The Great Commission refers to the commands the resurrected Jesus gives His eleven disciples before ascending to His heavenly throne. These instructions involve spreading the gospel and making disciples, or followers of Christ, among all ethnic groups. For instance, Matthew 28:19–20 says, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Who Is the Great Commission for?
Though directly given to the eleven disciples, the Great Commission is a command for all believers. In verse 20, Jesus promises to be with them “to the end of the age.” This phrase signifies the period of time between Christ’s ascension to heaven and His return to earth. Therefore, it also reveals that the time spent undertaking this command extends well beyond the lives of the original disciples. The Great Commission is for the Church—the collective of past, present, and future believers who have been saved through faith in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. We pursue this command until Jesus comes again.
But, if you are like me, you may have struggled to grasp the importance of the Great Commission. For a while, I looked at this command as just another task to put on my to-do list, a calendar event associated with big church programming, and a distraction God has given us so that we don’t get bored while we wait for Christ’s second coming. Also, knowing the history of colonization and conquest under the guise of religious advance, many of us may view the Great Commission in this light and, as a result, reject efforts to evangelize to unreached populations.
Why is the Great Commission Important?
However, when I studied the Great Commission in the context of Jesus’s words about the end of the age and without the influence of my personal misconceptions, culture, and the historical stigma surrounding religious advancement, I gained a different perspective. Through the Holy Spirit, I began to see that undertaking the Great Commission plays a necessary part in Christ’s return.
In Matthew 24:14, Jesus says, “This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The context of this verse situates us in a discourse between Jesus and His disciples. In this conversation, Jesus predicts signs for the end of the age and reveals what must happen before His second coming. He explains that the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, war, famine, earthquakes, persecution, and other troubles will occur. The signs of the end of the age are directed to the disciples, but they also point to future hardships that will persist through the generations and indicate that this world is temporary.
After listing these hardships, Jesus gives another sign—a sign of hope and light. In the midst of trouble, God will equip believers to preach the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ to all nations. He has ordained this preaching to be a pathway that finds its end and climax in the Savior’s return. Therefore, spreading the gospel and making disciples serve as signs that soon Christ will come and restore all things.
How to Participate in the Great Commission
This truth should make us all excited to participate in the Great Commission. Though we cannot know the exact time of Christ’s coming, as we share the gospel with others and encourage them on the journey of following Jesus, we embody expectation. We look forward to the day when Jesus will descend from His heavenly throne and will completely realize what we proclaim in the establishment of a new creation.
It is important to note that, while the Great Commission is a call for the Church, not every believer is called to leave their home for the mission field (Piper, 2018). God desires that some focus on local hospitality and ministering to neighbors, as discipleship and evangelism can be pursued in these contexts. But, for those of us who will not carry the gospel to the nations, we can still encourage others who have received this call through supporting our churches and other Christian organizations. You can read more about the Daily Grace Company’s efforts in this area here.
If God desires that you preach the gospel to unreached populations, please remember that you do not undertake this call alone. Jesus is with you (Matthew 28:20). You do not have to rely on your own strength or intellect. You do not have to be discouraged when you fail. By the Holy Spirit, God will equip you for the work, so trust Him. Remember that God is the One who changes hearts of stone into hearts of flesh so that they will have faith in Christ; He gives sight to the blind so that they will witness the glory of Jesus; and by His irresistible power, He brings those dead in sin to life in the Savior. God Himself will fulfill the Great Commission because the promise of Jesus’s return will not be thwarted.
Additional Resources on the Great Commission:
Sharing Our Faith: Evangelism Resource
Piper, John. “Is the Great Commission for Every Individual Christian?” April 2, 2018. In Ask Pastor John. Produced by Desiring God. 11:04. https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/is-the-great-commission-for-every-individual-christian
Sproul, R.C., ed. The Reformation Study Bible. Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2015.