The most popular account of Jesus ‘final’ words to his disciples make up what is popularly referred to as the “Great Commission.”
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you:” – Mat 28:19-20
Most often it’s meaning is boiled down to a few words: all nations, name, and teaching. The rest of the verses cause no little controversy in the doctrinal beliefs of those who wish to follow it, and for good reason. There are crucial elements of the gospel missing from the passage as well as unwanted elements added.
“Teach all nations”
It is commonly agreed that we are to evangelize all the world. However, how many know that through the covenants and promises, God had separated Jews from Gentiles so that Israel would not be “reckoned among the nations”.
“… lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.” – Numbers 23:9
God’s chosen people were to be separate from the Gentiles who were the “all nations”. It was God’s promised purpose to bring salvation to “all nations” through his blessed people of Israel (Gen 28:14). This is why Jesus told his disciples as they were to go to all nations with the gospel of the kingdom they were to begin at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47).
“Baptizing them in the name”
It was before anyone considered Jesus’ cross and resurrection that John the Baptist came baptizing Israel for the remission of sins. Their sins were being washed away by this water ceremony. Jesus baptized more than John and yet no one yet understood his then future death and resurrection (Luke 18:33-34).
Peter taught a message of baptism for the remission of sins at Pentecost in accordance to Jesus’ instructions. It was the same message of washing sins away that was first presented to Paul from one of Peter’s fellow disciples (Acts 22:16).
It is clear that every time water baptism is taught it is explained as being for the remission of sins. This controversial phrase has caused embarrassment to many who will link water baptism in some way to our gospel mission even today.
“Teaching them to observe all things…”
Don’t we all want to be obedient to our Lord? Yet, a discerning mind can understand that we should not, nor can we obey every instruction from God in the Bible. God has given progressive instructions regarding even simple things such as what meat we can eat.
In his ministry to the circumcision Jesus taught them not to take any scrip for their journey (Luke 9:3). The same Lord Jesus gives the opposite instructions thirteen chapters later (Luke 22:35-36).
Meanwhile, Jesus was clearly referring to the observing of the laws and commandments that he taught during his ministry.
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do;” – Mat 23:2-3
A Greater Commission
Matthew 28:19-20 was the great kingdom commission given to the twelve judges of the coming kingdom (Mat 19:28). It contained the commission to be used at the fulfillment of the covenants to Israel. It is missing the gospel of the grace of God.
Most do not know that these were not the final words of Jesus. He would later return to another Apostle and send him to minister under a higher commission with a greater gospel.
“And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;” – 2 Cor 5:18
Instead of gospel of the kingdom, baptism, and observance to the law, Paul was given a ministry of reconciliation to preach the gospel of the grace of God. The gospel of grace explained how all men, without the law, without water baptism, and without a covenant could receive forgiveness and eternal life through faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This was the first time anyone had been sent with the gospel of the glorious mystery meaning of the cross work of Christ. It remains our commission today. A greater commission from a later appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ to the apostle to the Gentiles.