Section 1
Lesson 5

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THE GREAT COMMISSION




          "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all things that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:18-20.         
          The Christian Church has been told for hundreds of years that Jesus commands her to spread the Gospel, either as one sent forth to the nations, or as one sent into our own neck of the woods. It was coined as the "Great Commission" in the 1600s, is based upon Matthew 28:18-20 (above), and frankly has been causing confusion ever since. Many sincere Christians fear they're in disobedience because they don't verbally share the good news with others. But unless they are defying the call to the field, they are not in disobedience because Jesus never commanded this of them. The "Great Commission" is not their commission.
          We know Jesus was speaking specifically to the eleven Apostles, but because Jesus had previously sent not only the twelve but 70 other disciples out to preach the good news (who weren't necessarily ordained as apostles), this is one of the primary reasons people believe that Matthew 28:19 was, therefore, directed to all believers. But this just isn't so. Let's look at the 70 men Jesus selected to send out.
          According to Luke 9:51, Jesus knew He was soon to be crucified and began heading to Jerusalem. Many of his disciples were with him but He apparently picked up some new followers along the way. Because,
          "As they were walking along the road (en route to Jerusalem), a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  To another man, however, Jesus said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” 
          After all this is when Jesus appointed the 70 and sent them out two by two. 
          Now why the emphasis on the conversations Jesus had with these three men? It's because, in them, Jesus established what such a "commission" demands.
          First, when the one man offered to follow Jesus, the Lord discerned this man's dependence upon the comforts and stability of home. So He had to point out to him that he might not be a good fit for this sort of assignment. Jesus established that He's strictly looking for people who can let go of all that, and be willing to deal with no longer having the typical comforts of home.
          As for the second man, Jesus is the one who invited Him to join the ministry. Consequently, the man presented his intent to take care of a personal family matter. The Lord's response, "Let the dead bury the dead" suggests a couple of things. First, that this man's Jewish family wasn't on board with his opinion of Jesus, so what more does he have to do with them now that they are divided like this? Why put people who are no longer your real family above your call into the service of your true kingdom family? The second suggestion might also be that being called to the service of the kingdom requires that life as is typically lived, is no more. The needs of the kingdom of God take precedence; and this changes everything.  
          And finally, for the third man that said he'd join Jesus once he says goodbye to his family, Jesus took the opportunity to, again, point out that such a call is strictly for those who can put their lives of service to God above their personal lives without distress. Serving the Lord in this fashion is not for those whose hearts, while out in the field working for Jesus, are constantly looking back and longing for home. Not that that Jesus meant they would never see their families again or get to spend time with them. That's not the point. The point is for those times that they are in the field, which may be a lot, it's a cross to carry. It requires an unusual strength. Few can handle it. That's why Jesus says those who cannot are not fit for this extremely sacrificial type of service.
          The point of this entire passage was to establish that such a commission is NOT for everyone. If it was, why would Jesus lay such deterrents before them?  So there is no doubt that the 70 men that Jesus did choose needed to fit a specific criteria. This alone debunks the idea that the "Great Commission" is for all. 
          However, the next argument in favor of the Great Commission being a mandate to all, is that part of the instruction the Lord gave the Apostles was to teach the new disciples to obey the very commandments Jesus had taught them, which would, therefore, include even this commandment to make disciples. Meaning, the Lord telling the Apostles to go and make disciples includes teaching all of the new disciples to also go and make disciples, and so on and so forth until the end of the age - which they never did! There's no record anwhere in the New Testament of the original twelve Apostles commanding their new disciples to go make new disciples!  
          As if all that's not enough, consider how, via his rather lengthy "training manual" to his protege, Timothy, in his service to Christ, Paul specifically instructs Timothy to devote himself to preaching and teaching both in 1 Timothy 4:13 and 2 Timothy 4:2. Yet, nowhere else in all the books written by Paul, does Paul instruct believers to preach or teach the Gospel! No. In fact, the only commands given for anyone to preach, teach, or make disciples, throughout the entire New Testament are given to very specific people.
          Next, take Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Both of these speak to the fact that there is one body, but many parts. Everyone has a unique purpose and mission in this life. Everyone has specific gifts and strengths, both in the natural and in the supernatural. Therefore, not all are called to go out and make disciples because there's much to do after the disciples are made! Consider how in Acts 6:6, the twelve Apostles stated that they don't have the ability to tend to the issues of the Church, and they appointed seven others to take care of such things. Frankly, there're many things the Apostles cannot do, not just because they're too busy with their own call, but because it's for others to do, for those who have the gift and talent for it. Because there are many parts to the body of Christ - to accomplish all the various needs and services of the kingdom of God.
          Paul specifically asked, "Are all apostles?" in 1 Corinthians 12:29. This is additionally relevant because the call of an apostle, "a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders"
1, is to, essentially, start new churches. To go out and introduce the good news to the nations with the intent to teach them to receive the kingdom of God and its King.  This is precisely what Jesus expected in His saying, "Go and make disciples", that they'd start churches as a result. And we know this because that's exactly what happened. The Apostles traveled abroad making disciples which, inevitably, started church groups. And they trained them, got them rolling, and then moved on.
          Since this was Christ's obvious intent in commanding the Apostles to go make disciples, so that the Church would spread throughout the nations, suggesting anything else dangerously misrepresents the passage. It's dangerous because it causes many believers to feel guilty for being uncomfortable teaching or preaching the good news to those within their reach. Though they obey God's commands and serve the kingdom of God in ways conducive of their gifts and callings, they wonder if they're in sin for not fulfilling their part of "The Great Commission". This false doctrine is a yoke Jesus never intended to place on the necks of the people of God. And its teachers will be held to account for it.
          Indeed, another argument that the Great Commission does apply to all Christians is because, in the Greek, the only imperative was on the "make disciples", not on the going, baptizing, or teaching. That these were somehow peripheral to the primary instruction for all Christians to simply spread the Gospel right where they are - in their own neck of the woods. But the error in this line of thinking is that though the "going" has been eliminated from the equation, the very nature of making disciples still has to include teaching and baptizing the new converts. Just because the imperative wasn't placed on teaching and baptizing doesn't remove the necessity of doing it. But, here again, teaching and baptizing are specific gifts and calls. Not everyone is a teacher. Not everyone should baptize. 

