28:19 Some claim that the later difficulty of the church in accepting a Gentile mission is evidence that Jesus never issued this command. But the slowness of the disciples to grasp and implement the words of Jesus was not unusual (15:17; 16:9; Mk 9:32); they experienced a process of growth in obedience as any other group might have. Furthermore, the main problem in Acts and Paul’s letters is not whether there ought to be a Gentile mission but under what conditions that mission ought to be carried out.
28:19 The command to extend their mission worldwide brings to a climax Matthew’s repeated theme of Gentile participation in God’s salvation. The inclusion of four Gentile women in Jesus’s genealogy and the summons of the magi to worship the infant Christ foreshadowed the disciples’ mission of making disciples of all nations. Baptism marked a person’s entrance into the faith community. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is a reference to the Trinity. Matthew’s language shows that a clear understanding of Jesus’s nature and identity as God was required before baptism.
28:19 Go therefore. The Great Commission is given on Christ’s authority. Since Christ’s dominion is universal, the gospel must go to the whole world. This commandment is the primary reason for evangelism and missions.
nations. The same Greek word often translated “Gentiles.” The great promise that in Abraham all the nations would be blessed (Gen. 12:3) is ready to be fulfilled.
baptizing them. See note 3:6. Those who become disciples are baptized in (lit. “into”) the triune name. There is one name (not “names”), and one baptism; Father, Son, and Spirit are one God. Disciples are baptized “in” this name because they belong to God, having been brought into the new covenant that expresses the will of the triune God. See theological note “The Sacraments.”
28:19 The imperative (make disciples, that is, call individuals to commit to Jesus as Master and Lord) explains the central focus of the Great Commission, while the Greek participles (translated go, baptizing, and “teaching” [v. 20]) describe aspects of the process. all nations. Jesus’ ministry in Israel was to be the beginning point of what would later be a proclamation of the gospel to all the peoples of the earth, including not only Jews but also Gentiles. The name (singular, not plural) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an early indication of the Trinitarian Godhead and an overt proclamation of Jesus’ deity.
28:19 therefore. I.e., on the basis of His authority, the disciples were sent to “make disciples of all the nations.” The sweeping scope of their commission is consummate with His unlimited authority. in the name of the Father … Son … Holy Spirit. The formula is a strong affirmation of trinitarianism.
28:19 “Go” This is an AORIST PASSIVE (DEPONENT) PARTICIPLE used as an IMPERATIVE. This should not be interpreted “as you are going” because this would translate a PRESENT IMPERATIVE, not an AORIST. “Going” may be the most accurate option. All Christians are commanded to be lifestyle witnesses (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15 and possibly Col. 4:2–6). It is a priority. This is the Great Commission—not the Great Option.
“make disciples” This is an AORIST ACTIVE IMPERATIVE. The term “disciples” meant “learners.” The Bible does not emphasize decisions, but lifestyle faith. The key to evangelism is discipleship. However, discipleship must start with a repentant faith profession and continue in the same way unto obedience and perseverance.
“of all the nations” This must have been a shocking statement to the Jews, but it follows Dan. 7:14 which speaks of a universal, eternal kingdom (cf. Rev. 5). Notice the number of times that the inclusive “all” appears in this paragraph.
“baptizing” This is a PRESENT ACTIVE PARTICIPLE used as an IMPERATIVE. This is balanced with “teach” (v. 20). The two purposes of the Church are evangelism and discipleship. They are two sides of one coin. They cannot and must not be separated!
“in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” Notice “in the name” is SINGULAR. The name of God is Triune (cf. Matt. 3:16–17; John 14:26; Acts 2:32–33, 38–39; Rom. 1:4–5; 5:1, 5; 8:1–4, 8–10; 1 Cor. 12:4–6; 2 Cor. 1:21; 13:14; Gal. 4:4–6; Eph. 1:3–14, 17; 2:18; 3:14–17; 4:4–6; 1 Thess. 1:2–5; 2 Thess. 2:13; Titus 3:4–6; 1 Pet. 1:2; Jude 20–21). See Special Topic at 3:17.
The baptismal formula of Acts 2:38, “in Jesus’ name,” cannot be exclusive of the Great Commission. Salvation is a series of acts both initial and continual: repentance, faith, obedience, and perseverance. It is not a liturgical formula or sacramental procedure.
19, 20a. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in(to) the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. We might say that this passage is of such fundamental significance that something should be said about each word or combination of words.
This stands in rather sharp contrast to “Go not” of 10:5. Cf. 15:24. It is clear that the particularism of the pre-resurrection period has now definitely made place for universalism. Not as if Jesus has changed his mind. It is very clear from the story of the non-Jewish wise men (2:1–12), who came to worship the newborn King, and from such other passages as 8:11, 12; 15:28; 21:43; 22:8–10, that from the very beginning the evangelization of the world was included in the purpose of God. See also John 3:16; 10:16. Matthew too, as has been pointed out, had nothing less than this in mind. But as was stated in connection with 10:5, “In God’s plan it was from Jerusalem that the gospel must spread out among the nations.” Cf. Acts 1:8. Therefore the divinely instituted order was, “To the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). The time to make earnest preparations for the propagation of the gospel throughout the world had now arrived.
“Go” also implies that the disciples—and this holds for God’s children in general—must not concentrate all their thought on “coming” to church. They must also “go” to bring the precious tidings to others. Of course, they cannot “go” unless they have first of all “come,” and unless they keep coming as well as going. They cannot give unless they are willing to receive.
This has already been explained in connection with “The Great Claim.” Briefly it means: Go, a. because your Lord has so ordered; b. because he has promised to impart all the needed strength; and c. because he is worthy of the homage, faith, and obedience of all men.
Literally the original says, “Having gone, therefore, make disciples.…” In such cases the participle as well as the verb that follows it can be—in the present case must be—interpreted as having imperative force. “Make disciples” is by itself an imperative. It is a brisk command, an order.
But just what is meant by “make disciples”? It is not exactly the same as “make converts,” though the latter is surely implied. See above on 3:2; 4:17. The term “make disciples” places somewhat more stress on the fact that the mind, as well as the heart and the will, must be won for God. A disciple is a pupil, a learner. See on 13:52. Also, see on 11:29 for words related to it in the English language.
The apostle, then, must proclaim the truth and the will of God to the world. It is necessary that sinners learn about their own lost condition, God, his plan of redemption, his love, his law, etc. This however, is not enough. True discipleship implies much more. Mere mental understanding does not as yet make one a disciple. It is part of the picture, in fact an important part, but only a part. The truth learned must be practiced. It must be appropriated by heart, mind, and will, so that one remains or abides in the truth. Only then is one truly Christ’s “disciple” (John 8:31).
Not every person who presents himself as a candidate for church membership should immediately be accorded all the rights and privileges pertaining to such membership. There are expositors who place all the emphasis on “The wedding-hall was filled with guests” (Matt. 22:10). They forget verses 11–14.
“Of All the Nations”
See above, under the heading “Go.”
“Baptizing Them in(to) the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”
The main verb is “Make disciples.” Subordinate to this are: a. baptizing them, and b. teaching them. In such a construction it would be completely wrong to say that because the word baptizing precedes the word teaching, therefore people must be baptized before they are taught. It is rather natural that baptizing is mentioned first, for while a person is baptized once (ordinarily), he continues throughout his life to be taught.
The concepts “baptizing” and “teaching” are simply two activities, in co-ordination with each other, but both subordinate to “make disciples.” In other words, by means of being baptized and being taught a person becomes a disciple, with the understanding, of course, that this individual is ready for baptism and is willing to appropriate the teaching.—The context makes very clear that Jesus is here speaking about those who are old enough to be considered the objects of preaching. He is not here speaking about infants.
To be ready for baptism requires repentance (Acts 2:38, 41). It requires “receiving the word” (Acts 2:41). This also shows that a certain amount of teaching must precede being baptized.
The baptizing must be into the name—note the singular: one name; hence one God—of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. A name, as indicated previously—see on 6:9; 7:22; 10:22, 41, 42; 12:21—represents the one who bears it. “Being baptized into the name of,” therefore means “being brought into vital relationship with” that One, viewed as he has revealed himself.
Should we baptize “in” or “into”? The debate on this has already lasted many years. Now since even in English—at least in conversational style—“in” frequently has the sense of “into”—“Children, come in the house”—a decision on this point may not be quite as important as some try to make it. Nevertheless, all things considered, I believe “into” is defensible. Neither “into” nor “in” is necessarily wrong. A good case can be made for either. But when we say, “I baptize … in the name of,” this could be understood to mean, “I baptize at the command of,” or “on the authority of,” which certainly is not what is meant. 1 Cor. 1:13 seems to mean, “Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” Similarly verse 15, “… baptized into my name.” Cf. 1 Cor. 10:2. And so here in Matt. 28:19, “into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” makes good sense.
Not as if the rite of baptism as such brings a person into vital union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But, according to Scripture the following are true: a. circumcision was a sign and a seal of the righteousness of Christ accepted by faith (see Rom. 4:11 in its context); b. baptism took the place of circumcision (Col. 2:11, 12); c. therefore baptism, too, must be regarded as a sign and a seal of the righteousness of Christ accepted by faith.
Accordingly, when through the preaching of the Word a person has been brought from darkness into light, and confesses the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to be the one Object of his faith, hope, and love, then the sacrament of baptism is the sign and seal that God the Father adopts him as his son and heir; that God the Son washes his sins away by his precious blood; and that God the Holy Spirit dwells in him, and will sanctify him; actually imparting to him that which objectively he already has in Christ, and at last bringing him from the Church Militant into the Church Triumphant.
Baptism, therefore, is very important. The one who submits to it, if sincere, is proclaiming that he has broken with the world and has been brought into union with the Triune God, to whom he intends to devote his life.—For “Infant Baptism” see on 19:15.
