5-8 The Great Commission In John
John's Gospel frequently repeats the themes of the Synoptic Gospels,
but from a different angle and in more spiritual / abstract language:
The Synoptic Gospels
Mt. 16:19 the keys of the Gospel
of the Kingdom
the more literal accounts of the
birth of Jesus
Jn. 1: 1-14
The great preaching commission
Jn. 14:12; 17:18; 20:21; Jn. 15:8,16;
Jn. 17:23 RV
"If you believe not (Moses') writings,
how shall you believe my words?" (Jn. 5:47). This is
John's equivalent of the parable of the rich man and Lazrus,
which concluded with the same basic point (Lk. 16:31).
Whilst there is no account of the transfiguration
in John, he repeatedly stresses how the Lord manifested
forth His glory and was glorified. For John, the Lord's
whole life was in a spiritual sense a form of the transfiguration
experience which the synoptics described.
The Synoptics all include the Lord’s
Mount Olivet prophecy as a lead-in to the record of the
breaking of bread and crucifixion
In John, the record of this prophecy
is omitted and replaced by the account of the Lord’s discourse
in the upper room. “The day of the son of man” in John becomes
“the hour [of the cross]… that the son of man should be
glorified” (Jn. 12:23). “Coming”, “that day”, “convict /
judge the world” are all phrases picked up by John and applied
to our experience of the Lord right now. In our context
of judgment now, we have to appreciate that the reality
of the future judgment of course holds true; but the essence
of it is going on now.
The three synoptic gospels all include Peter’s
‘confession’, shortly before Jesus’ transfiguration
on the mountain.
In John’s gospel the account of the
transfiguration is lacking. Are we to assume that Thomas’
confession in chapter 20 is supposed to take its place?
The need for water baptism
The account of the breaking of bread
The many quotations from the Old Testament, shown to be
fulfilled in the Lord Jesus.
The synoptics each give some account of the literal origin
of Jesus through giving genealogies or some reference to
John’s version is in John 6:48-58. He stresses that one
must absorb Christ into themselves in order to really have
the eternal life which the bread and blood symbolize. It
seems John puts it this way in order to counter the tendency
to think that merely by partaking in the ritual of breaking
bread, believers are thereby guaranteed eternal life.
John expresses this in more abstract language: “The word
was made flesh” (Jn. 1:14).
John’s Gospel speaks of Jesus as if He somehow existed
in the plan of God from the beginning, but “became flesh”
when He was born of Mary.
is recorded in the synoptics, and their records include the idea
that it happened “after six days” (Mk. 9:2).
John speaks of the same theme of Christ manifesting God’s
glory, but he sees it as happening not just once at the transfiguration,
but throughout the Lord’s ministry and above all in His death. Interestingly,
John’s record also has the idea of the Lord manifesting the Father’s
glory after six days. The Gospel opens by describing events on four
successive days (Jn. 1:19,29,35,43), and then we read that “the
third day” [i.e. six or seven days after the story has begun], Jesus
“manifested his glory” (Jn. 2:1,11). Again in Jn. 7:37, it was on
the last great day of the feast of Tabernacles, i.e. on the 7th
day, that the Lord Jesus manifests Himself. Perhaps too we are to
pay attention to the six days mentioned in Jn. 12:1, after which
the Lord was crucified and manifested the Father’s glory.
In the same way as John matches the more literal accounts of the birth
of Jesus with a more spiritual interpretation in Jn. 1, so he likewise
refers to the great commission, expressing it in more spiritual terms
throughout his gospel. I bring together here some comments that have been
made elsewhere in these studies, to show the number of allusions:
- Jn. 10: 32: “If I be lifted up from [RVmg. ‘out of’] the earth, will
draw all men unto me”. Straight after the Lord’s death and resurrection
the great commission was given, to bring all men unto Him and His cross.
- God sanctified / consecrated Jesus and sent Him into the world (Jn.
10:36). But this sanctification was through His death on the cross (Jn.
17:19). Jesus was sanctified on the cross and sent into the world in
the sense that we His people would be impelled by His cross to take
Him into all the world. We would be sent into all the
world in His Name.
- As the Lord was sent into the world, so He sends us into
the world (Jn. 14:12; 17:18; 20:21)- the very language of the great
commission. Jesus ‘came down’ to this world in the sense that He was
the word of the Father made flesh, and ‘all men’ saw the light of grace
that was radiated from His very being. And that same word must be flesh
in us, as it was in the Lord.
