The Great Commission is found primary in Matthew 28:18 - 20, Mark 16:15 - 18 and Luke 24:47. What exactly is it? Was it something meant ONLY for the apostles? Did Jesus intend the Gospel promulgated by a small set of believers who were 'ordained?' Was the task limited to only those personally trained by Christ?
The Commission to spread the truth of God did not begin with Jesus or the apostles. Righteous men and women carried out the initial hard labor of introducing God’s word to the world, explaining it, distributing it and so on BEFORE the first century A.D. Jesus made it clear to his followers that they would enter into the great work started long before they were born (John 4:35, 38).
The all-inclusive message
The commission recorded in Matthew 28 catches the fullness of the task charged to the church. Christ told his inner circle of disciples the following just before he left them.
"ALL authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore, go and make disciples in ALL nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; Teaching them to observe ALL things that I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you ALWAYS, even until the completion of the age." (Matthew 28:18 - 20)
Did you catch how many times in three verses that Jesus used the word 'all' or 'always?' First, He uses them to establish his divine authority then uses these two words to lay the foundation of the next great part of God's plan for mankind. Notice that God gave Christ ALL authority over heaven and earth (verse 18). Notice also that the main part of the Commission is to take the Gospel message into ALL nations (not just to Jews, or to those living in Judea and the surrounding area, or to the lost tribes of Israel - verse 19). Jesus tells his disciples to teach others ALL the things he taught them (verse 20) and finally he will be with them ALL the time.
Go and preach the gospel
The very first thing Jesus tells his disciples in Mark's version of the Commission is, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15). However, what IS the gospel message?
In general, the Gospel or 'good news' is a message revealing why God created mankind back in the Garden of Eden. Man's destiny, if he is willing to accept it, is to live forever and have a relationship with God as a member of his family, with the same perfect, sinless character as He possesses. The means of accomplishing this awesome goal is through the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, who is mankind's one and only Savior and the ONLY means by which humans can have a close relationship with the Father.
The Gospel contains not only information ABOUT Jesus but also concerns the great and wonderful message he brought regarding the coming Kingdom of God on earth. It includes a call to repent of sin, to accept Christ's sacrifice for the forgiveness of those sins, to go under the waters of baptism and receive God's Spirit, and to live a life of obedience to God's laws, ways and will.
The New Testament contains MANY examples of God moving "average" Christians to do great things. After Stephen was martyred (Acts 7), many of the brethren fled Jerusalem but took with them the Gospel message. The Bible states they went everywhere PREACHING the word (Acts 8:4)! Some of these taught Jesus only to Jews while others preached to GENTILES. What was the fruit of their labor? God caused so many people in Antioch, both Jews and Gentiles, to repent that Barnabas had to go and help them (Acts 11:19 - 23)!
The New Testaments lists no less than twenty-one fellowships where a group of believers and those interested in the Messiah met in homes to worship God and learn from the Bible. These groups helped spread the gospel in their local areas. House churches hosted by members were in places like Corinth (1Corinthians 16:19), Laodicea (Colossians 4:15 - 16), Ephesus (Acts 20:17), Colossae (Philemon 1 - 2) and many others.
What is the Great Commission? It is the work Jesus gave not only to his twelve personally chosen disciples but to the entire church he was building upon HIMSELF (Matthew 16:18). The New Testament is full of examples of individual church members and groups of believers seeking to fulfill Jesus' instructions to take the gospel message to the world and spiritually feed the flock of God. Even as the early Church made a great effort to spread the good news of God's Kingdom far and wide, modern Christians are under the same obligation to preach and teach the word to the ends of the earth.