“And having come to them, Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Going, therefore, disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things which I have commanded you; and, look, I am with you all the days, until the completion of the age.’” Matthew 28:18-20 (literal translation of the author from the Greek)
Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day. He was exalted to the right hand of God the Father in heaven, a position of power and glory in which he fills and rules over all things for the benefit of His Church, all who believe in Him and trust in Him for salvation. He pours out His Holy Spirit, who, through the Scriptures, reveals to us our sinfulness and the punishment we justly deserve and then reveals to us God’s offer and promise of pardon and forgiveness through faith in Christ our Savior.
He entrusts His disciples (us included) a commission to disciple the nations. He told them and He tells us: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Going, therefore, disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things which I have commanded you; and, look, I am with you all the days, until the completion of the age.”
I don’t often retranslate a Bible passage from the Greek but, in this case, it is helpful to understand what it is Jesus is telling us. And most Bible translations come a bit short in conveying the full message of this passage.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that English doesn’t really have a verb form of the noun “disciple.” A disciple is a student and follower of a teacher. And, as in the case of Jesus’ disciples, a disciple follows his teacher and learns everything he can about his teacher’s doctrine and life so that he can be like his teacher, holding to the same beliefs and views and emulating his teacher’s life.
The King James Version and many of the older translations used the word “teach” for the verb form of disciple since teaching is the main function of a teacher with his disciples. Some confusion and misunderstanding resulted from the KJV translation because Jesus’ great commission also includes teaching people to observe all that Christ taught and commanded, but the Greek word for teaching is not the same as the Greek word for the verb form of “disciple.”
Most more modern versions translate the Greek verb disciple as “make disciples.” While that may be a bit closer to the original meaning, we are reminded by Scripture that we do not make anyone a disciple of Jesus. That is the gracious working of God the Holy Spirit, working through His Word.
English translations often fail, as well, to reflect the Greek construction of Jesus’ great commission. It includes one main verb, “disciple,” and three participles which show us how we are to disciple the nations, the “ethne” or ethnic family groups of the world: by going out; baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and by teaching them to observe all that Jesus taught and commanded.
And the fact that this command was not just for the eleven apostles is made clear from Jesus’ word and promise assuring us that He is indeed still with us throughout all the days of this age.
Jesus’ great commission certainly reflects discipling or making disciples of the true God, the Triune or Three/One God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and yet one God.
Jesus, the eternal Son of God and Creator of heaven and earth was made man and redeemed us by His death on the cross. He died that we might be pardoned and forgiven through faith in His name and have access to the Father. In fact, there is no other way to come to God the Father but through faith in Christ Jesus, God the Son! Cf. John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 1:3.
Jesus poured out upon His disciples and all who believe His Holy Spirit — it is the Spirit who reveals to us who Jesus really is and brings us to trust in Him and His cross for salvation. And, we are baptized into the name of the one true God — in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 28:19; Deut. 6:4ff.). To be baptized into the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38-39) is to be baptized in the name of the Father and the Holy Spirit as well for God is one and Jesus commanded baptism in the name of the three Persons of the one Godhead. And, as the Scriptures promise, God works through baptism in His name to join us to Christ in His death and His resurrection and to wash away our sins and make us His own dear children through faith in Christ Jesus (cf. Titus 3:4-7; Acts 22:16; Gal. 3:26-27).
As believers, Christ has entrusted us with the task of discipling the nations for the Triune God. We do this, not through church-growth programs or through having exciting and emotion-stirring styles of worship. We do this by going out into the world and encountering people of all ethnicities and nations. We do this by baptizing in the name of the Triune God. We do this by teaching all that Christ taught and commanded as given to us in His Word, the Bible.
What does this mean for pastors and believers today? Christ Jesus has entrusted us with the great task of being missionaries to people of all nations and ethnicities. And to disciple them, we need to go to them with the Gospel promises of forgiveness and life through faith in Christ Jesus, baptize them in the name of the Triune God, and teach them all that Christ teaches in the Bible.
And, Jesus has not left us alone in this great task. He has promised us that He is present with us, even to the end of this age.
O gracious Savior, we thank You for Your death upon the cross to redeem us and make us Your own. Keep us trusting in You that we might be disciples of the true God and also disciple the nations for You. Amen.