Matthew 28:16-20 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 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.”
If someone asked you what the most important word in the Great Commission was, what would you tell them? “Go”, right? That was my answer, as it is for most people. It turns out that Jesus didn’t actually say, “Go,” or at least he didn’t say it as a command. There is only one command in the passage and that is to “make disciples.” Here’s how it works grammatically –
All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus. Therefore,
Make Disciples [of all nations]
Baptizing [them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit]
Teaching [them to keep everything I commanded you]
The point is not going; the point is making disciples. Going is simply required to get to people; it’s hard to disciple someone you aren’t in contact with.
Matthew often writes this way. Let me give you some examples to illustrate my point:
Mat. 6:6 And shutting your door, pray to your Father who is in secret (is shutting the door or praying the goal?)
Mat. 9:18 But coming, lay your hand on her and she will live (was the goal to go to her or restore her?)
Mat. 17:27 Going to the sea, cast the hook and take the first fish that comes up (going to the sea isn’t the goal, catching the fish is.)
The English translations translate the participle “go” because that is how we talk. As English speakers, we wouldn’t say “going therefore, make disciples…” I understand why translators translate that way, but it’s confusing. Translating it “go” makes people think it is a command when it’s only a part of fulfilling the command.
The other thing that is regularly missed is what evangelism is about. The goal of evangelism is discipleship. Discipleship consists of baptizing and teaching people. Baptism brings people into the Christian community. This aspect of discipleship is about increasing the Church quantitatively. The other aspect is teaching people to keep Jesus’ commandments. This aspect of discipleship is about increasing the Church qualitatively. The Church is to be a people who follow Jesus’ example of loving, humble service.