It is difficult to imagine entirely what must have been going on in the minds and hearts of Jesus’ disciples following His death and burial. When the eleven disciples first heard about Jesus being alive they were locked up in a room overcome with fear (John 20:19). One of the difficulties they must have dealt with was the discouraging thoughts of “this seems so final,” and “this must be the end.” In a similar way family members of loved ones today face the discouragement of how death seems final, but the truth is that death is really the beginning. How quickly the ten disciples fear, minus Thomas who later believed, turned to gladness when they saw the risen Lord, “And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20). It is indeed a wonderful beginning for believers as Jesus was the “first fruits” of those that died (1 Corinthians 15:20). The meaning of “first fruits” is that there would be more to follow, and those that place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will also live victoriously after death.
The eleven disciples had gone where Jesus told them and once they saw the resurrected Savior again, some of them responded with worshiping Him while the others doubted (28:16-17). D.A. Carson believes that those who doubted were probably disciples beyond the eleven. However, Craig L. Blomberg believes that those who doubted were certain disciples within the eleven because they did not know how to react to seeing the risen Lord. It seems that since the disciples had already believed in Jesus due to prior post resurrection sightings, that it was more probable that the ones who doubted were individuals outside the eleven. Regardless of exactly who doubted, it is important to understand what these disciples were witnessing and the uncertainty that naturally ensued by some. It is highly possible that some of the uncertainty could have included not recognizing Jesus, fear of how Jesus would have responded to them, hesitancy to go against their Jewish belief of worshiping anyone but Yahweh, or confusion of “how to behave in the presence of a supernaturally manifested, exalted, and holy being.” It is important to keep in mind what the disciples faced during the time of the crucifixion and resurrection, and it is more important to realize the significance of the initial disciples knowing that Jesus completed the work He willingly chose to endure. The resurrection is without a doubt the most important and most powerful event in human history.
Should we be silent about the victory that is available through the Lord Jesus Christ? Jesus left his disciples with a commandment that included what His followers were supposed to do then, and what His followers should continue to do today.
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 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: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen (Matthew 28:18-20).
Jesus provided his disciples with a clear mandate that began with a statement proving that He had the authority to give such a command. James Montgomery Boice wrote about the scope of Jesus’ authority which includes “authority in heaven, authority over spiritual forces, authority on earth, authority over His disciples, and authority over the nations.” As God, Jesus was the only one qualified to give the disciples a command just before His ascension back to the Father.
The command “Go ye” is not to a select group like pastors, evangelists, or missionaries, but is given to all followers of Christ without exclusion. The word “therefore” points back to His authority, and what Jesus basically said as He began to give his commission was “because I have all authority, I am telling all my disciples to go.” The command did not originate from a pulpit or a church leader; it came straight from God Himself. Yet the way many today treat the Great Commission you would think the “go” of the commission was not for the individual people who make up the church.
Many laity and clergy no longer see the church as the instrument to reach the world. They mistakenly believe that the television and radio airwaves, the nationwide media blitzes, or the mass-evangelism rallies are the only effective way to respond to the Great Commission and reach millions of unreached. Few perceive their own congregation as having the potential for being God’s instrument to reach their community.
Jesus made it clear that He expected each of His followers to go, and a church made up of individuals that intentionally chose to be Great Commission minded will prove highly effective since it is God’s plan.
When Jesus gave the command to “go” to His followers, He did not intend that individual believers not meet together since they must “go.” The church was established by Jesus because He meant for His own to meet together for reasons given by the author of Hebrews, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). If believers only “go” and neglect meeting together with the community of faith, then they will lack the benefits of being encouraged to love, good works, and exhortation. John Stott shared a story about a Scottish minister who was visiting a member of his church who had been absent from worship. There was not a word shared during the visit, but as the man stared at the fire in the fireplace, the minister took the tongs and removed a piece of coal from the fire. It did not take long for the coal to lose its glow and fire; however the coal got its power and glow back after the minister put it back in the fire. The man got the point of the strong illustration and returned back to church the next Sunday.  Stott wrote, “The Christian fellowship is not only an article of faith and a glorious reality; it is also an enormous help. Our church membership exerts a stabilizing influence on us.” When we are faithful to meet together with other believers, then we can effectively “go” the way that Jesus commanded. Those who “go” without being associated with or faithful to a local assembly are guilty of minimizing a people that they should desire to be included with, especially since Jesus Himself established and died for the church.
There is an error in overemphasizing “go” over “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” The Greek word used for “teach” is “matheteuo,” and means “to be a disciple of one” and “to follow his precepts and instructions” as well as “to make a disciple.” Because of the meaning of the Greek word “matheteuo,” The New International Version translates the first part of Matthew 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” The “make disciples” is not emphasized as it should be, “when all attention is centered on the command to ‘go,’ as in countless appeals for missionary candidates, so that foreign missions are elevated to a higher status of Christian service than other forms of spiritual activity.”  The Lord Jesus Christ expects every one of His followers to serve Him by intentionally going out and making more disciples. These disciples are not just people who say some prayer just to stay out of hell, but they understand that the true meaning of being a disciple is following the instructions of Jesus, the Master Teacher. Jim Petersen wrote about how the eleven disciples would have wondered if Jesus was serious when He commanded them to take what He taught them to every people on earth, but “Jesus was thinking generations when He gave the command to the eleven.” A disciple must understand that he or she should “go and make disciples” because Jesus’ command was not only for the eleven, but for subsequent disciples from generation to generation.
