5-6 The Great Commission In Matthew
The Great Commission: Closer Analysis
The records of the great preaching commission are each slightly different, and each links with statements recorded earlier in the same Gospel.
“Go ye into all the world” evidently connects with the Lord’s command in the parable: “Go ye” into the highways and “gather together all”, as many as were found. And this in turn is an extension of an earlier parable, where the net of the Gospel is presented as gathering “every kind”- every genos, every “kindred / nation / stock / generation”, as the word is elsewhere translated (Mt. 28:19; 22:9,10; 13:47). The work of the Gospel described in those earlier parables was now specifically delegated to the Lord’s men. Through the work of the Lord’s followers over the generations, there would in every nation and generation be some who were gathered in, of as many social classes as one finds walking along a street [highway / byway]. The net of Gospel preaching is filled (pleroo), and then pulled to shore for judgment. When the Gospel has been preached in all the world (with response), then the end will come. Elsewhere Paul uses the same word to describe how the Gospel is fulfilled by preaching it (Rom. 15:19; Col. 1:25). To have the Gospel is to have an imperative to preach it.
Matthew’s record of the great commission draws on earlier themes and passages in his Gospel. The Lord told His men to go out and make disciples of men (Mt. 28:19 RV). In the immediate context, there are many references to the disciples (Mt. 27:64; 28:7,8,13,16). And the term “disciples” occurs more often (73 times) in Matthew than in any of the other Gospels (e.g. only 37 times in Luke). The Lord is telling His men: ‘Go out and make men like you- disciples, stumbling ‘learners’, not experts’. Thus they were to witness from their own experience, to share this with others, to bring others to share the type of relationship which they had with the Lord. In this sense preaching is seen by Paul as a bringing forth of children in our own image. John likewise was “the beloved disciple”, the agapetos. And yet this is the very term which he uses in his letters to describes his “beloved children” (1 Jn. 2:1; 4:11). He saw them as sharing the same relationship to his Lord as he had. The nature of our relationship with the Lord will be reflected in that of our converts. He tells His men to go to the lost sheep, and yet in that same context He calls them sheep, in the midst of wolves (Mt. 10:6,16). They were sheep sent to rescue sheep- to plead with men and women as men and women, to witness to humanity through their own humanity. Likewise the Lord spoke of how the extraordinary unity of His men would convince others that “thou didst send me” (Jn. 17:23), having just commented how they had surely believed “that thou didst send me” (:8).
The command to ‘make disciples’ of all men in Matthew is framed
in such a way as to make ‘...baptising them...’ a subordinate clause.
Baptism is only part of the work of making disciples. In Mt. 28:19-20
mathateusate ("make disciples") is the main verb,
while poreuthentes ("while going" or "when
[you] go"), baptizontes ("baptizing"), and
didaskontes ("teaching") are subsidiary participles.
The focus clearly is upon making disciples- all the other things,
the teaching, baptizing, our effort in travelling and preaching,
are incidental to this main aim. This is why responsibility to those
we may convert only begins at baptism; it’s a beginning of a man
or woman being fashioned into the image of Christ, not the end.
This is why Paul often uses the language of preaching about his
pastoral efforts with his brethren [e.g. his desire to ‘preach the
Gospel’ to the believers at Rome to whom he was writing]. He sees
himself as preaching Christ to them still, in so doing warning them,
“that we may present every man perfect” (Col. 1:28). Thus Paul parallels
being a minister of the world-wide preaching of the Gospel, and
being a minister of the church (Col. 1:23, 25). He saw his continued
work amongst his baptized readership as fully preaching
the word of God (Col. 1:25 AVmg.). So Paul said in Gal. 4:19
“I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you”. How do
we see our responsibility to those to whom we have preached the
gospel? We should continue to nurture and feed them well after
the time of their baptism. It seems that this is not a general
responsibility which falls on the shoulders of all of us.
Rather we have a personal responsibility to those we have begotten
through the gospel (1Cor. 4:15).