“And Teaching Them to Observe All That I Have Commanded You”
As already remarked, this teaching both precedes and follows baptizing. The early church insisted that before the person to whom the gospel had been proclaimed be admitted to membership he give evidence of genuine repentance and of knowledge of the basics of Christianity. “The early church was interested in edification as well as evangelism, in sanctification as well as conversion, in church government as well as preaching.”
That such teaching should not stop when a person has been baptized is clear from the words, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” Think of:
a. All of Christ’s marvelous discourses.
b. All of his parables; both a. and b. including ever so many “commands,” whether implied or expressed. Among them are:
c. Precious “sayings,” such as: “Abide in me … love each other … also bear witness” (John 15:4, 12, 27); “Love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44); “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
d. Specific predictions and promises or assurances: “He who comes to me will in no way get hungry, and he who believes in me will in no way get thirsty” (John 6:35); “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good courage. I have conquered the world.” Notice the implied directives for Christian conduct.
e. Add to this: the lessons on the cross, hypocrisy, proclaiming the gospel; on prayer, humility, trust, the forgiving spirit, the law.
f. And is not even the narrative of Christ’s sojourn on earth—the account of his healing, traveling, suffering, death, resurrection, etc.—full of implied “commands”?
“Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,” what an order! First of all for the eleven and for all ordained teachers; but certainly in a sense also for the entire church, the whole membership. Every true member is a witness-bearer.
In view of the fact that after Christ’s ascension there was some hesitancy on the part of Christian leaders to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles (see Acts 10:14, 28; 11:1–3, 19; Gal. 2:11–13), there are those who believe that either the Great Commission is itself a myth, or else the church quickly forgot about it. They contend that in the book of Acts, the epistles, and the book of Revelation no trace of its influence can be detected.
How can we be so sure of this? Do not the following passages testify to the possible influence of, among other factors, the Great Commission? See Acts 2:38, 39; 3:25; 4:12; 10:45; 11:1, 18; 13:46–49; 14:27; 15:7–11, 12, 13–19; 17:30; 19:10; 21:19, 20a; 22:15, 21; 26:15–20; 28:28; Rom. 1:5, 14–16; 11:32; Gal. 2:9; 3:28; Eph. 3:8, 9; Col. 3:11; 1 Tim. 1:15; Rev. 7:9, 10; 22:17.
Ver. 19. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations.—
A plea for missions:—There are many lessons in these words. 1. A lesson as to the result of death. Some thought that death had taken all “power” from Christ. They that follow Christ as well as the Master are not robbed by death; but on the other side of it they say, “Power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” 2. The reward of labour. The reward of toil is a call to a wider task, to conquer the world for Christ. 3. The cure of doubt. “But some doubted. And Jesus said, Go ye, and preach the gospel.”
I. The largeness of the Saviour’s purpose—“Go ye, and teach all nations.” What an amplitude there is in the gaze of Christ. What a reach in His merciful design. Calvary has not robbed Him of His love. With the freshness of the resurrection power upon Him, He bids men to look at mankind and conquer the world for Him. Our hearts are wofully small, and the little heart projects its littleness into everything at which it looks. From this littleness of hope and faith lift up yourself to the dream of the Saviour. His eye has never rested upon the man of whom He despaired.
II. The lowly methods which Christ adopts—“Go ye, therefore.” The instrumentality is weak only in our conception of it. Christ knows what the gospel will effect. Christ is a true force, and can touch the heart. He knows the power of the cross in its very gentleness. He chose men to preach it. He knew the weakness of the twelve; He also knew the power there is in each one of us; He knew the power of sympathy to enter the soul.
III. The encouragements to obey the Saviour’s call—“All power is given unto Me.” “Lo, I am with you always.” Error says, “All power is given unto me.” Sin, death, say the same. But truth says, “All power is given unto Christ.” All things work together on behalf of the gospel.
IV. How this charge has been obeyed. (R. Glover.)
Each church contributing to the mission-plan of God:—It has been a constant joy to me that from year to year this church has been one of its affluents; and as the Amazon does not disdain any side-stream which rolls its treasure into the bosom of that ocean river, so every single church, every side-stream, is not disdained that rolls its golden sands into this great movement which is the river of God that is fertilizing the whole globe. (H. W. Beecher.)
The work of the Church:—
I. The nature of the work which Christ has entrusted to His Church. 1. Work of spiritual enlightenment. 2. Work of ingathering into His Church. Manifold, yet one. Let us arouse ourselves to the duty of gathering all suitable persons into its fellowship. 3. Work of incitement to holiness. As holiness is characteristic of God, so it ought to be of His people. Thus the work is rapidly sketched by the Redeemer.
II. The extent of the work Christ has committed to His Church. Christ’s preaching prepared the way for the doctrine of universal brotherhood. No people, near or remote, are to be neglected. This distinguishes Christianity from all other systems of religion. It is not let them come if they will and receive the gospel, but go forth, leave all, and proclaim the gospel, &c.
III. The encouragements to the work which Christ has entrusted to His Church. There are many discouragements in the execution of this commission. “The kings of the earth have set themselves together,” &c. 1. The power of Christ. We have might as well as right on our side. 2. The presence of Christ. (A. A. Southerns.)
I. A great truth was revealed—“All power,” &c.
II. A great trust was imparted. 1. They were to make disciples of all nations. 2. They were to administer the ordinance of Christian Baptism. 3. They were to instruct their converts in the mind and will of the great Master and Saviour. “Who is sufficient for these things?” III. A great promise. (J. R. Thompson.)
The great commission:—
I. The nature of the command. 1. It gives authority for missionary undertakings. 2. Obedience to it is a test of a disciple’s love. 3. Connected with the Saviour’s promise—“I am with you.” 4. It is binding until Jesus comes again.
II. What encouragement is derived from it? 1. Encouragement as to God’s purposes concerning our fallen world. 2. That human instrumentality is appointed for the furtherance of God’s purposes. 3. This explains the opposition we meet with in doing God’s work: Satan is the god of this world. 4. We may reckon on our Master’s sympathy. 5. We have a certain hope of final success. (W. Cadman, M.A.)
The great commission:—A church, even of five hundred, represented by eleven unknown and inexperienced workmen, looked a very poor engine with which to convert the world, but the least thing became a mighty thing in the service of a mighty agent.
I. The first point to be considered in this great charter of missionary enterprize was that the Church’s missionary work reposed upon Christ’s elevation to supreme command. 1. On the eve of His mortal shame, when His feelings seemed to lie at the lowest, He still knew that the Father had given all things into His hands; and after the resurrection, within a few days of His ascension, He claimed it as a gift given to His crowned mediatorship—all power in heaven and in earth. The sphere in which He had been thus constituted rightful Master was the whole universe; as stated by the eloquent apostle, it extended “far above all principalities, and powers,” &c. It is on this universal range of lawful control held now by Jesus in virtue of His office, that the world-wide missionary activity of His Church depends. Christ’s rule was the basis of their mission. It was only when He was on the point of ascending to the throne above the heavens that He revoked His former restriction, which was, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not;” but now, in the room of that revoked restriction, He issued His commission to His ambassadors in the widest terms, “Go ye now and convert all the nations.” This gave the legal authorization to their missionary enterprize, justifying the missionary in setting aside the edicts of magistrates, and braving their threats of persecution. 2. What was the work to which Jesus committed His Church in this authoritative fashion? The word translated “teach” in the text would read better “disciple”; the apostles were to be the representation to other men in other lands of that same spiritual process which had passed upon themselves. The two processes which made up conversion were discriminated as baptizing and teaching. Christ first brought His disciples to that point at which they were willing to accept Him by a public profession and a symbolic sacrament, and then built up their Christian life in knowledge and service. What he had done for them He desired them to do for others. To do the work of baptizing and teaching required a combination of qualities which were very rarely blended in a single character. It was necessary to combine enthusiasm with patience, faith with labour; the former for the first, the latter for the second, stage in the Christianizing process. In the glorious warfare in which we are engaged there is room for every temperament. All are soldiers.
II. The Church’s missionary success depends upon the spiritual support and presence of the Lord Jesus. 1. The results of mission labour ought to be less discouraging than they sometimes seem to be. The friends of missions are too prone to credit the disparaging representations made by their enemies. They speak of this great enterprize, more than they need do, in a tone of apology. 2. We are living near the beginning of what might be called the third great missionary era—and what might prove to be the last age of Christian propagandism. 3. The conversion of the world is the task for which the Church of this country has girt itself. Much has already been accomplished, and on the ground of natural likelihood alone—to say nothing at all of Divine promises—the conversion of the world to Christianity began to appear to the candid eye of an onlooker but a mere question of time. 4. The promised presence of Christ has not failed. 5. Let us throw ourselves with new heart and soul into this most cheering and hopeful of all enterprizes. (J. Oswald Dykes, D.D.)
The great command:—The command to teach all nations implies—1. That Christianity is a universal religion; not merely one of the religions of the world from which, with others, we, in this later day, are to select an eclectic or universal religion. 2. That it is adapted to all nations and all classes (Rom. 1:6), a claim which history has abundantly justified, but which was urged by early opponents as a conclusive objection to it. That not a natural development, but obedience to the principles inculcated by Jesus Christ, constitutes the secret of true civilization among all nations, and thus that Christian missions are the mother of civilization. 4. That from all nations the members of Christ’s Church triumphant are to be gathered to God by obedience to this commission. (L. Abbott.)
The great commission:—I. The time of it, or the occasion and circumstances under which it was given. II. The obligation of it, or the authority by which it is enforced. III. The extent of it, or the sphere of its operation. IV. The nature of it, or the message to be communicated. (A. L. R. Foote.)
The false and the true universalism:—This incident—the concluding one of Christ’s earthly sojourn—is extremely valuable, among other reasons, as bringing forward what may be called the universal element in Christianity. There is a false universalism, and dangerous as false, and common, too, as dangerous. How to meet it? Not, surely, by running into an opposite extreme of exclusiveness, but by exhibiting the true universalism. For there is a valid universalism in the gospel, and what is it? Not Christ in every man—which is the latest form of error in this matter—but Christ for every man. Not Christ at the root of human nature, in some inexplicable way, waiting only to be developed, but Christ at the root of the gospel, waiting only to be received by a simple faith. (Ibid.)
