“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.” (Matthew 28:19)
The Great Commission appears toward the end of chapter 28 in the Book of Matthew. Here, Jesus gives a command to his disciples, one that differs from previously established teachings. With all that He has taught them, Jesus has now tasked them with teaching others. Their new duty is to go into the world and do what He did to them – go and make disciples. This commandment, though known by many Christians is not one that all Christians aspire to uphold. One belief is that the commission was designated for the original disciples. Aside from these apostles fulfilling Jesus’ commandment then, today the only people who are noted as making disciples are missionaries. Some Christians not involved in missionary work tend to exclude themselves from the commission. The reasons vary; some dislike travel (going to other nations), while others are opposed to social interactions with strangers (baptizing them).
What Does ‘Go and Make Disciples’ Mean?
Ostensibly, Jesus’ commandment may read like missionary work, but is there a deeper meaning to making disciples, one that applies to all believers? The commandment was to make disciples of all the nations, which would include every country. Though Jesus does not say verbatim, “all nations” could include those that are presumed to be Christian already. Even in areas dominated by Christian theology, there are bound to be people who do not subscribe to the faith. Not only that, but there are Christians who do not uphold every part of Christianity. Both of these types of people would benefit from discipleship.
The modern-day implication is that though someone is a part of a Christian community or a part of a Christian nation, that does not exclude them from the disciple-making process. They themselves can be made into disciples. Even those who seek to fulfill Jesus’ commandment benefit from learning, as they work to perfect their faith in this process. The more we affirm others of Christianity, the more we reaffirm ourselves. What we can conclude from this evidence and through Jesus is that discipleship does not simply mean converting someone into Christianity. How do we know this?
What Does Discipleship Look Like in the Bible?
Jesus made disciples out of the original twelve apostles by living with them and experiencing life together. He did this in addition to sharing His teachings. Jesus didn’t make them into disciples through a single moment. The moment each chose to follow Jesus and give up their old lives, they became disciples, but that was only the beginning. By living with Jesus, He made them into more complete disciples. Therefore, what Jesus has done for them, they can also do for others. This is Jesus’ desire expressed in the commandment.
Further evidence for this interpretation of discipleship appears throughout the various books of the Bible. We read numerous accounts of Jesus performing different miracles, interacting with His disciples, and imparting words of wisdom. He encourages them to treat others the way that He has treated them. By living according to what Jesus preaches, people will recognize the apostles as His disciples (John 13:35). All of this proves that to be a disciple is more than just sending missionaries out into the world. Believing in Jesus is only a part of being a disciple. And seemingly everyone can play a part in a disciple-making process, even within their own nation.
The Context and Origin of Matthew 28:19: ‘Go and Make Disciples’?
Prior to the aforementioned verse in Matthew 28, we receive an account from the book’s writer, Matthew, about the Resurrection. Mary and Mary Magdalene visit Jesus’ tomb, but instead of finding the Lord, they witness an angel. This angel informs them that Jesus has already left the open tomb and that they should go and tell the disciples. Jesus is waiting for them in Galilee. They are then reunited and upon seeing Jesus fall to their knees in worship.
Soldiers, presumably the ones who witnessed the previous angel, reported what happened. Yet, they were bribed to lie about Jesus’ resurrection and say instead that the disciples stole His body. They accepted the bribe. After this detail, Matthew writes about the Great Commission. Note, since Jesus’ commission follows the Resurrection, Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, is no longer among them. This is why only 11 disciples are mentioned in the chapter. At the end of Jesus’ commandment, He promises to be with His disciples “to the end of the age,” which means always (Matthew 28:20).
What Does it Look Like to Make Disciples Today?
Now that we understand the context of Matthew 28:19 and what we can interpret from Jesus’ commandment, we can begin to reflect on what this process looks like in our own lives today. Every believer can partake in fulfilling the commandment, though the role we play may be uniquely set to our skills. There are people who feel averse to traveling and those who are opposed to social interactions with strangers. In any scenario, growth is established when we step outside of our comfort zones. Nonetheless, there are specific ways we can make disciples by first identifying our strengths. From there we can find ways to serve. No matter which specific avenue of making disciples we choose, each will have these factors in common.
“And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
When we make disciples, much like Jesus did, we expand the Christian community. We also expand our personal network of contacts. Discipleship only exists within communities. The apostles were Jesus’ disciples because they believed in Him and trusted Him. We too have to cultivate our relationships with people to make the most out of our shared experiences.
“Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
With community in place, Christians can do their part to establish accountability. This involves people encouraging one another to further their understanding of Christ and follow His teachings. The Bible makes clear that all people sin (Romans 3:23). With that knowledge, we can each be aware that sometimes we choose the wrong behaviors over doing what is right. The more people we have to keep us on the right path, the more righteous we can be.
“Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Romans 15:1-2)
Having a disciple, or being discipled, allows us to have a relationship where we can serve someone else. Jesus blessed His disciples and they did their part to serve Him. Moreover, people who did not previously know Jesus discovered Him at times through His miracles. Jesus served the community and in turn, many followed Him.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7)
Discipleship is only possible when we have love for the other person. No one wants to be taught by an unloving teacher. And no unloving teacher will effectively teach someone. If we are to make disciples like Jesus, we must possess love in our actions.
Once we perfect love, our ability to make disciples will not be thwarted, at least not by our own actions. We will be acting in a way toward others that Jesus has called us to do. Not only that, but the world will easily recognize who we serve (John 13:35). We can make disciples of all the nations, but first, we have to make disciples of ourselves, maintaining a teachable mindset while we help others to grow alongside us.
A Prayer to Make Disciples
God, help us to obey. God, help us to obey this command. Help us to believe Your authority, Lord Jesus. Help us not to be afraid of anything, anyone in this world. Lord, help us to be bold in our lives, and as witnesses in relationship with the people we live around, the people we work with. God, help us to make disciples. Lord, help us to obey this command.
We don’t want to get to the end of our lives. None of us do. None of us wants to get to the end of our lives, look back, and realize we’ve not done the one thing You told us to do before You left. Jesus, help us to make disciples today, this week, this month, this year in our lives. Help us to make disciples. We pray that You would use our lives to cause other people to know Your love, to begin relationship with You.
And Jesus, we trust that You will empower us for this, that You will embolden us for this, and that Your presence will be with us, until the day when we see Your face and we will physically be with You forever. So we hold onto that promise and we pray. Help us. Help us to be faithful to Your commission, from this day until that day. We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen. (from Pray the Word, Back to the Bible)