Matthew 28:18-20 “The Great Commission”

Translation & Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ The Redeemer Church Manhattan KS, 26 Jan 2014


28:18 And Jesus approached and spoke to them saying,
“Every authority in heaven and upon earth was given to me,
28:19 therefore once y’all have proceeded,
start discipling all the ethnicities,
baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
28:20 and teaching them to keep all of whatever I commanded y’all,
and see, I myself am with y’all all your days until the conclusion of the age.


About 15 years ago, as I was undergoing ordination exams, a fellow-ordinand in the Rocky Mountain Presbytery, Bruce Sidebotham, who was also an Army Reserves chaplain, explained the fascinating concept to me that Jesus’ Great Commission was very similar to an order in the military (see ) which includes the terms of Situation, Mission, Execution, Service and Support, Command and Signal. I think Dr. Sidebotham was right on about that pattern. However, because I’m not an Army guy, I’m going to evaluate the Great Commission using six terms that more-readily make sense to me, namely: Authority, Context, Action, How-to, Partners, and Duration. Jesus gives an amazingly comprehensive statement, including all that is necessary for operational procedure for the church.


28:18 And Jesus approached and spoke to them saying, “Every authority in heaven and upon earth was given to me,
καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς ἐλάλησεν[1] αὐτοῖς λέγων· Ἐδόθη μοι πᾶσα ἐξουσία ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ [2] γῆς.

28:19 therefore once y’all have proceeded, start discipling all the ethnicities, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Πορευθέντες [ουν[3]] μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ Πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ Υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ῾Αγίου Πνεύματος,

28:20 teaching them to keep all of whatever I commanded y’all, and see, I myself am with y’all all your days until the conclusion of the age.
διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν· καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ μεθ᾿ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος.[4]

o       Authority

§         What does it mean that “all power”KJV - “every authority was given” to Jesus?

§         According to what we’ve already read in Matthew, Jesus had the authority to interpret the Scriptures (7:29), the authority to forgive sins (9:6), the authority to deputize disciples to cast out evil spirits and heal any kind of disease (10:1), and the authority to be a prophet like John the Baptizer (21:23-27). John’s gospel adds that Jesus had the authority to lay down his life and take it back up again (John 10:18). But Jesus says now that not only these authorities but ALL authority was given to Him.

§         Authority is what Herod had as a king (Luke 23:7) and what Pilate had as governor (John 19:10) – the power to acquit a person of criminal charges or to crucify them. This appears to be the same kind of authority in judgment that Jesus said that He will exercise on Judgment Day in (John 5:27), which includes the authority to give eternal life (John 17:2) or cast into the lake of fire.

§         Daniel talks about this kind of authority more than any other Old Testament author, and, in the New Testament, the book of Revelation talks more about authority than any other book because both of these apocalyptic writers were writing about a time when God’s authority is at an apex of being challenged, and for those believers who are caught in the maelstrom of worldly powers, they need to know that God has more power; God is in ultimate control.

§         When was this authority “given” to Jesus? He doesn’t explain. I suggest that:

·         He is either referring to when He was begotten in eternity past as the Son of God, which really just means that He is God and has always been God and therefore it must be inferred that He has the authority to do whatever He pleases because God has no authority higher than Him. In other words, this is not describing an action in a sequence of time but rather in a sequence of logic[5]. (Biblical support for this position would come from Psalm 8:7 “all things under His feet,” Colossians 1:16 “by Him all things were created… [including] authorities,” and Jude 25 “…to our savior… be authority before all time and now and forever.”)

·         Or, on the other hand, this giving of authority could be a development in the Economic Trinity of God resulting from the completion of Jesus’ sacrificial death to atone for sin and His ascension to the throne of heaven to claim in an ever-increasing way the authority innate in Him (Biblical support for this position would include 1 Cor. 15:23ff “He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet,” Ephesians 1:20ff “He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand… far above all rule and authority… And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head…,” Colossians 2:10-15 “He disarmed the rulers and authorities, making a public display of them, triumphing over them through the cross,” 1 Peter 3:22 “at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him,” and Rev. 12:10 “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down.” NASB) [6]

·         I think both positions are true, and I like the way Matthew Henry phrased it, “…He was legally entitled to it… As God, equal with the Father, all power was originally and essentially his, but as Mediator – as God-man, all power was given him, partly in recompense of His work (because He humbled Himself, therefore God thus exalted Him), and partly in pursuance of His design: He had this power given Him over all flesh that He might give eternal life to as many as were given Him (John 17:2)….”