Practical missionary zeal:—The heathen are perishing; they are dying by millions without Christ, and Christ’s last commandment to us is, “Go ye, teach all nations:” are you obeying it? “I cannot go,” says one, “I have a family and many ties to bind me at home,” My dear brother, then, I ask you, Are you going as far as you can? Do you travel to the utmost length of the providential tether which has fastened you where you are? Can you say “Yes”? Then, what are you doing to help others to go? As I was thinking over this discourse, I reflected how very little we were most of us doing towards sending the gospel abroad. We are, as a church, doing a fair share for our heathen at home, and I rejoice at the thought of it; but how much a year do you each give to foreign missions? I wish you would put down in your pocket-book how much you give per annum for missions, and then calculate how much per cent. it is of your income. There let it stand—“Item: Gave to the collection last April … 1s.” One shilling a year towards the salvation of the world! Perhaps it will run thus—“Item: Income, £5000; annual subscription to mission, £1.” How does that look? I cannot read your hearts, but I could read your pocket-books and work a sum in proportion. I suggest that you do it yourselves, while I also take a look at my own expenditure. Let us all see what more can be done for the spread of the Redeemer’s kingdom. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The slow progress of Christianity:—Now one of the laws which God has arranged, and which He observes is this—the higher the form of life, the longer it is in coming to the fulness of its power, to maturity and perfection. For instance, a child continues helpless longer, and takes far more time and care to rear and train than does the offspring of any one of the lower animals. It is even so among these lower animals themselves, for “the lion has a longer infancy than the sheep, and the sagacious elephant than either.” Take, again, a more abstract illustration. For example, how rapidly does a man’s physical life grow and develop compared with his mental or moral. So, too, with society: shops grow faster than schools, and a nation, as our own has done, may progress in a most marked manner in the region of politics or commerce, and yet, like our own again, lag sadly behind in the matter of education. Besides, how much more is education than the diffusion of information or the quickening of intelligence? Is there not the difficult task of upbuilding character, and, alas! how marked often is the discrepancy between the intellectual standard and the moral tone? Thus the law runs: the higher the goal to be gained or the good to be sought, the slower is the race or the individual in its pursuit, the longer in its attainment. In the light of this law, we at once see that it is just what might be expected, that Christianity, as the highest possible form or principle of life, should be, speaking of it as a whole, the most gradual in its progress and realization, and, further, that it is according to all nature and analogy that Christianity, as the grandest and most delicate order of life, should be at once the most sensitive to the unfavourable touch of man, as well as the soonest subject to the prejudicial effects of his mistakes or defects. (J. T. Stannard.) Baptizing them.—
I. The command—to make disciples of all nations. 1. They preached the gospel. 2. They baptized the proselytes. (1) Proselytes were baptized without delay—“that same day” (Acts 2:41; Acts 8:26, 40). (2) They administered baptism with water. This was symbolical of the renewing influences of the Holy Ghost. (3) Apostolic baptism was administered “in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” 3. The apostles taught the baptized persons to observe all things whatsoever Christ had commanded them.
II. The encouragement. “Lo, I am with you,” &c. 1. This encouragement was intended primarily and especially for the apostles. 2. It was intended also for all other ministers and teachers in every age. (1) Ministers still need the gracious assurance of their Lord. (2) Baptism teaches parents what things they should teach their children. (H. March.)
Significance of the form of baptism:—I. This form of baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost may refer to their authority as giving rise to this institution. II. It may refer to the whole scheme of Christian doctrine, which centres in the discoveries that are made us concerning the sacred Three. III. It refers to the distinct dedication to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, that is required as to all that are baptized, which the ancients reckoned to be signified by the triune immersion that was commonly used among them. (Edward Calamy.)
The form of baptism:—I. By being baptized in the name of God, can be meant no less than entering into covenant with a person, as God; professing faith in Him as such; enlisting one’s self into His service; and vowing all obedience and submission to Him. II. What has Scripture revealed at large concerning the Divinity of the three names into which we are baptized? 1. Concerning the Divinity of the Father there is no dispute. 2. Divine titles are given to the Son in Holy Scripture. 3. The Holy Spirit is described as the immediate author and worker of miracles. The very same things are said in different places of Scripture of all the three Divine Persons, and the very same actions are ascribed to them. III. What interest have we in the doctrine of the Trinity? 1. Many regard this as a speculative doctrine only. 2. Our religion is founded upon it. For what is Christianity but a manifestation of the three Divine persons, as engaged in the great work of man’s redemption, begun, continued, and to be ended by them, in their several relations of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, Three Persons, One God? If there be no Son of God, where is our Redemption? If there be no Holy Spirit, where is our sanctification? Without both, where is our salvation? (Bishop Horne.)
Christian baptism:—Baptism is a religious rite, which was generally practised before our Saviour instituted it; for the Gentiles, in their solemn acts of devotion, made use of sprinkling and ablutions, and the Jews baptized all proselytes to their religion. To explain this part of our religion we must consider—I. What that belief is which qualifies persons for baptism. II. What is the end and design of baptism. III. What is meant by being baptized in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. IV. How baptism is to be performed. (J. Jortin.) In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.—
The doctrine of the Trinity practically considered:—
I. Let me remind you that the scriptural Trinity implies that God is one. The trinity of our faith means a distinction of persons within one common indivisible Divine nature. It implies, therefore, at its base, that the Divine nature is one and indivisible. For this reason God revealed the essential oneness of His being first; and it was only after many centuries that Jesus could disclose to His disciples the “name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” On polytheistic soil no such revelation could have been intelligible; it was to monotheistic Israel that it was made. The new revelation of a Trinity in God left quite unaltered the faith of the apostles that God is one. What is the chief spiritual benefit which we derive from the knowledge of the unity of God? It is the only religious basis for a moral law of perfect and unwavering righteousness. Rival gods, who care each for his own separate interests, and for no other, must neglect moral law in pursuit of their partial ends. You have no central power raised above the contention of inconsistent passions, whose only care is to make for righteousness and the common weal. Throughout the Old Testament there runs a stern denial of all secondary divinities, stern insistence upon one only true God, to whose single will all the wide fields of creation lie subject, and all the nations of men. The single will is righteous. It is the sole source of law; religion becomes the basis of virtue. Thus the Christian doctrine of the Trinity has preserved to us in undiminished power all the moral advantages which Hebrew religion drew from its revelation of the one God.
II. What religious advantage do we reap from the fresh Christian discovery of a Trinity within this unity of the Divine nature? 1. The doctrine of the Trinity has heightened and enriched our conception of the nature of God. Such a Trinity as this leaves room in the Divine nature for the play of such moral affections as would be quite impossible to a mere single or solitary divinity. The lonely Deity whom human intellect, untaught by revelation, is able to fabricate for itself, is one utterly without passion or love till He has externalized Himself in a created world. The outcome of this is pantheism. 2. It affords a basis for those gracious relations which it has pleased God to sustain towards us in the economy of our salvation. These are facts of experience. (J. O. Dykes, D.D.)
The mystery of the most blessed Trinity:—
I. Is the greatest homage of faith. 1. By believing in this mystery we believe in the most incomprehensible of all mysteries, and consequently, we pay God the greatest homage. For I can have no sublimer conception of God than by professing Him absolutely incomprehensible. What else do we know respecting this adorable mystery but that we know nothing? 2. We sacrifice to God the noblest faculty of our nature, our intellect, by believing a mystery, of which we could not have the least idea, before God revealed it to us.
II. Is the most solid ground of our hope. Without faith, no salvation. The most necessary article of faith is the belief in the most blessed Trinity. No one can be saved, except he knows and believes (1) that there are three Persons in one God; and (2) that the second Divine Person became man for us.
III. Is the most urgent motive of charity. 1. It is the bond of brotherly love—“keeping the unity of the Spirit,” &c. (Eph. 4:1). 2. It is the model of brotherly love (John 17:11; Psa. 132:1). Peroration: Oh, most adorable Trinity, unite us in this world, that we may be united in heaven,” &c. (Bourdalone.)
The doctrine of the Trinity considered in relation to practical religion:—Let us see what simple facts are apparent in this revelation of God, and what service they may render to us in real life.
I. The Father. 1. He is the Creator of all things. As such He reveals His wisdom, &c. 2. He is the preserver of all things. 3. He is King of all, bending all to His will, and overruling all by His providence. 4. He is in a peculiar sense the Parent of His spiritual family.
II. The Son. God with us. This is a revelation of the humanity of God, and serves great purposes. It helps us to know and love God, and makes the redemption of man possible.
III. The Holy Ghost. God within us. His presence is proved by its fruits (Gal. 5:22, 23). (W. F. Adeney, M.A.)
The distinctions in the Godhead:—Divine revelation makes known to us one living and true God, and prohibits all worship being paid to any being except Jehovah. But the phraseology employed obviously presents the one Jehovah under certain distinctions, involving the idea of a plurality in the Godhead. This distinction has been generally denominated the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The doctrine has been controverted in all ages, and numerous are the theories which men have endeavoured to maintain on this deeply profound, and confessedly difficult subject. I. It is obvious that a threefold distinction in Deity is not impossible. We have many symbols of this in nature: the sun—the light and heat thereof; man—body, soul, and spirit. II. The Old Testament writings lead us to this conclusion (Gen. 2:22, 2:7; Numb. 6:24; Psa. 14:6, 7; 110:1; 136:1–3; 2 Sam. 23:3; Isa. 6:8; 42:1; 48:16; 59:19, 20). III. The writings of the New Testament exhibit this triune distinction (chap. 3:16, 17; John 14:16; 15:26; Acts 1:4, 5; 5:30–35; 10:38; 20:27, 28; Rom. 5:5, 6). IV. The Divine works are ascribed to each of the triune persons. 1. Creation. 2. Inspiration. 3. Holiness. 4. Raising the dead. V. That the essential titles and attributes are given to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 1. Eternity. 2. Omnipresence. 3. Omniscience. 4. Power. 5. Wisdom. Observations: 1. With what reverence and profound veneration we should study the nature and character of God. How awfully sublime is the theme—how utterly incompetent we must be to find it out to perfection—how essentially requisite holy fear and humility of mind in its investigation. 2. We should labour to ascertain the connection between the Divine Persons in the Godhead in the exercise of devotion and worship. We are to come to God through the Son and by the Holy Spirit. We are thus, also, to praise God, and to pray to Him. The Father is chiefly the object of worship, Christ is the way, and by the Spirit we worship Him in spirit and in truth. God our Father—God our Redeemer—God our Comforter and Guide. 3. Divine honours are to be equally given to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Let us labour to attain and enjoy love of the Father, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship and communion of the Holy Spirit. (J. Burns, LL.D.)
