19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Now we turn to what I believe to be the most misunderstood, misapplied verse, in the Bible. Also known as the “Great Commission” I believe this passage is the most misunderstood and therefore misapplied verse in Scripture for one reason. If this is an imperative, if it is correctly understood, I know of very few in the body at large obeying it. So either it is misunderstood or we are at large disobedient. Look with me as we look into the context, the syntax and what the Original Author meant to the original audience so as to rightly apply this verse.
Right away we see a “therefore” and we know to ask what is it there for? Jesus is talking in context about the previous statement “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” To paraphrase “oh and by the way I’m the Boss of everything, everywhere”, and in light of My credentials I have a little bit of direction for you. The sentence structure leaves a little bit of question as to what the thrust of the command is but with a little more examination I think the clarity will be available. The question is: are we to make disciples, baptize or to teach? The main verb in the section is make disciples:
“μαθητεύω (mathēteuō): vb.; ≡ Str 3100; TDNT 4.461—1. LN 36.31 follow, be a disciple, be a committed student (Mt 27:57; Ac 14:21+); 2. LN 36.37 make followers, make disciples (Mt 28:19+); 3. cf. LN 33.224–33.250 instruct, teach (Mt 13:52+) Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament)”.
Teaching and baptizing are “present active participles” which is significant, but the “make disciples” is an aorist imperative, 2nd person plural, which means 2 things. It is the command driving the sentence which comes with one of two options: a) we obey and are pleasing to the Father and doing His will or b) we disobey and either are not being pleasing to the Father or we don’t know Him (still not being pleasing). The second significance is the 2nd person plural aorist means it is looking at the action of “making disciples” as a whole over the life of the action of the verb in the life of “you” in context. Let me try and unscramble that. This is where we need to let Scripture interpret Scripture. Is this just spreading the Gospel like the Mark 16:14 ff “Great Commission” is talking about? I can say NO dogmatically because Scripture needs to agree with Scripture. Jesus mentioned (participially) that we are to baptize and teach which partially agrees with Mark 16:16 “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” but the idea of teaching them to obey is missing. Sharing the gospel is one thing, teaching them to obey is significantly different. Paul makes a case in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Where it is true even a broken clock is right twice a day, a person being “taught to obey” must have the Spirit of God (Eph 1:13), he must be saved or he is not able. He doesn’t understand the Scriptures, nor does he have the ability to do what he does not understand. This brings us back to the 2 options we have in obeying the imperative to “make disciples”, we are either obeying and being pleasing to the Father, doing His will OR we are being disobedient (if we have His Holy Spirit) and are not being pleasing to the Father. The other option is you don’t have His Holy Spirit and the ability to obey. Since this is Jesus final words to us it begs the question: are we doing as He commanded, or are we being disobedient or do we not even know Him (see Matt 7:21-23 for what it means to not know Him).
As the Israelites of the Old Testament were disobedient and we read about it and cluck our tongues, may we learn from their disobedience, may our prayer be like that of Moses: So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom (v. 12).
“May the favor of the Lord be upon us and may He grant permanence to our work, so that it stands the test of time and eternity. May our faith always be sufficient to take God at His Word and act upon it, so that we would avoid the curse of killing time and so that in eternity, we would hear the words, Well done, good and faithful servant (Mt. 25:23). Indeed, may it be!”
Marvin Kramer “Time is not on our side”- Spring Issue 2020, Ariel magazine
Sidenote: Though the privilege of making disciples will vary as to what it looks like, what will not vary is the fact you are investing in their lives like Jesus example and are you teaching them to obey His word? If you are not teaching them His word and teaching them to obey it you are not making disciples. You may be meeting for coffee, you may be being their friend, you may be a good listener, you may talk about hunting or sewing…but you are NOT making disciples.