The Great Commission: Suggestion or Command?

Howard Culbertson
Thursday, August 27, 2015

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Question: Which Bible verse is most often associated with world evangelism?  Easy answer: The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20. 

Jesus spoke those words after His resurrection and not long before His ascension.  For most Christians, these final words of Matthew’s Gospel immediately come to mind in conversations about biblical motives for world missions.

ImageThe Great Commission follows up on God’s promise that all peoples on earth would be blessed through His people (Genesis 12:3).  The Great Commission also reflects what the Old Testament says about the “light” of salvation reaching “the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).  It’s an achievable command.  Indeed, Revelation 7:9 describes an end times vision in which the Apostle John saw the results of Great Commission fulfillment.

German theologian Thomas Schirrmacher calls the Great Commission the most important passage in the Gospel of Matthew. He says, “The Great Commission in the Gospel of Matthew (28:16-20) is not only the end of the Gospel of Matthew; it is also its climax and its goal.”

References to Christ’s Great Commission abound in material about world evangelism. Here are some samples from the writings of missionaries and missions mobilizers:

  • “Is not the commission of our Lord still binding upon us?  Can we not do more than now we are doing?” -- William Car
  • “The Great Commission is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed.” -- Hudson Taylor
  • “If a commission by an earthly king is considered an honor, how can a commission by a Heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?” -- David Livingstone
  • “Any church that is not seriously involved in helping fulfill the Great Commission has forfeited its biblical right to exist.” -- Oswald J. Smith
  • “The Great Commission is a personal obligation upon every Christian. . . . Each member of the church must face this task with obedience.” -- Remiss Rehfeldt
  • “God has given us a Great Commission, and we dare not assume that all is going well, or that we are doing the best that can be done.” -- Gary McIntosh
  • “Make the fulfillment of the Great Commission your supreme ambition.” -- Peter Hammond
  • "Being involved in the Great Commission is not only a matter of obedience to God’s plan; it is also obedience to the holy idea of justice. Why should we have the joy of salvation and its benefits and not care that millions do not have it?" -- Loren Triplett
  • “We are on planet earth for one reason.  One reason!  To obey the Great Commission -- to see that every tongue, tribe and nation has a witnesss of who Jesus is.” -- John Zumwalt
  •  “If the Great Commission is true, our plans are not too big; they are too small.” -- Pat Morley