Threefold manifestation of Deity:—Although we shall never again paint the Almighty as Giotto painted Him, as an old man with white hair in the clouds, with a young man at His side, and a dove flying from beneath His feet; and whilst we shall never again describe God as Athanasius described Him, yet the doctrine of a Trinity in Unity is fundamental, and rests on an impregnable basis. The Unity, the Humanity, and the Affinity or Immanent Deity, these are the root conceptions of all true theology, and these remain. The conception of variety in unity, the many and the one, pervades all life and nature, and is presented to us in man in a trinity of body, mind, and spirit. So Trinity in Unity is in God a diversity of manifestation or function, combined with a unity of life and purpose. We can hardly think of the Almighty in any other way. It is the normal order of thought metaphysically. Let us see. First, our conception of God is vague and indefinite: Creative Force pervading, correlating, co-ordinating all things everywhere. It is the All-Father, the First Person. But the instant we think more closely, our only definite conception proves insensibly anthropomorphic. All power, wisdom, intelligence, love, is, in some sort, human, manifested and transferred to God, but still human in nature and thought; and thus, the Ideal Man, the God under the limitations of humanity, steps forth. This would be so in the order of thought were there no figure of Jesus in history. We cannot but—we always have made God in our own image, God the Son, or the Second Person. But in prayer and worship He is apprehended as a Spirit only, in communion, in sympathy with ours; then He is God the Holy Ghost, or the Third Person. God the Vague, God the Definite, God the Immanent, that is the inexorable order of thought, and that is the eternal doctrine of the Trinity in Unity. This would be true whether we call ourselves Christians or not. But if you are a Christian, you believe in addition that the Ideal Humanity of God has once in all time been realized, and realized in Jesus. You believe that the eternally human side of God—which was before the Life Divine in Galilee, and will be for ever after it, the life-giving and the love-giving One—that all of Him which could become incarnate did become incarnate—came forth and dwelt amongst us as it has never before or since; that then and there, in the fulness of time, amongst the chosen people and in the holy land 1,900 years ago, a special use of human nature was made for a special purpose, and that we “beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (H. R. Haweis, M.A.)
The mystery of the Trinity:—The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—three distinct Persons: in the Name, not names—one essence. The Holy Ghost is called the finger of God, Christ the hand of the Father. Now, as the finger is in the hand, and the hand on the body, so of one and the same most pure and simple essence is the Father, Son, and Spirit. But, as it was reported of Alanus, when he promised his auditory to discourse the next Sunday more clearly of the Trinity, and to make plain that mystery; while he was studying the point by the seaside, he spied a boy very busy with a little spoon, trudging often between the sea and a small hole he had digged in the ground. Alanus asked him what he meant to do. The boy answered, “I intend to bring all the sea into this pit.” Alanus replies, “Why dost thou attempt such impossibilities, and mis-spend thy time?” The boy answered, “So dost thou, Alanus: I shall as soon bring all the sea into this hole, as thou bring all the knowledge of the Trinity into thy head. All is equally possible we have begun together, we shall finish together; save that of the two my labour hath more hope and possibility of taking effect.” I conclude with, It is rashness to search, godliness to believe, safeness to preach, and eternal blessedness to know the Trinity; yet let us know to praise the Trinity in the words of the Church: “Glory be to the Father,” &c. And let all answer, “As it was … Amen.” (T. Adams.) Doctrine of the Trinity: God a mystery to man:—You have seen a steam threshing-machine at work. You know perhaps how the steam acts upon the machinery, and sets the wheels in motion; but does the little insect that settles on the engine know what you know? Could it be taught? Well, when we try to understand the great God, we are like the fly trying to understand the engine. The being of God is a mystery to us; that is, it is something which we cannot understand. Man is a mystery to a dog or a horse. We can no more hope to understand how God is what He is than a dog or a horse can understand what man is, or what speech and thought and memory are. (J. E. Vernon, M.A.)
Belief in the Trinity not against reason though beyond it:—Though I cannot explain this mystery to you, I think I can show you in nature certain figures whereby we may get some idea of how true the mystery is, though it is beyond our understanding. If I were to shut the window of a room, and cut a slit in the shutter, and put into the slit a piece of glass called a prism, you would see on the wall on the other side of the room a streak of red, yellow, and blue light. If I take the piece of glass away, there is only a streak of white light. Now learned men have found out that all pure white light is made up of red, yellow, and blue light; and by that piece of glass a ray of light can always be separated into the parts which make it up. Now, the red ray is light, the yellow ray is light, the blue ray is light. But the three together make up only one ray of light. Then, again. In your own self you have an image of the Trinity. You are made up of spirit, and soul, and body. Your spirit thinks, it prays, and you say, “I think, I pray.” Your spirit is you. If anything pains your body, you say, “I am in pain,” speaking now of your body as yourself. Again, your soul is moved by some passion, fear, or love. You speak of your soul as yourself, and say, “I fear,” or “I love.” Well, here there is the spirit you, the body you, and the soul you; and yet you are not three different creatures, but you—body, soul, and spirit, make up one being, called man. Take another illustration. You know the florin, or two-shilling piece, has a cross of shields on one side. In the corners of that cross are flowers or plants. In the first and fourth are roses, the badge of England. In the second is the thistle, the badge of Scotland. In the third is a little cluster of clover leaves. The clover leaf, called in Ireland the shamrock, is the badge of Ireland. I will tell you how the Irish obtained the clover leaf as their badge. Long ago, when the Irish were heathens, there came to their shores St. Patrick, to teach them the true Catholic faith. He was brought to the king, and he spoke before him of the religion of Christ. The king listened attentively. But when St. Patrick began to tell him that there was but one God, and yet in that Godhead there were Three Persons, the king stopped him, saying, “I do not understand you. You say the Father is God?” “Yes.” “And you say that the Son is God.” “Yes.” “And you say that the Holy Ghost is God?” “Yes.” “Then,” said the king, “there must be three Gods.” St. Patrick, instead of answering, stooped down and picked a little clover leaf which grew at his feet. The clover leaf, as you know, is made up of three little leaves, joined together by a slim stalk, so that the three leaves make only one leaf. St. Patrick held up only one division of the leaf, and said, “This is a leaf?” “Yes,” said the king. He showed the second division of the leaf, and said, “This is a leaf?” “Yes,” said the king. He showed the third, saying the same words, and receiving the same reply. Then he held up the whole leaf by its long stalk before the king, and asked, “What is this?” “It is a leaf,” replied the king. “So learn from a humble plant the mystery of the Trinity,” said the saint. Now all this does not make us any more able to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity; but it at least shows us that, although it is above our reason, it is not contrary to our reason to believe that God is Three Persons and yet but One God. (J. E. Vernon, M.A.)
The mystery of the Trinity:—An ancient writer informs us that when the Egyptians named their greatest God who was over all, they cried thrice, “Darkness! Darkness! Darkness!” In the name of the Father—Darkness; and of the Son—Darkness; and of the Holy Ghost—Darkness! for, however much the mind may strive to penetrate this mystery, it can never attain to its solution. Just as the eye, looking at the sun, sees the overpowering light as a dark ball, being dazzled by its excessive glory, so the eye of the mind perceives only darkness when looking into the infinite splendour of God in Three Persons. We may, indeed, see sundry likenesses here on earth which assist us in believing the doctrine of the Holy Trinity; but they are helps, and helps only, not explanations. Thus, the sun may shine into a glass, and the glass reflect in clear water, and we see three suns—a sun in the heavens, a sun in the glass, and a sun in the water; and this assists us to understand how the Son of God is of the Father, and the Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, and how that each is God, and yet that there are not Three Gods but One God. But, after all, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is a matter of faith, and not of reason. We must believe, though we cannot understand. (S. Baring Gould.)
Mystery no bar to conviction:—“Sitting lately,” says one, “in a public room at Brighton, where an infidel was haranguing the company upon the absurdities of the Christian religion, I could not but be pleased to see how easily his reasoning pride was put to shame. He quoted those passages, ‘I and My Father are one’; ‘I in them, and Thou in Me’; and that there are Three Persons in One God. Finding his auditors not disposed to applaud his blasphemy, he turned to one gentleman, and said, with an oath, ‘Do you believe such nonsense?’ The gentleman replied, ‘Tell me how that candle burns.’ ‘Why,’ he answered, ‘the tallow, the cotton, and the atmospheric air, produce the light.’ ‘Then they make one light, do they not?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Will you tell me how they are one in the other, and yet but one light?’ ‘No, I cannot.’ ‘But you believe it?’ He could not say but that he did. The company instantly made the application, by smiling at his folly; upon which the conversation was changed. This may remind the young and inexperienced that if they believe only what they can explain, they may as well part with their senses; for they are surrounded by the wonderful works of God, whose ways are past finding out.”
