By Ryan Shaw
What is the Great Commission? I have asked this question in many countries among many groups around the world. And have received about the same number of varied responses. If believers and churches around the world have their own ideas and thoughts about what the Great Commission is, it is difficult to move forward with effectiveness.
We want to beware of taking people’s ideas of the Great Commission and return to what Jesus had to say about it. This is one reason why there are so many varying thoughts related to it. I want to spend the next few weeks’ worth of articles seeking to understand what the Great Commission is from the perspective of Jesus’ words in the four Gospels.
In the four Gospel’s there are four distinct “commission” passages. Together, these create a cohesive whole of what the Great Commission is. These commissions clearly portray the priority of the body of Christ between the time of Jesus’ first and second comings.
We have tended to focus primarily on Matthew’s words (Matthew 28:18-20) in our understanding of what Jesus calls His church to be about. Matthew’s recording of Jesus’ commission on its own does not give the whole picture, however. We must also consider what Mark, Luke and John include as the recorded words of Jesus related to the Church’s commission. In this way we find unity of vision, yet with particular necessary points of emphasis.
If limited to focusing on one of the passages to the neglect of the others we hinder our understanding and capacity to fulfill His commission. To some degree the church has failed in her responsibility to Jesus’ Great Commission due to this lack of considering the cohesive whole of our glorious calling.
The Great Commission is actually four separate commissions – each stressing crucial elements of the whole. This is not to be understood as Jesus giving us four of the same commission –just using different words.
They are actually four distinct “commissions” that together form the entirety of Jesus’ “Great Commission”.
The four Gospel books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, each under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, highlight different points of emphasis. This is true in relation to the Great Commission passages but also in relation to their viewpoints throughout their gospels.
For some this is a problem as it is thought the passages contradict one another. This is not the case at all. Instead, in every way these four men were different. They have different personalities, different backgrounds and different perceptions.
The four gospel accounts are four natural and honest impressions made upon these four different men of Jesus Christ, His ministry, teachings and glory. The Holy Spirit used these differences to bring to the surface the differing elements He wanted to highlight.
One of the most important principles of interpretation of the four commission passages is grasping the core intent and purpose of each particular Gospel. To effectively understand what Jesus is calling us to in each commission we must discern His intent in that particular book as a whole.
Due to the importance of this we want to lay out the central purpose of each gospel in a very concise way. This will enable us to rightly discern the overall meaning of the commission passages in the coming weeks.
The Gospel of Matthew – The Ultimate King in His Authority. The purpose of Matthew’s gospel is to reveal that the Kingdom of God has come, manifested through the life of the King, Jesus Christ. The book introduces the nature of the Kingdom of God, its demands on its followers and the vision of its ultimate fulfillment through the second coming of Christ.
The Gospel of Mark – The Sacrificial Servant. Mark reveals Jesus as the mighty miracle working servant of God. Instead of demanding service, Jesus demonstrates service as God. Jesus is revealed through His work accomplished in victorious spiritual power. He is not perceived as King per se’, but as One willingly getting dirty while serving people.
The Gospel of Luke – The Picture of the Perfect Human Being. The revelation of the perfect humanity of Jesus as the ideal human being is the primary purpose of Luke. We find in Jesus the perfect realization of humanity according to the divine purpose. Jesus is the perfect manifestation of what humanity was meant to be before the fall.
The Gospel of John – The Perfect Manifestation of the Father. The purpose of John is to present Jesus as the eternal God, who became a man to point people to His Father. He is seen constantly reflecting the glory of His Father. Through Jesus we see God, understand God and come to a complete vision of the knowledge of God.