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The Great Commission: Disciples
Matthew Lesson #203
June 3, 2018
“Father, thank You for this time that we have to look into Your Word, recognizing that this reflects Your thinking from eternity past. In fact, for all time, and for all eternity, these embody for us a core element of all that You know.
“This is what You have revealed to us for this purpose: that we might come to understand who You are, why You created us, why the Creation itself, and what the problems are as a result of sin, why there is sin, and why there continues to be evil, and that the only solution is that which begins at the Cross.
“The Cross is the payment for this sin; that eventually there will be redemption of all, that there will be a time that is actually referred to as the regeneration and that there will be a restoration, and eventually a new heaven and new earth, and it starts at the Cross.
“Father, help us to understand these things and the importance of the transition that occurs after the Cross in this new dispensation, understanding our mission as outlined by the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 28.
“We pray that You might help us understand this, in Christ’s name, amen.”
We’re continuing our study today on these last few verses in Matthew, commonly referred to as the Great Commission. This isn’t the only place that Jesus articulated the future mission and ministry for the disciples. He does it at the end of the time in the upper room after the Lord’s Table in what is referred to as the Upper Room Discourse from John 14 through, and even including, the high priestly prayer in John 17.
That’s before He goes to the cross. After He goes to the cross, the first time He met with the disciples, He said that He was sending them. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke there are also developments of His statement of their mission, as well as in the opening chapter of Acts.
All of these together are part of and express different facets of the mission of the apostles in the Church Age. We must understand that the Great Commission itself must be interpreted within the framework of this new thing that begins with the Church Age. It is foundational to understanding the Great Commission.
Today we will look a little bit more at the command, the mandate here to make disciples, understanding what that means, and then the concept of baptism.
The closing section Matthew 28:18–20, “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore—that should be translated “as you’re going,” “while you’re going”—make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in 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 to the end of the age.’ ”
As we look at the Great Commission, we see this statement we evaluated last week:
1. “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
2. “Go therefore,” literally, while you are going, as you are proceeding in life.
3. “Make disciples of all nations.”
The first way in which this is done—it’s an instrumental participle, by—
4. “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Also an instrumental participle, by
5. “Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”
Then the concluding statement,
6. “I am with you always even to the end of the age.”
We looked at the context last time; this takes place in Galilee. The disciples finally believed Jesus, they went up to Galilee. They first encountered Him there on the shore of the Sea of Galilee—seven of them did—but this is subsequent to that when He is meeting with the Eleven now in Galilee.
Matthew 28:17, “When they saw Him, they worshiped Him, but some doubted.”
Just to remind you of this, and it’s interesting, because as I study and as I prepare each week, I go back and I read different commentaries and different things. Some of them are supposed to be good commentary, some of them wish they were, even among dispensationalists.
Everybody almost to a man still thinks the doubting here may have something to do with doubting the resurrection. Although a lot of them will recognize that, they still seem to wonder, what’s this all about? I contend that we have to understand this contextually.
We understand contextually because the statement about doubting is sandwiched between the term, “worshiping Him” in Matthew 28:17 and His statement subsequent to their worshiping Him, “all authority is given to Me.”
Here it’s about authority, EXOUSIA, and it means the right or authority. In what area has this authority been given to Jesus is fundamental to understand.
Worship itself, the word PROSKUNEO, which means to bow down, coming from the idea of kiss KUNEO, throwing a kiss toward someone in authority. It’s an act of submission, it’s an act of obedience, and so you have an authority-nuanced word “worshipped” in between “doubted” and then Jesus says, “all authority.”
We must understand doubt within this context. They’re not sure what’s next. They know that He’s resurrected, but what’s next on the agenda? We know that they are slow to pick up on Jesus’ teaching. Even as He is about to ascend they’re still saying, “Is it now that You’re going to restore the kingdom?”
It takes them a while to put the pieces together. I don’t think they do until the Holy Spirit comes on the Day of Pentecost. But the doubting here, I think, relates to where are we going? Everybody’s against us, are we still marked criminals? Will the Pharisees kill us? How can we go forward from here? What do we do? That’s the context here.
Jesus tells them that this authority has been given to Him. As I read and read more this week, many people, many dispensationalists all connected this to Daniel 7. I pointed out last time why Daniel 7:14 is so important: the handing of the kingdom to the One who comes before the throne—before the Ancient of Days—the Son of Man, that occurs at the end of the Tribulation.
I haven’t read anybody yet who identifies that specifically and that is so important, because the authority here is not kingdom authority because Jesus isn’t a king. He ascends to Heaven, He sits at the right hand of the Father, Revelation 3:21: He is not the king yet.
He is like David in the wilderness. He’s been anointed, but He is not enthroned. He is on that holding ground. He’s like the crown prince waiting for the opportunity to be given the kingdom and to take the kingdom.
