Examining the Great Commission

by Jefferson David Tant

Among the most familiar Bible passages that are known and memorized, are the words Christ spoke to his disciples before he returned to his home that he left 33 years before. There is more to the passage than memorized words, and we want to give some thought to what Christ said.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20).

"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18).

If Christ has “all authority” with respect to salvation, and to the church which he established, his spiritual body, that means there is no individual or body of men who has the right to change anything that has been revealed. In a discussion Christ had, he made a statement that is very clear: “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18).

Some might question, asking how do we know that God didn’t reveal more things after that first century? I believe the answer is seen in Christ’s words in John 16:12-13: "I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.

If the Holy Spirit revealed to the disciples “all the truth,” that means there was no new truth or doctrine to be revealed in later times. We are warned that there will be false prophets who will lead people astray. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (I John 4:1).

And the closing words of the New Testament are very clear as to what we are to do about God’s revelation to us. “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).

This being true, then what do we make of the catechisms, doctrines, creeds, and manuals of the 42,000 denominations that exist today, all claiming to be Christian? It can be proven that every one of them differs from the Bible in some way, and they all differ from one another.

Consider an example from Hiscox's Standard Manual for Baptist Churches. One of the confusing statements in this Manual is on page 22: "It is most likely that in the Apostolic Age when there was but 'one Lord, one faith, and one baptism,' and no differing denominations existed ... 'baptism was the door into the church.' Now, it is different ... The churches therefore have candidates ... give their 'experience,' and then their reception is decided by a vote of the members."

Who said it was now "different?" My Bible reads the same as it did in the first century, and “voting” to receive members is not in it. Galatians 3:27: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” The Bible teaches that the spiritual body of Christ is the church, and we are baptized into Christ, not voted into Christ.

Now consider a statement in the Methodist Church Discipline: “We have therefore expected that the Discipline would be administered, not merely as a legal document, but as a revelation of the Holy Spirit, working in and through our people.” If that is true, then Christ’s promise to the apostles did not happen. Christ told them that the Holy Spirit would guide them into “all the truth.” But according to the Discipline, that didn’t happen. Which do you choose to believe? I choose Jesus Christ.
We could go on for page after page, but consider one more example -- the practice of the Catholic Church requiring their clergy to be called “Father.” What did Jesus say about this? “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). Christ is not referring to our fleshly fathers, but with respect to religious titles. So, who am I going to follow, Christ or the Pope?

All of this has to do with the authority of Christ. If it is true that Christ has “all authority,” then no man, church, or creed has the right to change one letter of what has been revealed. Any change is the work of Satan.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19)

The world is lost in sin and destined for final destruction in the fires of hell. Christ gave up the glories of heaven to come and live as a simple man on earth for 33 years to provide for us the hope of salvation. He suffered rejection and a horrible, painful, and shameful death. What have we done to deserve this precious gift? I can’t think of any reason why anyone, much less the Son of God, should die for me. And if I have been the recipient of this great gift, shouldn’t I want to share it with others?

This commission was given to the apostles, and it is amazing to see the spread of the gospel in the first century. We know that 3,000 were baptized on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, and that number soon came to be 5,000 men in Acts 4:4, and then in Acts 12:24 “…the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.” No trains, cars, airplanes, telephones, internet, radio, etc. Travel was on land by camel or horse or by walking.

Baptizing them” (Matthew 28:19)

The New Testament was originally written in the Greek language, the common language in that day, thanks to the work of Alexander the Great when he conquered the known world in the 4th Century, B.C. The word “baptize” comes from the Greek “baptizo,” which Strong’s Greek Dictionary translates as “to immerse, submerge; to make whelmed (i.e. fully wet).”

All Greek scholars agree with this definition and agree that immersion is what was practiced in the early days of the church. But in time men found it more convenient to sprinkle or pour water than follow what the Bible said. If the Bible says that baptism is an immersion, by what authority was it changed to pouring or sprinkling water?

The Roman Catholic Church admits baptism by immersion was practiced till 1311 AD:

  1. "Baptism took place by immersion in ancient times." (New Interpretation of the Mass, p. 120).
  2. "Catholics admit that immersion brings out more fully the meaning of the sacrament, and that for twelve centuries it was the common practice." (Question Box, p. 240).
  3. "Baptism used to be given by placing the person to be baptized completely in the water: it was done in this way in the Catholic Church for 1200 years." (Adult Catechism, pp. 56-57).
  4. The church at one time practiced immersion. This was up to the thirteenth century. The Council of Ravenna, in 1311, changed the form from immersion to pouring." (Our Faith and the Facts, p. 399).

