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 me end of the age. (Mat 28:18-20)
Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved, but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who have believed; in My Name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues, they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; and they will lay hands upon the sick and they will recover. (Mark 16:15-18)
Most Christians are familiar with these verses as we have read and heard about publishing and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. This is the great commissionas is commonly titledfrom Jesus Christ given to His church. Indeed, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is the main focus and rallying point for many church organizations. But, is this a correct application of these particular Scriptures?
A case in point: read these scriptures in your own Bibles, again, to see if you find the words, "Kingdom of God" mentioned. Although we can acknowledge that much of the scripture is given in brief summary form, the Kingdom of God is not specifically included, according to these texts. Don't misunderstand what is being said here, the future coming Kingdom of God is a part of the Gospel message, and this is clear from Matthew 24:14 and many other scriptures, but it should not be the primary focus of the great commission message, as given to us in Matthew 28 and Mark 16 above.
As a matter of fact, there are also other gospel messages mentioned in the scriptures which are part of the "good news" of Jesus Christ, but again, they are not the primary focus of what is commonly referred to as "The Great Commission." For instance, the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1); the gospel of grace (Acts 20:24); the gospel of God (Rom. 1:1); the gospel of peace (Rom 10:15); the gospel of salvation (Eph 1:13) to name some additional messages of the good news.
What then is this so-called "Great Commission" given to the church? What is Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15-18 saying to us? It is "...go therefore and make disciples..." and in doing so the good news messages will be taught. The goal or end result will be disciples. In the light of examining ourselves, we must ask, "Is the church accomplishing this responsibility of making disciples?
This is the purpose of this paper: To define what our responsibility is before Godwhat he expects of His disciples according to the scripturesand to examine whether or not we are fulfilling Jesus' words to usthe called out ones, the church.
Mark 16: Spurious?
Before we get into this, we must address the issue of Mark 16:15-18, being inspired and in harmony with Mat 28:18-20, as quoted above. Those scholars who canonized the holy Bible felt that it should have been included. Some of the more modern scholars have said, and I quote from the NIV Bible, "The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-29." Of course, there are many other areas and words in the canonized Biblewhich most of us use as our study Biblesthat do not appear in "early manuscripts: and are therefore "suspect" as to their accuracy. One question that is asked to determine whether or not these types of "scriptures" are relevant is, "Is the message consistent and supported by other parts of the Bible which are included in the early manuscripts?
Regarding miracles, even a casual reading of the book of Acts shows us that there are many instances of miracles in the New Testament performed through the disciples, "...and these signs will accompany those who have believed..." (i.e., disciples). Also, the apostle Paul said to the Corinthians, "The signs of a true apostle were performed amoung you, with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles"(II Cor 12:12). Paul had been developed, through much time and suffering, into a mature stage of discipleshipan apostle, or "one sent" be God to do His will.
It is consistent that the account of "The Great Commission," as recorded in Mark 16, is in harmony with Matthew 28, is compatible with many other scriptural teachings, and therefore relevant to the New Testament church today, just as it was when Christ first gave His assignment to the early disciples.
Also, the word "gospel" is not mentioned in Matthew's account, but is included in Mark's account, and because this word is used consistently in many other places in the scriptures, it is correct to include the good news messages as part of the great commission of "making disciples."
What is a Disciple?
Now, let's address the issue of "What is a disciple?" If His "called out ones" (the church) are instructed, indeed, commanded to "Go therefore, and make disciples...", then we should understand the meaning of the words disciple and discipleship.
The Hebrew (is 8:16) carries the meaning, "...instructed; trained; accustomed; learned; taught;skilled." In the Greek it is, "to be a pupil; to enroll as a scholar; to instruct; to teach; to be a followera learner who becomes attached to the teacher."
To get into the meat of this matter, we need to understand and appropriate Jesus' standards of discipleship. No where was our Lord Jesus more explicit and firm than when He discussed discipleship:
"And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matt 10:38-39).
..."If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it" (Luke 9:23-24).
"If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples" (John 15:7-8).
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32).
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).
If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple ... So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.(.Luke 14:26-27, 33).
These are hard words, are they not, especially when applied to ourselves? But Jesus knew His standards, and He was clear about what he wanted accomplished with His disciples. Meditate on them and make them part of you.
Discipleship is a process of purification (Tit 2:14) and includes at least seven identifiable standards that Jesus set forth for His people:
Each one of these seven standards for discipleship deserves special individual consideration, and therefore are beyond the scope of these notes to you.
However, the first one, "Take up his own cross..." is the foundation for the other six standards, and until a disciple correctly understands and appropriates the cross, the others cannot be fully developed by the holy spirit.
Very briefly, we should know how not to take up one's cross. Christians need to understand that bearing the cross does not refer to the trials or troubles which we sometimes call crosses. It does, however, refer to the daily giving up of lifedying to the selfwhich must mark us as much as it did the Lord Jesus. We need this "marking" in times of prosperity almost more than adversity.
We must cease to confuse the word, "a cross" with "the cross". Sometimes believers in self pity bemoan themselves and say, "I have taken or must take up my cross and follow Jesus." Would that we would lose sight of our cross in His cross. Then His cross becomes our cross; His death, our death; His grave, our grave; His resurrection, our resurrection; His risen life, our newness of life. No, taking up our cross does not mean the stoical bearing of some heavy burden, hardship, illness, distasteful situation or relationship. Enduring anything of this nature is not bearing one's cross. Taking up the cross may or may not involve such things, but things do not constitute our cross.
In Romans 6:1-11, Paul gives us the direction we are to take to make the cross our very life. Study and meditate on these verses for yourself and see if you have truly and deeply "identified" yourself with Jesus Christ to the point that He is manifesting His life in your mortal flesh (IICor 4:11). Paul set the example for us and as he reached a higher state of spiritual maturity he was able to confidently say to us, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal 2:20). This is the believer's cross, and this takes much time and the best of our attention during this physical life we have been given, "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Eph 5:15-16).
Is the Church Fulfilling this "Great Commission?"
To answer this truthfully, we must further ask more probing questions. "How many believers do we know (including ourselves) that are now walking in Christ, and living up to the standards that He has set for His disciples, according to the scriptures?" Also, "How many believers do we know that have witnessed to us the power of Jesus Christ with signs, wonders and miracles?"
If the gospel messages are part of "The Great Commission," and they are, according to Mark 16:15-18, so too is the manifestation of signs, wonders and miracles, "...and these signs will accompany those who have believed...." In context, this is speaking specifically about believers who are also disciples, and there is an important distinction to be made here. All believers are part of the body of Christ, and all believers are useful within His body. However, the disciple is a believer who has been developed into a more useful servant of God, those who are going through the purification process and are "...zealous for His good deeds" (Tit 2:14).
Even though this explanation may make some in the body feel at ease about themselvesseemingly letting you off the hook of discipleshipthe question before us still, "Is the church fulfilling this 'Great Commission' and making disciples in all creation?"
If the answer is "Yes" then these disciples are well hidden from the majority of Christianity, as we know it today. (Look again at the standards of Jesus and the commission given in Matthew 28 and Mark 16.) And this is a sad state of affairs because, by all outward appearances, the church has missed the mark on this one.
We need to examine ourselves in light of Jesus standards, We need to apply what it tells us in Jude 3 and "...contend earnestly for the faith that was once delivered to the saints."