·         However, if you take either of these positions too far, you will find theological pitfalls for which Christians historically have been branded as heretics, so let me urge caution in grappling with exactly when it was that Jesus received this authority and move on to its practical application to us:

·         Human free will does not stand in the way of Jesus’ authority;

·         Powerful rulers of Godless nations are a laughing matter to Jesus (Psalm 2);

·         and even Satan himself has to ask for permission from God before he can do anything! (Job 1:9ff)

§         What does that mean for us?

·         For one thing, Jesus is the one to follow because He is bigger than any spirit or human being that is in rebellion against Jesus and that tries to set himself up as somebody to follow. Everyone who follows their own will or the will of anybody else is due for a rude awakening when they find that their power is limited by Jesus’ ultimate authority over them.

·         The fact that Jesus has all authority also means that if He wants a certain thing done, then there is no one who can stop Him. This applies to us in that we know what His last command was, and so if we follow this instruction to make disciples, nobody will be able to stop our progress because nobody can say “No” to Jesus and get away with it!

o       Timing/context “After you have proceeded.”

§         This participle modifies the main verb by giving us the context necessary in which to make disciples. This participle “going/proceeding” is also part of the command, because Greek participles share in the force of the main verb, which, in this case, is an imperative.

§         So this word assumes and commands that Jesus’ followers will “go” somewhere.

§         “God’s children in general must not concentrate all their thought on ‘coming’ to church. They must also ‘go’ to bring the precious tidings to others.” ~William Hendriksen

§         Where? The answer can be inferred by the words “all the nations.”

§         The Greek word here translated “nations” in most English Bibles is the word ethne. It speaks not merely of the political nations (of which there are around 200[7] today, depending on who you ask) but rather of ethnic groups (of whom there are around 20,000[8] today, again depending on who you ask). In Jesus’ day, the one empire of Rome comprised many different ethnic groups, such as Jews, Samaritans, Edomites, Greeks, and Romans, Sythians, Phoenicians, etc., each of which needed discipleship efforts, so Paul and the apostles and the other followers of Christ in the first Century spread out into many different cities, countries, and ethnic groups.

§         Today, we have international students from umpteen countries around the world studying right here at our local university, so that is a natural place to start, but at some point there are all the rest of the nations that we will have to go outside of our country to reach.

§         The parallel passages make the destination clear: Mark 16:15 says “go into all the world,” and in Acts 1, Jesus says, “both in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world” – using a Greek conjunction which indicates that we can’t just choose one of those destinations but must preach in all of those destinations.

§         Now obviously we finite humans can’t be everywhere at once, but the explicit command to keep the entire globe in view when fulfilling the Great Commission means that we need to consider the element of strategy.

·         If I stay in Manhattan, Kansas, how can I do my part in making sure that there are disciple-makers in every people group in every country of the world?

·         If I become aware of a population somewhere that is not getting the gospel, then I should consider whether I should go there myself.

·         If I can’t go myself, then can one of my children go? Can somebody else from our church go? Can I support them with the money and prayer and supplies they need to successfully make disciples over there?

·         Taking the Perspectives course is a great way to grow in this area of strategic thinking concerning the Great Commission.

§         A couple of decades ago, a K-State graduate caught the vision to keep an updated database of all the people groups in the world and their status of being discipled, and he made it accessible online to any Christian at any time. An amazing amount of cooperation has gone into this project, and I highly recommend you take a look at it at – that’s a great way to keep the big picture in view as you pursue the particular people that God has called and gifted you to engage at this season of life.

§         Now, we’ve looked at the authority, then at the context, now on to the...


§         The main verb here in Greek is an Aorist Imperative, which I transate “Start making disciples.”

§         The KJV translates this with the word “teach,” which is the fundamental element of the big picture of discipling, but this Greek word for “make disciples” (matheteusate) is different from the Greek word for “teaching” (didaskontes) which occurs in v.20.

