What is the "Great Commission"?
In 2018, Barna surveyed a sample of U.S. churchgoers asking them whether or not they had “heard of the Great Commission.” The results of the survey revealed that 51% of respondents did not know the term, 25% had heard of the term but could not recall what it meant, and 6% were not sure. Ultimately, only 17% of those surveyed indicated that they had heard of the term and were able to define it. Again, an astonishing 83% of surveyed churchgoers were not familiar with the “Great Commission.”
This statistic is a tragedy and one I don’t want to be true of our church. So, in this post, I want to give a very basic definition of the term “Great Commission.”
If you have more questions about the Great Commission, I would highly recommend the helpful book, 40 Questions About the Great Commission by Daniel L. Akin, Benjamin L. Merkle, and George G. Robinson.
Biblical Foundation of the “Great Commission”
The term "Great Commission" is actually not found in the Bible and no one really knows who coined it, however, most Bibles have it as a heading over at least one passage of Scripture. Matthew 28:18-20 is most traditionally associated with the Great Commission. In it, we read:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (ESV)
After Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, and before his ascension, Jesus gives his disciples a task; he commissions them to go and make more disciples throughout the world.
While Matthew 28:18-20 is the most commonly referenced passage when speaking of the Great Commission, it is not the only one. We can find four other New Testament texts that contribute to a fuller picture of our missionary task. They are:
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
…and [Jesus] said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
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 to the end of the earth.
Taking all of these passages into account, we can assemble a basic definition of what is known as the "Great Commission": The Great Commission is Jesus’ sending of the church, in the power of the Spirit, to make disciples of all nations until the end of the age, that is, until he returns.
We, the church, have been "commissioned" to a "great" task. We are to "make disciples of all nations." To understand this calling better, let's break down that phrase a bit more.
First, Jesus commissions the church to “make disciples.” Disciple-making is the heart of the Great Commission. This includes evangelism, baptizing new converts, and teaching them, all of which inevitably plants new churches. It is to this task that the church is to give its primary attention in this age.
Second, the scope of our commission is global. We are called to reach "all nations." There is no people group on earth to whom the Church should not move with the gospel. The good news of God's work in Jesus is good news for everyone. No one is excluded from the invitation to come to Christ for forgiveness and abundant life. We should be concerned, then, for those people groups around the world with little to no access to the gospel and do what we can to see that they have a greater chance to hear and respond to the good news of Jesus.
The Great "Participation"
While the Great Commission is often attributed to those New Testament verses listed above, we shouldn't be tricked into thinking that mission is a new idea. In fact, all of redemptive history is about mission. "Mission began with God, is sustained by God, and will culminate with God. Mission is not an activity developed by the church; rather, the church participates in God's mission. Mission belongs to him." (J.D. Payne, Theology of Mission, 9). From Genesis to Revelation we see the work of God in redemptive history to redeem sinful humans and recreate the heavens and earth. The Great Commission, then, is an invitation that God extends to you and me to participate in his work around the world.
The challenge for all of us is to consider in what ways we are participating in the mission of God to make disciples of all nations. Are you participating?
Know that Jesus has commissioned us to a great task, but we are sent by and with a great Savior.
 “51% of Churchgoers Don’t Know of the Great Commission.” Barna, March 27, 2018. https://www.barna.com/research/half-churchgoers-not-heard-great-commission/.