The Five Great Commissions
The important and often overlooked feature they all have in common
You’ve all heard of the Great Commission, right? Maybe not. Prior to the pandemic, a 2018 study by Barna Research titled Translating the Great Commission discovered that 51% of Christians didn’t know the term, 6% weren’t sure, and 25% didn’t understand what it meant. Only 17% of Christians had both heard of and understood the Great Commission.
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What is this “commission” again?
A commission is defined by dictionary.com as “the act of committing or entrusting a person or group of people with supervisory power or authority”. The greatness of the commission is when it is given by none other than Jesus Christ. To be fair, the Barna statistics are a bit misleading.
While only 17% of Christians understand the great commission, the Evangelical community fares a bit better at 60%.
But think about this for a moment. 40% of Evangelicals, a group largely defined by their shared belief in the experience of salvation, centrality of the Word of God, and emphasis on spreading the good news of Jesus have no recollection of the Great Commission. It doesn’t ring a bell.
The most famous Great Commission passage is probably Matthew 28:18-20 where Jesus commands His apostles to “go and make disciples” and then outlines a process for making it happen. But the Great Commission is bigger than Matthew 28. In fact, there are five passages that deserve mention.
The five commissions
I want to encourage you to slow down for a moment and read all five of these passages word for word, and ask God to give you new insight. I spent some time a few weeks ago meditating on each, and the words in bold really spoke to me.
“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.”
“Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
“He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
“15He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the end of the earth.”
What did you notice? The call to make disciples is local and global. It begins wherever we find ourselves and continues to the ends of the earth. It is a commission focused on the good news of Jesus and carries his authority and power. We are a sent people. But there is another common thread that deserves more attention. We are not called to do this alone.
An Incredible Gift
In John 20, the disciples are huddled together, trembling, and in fear of the Jews. The door is locked and they are uncertain of their future. Jesus appears and announces peace for their restless hearts and commissions them with a gift. “Receive the Holy Spirit”, he says.
The disciples are gathered again, this time on a hillside in Matthew 28. It appears “some doubted” and the fears continue to linger. Jesus approaches them and says, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me” and then reminds them of the gift they have been given. The Holy Spirit will be with them “always, to the very end of the age”.
Luke reiterates the commission of Jesus in Luke 24 and Acts 1 by highlighting the power of the Holy Spirit. The disciples must wait until they have been “clothed with power from on high” and in Acts they are promised to “receive power” when the Holy Spirit has come upon them. Finally, Mark 16 describes the visible manifestation of this supernatural power and the signs of healing and deliverance that will follow.
“A composite view of the five great commission passages reveals a common thread. Disciple making is designed to be accomplished in partnership with the Holy Spirit and in his power.”
Not only is the Holy Spirit our partner in ministry, but he does most of the work! Our job is to simply step out in faith and listen to how he is leading. Here are just a few of the roles of the Holy Spirit in the process.
He is our helper and counselor.
He will convict.
He will guide.
He is our teacher.
He changes hearts.
He indwells us.
He gives us his fruit.
He provides us with spiritual gifts.
He intercedes for us when we don’t know how to pray.
He is with us in our doubts.
He performs miracles, signs, and wonders.
He empowers us for the mission.
He sanctifies us along the way.
He will be with us always, even to the end of the age.
Today, as you walk in your calling to make disciples and mobilize disciple makers, I want to invite you to lean into the Holy Spirit by reminding yourself of his role in the process. I close with a prayer of Paul to the Ephesians when he writes, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph 3:16-17).
May the Spirit empower you today as you live out the Great Commission.