§         The distinction between a student and a disciple is that a disciple is not merely one who is expected to learn information from the teacher, like a student does; a disciple is also expected to eventually replace the teacher and carry on the whole system of teaching that the teacher taught when teacher is dead and gone. A disciple is intentionally being prepared to be a representative of your belief system. A disciple is supposed to make disciples.

§         And the discipleship method of spreading a belief system is powerful because it creates exponentially-growing movements.

·         If I make 6 disciples and each of those six disciples makes six disciples in the next generation, that’s 36 disciples in the third generation, 216 in the fourth generation, 1,296 in the fifth generation, and over 1.6 million in the ninth generation, and more from there!

·         Do you see how the entire population of the world can be reached in this manner?

·         Jesus was being very strategic when He chose to invest Himself in 12 disciples and then tell them to make disciples. Even though His impact may have been small in His lifetime in terms of the numbers, the exponential multiplication of disciples inherent in His methodology would result in rapid expansion around the globe by several generations.

§         The fact that this is a command from Jesus to make disciples means that we must be about the task of discipling others. It is not an option to sit back and let the pastor or the Sunday school teacher do it. We all have children or grandchildren or roommates or associates or neighbors that we can systematically teach more and more about following Jesus. That’s what disciple-making is.

§         Think about it ahead-of-time. What is the next thing that your disciples need to learn from God’s word? Now make time to pass that on to them, and then come up with the next thing to pass on to them, and keep that cycle going!

§         If you do nothing else between now and the time Jesus comes back, it had better be discipleship. That is the one command Jesus gave to summarize all that He wanted His followers to do at this time.

§         So, how do we go about discipling nations or ethnic groups? One person at a time, as we see in the book of Acts.

·         Phillip discipled the Ethiopian Eunuch and Ethiopia became the first Christian nation.

·         He also discipled some people in Samaria, and the Holy Spirit fell on them.

·         Peter spent a day or so discipling Cornelius, and a Roman household came into the kingdom!

·         Paul discipled Lydia and some other women at the riverbank in Phillipi, and a church got started there, and on and on it goes.

·         In time, entire nations can be transformed.[9]

§         Now, some people have argued that the Great Commission to make disciples was only given to the 12 disciples. Not so. It is for all of us.

·         Dr. A.T. Robertson, author of the classic Harmony of the Gospels argued that there were over 500 people there to whom Jesus gave the commission.

·         But it wasn’t just to them, it was a command to disciple every ethnicity until the end of the age. Now, all the disciples are dead and gone, but not every ethnicity has been discipled, and it isn’t the end of the world yet, so it’s up to us to keep at it,

·         besides the very nature of the great commission is multi-generational – each generation of disciples is commanded to teach “all that [Christ] commanded,” and, since Jesus’ last command was to “make disciples… and teach them to obey all that [He] commanded,” then each generation of disciples is supposed to carry on this same Commission![10]

§         So, how do we do it? Jesus gives us two participles to explain how: “baptizing” and “teaching”

o       HOW: Initiation and Lordship

§         First is baptism. This is an initial symbolic action. It signifies a new identity because it involves association with a name. Notice that the name is singular; there is only one name because there is only one God, and yet our one God exists in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so a new disciple is baptized into a public association with all three of the persons of the Godhead.

§         I think it is significant that Jesus never told us exactly how to administrate this baptism. All the Bible mentions is to use water and to do it in the “name.” I think it was one of the greatest triumphs of the devil to split Protestants up over how the water is applied.

§         This order of baptism first followed by teaching speaks against spending long amounts of time proving that you really are a Christian before getting baptized, as some Christian traditions do. I believe that the sequence in the Great Commission of Baptize and teach implies that we should baptize as soon as a convert is ready to identify publicly with Jesus and His people, and then fill in the details with comprehensive teaching afterwards.

§         The second part of making disciples is teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded.

§         Cf. Matt. 19:17 “But if you wish to enter into the Life, start keeping His commandments.” (NAW) that’s what Jesus told the rich young ruler. He wouldn’t have given commands or supported the 10 commandments in the Sermon on the Mount if they weren’t important to Him.