19. Jesus’ universal Lordship now demands a universal mission. The restriction of the disciples’ mission to Israel alone in 10:5–6 can now be lifted, for the kingdom of the Son of man as described in Daniel 7:14 requires disciples of all nations. Ethnē (‘nations’) is the regular Greek term for Gentiles, and it has been argued that this command therefore actually excludes the Jews from the scope of the disciples’ mission. But to send the disciples to ‘the Gentiles’ is merely to extend the range of their mission, and need not imply a cessation of the mission to Israel which has already been commanded, and can now be taken for granted. Moreover, the phrase panta ta ethnē (‘all nations’) has been used previously in 24:9, 14; 25:32 in contexts which probably all include Israel in ‘the nations’. And surely there can be no suggestion in Daniel 7:14 of the exclusion of Israel from the dominion of the Son of man, who himself represents Israel. This then is the culmination of the theme we have noted throughout the Gospel, the calling of a people of God far wider than that of the Old Testament, in which membership is based not on race but on a relationship with God through his Messiah (see above, on 3:9; 8:11–12; 12:21; 21:28–32, 41–43; 22:8–10; 24:14, 31; 26:13). The description of the mission in terms of making disciples emphasizes this personal allegiance. It is sometimes argued that if Jesus had spoken so clearly, his followers could not have been so hesitant about the admission of Gentile believers as we see them in Acts, but it is worth noting (a) that Luke sees no inconsistency between an equally clear command (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8) and the later hesitations, and (b) that in fact the debates in the post-Easter church were not so much over whether Gentiles should be admitted as over the conditions of their admission (circumcision, keeping the food-laws, etc.).
Baptizing and ‘teaching’ (v. 20) are participles dependent on the main verb, make disciples; they further specify what is involved in discipleship. Baptizing has been mentioned in this Gospel only as the activity of John, though the Gospel of John makes it clear that it was a characteristic also of Jesus’ ministry at least in the early days while John was still active (John 3:22–26; 4:1–3). It was against the background of John’s practice that it would be understood, as an act of repentance and of identification with the purified and prepared people of God (see on 3:6, 9, 13). But while John’s baptism was only a preparatory one (3:11), Jesus now institutes one with a fuller meaning. It is a commitment to (in the name is literally ‘into the name’, implying entrance into an allegiance) the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (all three of whom, interestingly, were involved in the event of Jesus’ own baptism, 3:16–17). Jesus thus takes his place along with his Father and the Spirit as the object of worship and of the disciple’s commitment. The experience of God in these three Persons is the essential basis of discipleship. At the same time the singular noun name (not ‘names’) underlines the unity of the three Persons.
Baptism was in fact performed in New Testament times, as far as our records go, in the name of Jesus, which is surprising if Jesus had laid down an explicit trinitarian formula before his ascension. An explanation for this may be found in the argument that these words, which later came to be used as a liturgical formula, were not originally so intended and used. They were rather ‘a description of what baptism accomplished’ (AB, pp. 362–363). Or it may be that Matthew is summarizing, in the more explicit and formal language of the church in which he wrote, the gist of what Jesus had taught about the God his disciples were to worship, teaching which had clearly associated himself and the Spirit with the Father, even if not in a set formula. It has been argued that these words were not part of the original text of Matthew, since Eusebius regularly in his pre-Nicene works quotes Matthew 28:19 in the shorter form ‘Go and make disciples of all nations in my name’, but the fact that no extant manuscript of Matthew has this reading suggests that this was rather Eusebius’ own abbreviation than a text he found in existing manuscripts.65
19. Go out, therefore, and teach all nations. Though Mark, after having related that Christ appeared to the eleven disciples, immediately subjoins the command to preach the gospel, he does not speak of these as an unbroken series of events; for we learn from the enumeration of them which is given by Matthew, that the latter event did not take place before they had gone into Galilee. The meaning amounts to this, that by proclaiming the gospel everywhere, they should bring all nations to the obedience of the faith, and next, that they should seal and ratify their doctrine by the sign of the gospel. In Matthew, they are first taught simply to teach; but Mark expresses the kind of doctrine, that they should preach the gospel; and shortly afterwards Matthew himself adds this limitation, to teach them to observe all things whatsoever the Lord hath commanded.
Let us learn from this passage, that the apostleship is not an empty title, but a laborious office; and that, consequently, nothing is more absurd or intolerable than that this honour should be claimed by hypocrites, who live like kings at their ease, and disdainfully throw away from themselves the office of teaching. The Pope of Rome and his band proudly boast of their succession, as if they held this rank in common with Peter and his companions; and yet they pay no more regard to doctrine than was paid by the Luperci, or the priests of Bacchus and Venus. And with what face, pray, do they claim to be the successors of those who, they are told, were appointed to be preachers of the gospel? But though they are not ashamed to display their impudence, still with every reader of sound judgment this single word is sufficient to lay prostrate their silly hierarchy—that no man can be a successor of the apostles who does not devote his services to Christ in the preaching of the gospel. In short, whoever does not fulfil the duties of a teacher acts wickedly and falsely by assuming the name of an apostle; and—what is more—the priesthood of the New Testament consists in slaying men, as a sacrifice to God, by the spiritual sword of the word. Hence it follows, that all are but pretended and spurious priests who are not devoted to the office of teaching.
Teach all nations. Here Christ, by removing the distinction, makes the Gentiles equal to the Jews, and admits both indiscriminately to a participation in the covenant. Such is also the import of the term go out; for the prophets under the law had limits assigned to them, but now, the wall of partition having been broken down, (Eph. 2:14,) the Lord commands the ministers of the gospel to go to a distance, in order to spread the doctrine of salvation in every part of the world. For though, as we have lately suggested, the right of the first-born, at the very commencement of the gospel, remained among the Jews, still the inheritance of life was common to the Gentiles. Thus was fulfilled that prediction of Isaiah, (49:6,) and others of a similar nature, that Christ was given for a light of the Gentiles, that he might be the salvation of God to the end of the earth. Mark means the same thing by every creature; for when peace has been proclaimed to those that are within the Church, the same message reaches those who are at a distance, and were strangers, (Eph. 2:17, 19.) How necessary it was that the apostles should be distinctly informed of the calling of the Gentiles, is evident from this consideration, that even after having received the command, they felt the greatest horror at approaching them, as if by doing so they polluted themselves and their doctrine.
Baptizing them. Christ enjoins that those who have submitted to the gospel, and professed to be his disciples, shall be baptized; partly that their baptism may be a pledge of eternal life before God, and partly that it may be an outward sign of faith before men. For we know that God testifies to us the grace of adoption by this sign, because he ingrafts us into the body of his Son, so as to reckon us among his flock; and, therefore, not only our spiritual washing, by which he reconciles us to himself, but likewise our new righteousness, are represented by it. But as God, by this seal, confirms to us his grace, so all who present themselves for baptism do, as it were, by their own signature, ratify their faith. Now since this charge is expressly given to the apostles along with the preaching of the word, it follows that none can lawfully administer baptism but those who are also the ministers of doctrine. When private persons, and even women, are permitted to baptize, nothing can be more at variance with the ordinance of Christ, nor is it any thing else than a mere profanation. Besides, as doctrine is placed first in order, this points out to us the true distinction between this mystery and the bastard rites of the Gentiles, by which they are initiated into their sacred mysteries; for the earthly element does not become a sacrament until God quickens it by his word. As superstition improperly counterfeits all the works of God, foolish men forge various sacraments at their pleasure; but as the word, which is the soul, is not in them, they are idle and unmeaning shadows. Let us therefore hold that the power of the doctrine causes the signs to assume a new nature; as the outward working of the flesh begins to be the spiritual pledge of regeneration, when it is preceded by the doctrine of the gospel; and this is the true consecration—instead of which, Popery has introduced to us the enchantments of sorcery.
Accordingly, it is said in Mark, He that shall believe and be baptized shall be saved. By these words Christ not only excludes from the hope of salvation hypocrites who, though destitute of faith, are puffed up only by the outward sign; but by a sacred bond he connects baptism with doctrine, so that the latter is nothing more than an appendage of the former. But as Christ enjoins them to teach before baptizing, and desires that none but believers shall be admitted to baptism, it would appear that baptism is not properly administered unless when it is preceded by faith. On this pretence, the Anabaptists have stormed greatly against infant baptism. But the reply is not difficult, if we attend to the reason of the command. Christ orders them to convey to all nations the message of eternal salvation, and confirms it by adding the seal of baptism. Now it was proper that faith in the word should be placed before baptism, since the Gentiles were altogether alienated from God, and had nothing in common with the chosen people; for otherwise it would have been a false figure, which offered forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit to unbelievers, who were not yet members of Christ. But we know that by faith those who were formerly despised are united to the people of God.
It is now asked, on what condition does God adopt as children those who formerly were aliens? It cannot, indeed, be denied that, when he has once received them into his favour, he continues to bestow it on their children and their children’s children. By the coming of Christ God manifested himself as a Father equally to the Gentiles and to the Jews; and, therefore, that promise, which was formerly given to the Jews, must now be in force towards the Gentiles, I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed after thee, (Gen. 17:7.) Thus we see that they who entered by faith into the Church of God are reckoned, along with their posterity, among the members of Christ, and, at the same time, called to the inheritance of salvation. And yet this does not involve the separation of baptism from faith and doctrine; because, though infants are not yet of such an age as to be capable of receiving the grace of God by faith, still God, when addressing their parents, includes them also. I maintain, therefore, that it is not rash to administer baptism to infants, to which God invites them, when he promises that he will be their God.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This passage shows that the full and clear knowledge of God, which had been but darkly shadowed out under the Law and the Prophets, is at length fully discovered under the reign of Christ. True, indeed, the ancients would never have ventured to call God their Father, if they had not derived this assurance from Christ their Head; and the Eternal Wisdom of God, who is the fountain of light and life, was not wholly unknown to them. It was even one of their acknowledged principles, that God displays his power by the Holy Spirit. But at the commencement of the gospel God was far more clearly revealed in Three Persons; for then the Father manifested himself in the Son, his lively and distinct image, while Christ, irradiating the world by the full splendour of his Spirit, held out to the knowledge of men both himself and the Spirit.
