We make an inevitable understatement.
Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 28:18, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” The right to rule everything belongs to him. All existence comes under his reign. Jesus is the one true King.
This is unspeakably important. The highest significance we could attribute to these words still seems to fall short. The crucified and risen Christ has cosmic authority. It’s greater than we can speak, but we must speak.
Charter for the Church
After establishing his authority — on the basis of that authority, not simply to command persons, but to empower obedience — Jesus issues this famous charter for his church:
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 all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19–20)
The Great Commission, as we call it, is truly great. It’s a unique combination of epic and brilliant. It’s epic in that it has been effective, to say the least. For the past 2,000 years the people of Jesus have been making disciples. They have, they are, and they will.
It’s also brilliant, in part, because of how simply it spells out the Christian mission. The gospel imperative, grounded in the authority of Jesus, is crystal clear. Because of who Jesus is, we should be going, therefore, and making disciples of all nations. This is foundational when we’re talking about the church. Jesus came to this world to reveal God and redeem worshipers (John 1:14, 18; 4:23), which he did by adoption through substitution (John 1:13; 3:14–15). Now that mission has been handed down to his Spirit-filled followers, which we’ll do in obedience to the profound phrase: make disciples.
The Way to Make Disciples
And if that’s the center of the commission, Jesus then tells us how it looks. Following the imperative, “make disciples,” he gives us two ways — some might call them “participles of means”:
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (verse 19)
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (verse 20)
In short, Jesus says to his church: make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching.
It’s one command followed by the two ways it should be obeyed. One imperative, two participles, grounded in the authority of Jesus — this is the heart of the Christian global mission. It’s naturally summarized by the three categories of gospel, mission, and community.
The central command to make disciples because of Jesus’s authority is captured by that holy word “gospel.” This is the non-negotiable goal that’s carried out by baptizing and teaching. The baptism part is that great symbol of new-covenant initiation. It’s the fireworks moment of God’s work and ours in giving the gospel to all nations, captured by the category “mission.” The teaching part fills out what’s supposed to happen to all these baptized converts. With disciples in the context of other disciples, we’re taught what it means to follow Jesus, captured by the category “community.”
Matthew 28:18–20 points to gospel, mission, and community — and these form a grid through which everything in the church’s life can be understood.
Jesus the Real
And that’s all well and good, as long as we remember where this mission is grounded. Our making disciples is always an extension of Jesus’s authority. This means that all of our gospel proclamation is ultimately the proclamation of a Person.
To be sure, the gospel is a message. It’s news. It’s an announcement (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). We tell a story rooted in historical fact, and through that message God overcomes the world. We speak, they hear, and lives are changed by the Spirit (Romans 10:17).
But when we speak the gospel message, it’s never merely a message. It’s not flat content. It is actually the declaration of a Person — a real Person who has done real work in real space-time history to reconcile real people to a real God.
Wrapped up in the good news of Jesus is the person of Jesus offering himself to those who hear. He stands over our gospel speaking as the gospel Lord. This is important to keep in mind because as we tell others what he’s done, we’re not passing along ideas to be evaluated; we’re introducing them to a Person to be embraced.
That’s why Jesus said to make disciples, not consumers. If we’re only relaying information or making religious noise, then unbelieving neighbors can click away or turn it off. But if we are introducing a Person when we speak the gospel, it’s not about what hearers do with mere data; it’s about what hearers do with him.
When we give the gospel, we are offering the Lord Jesus Christ himself, the one who is reigning from his heavenly throne, the one who will come again to judge the living and the dead, the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth.
To give the gospel any other way would actually be less than an understatement.
More on evangelism from Desiring God:
That Awkward Moment When We Speak the Gospel (post by Ken Currie)
Epic of the Ordinary: Christian Mission for You and Me (post by Jonathan Parnell)
Giving the Gospel Graciously (interview with Mack Stiles)