What is the Great Commission?

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The Great Commission

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20

The Mission of God

The Great Commission is only a part, albeit a crucial part, of all that God is doing. From the entire story of the Bible, the grand redemptive story, we see that there is a larger missio dei, a Latin phrase meaning the “mission of God.” From the opening line of “In the beginning” to the closing “Amen,” the Bible tells the story of God’s mission to redeem humanity and creation. As Christopher Wright says, “The whole Bible is itself a ‘missional’ phenomenon…”

The Bible renders to us the story of God’s mission through God’s people in their engagement with God’s world for the sake of the whole of God’s creation. Mission is ultimately about what God is doing, which is not limited to what man does. However, the Great Commission is man’s role in God’s greater work. God is working to bring all creation back to himself, but he gives a specific command within that greater work for his people to proclaim the gospel of Jesus.

As Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert write, “there are certain things that God intends to do one day that we are to have no part in. . . . There were also certain elements of Jesus’ mission during his first coming that were unique to him. We have no part, for example in dying for the sins of the world.” Our role is to be a witness of God’s mission in Christ. We understand the Great Commission best then if we understand it as part of God’s mission.

God’s Mission and His Witnesses

When we place Matthew 28:18–20 in the context of God’s mission and Matthew’s structure, we can see why many have labeled it the Great Commission. In it, we reach the top of a mountain, literally and “figuratively, seeing all that Christ has done for mankind and all that Christ will do. We also see our glorious, life-encompassing marching orders from our Savior.

Although the title “Great Commission” is not in the original New Testament manuscripts, it faithfully captures the heart of Jesus’s words, just like the word “Trinity” faithfully captures the Bible’s understanding of God’s being, character, and identity. Jesus has sent his disciples to continue his mission and to be witnesses to the great work that God is accomplishing. One day God will complete his mission and his followers will enter into God’s perfect rest to enjoy him forever. Until then, we have work to do!

This post is adapted from 40 Questions about the Great Commission. Be sure to check out additional titles in our 40 Questions series and related topics in biblical studies and theology throughout our blog. If you are interested in adapting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We also consider requests for blog and media outlets.

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“This is a book on the Great Commission from every conceivable angle. The more I read it, the more excited I became. The writing is clear and concise. The arguments are compelling. The implications are inspiring. This is a book for anyone who wants to obey Jesus’s final command to make disciples of the nations.”

Steve Addison, author of The Rise and Fall of Movements: A Roadmap for Leaders

“Excellent! Simply excellent! Akin, Merkle, and Robinson have produced a comprehensive, scholarly, yet, easy-to-understand work for the Church. Biblical, inspirational, and practical! The authors dig deeply into the Great Commission mine and, page-after-page, keep bringing up gold!”

J.D. Payne, Samford University


About Author

Daniel L. Akin is President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. George G. Robinson is Associate Professor of Missions and Evangelism and Richard and Gina Headrick Chair of World Missions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Benjamin L. Merkle is Professor of New Testament Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, series editor of the 40 Questions series, and author of 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons.

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