There are good reasons why the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are expressly mentioned; for there is no other way in which the efficacy of baptism can be experienced than when we begin with the unmerited mercy of the Father, who reconciles us to himself by the only begotten Son; next, Christ comes forward with the sacrifice of his death; and at length, the Holy Spirit is likewise added, by whom he washes and regenerates us, (Tit. 3:5,) and, in short, makes us partakers of his benefits. Thus we perceive that God cannot be truly known, unless our faith distinctly conceive of Three Persons in one essence; and that the fruit and efficacy of baptism proceed from God the Father adopting us through his Son, and, after having cleansed us from the pollutions of the flesh through the Spirit, creating us anew to righteousness.
19 Jesus’ vision of the future heavenly enthronement of the Son of Man in 24:30 led naturally into a mission to gather his chosen people from all over the earth (24:31). The first part of that vision is now achieved (v. 18), and so the second part can begin. But the agents of this ingathering are not now to be the angels (though their unseen presence may be presumed to be part of the divine strategy) but those who are already Jesus’ disciples. In the first instance that means the eleven men there in the Galilean hills, but as their numbers are increased (and already we have been given hints of a larger number of committed disciples; see on 27:55, 57) the mission will be extended more widely until “all the nations” are included in its scope.
The phrase panta ta ethnē, “all the nations,” has occurred already in 24:9, 14; 25:32, to denote the area of the disciples’ future activity, the scope of the proclamation of the “good news of the kingdom,” and the extent of the jurisdiction of the enthroned Son of Man. In each case we have seen that the emphasis falls positively on the universal scope of Jesus’ mission rather than negatively on “Gentiles” as opposed to Jews. Some have argued for such a restrictive sense here, and have suggested that Matthew has reached the point of giving up on the Jewish mission and urging the church to go instead to “all the Gentiles.” But nothing in the text indicates that;27 the suggestion depends on the fact that ta ethnē can mean Gentiles as opposed to Jews (as in 6:32; 10:5, 18; 20:19), but that is a specialized use which does not apply to all Matthew’s uses of ethnos, and is most unlikely when ta ethnē is qualified by panta, “all.” The commission is of course to go far beyond Israel, but that does not require that Israel be excluded. If the Jewish writer Matthew had intended to say that to his probably largely Jewish Christian readers he would surely have made it explicit. “The Gentile mission extends the Jewish mission—not replaces it; Jesus nowhere revokes the mission to Israel (10:6), but merely adds a new mission revoking a previous prohibition (10:5).”
The commission is expressed not in terms of the means, to proclaim the good news, but of the end, to “make disciples.” It is not enough that the nations hear the message; they must also respond with the same whole-hearted commitment which was required of those who became disciples of Jesus during his ministry (see e.g. 8:19–22; 19:21–22, 27–29). The sentence structure is of a main verb in the imperative, “make disciples,” followed by two uncoordinated participles, “baptizing,” “teaching,” which spell out the process of making disciples.34
The order in which these two participles occur differs from what has become common practice in subsequent Christian history, in that baptism is, in many Christian circles, administered only after a period of “teaching,” to those who have already learned. It can become in such circles more a graduation ceremony than an initiation. If the order of Matthew’s participles is meant to be noticed he is here presenting a different model, whereby baptism is the point of enrolment into a process of learning, which is never complete; the Christian community is a school of learners at various stages of development rather than divided into the baptized (who have “arrived”) and those who are “not yet ready.”
This is the first mention of baptism in Matthew since John’s baptism (and Jesus’ acceptance of it) in chapter 3. There has been no indication that those who followed Jesus were baptized (unless they had already been baptized by John), and Jesus has spoken of John’s baptism as if it were a distinctive rite, not one which he and his disciples had continued (21:25). Moreover, the baptism which John predicted Jesus would bring was not with water but with the Holy Spirit and fire (3:11). Yet now the full-blown rite of Christian baptism is introduced without any indication that this is something new. For Matthew’s readers it was presumably so familiar as to need no explanation, but its sudden appearance right at the end of the gospel is surprising in the narrative context. We know from Acts and the letters of Paul that baptism in the name of Jesus was the unquestioned initiation rite of the post-Easter church (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12, 36–38; Rom 6:3–4; 1 Cor 1:13–17 etc.), but it is hard to suppose that the practice emerged fully-formed at the first Christian Pentecost. Was it then this instruction by Jesus that first launched Christian baptism, or should we take note of the assumption in John 3:22–26; 4:1–2 that from the beginning the Jesus movement adopted John’s practice of water-baptism, even though after that point it receives no further mention in the gospel narratives? I have argued elsewhere that the latter is the more likely scenario. In that case the lack of explanation of baptism here (and of how water-baptism relates to baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire) is to be explained by the fact that, despite Matthew’s earlier silence on the subject, the practice was already familiar to the disciples.
Baptisms in Acts are said to be in (or into) the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; 22:16; cf. Rom 6:3; Gal 3:27) and there is no other reference in the NT to a trinitarian baptismal formula, though this was well established by the time of Did 7:1, 3 (cf. Justin, Apol. I, 61:3, 11, 13). In view of the gradual movement within the NT toward trinitarian (or at least triadic) forms of expression, with the three persons mentioned in a variety of orders, the wording here in Matthew draws attention as more formally corresponding to later patristic formulations than might be expected within the NT period, let alone in the words of Jesus himself. If Jesus had put the matter as explicitly as this, it is surprising that it took his followers so long to catch up with his formulation. There is, however, no evidence that this is not an original part of the gospel of Matthew, so that at least the formula must correspond to what Matthew knew of Christian baptism, and therefore presumably to the accepted practice of his church (which may be related to that reflected in the Didache). What process led from baptism simply in the name of Jesus to the acceptance of this fuller formula, and how widely it was followed by the time Matthew wrote, can only be a matter of speculation. It is not impossible that Jesus did mention Father, Son and Holy Spirit together, perhaps originally not to lay down a liturgical formula so much as to spell out the three-fold nature of disciples’ allegiance.41 But such a memorable phrase prescribed by Jesus himself, in direct connection with baptism, would so naturally lend itself to liturgical use that it is surprising that the “in the name of Jesus” form prevailed for so long. It is more likely that Matthew here expresses Jesus’ instructions in terms which would be taken for granted in his own church but which, while consonant with the teaching of Jesus, would not yet have crystallized into their later formulation at the time he initially sent his disciples out to baptize.
The debate about the origin of the formula must not distract the reader from recognizing what a profoundly important theological step has been taken here. It is one thing for Jesus to speak about his relationship with God as Son with Father (notably 11:27; 24:36; 26:63–64) and to draw attention to the close links between himself and the Holy Spirit (12:28, 31–32), but for “the Son” to take his place as the middle member, between the Father and the Holy Spirit, in a three-fold depiction of the object of the disciple’s allegiance is extraordinary. The human leader of the disciple group has become the rightful object of their worship. And the fact that the three divine persons are spoken of as having a single “name” is a significant pointer toward the trinitarian doctrine of three persons in one God.
19 “Therefore” is probably the correct reading; but even if the word is absent, the logical connection is presupposed by the flow of the commission. Two features tie the command to Jesus’ universal authority.
1. Because he now has this authority, therefore his disciples are to go and make disciples—i.e., the dawning of the new age of messianic authority changes the circumstances and impels his disciples forward to a universal ministry he himself never engaged in during the days of his flesh, “except in reluctant anticipation” (Stendahl, “Matthew,” in Peake’s Commentary). His promotion to universal authority serves as an eschatological marker inaugurating the beginning of his universal mission.
2. Because of that authority, his followers may go in the confidence that their Lord is in sovereign control of “everything in heaven and on earth” (cf. Ro 8:28).
In the Greek, “go”—like “baptizing” and “teaching”—is a participle. Only the verb “make disciples” (see below) is imperative. Some have deduced from this that Jesus’ commission is simply to make disciples “as we go” (i.e., wherever we are) and constitutes no basis for going somewhere special in order to serve as missionaries (e.g., Gaechter; R. D. Culver, “What Is the Church’s Commission?” BS 125 : 243–53). There is something to this view, but it needs three careful qualifications.
1. When a participle functions as a circumstantial participle dependent on an imperative, it frequently gains some imperatival force (cf. 2:8, 13; 9:13; 11:4; 17:27; cf. C. Rogers, “The Great Commission,” BS 130 : 258–67). Only the context can decide the question.
2. While it remains true to say that the main imperatival force rests with “make disciples,” not with “go,” in a context that demands that this ministry extend to “all nations,” it is difficult to believe that “go” has no imperatival force.
3. From the perspective of mission strategy, it is important to remember that the Great Commission is preserved in several complementary forms that, taken together, can only be circumvented by considerable exegetical ingenuity (e.g., Lk 24:45–49; Jn 20:21; Ac 1:8; cf. Mt 4:19; 10:16–20; 13:38; 24:14).
The main emphasis, then, is on the command to “make disciples,” which in Greek is one word, mathēteusate, normally an intransitive verb, here used transitively (a not uncommon Hellenization; cf. BDF, para. 148 ; Zerwick, Biblical Greek, para. 66; see comments at 13:52; 27:57). “To disciple a person to Christ is to bring him into the relation of pupil to teacher, ‘taking his yoke’ of authoritative instruction (11:29), accepting what he says as true because he says it, and submitting to his requirements as right because he makes them” (Broadus). Disciples are those who hear, understand, and obey Jesus’ teaching (12:46–50). The injunction is given at least to the Eleven, but to the Eleven in their own role as disciples (28:16). Therefore, they are paradigms for all disciples. Plausibly, the command is given to a larger gathering of disciples (see comments at vv. 10, 16–17). Either way, it is binding on all Jesus’ disciples to make others what they themselves are—disciples of Jesus Christ.
The words panta ta ethnē (“all nations”) have been understood primarily in two ways.
1. They refer to all Gentiles—i.e., all nations except Israel. Israel has forfeited her place, and now the preaching of the gospel must be kept from her (so Hare, Theme of Jewish Persecution, 147–48; Walker, Heilsgeschichte, 111–13; D. R. A. Hare and D. J. Harrington, “ ‘Make Disciples of All the Gentiles’ (Mt 28:19),” CBQ 37 : 359–69).
