Yesterday morning we considered the Great Commission from Matthew 28, and although we referenced both Luke’s and Mark’s presentation of the Great Commission, we did not compare all four versions of this command. Yet each version provides us with some unique content, both about the command and about the role God plays in the process. So let’s consider the unique element of each text before pulling them together into one succinct statement.
The Emphasis of each Commission
Matthew 28:18-20: Matthew is the most well-known version of the four presentations of the Great Commission and lays the foundation for all four because it emphasizes the goal: make disciples. Jesus has promised that He is going to build His church from people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and the gates of hell will not prevail against them. Rooted in this confidence, Jesus commands us to make disciples, knowing that He will bear fruit through our labors. Our mission is simple: make disciples through evangelism and discipleship.
Mark 16:15-18: The imperative in Mark’s version of the Great Commission emphasizes the method: Preach the gospel. It is through the foolishness of the Word preached that men come to be saved (1 Cor. 1:18-25). We are called to preach the gospel to all creation, knowing that some will accept and some will reject. Mark does not emphasize results. He simply exhorts us to share our faith. Those who believe will be saved, those who reject will receive the just consequences of their sin by being condemned. The results is God’s business. Our responsibility is to proclaim the message.
Luke 24:44-49: Luke’s first presentation of the Great Commission emphasizes the message we preach. Luke ties the gospel to the Old Testament (vs. 44, 45) and explains Christ’s redeeming work (vs. 46) in relation to sinful man (vs. 47). It is this content that we proclaim (vs. 47) and bear witness to (vs. 48).
Acts 1:6-8: Luke’s second presentation of the Great Commission emphasizes the strategy: witnessing everywhere. All four versions contain the scope of our mission. Matthew tells us to make disciples of all the nations. Mark says go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Luke says that this gospel message should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations. But what these accounts state generally, Acts gives specifically. The witness of the gospel would begin in Jerusalem, spread to Judea, then to Samaria, and ultimately to the remotest parts of the earth. We would do well to follow this strategy today, focusing on local, regional, and global evangelism.
The presence of God in Each Commission.
In the same way each commission speaks to the single mission of making disciples from various angles, they each bring a unique perspective on God’s presence in the fulfillment of the mission.
Matthew: Matthew highlights Christ’s authority, adding weight to the command. The supreme Ruler of heaven and earth has ordered it. This also adds weight to the promise of verse 20; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. This is comforting and empowering, for He has all authority. Thus the message and the mission are rooted in His power not ours, and is therefore guaranteed to succeed.
Mark: Mark emphasizes how God will supernaturally work through His people as they preach. Verses 17-18 are hotly debated as some use them to validate snake handling and other crazy notions, but that is not the point. The point is that the divine message will be validated by divine power…something we see happening in the ministry of the Apostles in Acts. The significance is that this demonstrates that God will move with power through His people as they proclaim the Word of God.
Luke: Luke emphasizes how Jesus will send the Father’s promised Spirit to the disciples. In fact, they were not to launch out onto their mission until the promised Spirit came. Instead, they were to wait for Him in Jerusalem. In this text, each member of the Trinity is involved, while the emphasis lies on the coming of the Helper.
Acts: While Luke’s gospel emphasizes the promise of the Holy Spirit, Luke’s narrative emphasizes the Holy Spirit’s empowerment of the disciples to witness. The reason they were to wait in Jerusalem for the Spirit to be given to them was because they needed His power to faithfully fulfill their mission.
Bringing it all Together
Thus, we can synthesize the content of the four versions of the Great Commission in this way:
The mission of the church is to make disciples (Matthew) by preaching (Mark) the message of Jesus Christ (Luke) to the whole world (Acts), baptizing those who respond (Matthew) and teaching them to obey Christ (Matthew). The church is under the authority of Christ (Matthew) and enabled by the Holy Spirit (Acts) whom the Father has promised (Luke) to proclaim the message with divine power (Mark).
That is our mission. The field is white for harvest. May we be faithful to labor diligently at the task entrusted to us.