I’ve often wondered where we get the idea that Matthew 28:19–20 represents the “great commission.”
“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.” (Matthew 28:19–20, HCSB)
The term great commission is entirely made up. It’s nowhere to be found in the text. (The heading added by editors doesn’t count.)
Contrary to popular belief, it was not even the last thing Jesus said before his ascension. That’s found in Acts 1:7–8.
Sure, it is Jesus’ last statement recorded by Matthew, but what does that really matter?
What is a commission anyway? Merriam-Webster defines commission as “an authorization or command to act in a prescribed manner or to perform prescribed acts.” So, a commission is basically a command.
But wait a minute! Didn’t Jesus already specify the two greatest commands? Didn’t he elsewhere say the words, “This is the greatest and most important command”?
He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37–39, HCSB)
I may be branded as a heretic for saying this, but Matthew 28:19–20 is not the “great commission.” Perhaps it is the third greatest, but Jesus already specified the first two.
Besides all that, it seems to me that we’ve totally distorted this commission anyway. Jesus never said, “Go preach to the lost, lead them through a prayer, then recommend a good church.”
No! He said, “Make disciples.”
Do you know how to make disciples?
- “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
- “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
- “Teach… them to observe everything [Jesus] commanded.”
If we truly love one another, we will be fulfilling all three of the “great commissions.”