2. They refer to all people, including Israel (so Trilling, Das wahre Israel, 26–28; Hill; Hubbard, Matthean Redaction, 84–87; John P. Meier, “Nations or Gentiles in Matthew 28:19?” CBQ 39 : 94–102; O’Brien, “Great Commission,” 262–63).
Certainly ta ethnē in its eight occurrences in Matthew (4:15; 6:32; 10:5, 18; 12:18, 21; 20:19, 25) normally denotes Gentiles, often pagans; but 21:43, where ethnos is used anarthrously, is an instance where “people” does not exclude Jews. Moreover, contrary to Hare and Harrington, a good case can be made for saying that the full expression, panta ta ethnē, used four times in Matthew (24:9, 14; 25:32; here), uses ethnē in its basic sense of “tribes,” “nations,” or “peoples” and means “all peoples [without distinction]” or “all nations [without distinction],” thereby including Jews. Could Matthew really be excluding Israel as one source of the hate his followers will have to endure (24:9)? Would he say that any Jewish Christians in any church known to him should not be baptized and taught?
More telling yet, Matthew’s gospel is now, in its final verses, returning to the theme introduced in the very first verse (see comments at 1:1)—that the blessings promised to Abraham and through him to all peoples on earth (Ge 12:3) are now to be fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah. And when that covenant promise is reiterated in Genesis 18:18; 22:18, the LXX uses the same words found here: panta ta ethnē. The expression is comprehensive. In line with all the anticipatory hints of Gentile witness in Matthew’s gospel (1:1; 2:1–12; 4:15–16; 8:5–13; 10:18; 13:38; 24:14 et al.), it would be as wrong to conclude that only Gentiles are in view as it would be to set up another restriction and see this commission as a command to evangelize only Jewish tribes.
Adherents of the church growth movement have in the past attempted to justify their entire “people movement” principle on the basis of this phrase, used here and elsewhere, arguing that ethnos properly means “tribe” or “people” (most comprehensively, perhaps, by H. C. Goerner, All Nations in God’s Purpose [Nashville: Broadman, 1979]). The latter point is readily conceded, but the conclusion is linguistically illegitimate. Plural collectives may have all-embracing force, whether in Greek or English. Doubtless God may convert people by using a “people movement,” but to deduce such a principle from this text requires a “city movement” principle based on Acts 8:40, where the same construction occurs with the noun “cities.” In neither case may missiologists legitimately establish the normativeness of their theories.
The aim of Jesus’ disciples, therefore, is to make disciples of all people everywhere, without distinction. Hill insists that such a command cannot possibly be authentic: “Had Christ given the command to ‘make disciples of all nations,’ the opposition in Paul’s time to the admission of Gentiles to the church would be inexplicable. It must be assumed that the church, having learned and experienced the universality of the Christian message, assigned that knowledge to a direct command of the living Lord.” But we have already seen how slow the disciples were to grasp what Jesus taught. More important, Acts and the Epistles betray no trace of opposition whatsoever to the fact of a Gentile mission. The debate between Paul and his Judaizing opponents was over the conditions of entrance into the Christian community (see comments at 23:15). The many hints throughout Jesus’ ministry that show he anticipated a Gentile ministry after some delay (see comments at 10:16–20, 13:37–39; 24:14) would make it incongruous for him to have not given some commission about this.
The syntax of the Greek participles for “baptizing” and “teaching” forbids the conclusion that baptizing and teaching are to be construed solely as the means of making disciples (cf. Allen, Lagrange, Schlatter), but their precise relationship to the main verb is not easy to delineate. Neither participle is bound to the other or to the main verb with the conjunction kai or a particle, and therefore “they must be viewed as dependent on one another or depending in differing ways on the chief verb” (Beasley-Murray, Baptism, 89; cf. BDF, para. 421). Most likely some imperative force is present, since the disciples are certainly to baptize and teach; but computer studies of the Greek NT have shown that although a participle dependent on an imperative normally gains imperatival force when it precedes the imperative, its chief force is not normally imperatival when it follows the imperative. Luke 6:35 has a close syntactic parallel: “And lend [danizete] to them without expecting to get anything back [apelpizontes].” Not expecting anything in return is certainly not the means of the lending, but it is modal in that it characterizes the lending; and at the same time at least some imperatival force tinges the participle, even if the participle is primarily modal.
Similarly, baptizing and teaching are not the means of making disciples, but they characterize it. Envisaged is that proclamation of the gospel that will result in repentance and faith, for mathēteuō (“I disciple”) entails both preaching and response. The response of discipleship is baptism and instruction. Therefore, baptism and teaching are not coordinate—either grammatically or conceptually—with the action of making disciples. The masculine pronouns autous (“them,” vv. 19–20) hint at the same thing, since ethnē (“nations”) is neuter: the “them” who are baptized and taught are those who have been made disciples. But this is uncertain, because the case of “them” may be ad sensum (i.e., merely according to the general sense). In any case, it would certainly misconstrue the text to absolutize the division between discipleship and baptism-instruction. The NT can scarcely conceive of a disciple who is not baptized or is not instructed. Indeed, the force of this command is to make Jesus’ disciples responsible for making disciples of others, a task characterized by baptism and instruction.
Those who become disciples are to be baptized eis (NIV text note, “into”) the name of the Trinity. Matthew, unlike some NT writers, apparently avoids the confusion of eis (strictly “into”) and en (strictly “in”; cf. Zerwick, Biblical Greek, para. 106) common in Hellenistic Greek; if so, the preposition “into” strongly suggests a coming-into-relationship-with or a coming-under-the-lordship-of (cf. Allen; Albright and Mann). For more on baptism, see comments at 3:6, 11, 13–17. It is a sign both of entrance into Messiah’s covenant community and of pledged submission to his lordship (cf. Beasley-Murray, Baptism, 90–92).
The triple formula containing Father (or God), Son (or Christ), and Spirit occurs frequently in the NT (cf. 1 Co 12:4–6; 2 Co 13:14; Eph 4:4–6; 2 Th 2:13–14; 1 Pe 1:2; Rev 1:4–6). Individually these texts do not prove there is any Trinitarian consciousness in the NT, since other threefold phrases occur (e.g., “God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels,” 1 Ti 5:21). But contributing evidence makes it difficult to deny the presence of Trinitarian thought in the NT documents: (1) the frequency of the God-Christ-Spirit formulas; (2) their context and use: it is impossible, for instance, to imagine baptism into the name of God, Christ, and the elect angels; (3) the recognition by NT writers that the attributes of Yahweh may be comprehensively applied to Jesus and, so far as we have evidence, to the Spirit (cf. C. F. D. Moule, The Holy Spirit [London: Mowbrays, 1978], 24–26).
Many deny the authenticity of this Trinitarian formula, however, not on the basis of doubtful reconstructions of the development of doctrine, but on the basis of the fact that the only evidence we have of actual Christian baptisms indicates a consistent monadic formula baptism in Jesus’ name (Ac 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; similarly, passages such as Ro 6:3). If Jesus gave the Trinitarian formula, why was it shortened? Is it not easier to believe that the Trinitarian formula was a relatively late development? But certain reflections give us pause.
1. It is possible, though historically improbable, that the full Trinitarian formula was used for pagan converts, and “in the name of Jesus” for Jews and proselytes. But this is doubtful, not least because Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, never uses a Trinitarian formula for baptism.
2. Trinitarian ideas are found in the resurrection accounts of both Luke and John, even if these evangelists do not report the Trinitarian baptismal formula. The faith to be proclaimed was in some sense Trinitarian from the beginning. “This conclusion should not come as a great surprise: the Trinitarian tendencies of the early church are most easily explained if they go back to Jesus Himself; but the importance of the point for our study is that it means that Matthew’s reference to the Trinity in ch. 28 is not a white elephant thoroughly out of context” (D. Wenham, “Resurrection Narratives,” 53).
3. The term “formula” is tripping us up. There is no evidence we have Jesus’ ipsissima verba here and still less that the church regarded Jesus’ command as a baptismal formula, a liturgical form the ignoring of which was a breach of canon law. The problem has too often been cast in anachronistic terms. E. Riggenbach (Der Trinitarische Taufbefehl Matt. 28:19 [Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1901]) points out that as late as the Didache, baptism in the name of Jesus and baptism in the name of the Trinity coexist side by side. The church was not bound by precise “formulas” and felt no embarrassment at a multiplicity of them, precisely because Jesus’ instruction, which may not have been in these precise words, was not regarded as a binding formula.
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 observe all that I commanded you; (28:19–20a)
The fourth element for effective fulfillment of the church’s mission is obedience to the Lord’s command, made possible only when the attitudes of availability, worship, and submission characterize the believer’s life.
It was in light of His absolute, sovereign authority that Jesus commanded, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” The transitional word is therefore. “Because I am sovereign Lord of the universe,” Jesus was saying, “I have both the authority to command you to be My witnesses and the power to enable you to obey that command.”
In light of the Old Testament teaching about Israel’s mission to be God’s light to the Gentiles and in light of Jesus’ earthly ministry, it should not be surprising that His commission was to make disciples of all the nations.
Mathēteuō (make disciples) is the main verb and the central command of verses 19–20, which form the closing sentence of Matthew’s gospel. The root meaning of the term refers to believing and learning. Jesus was not referring simply to believers or simply to learners, or He would have used other words. Mathēteuō carries a beautiful combination of meanings. In this context it relates to those who place their trust in Jesus Christ and follow Him in lives of continual learning and obedience. “If you abide in My word,” Jesus said, “then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31). It should be noted that some disciples were not true (see John 6:66).
A person who is not Christ’s true disciple does not belong to Him and is not saved. When a person genuinely confesses Christ as Lord and Savior, he is immediately saved, immediately made a disciple, and immediately filled with the Holy Spirit. Not to be Christ’s disciple is therefore not to be Christ’s at all.
