Here at Guidelines, we often refer to the Great Commission as a crucial part of our mandate and mission. So what exactly is the Great Commission?
You won’t find this specific term in Scripture. While most believe a Dutch missionary first used it in the 1600s, J. Hudson Taylor, one of the most influential pioneering missionaries of the 19th century, made the phrase a staple in missions.
The Great Commission references one of the most important mandates given to the global church by Jesus Himself right before His ascension. If we were to ask Jesus, “What is the global church’s mission until your second coming?” Jesus’ answer would be found in the Bible book of Matthew. After Jesus’s death and resurrection, and before His ascension to heaven, Jesus gathered his disciples and followers, telling them this:
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations [Greek: ethnos], 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.” – Matthew 28:18-20
The books of Mark (Mark 16:15-18), Luke (Luke 24:44), and John (John 20:19-23) share similar accounts.
Why are we taking the gospel to all people? Why is this significant?
Before Jesus came, the message God revealed to man had been almost exclusively for the Jewish people. Despite promising Abraham that all nations would be blessed through his lineage (Genesis 22:18), this only found fulfillment in Jesus. The message of salvation through Jesus was for all people that through one nation, all nations would be blessed! This concept of global blessing was a massive shift for Jesus’s Jewish followers and simultaneously a fulfillment of age-old promises. What the Old Testament had prophesied was now coming to pass.
“For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For My name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.” – Malachi 1:11
Jesus’s followers were starting to see the big picture of God’s great story for the whole world. As the maker of all things, God had always intended to reveal a redemption plan for the whole earth! He had encrypted his glory into every tribe as all creation waited for God to reveal Jesus, the restorer of all things. As people respond to Jesus with repentance and love, God’s glory is seen throughout the world! And only when worship arises from every distinct culture and language is there a full manifestation of Jesus’s beauty and glory in the earth.
According to Habbukkuk 2:14, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” This was always what God’s redemption story was leading up to. Finally, it was being revealed by Jesus, the One who could reconcile the whole world to God through His finished work on the cross! The mandate we refer to as the Great Commission was a mind-blowing revelation for His disciples! God was telling his people, “see what the story has been leading up to? It’s for every people group to know my love and restoration through my son Jesus!”
The disciples were also told to wait in the city until they had received the promised Holy Spirit.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”- Acts 1:8
In order to take this message throughout the world, they needed a Helper, and Jesus promised in John 16:7-15 that He would send them the Spirit to empower them as they declared the truth and love of Jesus. When the Spirit falls on the disciples in Acts 2, we again see the focus on the mandate given by Jesus to take this good news to all nations. Immediately the disciples, under the power of the Holy Spirit, begin speaking the languages of people across the world, declaring the wonders of Jesus! Acts 2 tells us that the diverse people gathered in Jerusalem were astonished and amazed as each heard the gospel in their own language!
The Holy Spirit begins to empower followers of Jesus to take the good news to every corner of the earth. And it starts with translating the message! God wanted every people group on the planet to hear the wonder of Jesus in their language. He wanted them to know this story was for them! It was part of their culture, tribe, and language’s redemption story that would fill the whole earth with God’s glory!
But there’s more.
What happens when we take the message of Jesus to the whole world?
This is an essential question. In Matthew 24, Jesus shows His disciples how to recognize the signs of the times and gives them the promise of His second coming. In verse 14, He says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
All wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, and pestilence are said to be no cause for alarm, “for this must take place, but the end is not yet…all these are but the beginnings of the birth pains” (v6-8). The true marker, the sign preceding Jesus’s imminent return, is the gospel being proclaimed throughout the whole world! In our longing for Jesus, in our mourning over all the injustice in the world, we are given this gospel to proclaim. These are Jesus’s instructions to His followers, and they are the sign He provides for His return.
The gravity of that is immense. What are we meant to be doing in Jesus’s absence? Making Him known in all the earth! Going far and wide if need be. Making disciples and teaching all He has shared with us. Introducing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, baptizing people into a relationship with the Living God! This is what is going to usher in the return of Jesus.
Who does the Great Commission apply to?
We often refer to those who have not heard the message of Jesus as “unreached” by the gospel. An unreached people group is an identifiable group of people who share a distinctive culture and language who lack a community of Christians able to evangelize the rest of the people group without outside help. The only opportunity for the people group to hear about salvation is through an “external witness.”
What is the task ahead? What do we need to do to fulfill it?
There’s a lot to do. And lately, the number of missionaries to unreached people groups has been dropping. So let’s start with breaking down the task. There are approximately 17,440 identifiable people groups on the earth today. Out of that, 7,414 are considered unreached (just over 42%). But there are only 13,315 global missionaries working among unreached people groups. To put that in perspective, that is about one missionary for every 216,300 people. We have work to do!
A lot of that work starts with translation. Out of the 7,000 languages spoken or signed worldwide, only about 10% (700) have a complete Bible translation. And 2,000 languages have no Bible whatsoever translated into their language!
How do I say “yes” to the Great Commission?
While acknowledging our unique giftings, desires, and talents, we also recognize that we have a common cause in Christ. Regardless of your specific assignment from God in this season, it is the calling of every believer to make Jesus known in all nations. And whatever we are doing on a micro level in our community through giving and worship should contribute to the body of Christ, saying “yes” to His global mandate.
Guidelines exists to fulfill the Great Commission! As we translate and distribute evangelistic and discipleship resources, we want to engage your talents and passion for expanding this work globally. We need you to help us spread the word, pray, and give. We hold Christ’s instructions and His work on the earth as precious while we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come!” This is the overflow of love and obedience for Jesus. Loving God with one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves both find expression in declaring His goodness to all creation!
Despite the massive task before us, this generation also has resources and technology, unlike any previous generation. We can reach the most remote and hostile regions on the planet. Let’s give, let’s proclaim, let’s share the word, let’s pray, and let’s go–until every tribe and tongue sing together, “Salvation belongs to our God!” Amen.