Just before he ascended to heaven, Jesus gathered his disciples together one last time to give them his final instructions. What he told them to do after his departure made them a part of God's great salvation plan for man. They were not the first ones, however, to receive such a commission from God.
Righteous men and women, long before the first century A.D., had laid the groundwork for the New Testament's great commission to begin with a running start (John 4:35, 38).
The words of the commission, spoken by Christ, are found primary in Matthew 28:18 - 20, Mark 16:15 - 18 and Luke 24:47. Matthew's account, of all the gospels, is the most complete. Jesus first reveals that the Father has given him all authority in the universe to carry out the remaining phases of his plan (Matthew 28:18). He then states the main part of the giant task he is giving them.
The heart of the charge the disciples received was to take the Gospel message into all nations (not just to Jews, or to those living in Judea, but to the entire world, Matthew 28:19).
Jesus then tells his disciples to teach others all the things he taught them (Matthew 28:20) and finally that he will be with them until his return. Jesus' statements, however, beg yet another question. What, exactly, IS the gospel message?
What is the gospel?
In general, the Gospel or 'good news' is a message revealing why God created mankind. Man's wonderful 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 Gospel the disciples were to carry contains not only information about Jesus but also concerns the wonderful message he brought regarding the coming Kingdom of God on earth.
The Great Commission 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) in the spirit of the commission given by Jesus!
Some of those scattered taught only the Jews about the gospel 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 played their part in God's work by helping to spread the gospel in their local areas.
House churches who played their part in God's commission included those 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). It is the charge to take his words, and the entirety of what Scripture teaches, to the ends of the earth.
Even as the early Church dedicated themselves to spreading the good news of God's Kingdom everywhere, modern Christians are under the same obligation to be an active and dynamic part of the Great Commission!