By Marvin J. Newell
Dr. Marvin J. Newell has spent over 45 years engaged in Christian missions. He is presently Ambassador at Large of Missio Nexus, an association of missions in North America. He is the author of five mission related books, the newest: A Third of Us: What it takes to reach the Unreached.
Jesus is known to us in many ways. We know him as prophet, priest, and king. We know him as the Savior of mankind, the Redeemer of the world. We know him as a miracle worker, an unparalleled teacher, and a sympathetic friend to the downtrodden and oppressed. Most importantly, we know him as the true Son of God.
But many miss the fact that Jesus was also a mission mobilizer. In fact, Jesus was the very first mission mobilizer and did it par excellence! Following his resurrection, Jesus spent the next 40 days mobilizing his disciples for mission. During that time Jesus met with his disciples on several different occasions. He did this so that he might impart to them instructions that were critical to the evangelization of the world. He was preparing them for a movement that would globally spread like none other. And his success in mobilizing these homegrown disciples was crucial to that end.
Accordingly, his final weeks with them was filled with instruction about the up-coming worldwide mission which they, by his Spirit, were to inaugurate. By understanding the context around the following passages, we can see how Jesus unfolded that mission to the disciples.
The 5 Mobilizing Instructions
On the evening of resurrection day, Jesus met with ten distraught disciples in a room somewhere in Jerusalem (Jn. 20:19). For reasons we do not know, Thomas was absent and Judas was dead, making only ten disciples present. At that meeting Jesus gave the briefest of his missional instructions, found in John 20:21: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” In those two short sentences Jesus gave the model for how the disciples were to conduct themselves while on mission – by emulating the person and character of Jesus himself.
Eight days later (Jn. 20:26), while still in Jerusalem and with Thomas present, Jesus gave to the eleven disciples the added information found in Mark 16:15: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” It was then that Jesus informed them of the magnitude of the task: all the world (geographically), whole creation (i.e. each individual).
About a week later he met with the disciples a third time after they had gone to Galilee. It was at this point that Jesus passed along the most detailed of his instructions, recorded in Matthew 28:18-20: “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.” By those words Jesus relayed to them the goal of their mission (making disciples of the nations) and the methodology to accomplish that goal – by their going, baptizing, and teaching.
Approximately two weeks later, on the eve of his ascension, after the disciples had returned to Jerusalem, Jesus gave the instructions found in Luke 24:46-47: “Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Here Jesus imparts to the disciples the essence of the message they were to proclaim, making very clear that the content of their message was to be centered on repentance and forgiveness of sins.
Finally, possibly after an interval of only a few short hours, after walking out of the city to “the mount called Olivet,” Jesus gave his farewell instruction recorded in Acts 1:8, a moment before his ascension: “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.” By this final statement Jesus made clear the three means the disciples were to employ while on mission: empowerment by the Holy Spirit, the geographic plan of expansion, and the necessity of human instrumentality (“you” 3X).
Thus, the chronological order of the mobilizing instructions given to the disciples is as follows:
Why This Order?
Why would Jesus have given his missional instructions to the disciples in this order? Remembering the tension of those days and fragile emotional state of the disciples, there are several considerations that help make sense of this number and order:
- He wanted to incrementally impart to the disciples information about their next mission, so they could adequately grasp and comprehend it. Incremental information, the process of adding a little more detail at each successive setting, allowed the disciples time to slowly digest the essence of what Jesus was conveying to them. This was to be a life-long task which they were being asked to engage. They were to start a global movement. They needed to get it right.
- The disciples were in no frame of mind to absorb in one sitting the full measure of instruction he was passing along to them. The recent events of Jesus’ trials, death and resurrection had left them traumatized! They were in a state of uncertainty and confusion. They were in no condition to comprehend all the details of their new assignment which entailed the model to emulate, the magnitude of the task, the methodology to follow, the message to proclaim, and the means to employ. Therefore, Jesus wisely spoon-fed the information to them in bite size portions, as it were, so that they would be capable of digesting it.
- By teaching through repetition, Jesus was emphasizing its importance. He was showing them how crucial to the plan of redemption their new task really was. Just as a parent warns or instructs a child several times about an important matter so that its seriousness is captured, so Jesus employed this pedagogical method to impress upon the disciples the importance of the task ahead of them.
As a masterful mobilizer, Jesus did not give these instructions to the disciples all at once in one sitting. This was too important a teaching to be handled so quickly. There was too much of a chance for misunderstanding. There was too much detail to be absorbed. There was the risk that it would not become a priority to them and consequently they never would have carried it out.
What becomes fascinating when spending time in these passages is to discover how they contain all the essentials necessary for successful mission in any age. Successful mobilization demands proper information and it is hard to improve on what Jesus gave the disciples as he mobilized them for the most important and far-reaching movement ever.