          All of the above scripture provides ample evidence that the emphasis placed on Matthew 28:18-20, known as the Great Commission, is wrong. Though the commission to very specific believers is indeed "great", it's not for the entire body of Christ. It's also wrong to infer that everyone should be sharing the Gospel if even in their own area. This simply is not so because it would still require the specific gifts and drive. So, if you are a Christian that often feels guilty for not being comfortable verbally promoting Christ or His kingdom as a way of life, you're off the hook. Now, this doesn't mean the Holy Spirit might not inspire you once in awhile in a special situation to share your testimony or give an answer as to why you believe what you do (1 Peter 3:15). And it doesn't mean Holy Spirit won't randomly, perhaps, give you a Word of Prophecy for someone, or use you to bring healing to someone since you may be the ONLY person around that He can use to help someone the way they need. But you'll have a knowing and inspiration to do it. Which is completely different than taking on the false yoke of being called to witness or preach the Gospel every chance you get, everywhere you go - if that's not you! So be released from this false doctrine that says every believer has a part to play in the "Great Commission". 
          However, there is mandate concerning the spreading of the Gospel that does include all Christians. Though not given through a single directive, rather, through the whole of the Gospels, it's the greatest commission of all. And it's that all believers should, in fact, be spreading the Gospel. Only... not with preaching, teaching, or sharing; not with any words at all, in fact.
          The "Greatest Commission" to all and of all time will be thoroughly explained in the following teaching.      
1 blueletterbible.org Greek Lexicon Strong's G652 apostolos defintion.