The Great Commission
"Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them" (Matt. 28:16). The place of this meeting had been appointed by Jesus (cf. Matt. 26:32; 28:7,10). It is reasonable to believe that the time of the meeting had also been determined and announced by Jesus. If this was the case, then it becomes highly probable that this was the resurrection appearance that Paul mentioned in I Corinthians 15:6. This is the most reasonable explanation as to how the risen Lord could have appeared before over 500 disciples who were all gathered together at one time. Although Matthew only mentions the eleven, this does not mean that others could not have been present.

"When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted" (Matt. 28:17). If our chronology is correct, all of the apostles already believed in His resurrection by this time. Thus, those who doubted must not have been of the number of the apostles. Jesus accepted their worship because He, unlike a mere mortal or angel, is divine (cf. Acts 14:8-18; Rev. 22:8,9). In fairness to those gathered, the word for "doubted" here is in a Greek tense which may indicate that the doubt experienced by some was only momentary (i.e., it vanished after they recognized who He was).

"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Matt. 28:18). Jesus' claim is all authority. He does not possess only partial authority, nor does He share His authority with anyone. However, we realize that Jesus can delegate authority to others and indeed has done so. In the civil realm, He delegated authority to the government (cf. Rom. 13:1ff). He delegated authority to His apostles as His ambassadors in revealing, teaching, and preaching God's word (cf. Matt. 19:28; II Cor. 5:20; 10:8). He has delegated authority to the elders to make decisions in optional matters within the local congregation (cf. Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:7,17; I Peter 5:1-4).

The fact that Jesus has all authority indicates that He is now reigning as King (and the doctrine of premillennialism cannot be true). He ascended into heaven to sit on the throne of God and is ruling there as King (cf. Dan. 7:13,14; Acts 2:32-36). The throne of God to which the risen Christ ascended is the throne of David upon which God promised to set a Son of David over an everlasting kingdom (cf. Acts 2:30,31; II Sam. 7:12-16). Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of lords (cf. I Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14; 19:16). He will not relinquish this authority until He returns the second time to deliver the kingdom to the Father (cf. I Cor. 15:24-28).

"Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). Jesus' assertion that all authority had been given to Him was a proper prelude to this command. This section is commonly referred to as the "Great Commission" because it is great in scope (i.e., worldwide) in contrast to the "Limited Commission" which Jesus had given back in Matthew 10:5ff (for the Jews only). He gave the apostles this Great Commission to go. They were not to sit back and wait for people to come to them; it was their responsibility to go and be aggressive with the gospel since they had the authority of Christ behind them. Prior to this point, Jesus had forbidden them even to tell anyone that He was the Christ (cf. Matt. 16:20; 17:9). However, now their lips are unsealed with only one limitation; that is, they were to wait in Jerusalem until they had received "power from on high" (Luke 24:49; cf. Acts 1:7,8).

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). A "disciple" is a learner. One who listens to the gospel, believes it, and obeys it is a disciple pleasing to God. The apostles were to "make disciples" through their preaching and baptizing. One cannot become a faithful disciple (Christian) without first learning that he is a sinner (cf. Rom. 3:23) and spiritually separated from God (cf. Isa. 59:1,2). He must also learn about God and His love for man--especially His plan of redemption (cf. John 3:16,17; Titus 2:11-14). He must come to believe in Jesus Christ as the Savior and Son of God (cf. John 8:24). He must turn from his sinful ways (cf. Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30) and be baptized for the forgiveness of his sins (cf. Acts 2:38; I Pet. 3:21). Then he must continue to learn of God's law for man and all the duties of the Christian life. A disciple must learn certain things prior to conversion, but most of his spiritual education will take place after baptism (cf. Matt. 28:20).

Some argue a better translation here is: "baptizing them into the name of the Father..." The one who is baptized becomes the possession of and comes under the protection of the one whose name he bears. To be baptized "in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 2:38) is to be baptized by His authority. To be baptized into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is to be baptized into a real union with all that which the name covers and embraces (cf. Gal. 3:27).

"He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16). One cannot become a true disciple without being baptized. Baptism (i.e., immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins--Acts 2:38; 10:47) is necessary in order to be saved. Baptism is the act wherein sins are washed away (cf. Acts 22:16). Although the denominational world revolts at the idea of placing baptism in such a connection with salvation (or the forgiveness of sins), let it be remembered (and emphasized) that it was Jesus who has placed it in this connection!