Scripture knows nothing of receiving Christ as Savior but not as Lord, as if a person could take God piecemeal as it suits him. Every convert to Christ is a disciple of Christ, and no one who is not a disciple of Christ, no matter what his profession of faith might be, is a convert of Christ.
The very point of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler was that this man-although highly moral, religious, generous, and admiring of Jesus—refused to give up everything for Christ and submit to Him as Lord. He sincerely wanted eternal life and had the wisdom to come to the source of that life. But he was unwilling to give up his own life and possessions and obey Jesus’ command to “come, follow Me” (Luke 18:18–23). He was willing to have Jesus as Savior but not as Lord, and Christ would not receive him on those terms. Because he refused to be Christ’s disciple when the cost was made clear (like those in John 6:66), he could have no part of Christ or of the eternal life that He gives.
Some popular theologies today teach that Jesus was referring to those who are already believers when He taught such things as, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27; cf. v. 33). Such forms of easy believism maintain that the only requirement for salvation is to “accept Jesus as Savior.” Then, at some later date, a saved person may or may not become a disciple by accepting Christ as Lord of his life. Taking up one’s cross and following Christ (Matt. 10:38) is looked on as a secondary, ideal level of relationship to Christ that is commendable but not mandatory.
The Great Commission is a command to bring unbelievers throughout the world to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and the term the Lord uses in this commissioning is make disciples. The true convert is a disciple, a person who has accepted and submitted himself to Jesus Christ, whatever that may mean or demand. The truly converted person is filled with the Holy Spirit and given a new nature that yearns to obey and worship the Lord who has saved him. Even when he is disobedient, he knows he is living against the grain of his new nature, which is to honor and please the Lord. He loves righteousness and hates sin, including his own.
Jesus’ supreme command, therefore, is for those who are His disciples to become His instruments for making disciples of all nations. Jesus’ own earthly ministry was to make disciples for Himself, and that is the ministry of His people. Those who truly follow Jesus Christ become “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). Those who become His disciples are themselves to become disciple makers. The mission of the early church was to make disciples (see Acts 2:47; 14:21), and that is still Christ’s mission for His church.
Jesus’ command for His followers to make disciples was given only once, climactically, at the very end of His earthly ministry. Some might ask, “If it was so crucial, why did Jesus mention it only once?” The reason, no doubt, is that the motivation for reaching others for Christ is innate to the redeemed life. One might as well ask why God’s command for man to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28) was given only once. In each case, reproduction in kind is natural to life. The call to make disciples is stated only once because it is natural for the new creation to be reproductive. It would beg the issue to repeat what is so basic.
The specific requirements Jesus gives for making disciples involve three participles: going (rendered here as go), baptizing, and teaching.
The first requirement makes clear that the church is not to wait for the world to come to its doors but that it is to go to the world. The Greek participle is best translated “having gone,” suggesting that this requirement is not so much a command as an assumption.
Jesus’ initial instruction to the disciples was for them to go only “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:6; cf. 15:24). God’s design was to offer salvation first to the Jews and then to use them as His missionaries to the rest of the world. The gospel is the “power of salvation to everyone who believes,” but “to the Jew first” (Rom. 1:16; cf. John 4:22). But when Israel as a nation rejected the Messiah-King who was sent to her in Jesus, the invitation for salvation went directly to the entire world.
Jesus compared Israel’s response to God’s call to a wedding feast given by a king for his son. When the favored guests refused to accept the king’s invitation and maligned and even killed some of the messengers, the king had his army destroy the ungrateful and wicked guests. He then sent his servants out to the streets and highways to invite to the feast anyone who would come (Matt. 22:1–10). The picture was of an apostate Israel who refused her Messiah and thereby forfeited the kingdom that He offered to them.
At the end of His earthly ministry, Christ had only a small remnant of believers, and it was to part of that remnant that He gave His commission to evangelize the world. The first sermon of the Spirit-filled church was preached by Peter and directed to Jews and Jewish proselytes who had come to worship in Jerusalem (Acts 2:22). But God later had to dramatically convince Peter that the gospel was also for Gentiles (10:1–48).
As he traveled throughout Syria, Asia Minor, and Greece, even the apostle Paul, “the apostle to the Gentiles,” normally began his ministry in a given city at the Jewish synagogue (see Acts 9:20; 13:5; 18:4). But his message was always for Gentiles as well as Jews. At his conversion on the Damascus Road, the Lord said to him,
Arise, and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness, … delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to life and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me. (Acts 26:16–18)
The second requirement for making disciples is that of baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. To baptize literally means to immerse in water, and certain forms of baptism had long been practiced by various Jewish groups as a symbol of spiritual cleansing. The baptism of John the Baptist symbolized repentance of sin and turning to God (Matt. 3:6). As instituted by Christ, however, baptism became an outward act of identification with Him through faith, a visible, public testimony that henceforth one belonged to Him.
The initial act of obedience to Christ after salvation is to submit to baptism as a testimony to union with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection. “Do you not know,” Paul asked the Roman believers, “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3–4).
Immersion is the most appropriate mode of baptism, not only because the Greek word behind it connotes immersion but even more importantly because that is the only mode that symbolizes burial and resurrection.
Although the act of baptism has absolutely no saving or sacramental benefit or power, it is commanded by Christ of His followers. The only exception might be physical inability, as in the case of the repentant thief on the cross, a prisoner who is forbidden the ordinance, or a similar circumstance beyond the believer’s control. The person who is unwilling to be baptized is at best a disobedient believer, and if he persists in his unwillingness there is reason to doubt the genuineness of his faith (see Matt. 10:32–33). If he is unwilling to comply with that simple act of obedience in the presence of fellow believers, he will hardly be willing to stand for Christ before the unbelieving world.
Baptism has no part in the work of salvation, but it is a God-ordained and God-commanded accompaniment of salvation. Jesus said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Jesus made clear that it is disbelief, not failure to be baptized, that precludes salvation; but He could not possibly have made the divine association of salvation and baptism more obvious than He does in that statement.
The association was indisputably clear in Peter’s mind as he exhorted his unbelieving hearers at Pentecost: “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). The association was just as close in Paul’s mind, as witnessed in his great manifesto of Christian unity: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4–6).
A person is saved by God’s grace alone working through his faith as a gift of God (Eph. 2:8). But by God’s own declaration, the act of baptism is His divinely designated sign of the believer’s identification with His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism is a divinely commanded act of faith and obedience.
New converts need to be taught that they should be baptized as soon as possible, not to seal or confirm their salvation but to make public testimony to it in obedience to their newfound Lord. The call to Christ not only is the call to salvation but also the call to obedience, the first public act of which should be baptism in His name.
Throughout the book of Acts, baptism is shown in the closest possible association with conversion. The three thousand souls converted at Pentecost were immediately baptized (Acts 2:41). As soon as the Ethiopian believed in Christ, he stopped his chariot so that he could be baptized (8:38). As soon as Paul received back his sight after his conversion, he was baptized (9:18). When Cornelius and his household were saved, Peter “ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (10:48). As unbelievers in Corinth were being won to Jesus Christ, they were also being baptized (18:8). When Paul found some disciples of John in Ephesus who had only been baptized for repentance, he told them about Jesus, the one for whom John was merely preparing the way, and when they believed “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (19:1–5).
In the context of the Great Commission, baptism is synonymous with salvation, which is synonymous with becoming a disciple. As already emphasized, discipleship is Christian life, not an optional, second level of it.
Baptism is to be made in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus was not giving a ritual formula, although that beautiful phrase from the lips of our Lord has been commonly and appropriately used in baptismal services throughout the history of the church. In the name of is not a sacramental formula, as seen in the fact that the book of Acts reports no converts being baptized with those precise words. Those words are rather a rich and comprehensive statement of the wonderful union that believers have with the whole Godhead.
In His statement here about baptism, Jesus again clearly placed Himself on an equal level with God the Father and with the Holy Spirit. He also emphasizes the unity of the Trinity by declaring that baptism should be done in Their one name (singular), not in Their separate names. As it does in many parts of Scripture, the phrase the name here embodies the fullness of a person, encompassing all that he is, has, and represents. When he is baptized, the believer is identified with everything that God is, has, and represents.
The pronoun Jesus uses here (eis, in) can also be rendered “into” or “unto.” Those who teach baptismal regeneration-the belief that water baptism is essential for salvation-insist that it must here be translated “into.” But that is a completely arbitrary translation and, in any case, cannot stand up against the many other passages that prove baptism has no part in regeneration but is rather an outward act, subsequent to regeneration, that testifies to its having taken place.
Baptism does not place a believer into oneness with the Trinity but signifies that, by God’s grace working through his faith in Jesus Christ, the believer already has been made one with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The third requirement for making disciples of all nations is that of teaching them to observe all that I commanded you. The church’s mission is not simply to convert but to teach. The convert is called to a life of obedience to the Lord, and in order to obey Him it is obviously necessary to know what He requires. As already noted, a disciple is by definition a learner and follower. Therefore, studying, understanding, and obeying “the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27) is the lifelong task of every true disciple.
In Jesus’ parting discourse to the disciples in the upper room, He said,
If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. These things I have spoken to you, while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. (John 14:23–26)
Jesus did not spend time teaching in order to entertain the crowds or to reveal interesting but inconsequential truths about God or to set forth ideal but optional standards that God requires. His first mission was to provide salvation for those who would come to Him in faith, that is, to make disciples. His second mission was to teach God’s truth to those disciples. That is the same twofold mission He gives the church.
No one is a true disciple apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ, and there is no true disciple apart from an obedient heart that desires to please the Lord in all things. The writer of Hebrews makes that attitude of obedience synonymous with saving faith, declaring that Christ “became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9). Thanking God for the salvation of believers in Rome, Paul said to them, “Though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed” (Rom. 6:17).
Every Christian is not gifted as a teacher, but every faithful Christian is committed to promoting the ministry of teaching God’s Word both to make and to edify disciples of Christ.
 Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1411). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Mt 28:19). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 3, pp. 383–387). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.