The church has a responsibility to the world. That responsibility was outlined by Christ prior to his ascension in Matthew 28:19-20: “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.”
“Therefore” connects this charge to Jesus’ claim in verse 18: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” No one has ever received a commission with higher authority than that. Jesus does not ask a little thing. It is, as we say, a “great” commission. That is why it is necessary to first establish his authority. No one else has the right to ask us to do this. Only one with “all” authority “in heaven and on earth” can ask this of us.
The scope of this charge is “all nations.” The word Jesus used is ethnos, from which we get our word “ethnic,” and it is the word often translated “Gentile,” meaning any non-Jew. To get the full picture of what Jesus said, you must go back to his first commission among his disciples, often called the “Limited Commission”: “These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 10:5-6). No Gentiles were included in this first commission, but now he says go to all nations, or as it is put in Mark “all the world…whole creation” (Mark 16:15). Jesus’ charge to the church was on behalf of everyone.
The church should read this practically in two ways. The first application is obvious: We must take the gospel to every place in the world. The Great Commission is the basis for foreign missions. Luke makes sure we cannot miss this meaning: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).
If we stop with this application, we may not feel the impact of the Great Commission personally. We might think, “The missionaries are taking care of that. My job is done when I put my contribution in the collection plate.” But Jesus is also saying, we must take the gospel to every person. “Every nation” includes every city in every nation, every street in every city, every house on every street, and every person in every house. Until we have done that, we have not fulfilled the Great Commission.
Look at the end, where Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The apostles have not lived long enough to make it to the end of the age. The church has an important responsibility. If we fail, the world is lost. The only question that evaluates how we are doing is, “Are we making disciples?” If the answer is no, we are not pleasing our Master.