It is amazing how the church today makes fulfilling the Great Commission so complex when it is so simple. It seems that if we have a big campaign that collects big offerings with a “big shot chairman executive officer pastor” stirring people with his charisma, then we have done our part in obeying Christ’s command to “go and make disciples.” Certainly campaigns that raise money for missions are important, but should be supplemental to Christ’s command instead of the only effort made. Peteresen wrote the “characteristic pattern of the kingdom at work: low profile, low maintenance, no need for press coverage, just go to people. And they did.” A good place for church members to start is to go to family members, neighbors, and co-workers; these are individuals that church members come in contact with every week but neglect “go” to. A seminar or weekend retreat is not needed to explain the simplicity of obeying Christ’s command to “go make disciples,” just go to people.
The mention of “baptism” proves the seriousness of becoming a disciple. Becoming a disciple is not being talked into something or saying “yes” to a few questions so someone can go to heaven. Carson wrote that baptism “is a sign both of entrance into Messiah’s covenant community and of pledged submission to his lordship.” Like the Ethiopian Eunuch after his conversion, someone who understands the great news of the burden of sin being lifted should not be hesitant to be identified as a follower of Christ through baptism. Baptism does not make a person a disciple, but when someone becomes a follower of Christ they should be baptized since this is characteristic of a true disciple who desires to let the world know that they have decided in their hearts to follow Jesus. The baptism is to be done “in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the Holy Ghost” because the disciple now identifies with God as part of God’s family. Some have stated that Matthew took the liberty to add the trinity to what Jesus had said was in “my name,” but Blomberg stated that “by using the fuller description current in his own day, who shall say that he seriously misrepresented our Lord’s intention?” The important fact is that as a follower of Christ, a believer identifies himself as part of the family of God and also one who adheres to the teachings of Jesus through baptism.
Not only is “baptism” important but so is “teaching.” Jesus did not just state that there should be teaching, but clarified what should be taught. A disciple should be taught the things that Jesus taught with the understanding of keeping Jesus’ teachings. The Greek word “tereo” that is translated “observe” in Matthew 28:19 is also translated “keep” fifty seven times in other verses of Scripture. No harm is done to Matthew 28:19 if someone was to read the verse as “teaching them to keep all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Like baptism, teaching does not make someone a disciple, but it is characteristic of someone who is a follower of Jesus.
Jesus ends His command with the assurance that He will be with His disciples as they seek to obey “go and make disciples.” The assurance of Jesus’ promise to be with His disciples makes clear that Jesus is not expecting his followers to look to or depend on the flesh. The fact that Jesus will be with His followers links back to the opening chapter when Jesus took on flesh through the virgin birth and was to be called Emmanuel, “God with us.” The sad thing is that many today act as if Jesus is not with them as they attempt to carry out the Great Commission. There seems to be a mentality today of “only the preacher and select leaders can effectively perform the Great Commission.” Carson Pue wrote about the importance of vision and teamwork and gave the following definition of a ministry team: “A ministry team is a group of interdependent people committed to a common purpose who choose to cooperate in order to achieve exceptional results for the glory of God.” A body of believers with a team concept of fulfilling the Great Commission with the understanding that each individual has the Lord Jesus with them can effectively reach people in the community, nation, and world.
A sad reality though is that many are not doing their part to “make disciples.” The Barna Research Group recently did a survey where they asked people to describe their goals in life.
Almost nine out of ten adults described themselves as “Christian.” Of those surveyed, four out of ten said they were personally committed to Jesus Christ, had confessed their sins, and believed they will go to heaven after they die because of God’s grace provided through Jesus’ death and resurrection. But not one of the adults we interviewed said that their goal in life was to be a committed follower of Jesus Christ or to make disciples. (This survey, by the way, included interviews with pastors and other church leaders as well as hundreds of people who regularly attend church services and programs.)
Church members must realize that as Disciples of Christ, they are commanded to “go make disciples.” Also church leaders must not give themselves too much credit in believing that since they are “more mature” or “more qualified” than laity, only they should “go and make disciples.” Howard and William Hendricks wrote, “Sometimes the disciples became masters themselves and developed their own followings. But Jesus’ command to His followers to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ is distinctive in that Jesus remains the Master, the Discipler. He wants people who are recruited to the faith to remain His disciples, His learners.” The truth is that each individual disciple has the ability to reach persons that others could not reach.
Each disciple has all that he or she needs in fulfilling Christ’s command, and that is Christ Himself. The process is simple, go to people. God help our churches to reach out to the lost together as a team who relies on Jesus Himself to provide the needed strength as well as produce the results. Instead of depending on the pastor to go witness to lost friend, Jesus’ way is for each church member to “go” to that individual to share the gospel.
 All Biblical citations will be from the King James Version unless otherwise noted.
 D.A. Carson, “Matthew” in Expositors Bible Commentary, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 594.
 Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew in The New American Commentary, vol. 22 (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1992), 430.
 James Montgomery Boice, Christ’s Call to Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1998), 160-162.
 Win Arn and Charles Arn, The Master’s Plan for Making Disciples: Every Christian an Effective Witness through an Enabling Church, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 10.
 John Stott, Christian Basics: An Invitation to Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 99.
 Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (Peabody: Hendrickson,  2002), 386.
 Craig L. Blomberg, New American Commentary, 431.
 Jim Petersen, Lifestyle Discipleship: The Challenge of Following Jesus in Today’s World (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1993), 178.
 D.A. Carson, Expositors Bible Commentary, 597.
 Craig L. Blomberg, New American Commentary, 434.
 Carson Pue, Mentoring Leaders: Wisdom for Developing Character, Calling, and Competency (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 149.
 George Barna, Growing True Disciples: New Strategies for Producing Genuine Followers of Christ (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook, 2001), 7-8.
 Howard Hendricks and William Hendricks, As Iron Sharpens Iron: Building Character in a Mentoring Relationship (Chicago: Moody, 1999), 182.