§         Of course this fits within the larger context of scripture which teaches us that none of us is able to keep God’s law perfectly, so God sent His Son to die and pay the penalty for our transgressions of His law and sent His Spirit to enable us to obey His law.

§         Note, however, that Jesus did not say here, “teaching them everything I commanded” but “teaching them to obeyNIV/observeKJV all things whatsoever…” – to have the attitude of submission to Christ’s lordship that whatever the Bible says becomes a priority to do and to preserve that tenaciously as a priority.

§         What commandments is Jesus saying to pass along in the discipleship process?

§         Matthew uses this Greek word entellomai only once in the context of Jesus giving a command, and that was in 17:9 when He commanded His disciples not to describe His transfiguration to anybody until after He had risen from the dead.

§         The gospel of John (15:17) adds one more occasion, when Jesus said, “I am commanding this of you, that you love one another”

§         And in Mark 10:3, Jesus uses the same word to indicate that the commandments of the Mosaic law had continuing authority over the people of His day. I believe that, as the Word of God, the Ten Commandments and their interpretation in the Pentateuch came through Jesus and are part of His system of commands which we are to use to disciple others. That is why the 10 Commandments are a prominent part of most of the traditional church catechisms.

§         Not only the Mosaic law, but also the whole Old Testament contains Christ’s commands to us, for in Acts 13:47, Paul says that the prophecy of Isaiah 49:6 is called a “command from the Lord to us!” What was that command? “I have placed you to be a light to the gentiles to carry salvation to the ends of the earth,” Which brings us back to the Great Commission in Matthew 28.

§         We’ve looked at the authority, the context of going, the imperative of disciple-making, and how to do it through baptizing and teaching. Now who are the personnel on our team?


§         This passage is full of plural you’s

·         “as y’all are going, y’all make disciples… y’all baptize…. y’all teach… I commanded y’all… and I am with y’all…”

·         Implicit in all these second person plurals is the reality of a team of people. There will be fellow Christians engaged in this same discipling enterprise.

·         That is why we need to be involved in a local church that connects us integrally with other believers. Jesus did not intend us to serve Him as “Lone Rangers,” we are to do it as a body.

§         But there is another, even more important partner in this venture:

·         The word “lo” in the King James Versions is the first half of the English word “look,” and it is a translation of the same Greek word that is usually translated “behold.”

·         It could just be an attention-getting word like we say, “Hey, pay attention,”

·         or it could literally mean, “Just look around you, and you’ll see that I am with you. If you just think about it you’ll realize that I never did abandon you; I’ll always be with you!”

§         What kind of partnership is that?!!! The Son of God with all the power in the world will accompany us forever by placing His Holy Spirit into us![11]

·         If we go to the ends of the earth – to Siberia or Yemen or Timbuktu – to teach people about Jesus and make disciples, He will be right there with you.

·         “’I will be with you.’ In the pulpit, in the prison… all days, every day. ‘I will be with you on Sabbath days and week days, fair days and foul days, winter days and summer days.’” ~Matthew Henry’s Commentary

·         There will be no such thing as a God-forsaken place as long as there is a believer there. Many missionaries who have gone to remote peoples have felt lonely in terms of there being few companions who were Christians, but Jesus was right there with them all the while.

§         So we have Jesus and fellow-believers as partners in making disciples. Now, how long do we keep baptizing and teaching and making disciples? Until we retire?

o       DURATION

§         Jesus implies that this disciple-making process is supposed to last through this whole “age” of the worldKJV, right up to its “end,” so this will last all the days of your life on earth.

§         When Jesus returns and brings closure to the age, and throws all the non-Christians into the lake of fire, then I guess we’ll stop baptizing new converts.

§         Then no one will need to teach his neighbor saying, “Know the Lord” (Jer. 31:34)!

§         This grand commission is worthy of a lifetime of investment; it will take all the time we’ve got.


When I initially sat down to prepare this material on the Great Commission, it was with a certain amount of pride, for, after all, I have delivered seminars on the Great Commission for twenty years all over the United States – and even in a couple of other countries – in my former career as a Christian missions consultant. But the more I meditated on this passage, the more I realized I was not a master of it; it is bigger than me, and I am just one small part of a large body of Christians who are working together to fulfill this expressed desire of our Lord Jesus.

