“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow all that I commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”Matthew 28:18-20
R each. Teach. Minister. Of these three Sunday School fundamentals of First Baptist Dallas, reach is the logical first imperative. We must reach people before we can teach and minister to them. Without reach, teach and minister do not matter. So, what does Matthew 28:18-20 have to do with the imperative, reach?
In verse 18, Jesus declared to those who were gathered with Him: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” Often overlooked, this verse is the key to understanding the entire passage. It states clearly that God gave Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth. Jesus, in turn, authorized and empowered His disciples to fulfill His great commission.
Many have understood that the imperative in the Great Commission is the verb go. Certainly, Christians are called to go wherever God leads them to reach others for Christ. But what if go is not the imperative in this passage? What if it is not even an active verb? This could change the way we understand Christ’s great commission and help us to discover His intended method of reaching and keeping individuals through the ministry of Sunday School.
So what, exactly, did Jesus commission His followers to accomplish? Verse 19 reveals this to us. In Greek, poreuomai (going) is a passive participle which modifies the second-person plural imperative verb matheteuo (disciple). Disciple, then, is the one and only imperative in this passage, while going, baptizing, and teaching—all actions that are inherently part of the disciple-making process—are participles referring back to the imperative verb disciple. Jesus commissioned His disciples (and us) to make disciples.
Am I saying, then, that the Great Commission is not a call to global evangelism? Consider for a moment that it is possible to disciple a person to conversion. Missionaries and church planters all over the world have been discipling others to conversion for decades. Evangelism is inherent in discipling. Disciples share the gospel, invite its hearers to repent and believe the message, baptize them once they are saved, and teach them to obey Christ. This is how the Church grows.
Jesus’ great commission was disciple! He established His Church with and through His disciples and discipline is how it continues to grow today. Discipling is the root, and the church is the fruit! No root, no fruit! No disciples, no church!
Reach, then, according to the Great Commission, involves making disciples who will make disciples, and so on, and so on, ad infinitum!