Question: By what authority did the Council of Ravenna change the practice from immersion to pouring? Would it have been by the authority of Christ, or by the authority of Satan?

"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19)

The passage reads that baptism is done “in the name of’ (by the authority of) the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The article “the” precedes each of the terms, thus indicating that the Godhead consists of three separate beings. This goes against denominations that insist there is only one person in the Godhead, who is known by three different titles or terms.

But the Word says there are three beings. Consider Christ’s baptism by John. “And after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." (Matthew 3:16-17)

Note that Christ came up from the water, and a voice spoke from heaven. That seems to be two beings unless Christ was a ventriloquist and fooled those standing near by projecting his voice from the heavens. Then the Holy Spirit descended and rested on Christ. If that was not truly the Holy Spirit taking the form of a dove, then I guess Christ was a magician.

Another thought on baptism is the fact that various denominations today do not practice any sort of baptism. This would include the Salvation Army, the Christian Science Church, and others that claim to be Christian. Note that Christ commanded the apostles to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…” It is clear that included in the command to “go” was the command to “baptize.” Are we at liberty to choose which commands to obey and which to ignore? I asked a man from the Salvation Army why they didn’t baptize. He really didn’t know, but finally said something to the effect that “I guess we don’t want to impose western culture.” I was not aware that baptism was a “western culture.” I thought it originated in the Middle East where Christ was.

This topic is also related to infant baptism, which is practiced by various denominations. We find no example of this in the New Testament. We do find that those baptized have been taught and have been told to repent. Do babies understand what is happening? The Bible indicates that babies are born innocent, without sin. They do not inherit sin from Adam. Consider Ezekiel 18:20: “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.

This passage argues against the ‘inherited sin’ doctrine. Furthermore, in Christ’s teaching, he held little children as innocent and said we should be like them. “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

There are those who claim “Holy Spirit” baptism for today. But Ephesians 4:5 says there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was for a limited time in revealing the Word of God and empowering the preaching of the gospel before it was written. But its purpose has been served, and God’s word says there is now only one baptism, not two or more.

Teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:20)

Just what was it that Christ “commissioned” or “commanded” the apostles? It was “go make disciples, baptize them, and then teach them to do what I have commanded you.” If I understand plain English (or Greek), that means that every Christian is to be active in spreading the gospel. It is not the responsibility only of the preacher. Yes, I know that not all are supposed to standing in the pulpits on Sunday delivering a sermon. That’s not the point.

Consider the spread of the gospel in the first century. On Pentecost people had come to Jerusalem from some 15 or 16 nations. We remember the thousands who were baptized on Pentecost were from these many nations (Acts 2). It seems evident that some of those new converts must have remained in Jerusalem for a time, probably to learn more. Then in Acts 7, we have the stoning of Stephen. It is interesting to note what followed.

And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house; and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:1-4).

Those new Christians who had stayed in Jerusalem for a time now understand it’s time to go home. And off they went to Rome, Antioch, Capernaum, etc., etc. Note that the apostles were not of that number, for they stayed in Jerusalem, at least for a time. And what did the disciples do when they went back to their home countries and cities? The text says those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”

Jacob went home and started talking to the blacksmith who made horseshoes for his horse. Mark talked to the policeman who patrolled his neighborhood. Mary talked to her hairdresser and her next-door neighbor. Didn’t Matthew 28:20 say that’s what was supposed to happen? Weren’t they carrying out the Great Commission? Notice what Paul wrote in Colossians 1:23 when he wrote of “the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.

Consider that this was written just some 30 years after Acts 2, and the gospel had already spread to the whole known world. No internet, no fast travel. So how was this done? It is called personal evangelism, which is what Jacob, Mark and Mary were doing. And doesn’t Christ’s command in the Great Commission apply to us in the 21st Century as well? If not, why not? In the Day of Judgment, if your neighbor is standing next to you and hears the words “Depart from me,” will he turn to you and ask “Why didn’t you tell me?” And what will your answer be? Dear reader, the Great Commission is given to all of us, every Christian. I have known of 11-year-olds teaching schoolmates, and 100-year-olds teaching their assisted living friends. Dear Reader, what are you doing to fulfill the Great Commission?

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