If you find this command to make disciples of all the nations intimidating, I hope that you can find encouragement in the fact that we have a big God who has all the authority in the world and who has promised to always be with us and who has given us many fellow-believers to fill out the labor force needed to do all that He has commanded! Also, take heart that all the nations will be reached, for John saw the fulfillment of it in the vision he recorded in the book of Revelation: persons from every tongue, tribe, and nation before the throne of God in heaven. Jesus’ commission can and will be fulfilled, so let us be faithful to His command – and to the calling and the particular gifts which He has given us – to make disciples!


[1] Vincent aptly pointed out that the force of lalew is that Jesus “broke the silence… contemplating the fact rather than the substance of speech” and that legw covers the other aspect of the content of what Jesus then said. The ESV and NIV do not allow the reader to see that there are actually two different Greek verbs here.

[2] Two (B & D) out of the six oldest-known Greek manuscripts (at least of those surveyed for the Nestle-Aland 26th edition) add the definite article “the” here, thus the Critical editions insert της in brackets. I do not think this is adequate reason to vary from the traditional majority text here. But since there is only one earth, it doesn’t make a difference in meaning whether or not it has a definite article in front of it.

[3] Not in the majority of Greek manuscripts – including some of the oldest (א, A, 0148), thus not in the Patristic editions, but it is in the Textus Receptus and Critical editions of the Greek New Testament because there is a thread of manuscripts stretching throughout history containing this conjunction (including B, W, Δ, Θ, 074, f1, etc + a synonym in D), and most of the ancient versions included it. This kind of support is enough for me to mention the variant in brackets above, however, it does not essentially change the meaning because the arrangement of the discourse assumes this relationship between Jesus’ first phrase in the previous verse and His second phrase in this verse. All the standard English versions have the word “therefore” here.

[4] “Amen” ends the majority of Greek manuscripts, thus it is found here in the Patristic and Textus Receptus editions of the Greek New Testament, but it is not in Critical editions because it is not found in any of the half dozen or more manuscripts pre-dating the 9th century. Although the Syriac versions favor the “Amen” the Vulgate doesn’t (Both date back to the 4th Century).

[5] This idea of logical vs. temporal sequence came from a conversation with Trevor Slone.

[6] The latter was Calvin’s position: “he does not lay claim to the eternal power with which he was endued before the creation of the world, but to that which he has now received, by being appointed to be Judge of the world. Nay, more, it ought to be remarked, that this authority was not fully known until he rose from the dead; for then only did he come forth adorned with the emblems of supreme King.” It was also Hendriksen’s position, “he is referring to a gift he has received as Resurrected Mediator… the investiture of the risen Christ with such unrestricted, universal sovereignty that Jesus now claims, and which, especially within a few days, that is  after his ascension to heaven, he is beginning to exercise.” A.T. Robertson seemed to opt for the former position, calling this verb “given” a “timeless Aorist.” Neither position is untrue.

[7] 193 United Nations members, 195 countries recognized by the U.S. State department, ISO recognizes 240 entities, International Olympic Committee = 202…

[8] 12,600 according to the World Christian Encyclopedia, 16,825 according to Joshua Project, and 24,000 according to another estimate from the U.S. Center for World Mission.

[9] “Christianity should be twisted in with national constitutions, that the kingdoms of the world should become Christ’s kingdoms, and their kings the church’s nursing-fathers… [D]o your utmost to make the nations Christian nations…” ~Matthew Henry

[10] Cf. Chrysostom “[P]lainly the apostles were not to remain here unto the end of the world; but he speaks to the believers as to one body.” See also William Carey’s Inquiry

[11] John Calvin wrote, “The nature of that presence which the Lord promises to his followers ought to be understood spiritually; for it is not necessary that he should descend from heaven in order to assist us, since he can assist us by the grace of his Spirit, as if he stretched out his hand from heaven. For he who, in respect of his body, is at a great distance from us, not only diffuses the efficacy of his Spirit through the whole world, but even actually dwells in us.”