Both belief and baptism, according to Jesus' words, are requirements for salvation. If baptism is not necessary for salvation (as so many today affirm), then why did Jesus formally state that it was necessary? It is fallacious to point to the last portion of Mark 16:16 and state that Jesus didn't say that those who weren't baptized would be condemned. Although it is true that He did not make such a statement, their point is not established because Bible baptism is conditioned upon belief in such a way that it cannot precede it. If one does not believe in Jesus Christ, then he most certainly will not submit to baptism. Hence, it is sufficient to state that such a one will be lost because of his lack of faith. The fact that baptism is not explicitly mentioned here as an act that will lead to condemnation if not performed does not remove it from the place it occupies as a necessary condition for one to be saved.

Jesus authorizes His followers to baptize penitent believers and all examples in the book of Acts of such are adults. Infants cannot meet the prerequisites of faith and repentance for Bible baptism (not to mention the fact that they, being sinless, have no need for such; cf. Ezek. 18:20; Matt. 18:1-4).

Also, let it be understood that water baptism is a command, not a promise. Holy Spirit baptism is a promise, not a command. One can (and should) obey a command; one cannot obey a promise (though it can be enjoyed). This passage commands baptism as an act of obedience for penitent believers. Since Holy Spirit baptism is always a promise (cf. Matt. 3:11; John 14-16) and never a command, it is impossible that Jesus is talking about such here. The baptism of the Great Commission is the "one baptism" that Paul writes about in Ephesians 4:3-6.

"Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day" (Luke 24:46). It appears that these verses from Luke chronologically belong in a later conversation. However, they have been incorporated here also since they directly relate to the Great Commission that Matthew and Mark wrote about.

"And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47). If we pieced together Jesus' words found in Matthew, Mark, & Luke on this subject (and paraphrased them somewhat), we would end up with this: "As a result of My life, death, burial, and resurrection, repentance and remission of sins is to be preached in My name throughout all the world, beginning at Jerusalem. You are to go forth into all parts of the world and preach the gospel to every human being under heaven. He who believes your testimony and is baptized in My name shall certainly be saved, but those who will not accept and believe your testimony, shall be condemned. Go therefore, not to Judea only, but into all the world and disciple the nations by baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe the things I have commanded you."

"And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues" (Mark 16:17). Jesus did not promise that these signs would follow for any specified duration nor that they would follow each individual believer. He does promise that these signs would follow (in general) the class of those who believe, and this is in perfect harmony with the record of the book of Acts. The apostles did cast out demons (e.g., Acts 16:16ff) and speak in new tongues (e.g., Acts 2:4ff).

"They will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover" (Mark 16:18). The apostles also were bitten by serpents and not harmed (e.g., Acts 28:3ff). There is no divine record, however, of one drinking a poison and not suffering harm. But, such is no reason to doubt the reality that such did occur (especially with the widespread persecution in the first century). Although the Great Commission was to last until the end of the age, the New Testament elsewhere teaches that the age of miracles ceased around the close of the first century (cf. I Cor. 13; Eph. 4).

"Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20; cf. II Tim. 4:16,17; Rom. 8:28; Heb. 13:5,6; I Pet. 3:12). This promise was made primarily to the eleven, but since they did not live to the end of the age (world), it can be understood to extend to the entire church of which they were the recognized representatives. Jesus is not just promising His presence but His cooperation, protection, and support.

It must be understood that although the Great Commission was initially given to the apostles, it is our responsibility today. This is easily proven since the apostles were to teach "all things" that Jesus had taught them (which would include the Great Commission). Thus, the apostles taught others to evangelize the world and they also taught them to teach others to evangelize the world. This process would have continued from generation to generation, even until this day. All Christians today have a God-given duty to evangelize!

Are you doing your part to spread the gospel message? Jesus commands you to do so. One who intentionally rebels against or apathetically fails to obey the command to believe and be baptized will be eternally lost. Can one intentionally rebel against or apathetically fail to fulfill the command of God to evangelize and still be saved?

It is worth noting there are four "alls" in this context regarding the Great Commission: (1) Jesus has "all authority" and can certainly issue such a commission for us today, (2) The gospel is to be taught to "all the nations", (3) "All things" that Christ commanded were to be taught and practiced, and (4) Jesus will be with His disciples "always" (i.e., at alltimes).

Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.