- In Jn. 12:23-26, the Lord foretold aspects of His coming sacrifice:
“The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily,
verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground
and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit
[spoke in the context of potential Gentile converts]. He that loveth
his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall
keep it...if any man serve me, let him follow me”. Here the Lord goes
on to assume that His death, His falling into the ground, would be matched
by His followers also hating their lives, that they might rise again.
And He connects His death with glorification. Soon afterwards, the Lord
spoke of how his followers would likewise “bear much fruit”, and thus
glorify God. And in this context He continues with words which
can be read as John’s record of the great preaching commission: “I have
chosen you...that ye should go [cp. “Go ye into all the world...”]
and bring forth fruit” (Jn. 15:8,16). Clearly the Lord connected His
bringing forth of “much fruit” through His death with the same “much
fruit” being brought forth by the disciples’ witness. It follows from
this that the fruit which He potentially achieved on the cross is brought
to reality by our preaching. And perhaps it is also possible to see
a parallel between our preaching and His laying down of His life on
the cross, as if the work of witness is in effect a laying down of life
by the preacher, in order to bring forth fruit.
- The whole world is to know the Gospel because of the unity of the
believers (Jn. 17:18,21,23); and it follows that a situation will arise
in which the extraordinary nature of true Christian solidarity over
linguistic, ethnic, social and geographical lines will make a similar
arresting, compelling witness as it did in the first century. The Lord
had prophesied that His followers over time “shall become one flock”
(Jn. 10:16 RV); they would be “perfected into one, that the world may
know” (Jn. 17:23 RV). As the Gospel spreads world-wide in the last days,
the unity of the believers will become all the more comprehensive, and
this will of itself provoke yet more conversions. And once the fullness
of unity is achieved, our communal way of life will have hastened the
coming of the Lord (2 Pet. 3).
- Matthew and Mark record how the apostles were sent to preach
the Gospel and baptize, for the forgiveness of sins (cp. Acts
2:38). Luke records the Lord stating that the apostles knew that forgiveness
of sins was to be preached from Jerusalem, and therefore they should
be witnesses to this. I would suggest that John’s Gospel does in fact
record the great commission, but in different and more spiritual words:
“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you...If you forgive anyone
his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not
forgiven” (Jn. 20:21,23 NIV). These words have always been problematic
for me, especially that last phrase. Can God’s forgiveness really be
limited by the forgiveness shown by fallible men? Yet if these words
are taken as a record of the great commission to go and preach, and
the ellipsis is filled in, things become clearer: ‘I am sending you
to preach the Gospel and baptism of forgiveness; if you do this and
men respond, then the Gospel you preach really does have the power to
bring about forgiveness. But if you don’t fulfil the commission I give
you to preach forgiveness, then the sins of your potential hearers will
remain unforgiven’. Again, the forgiveness and salvation of others is
made to depend upon our preaching of forgiveness. “Whose soever sins
ye retain, they are retained” becomes the equivalent of “he that believeth
not shall be damned”. Note that the Greek for ‘retain’ strictly means
‘to hold / bind’, and that for ‘remit’ means ‘to loose’. This has evident
connection with Mt. 16:19, where the keys of the Gospel of the Kingdom
(which we all possess) have the power to bind and loose, i.e. to grant
or not grant forgiveness. Jn. 15:8,16 also has some reference to the
great commission: “…so shall ye be my disciples…that ye should go
[into all the world] and bear fruit, and that your fruit [converts?]
should abide”. The eternal life of the converts is a fruit brought forth
by the preacher’s obedience to his Lord’s commission. Likewise through
the preaching of John, he turned men’s hearts- the idea of repentance,
being brought about by the preacher (Mal. 4:6).
- “These are written [“in this book” of John’s Gospel] that ye may
believe that Jesus is the Christ…and that believing ye may have life
in his name” (Jn. 20:31 RV)- belief, life, “in his name”, these are
all references to the great commission. It’s as if John is saying that
he fulfilled it by the writing and preaching of his Gospel record. John's
equivalent to an appeal for baptism may be his concluding appeal to
believe that Jesus is the Christ, and as a result of that belief, to
receive life " in his name" - into which we are baptized.
John's record of the great commission is not merely found at the end
of his gospel. When John records how the disciples were to proclaim "
the word" to the world (Jn. 17:20), he is surely intending connection
to be made with how " the word" had likewise been made flesh
in the Lord Jesus (Jn. 1:14); and how it was that same " word"
which Jesus had given to His men, just as His Father had manifested that
word through Himself. Our witness is to be in our making flesh of the
word in real life, just as it was in the Lord.