lord to mention baptism at this point, because the person who does not even believe has already stopped the process of his salvation (see Jn. 3:18).

The great commission is a direct order from our Lord, and each part of it must be followed. It begins with Christ, in authority, committing every Christian to action. It requires a faithful revelation of the gospel to everyone. And it ends by revealing the results of that action. There are many people who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. The responsibility lies upon all Christians to help accomplish, by one means or another, the commission placed upon them. We must try our best to give every responsible adult the opportunity to correctly receive the gospel, believe it, and be baptized.

“And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations” (Mk. 13:10).