That doesn’t occur until the Son of Man goes to the Ancient of Days and receives the kingdom. That’s described by the seventh seal document in Revelation 5 when that is given to the Lamb before the throne. That is when He has the kingdom credentials. That’s when He’s given the right to go take back the earth from the prince of the power the air.
Here we have the authority that is stated in Ephesians, that God “gave Him to be head over all things to the church,” that He is the Head of the church, Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 4:15. Ephesians 5:23, “Christ is the head of the church.”
The authority understood here must be understood in terms of the mission that God has given the apostles. There’s something new. They are not part of the Old Testament framework. They are part of something totally new. They’re going to be the apostles. They will be the foundation for the church, Ephesians 2:20, the prophets and apostles.
That’s talking about New Testament prophets and New Testament apostles of the foundation of the church. They are not a continuation of the Old Testament plan for Israel. There’s a new mission now.
If you go back and read in the Old Testament, Israel was supposed to be a model nation, whenever the nations would come to Israel, would look at Israel; when the caravans would come through, that they would go back to their homes and talk about this incredible nation that has been blessed by God.
The witness of Israel in the Old Testament was that people would come to them, and then they would go home talking about how God had blessed this one people.
In the Church Age we are sent out. We are to go throughout the world and take the gospel to everyone. That’s the significance of Jesus’ statement in John 20:21 that, “I send you.” He does send us.
That’s not the point of the “go” here because it’s not a command. The “go,” is while you’re going. He’s referencing “I’ve already told you I’m sending you. Now while you’re going, this is what you do.”
In John 20:21 He said He was sending them, but He didn’t tell them what they were going to do until John 21 when He has that conversation with Peter about feeding the sheep. The authority here is from Christ; He is establishing that.
The four key terms that must be understood here are “go,” and we have looked at that, “make disciples,” that’s the command that controls everything in these two verses, and the two words “baptizing” and “teaching.”
The “ing” ending in English tells you that it’s a participle, it’s not a finite verb. Look at the Greek grammar; it’s really important because you have to identify the kind of adverbial participle it is, and they are explaining how the command is to be fulfilled: how you are to do it.
How do we make disciples? You do it by baptizing and you do it by teaching.
The first word that is used is also a participle, at the beginning of the sentence, the word POREUOMAI, which means to go, to proceed, to go on a journey, to walk. All of these are part of it, but as a participle it also relates to the main verb. It is describing the context of making disciples: it’s when you’re going, when you are proceeding in life, while you are going.
It will pick up something of an imperatival sense from the context, but the dominant idea is more of the temporal sense.
The main command is the verb MATHETEUO, which is an aorist active imperative.
Grammar just blows people away, but it’s important. Why didn’t Jesus use a present imperative? Present imperatives emphasize something that’s a continual modus operandi; it’s your standard operating procedure.
But it’s an aorist. That doesn’t mean that this shouldn’t be standard operating procedure—negated. But what the aorist imperative does is it brings out the priority of this. This is really important! This is a priority!
This is the priority, this is your main mission. Which is why, as you go about your life, this is to dominate how you serve Me and it relates to everyone.
The problem that we have today is that the idea of becoming a disciple or the catchphrase that has been important for probably the last 50 years or so, probably 75 years, is the idea of discipleship.
This grew out of some writings that occurred back in the 19th century, one of which was by A.B. Bruce, who wrote a book, The Training of the Twelve, which when I first started getting serious about Bible study, I heard a number of people mention who, later on I came to understand because of their emphasis on small-group methodology, that this influenced them.
He comes out of the 19th century and there’s this study that this is how Jesus did it. He didn’t do it by building a church, He did it by picking a small group and working with that small group.
Out of that, you had many different organizations, usually targeting young people, with large campus ministries: the Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ, Campus Life, and Young Life. All of these tended to focus on the small group dynamic, that this is how Jesus did it: He picked a small group and worked through that small group.
The question that should be asked is, is that what Paul did? Is that what Peter did? Is that what John did? We don’t know the other disciples did because they didn’t leave anything in any writings in the Epistles, but is that what they did?
Now I’m not saying that there is something wrong with that. We all as pastors and Bible teachers have a smaller circle of people that we will mentor more. And we can’t deny the fact that there is something that is more efficient in working with a smaller group of people, but is this a hard-and-fast methodology that has been handed down in the church?
Does the New Testament, by the mention of discipleship, mean what Campus Crusade means, what Navigators means? Today this thing has segued and transitioned into something called “spiritual formation groups.” That’s another horrible buzzword and you find them in every seminary now.
The root of spiritual formation groups is really in a lot of Roman Catholic mysticism, and they will often emphasize the importance of reading the medieval mystics. What are Protestants doing reading and going to medieval Catholic mystics to find biblical truth?
Yet this has become very popular in the last 30 years, and it’s a danger because the focus goes internal instead of onto the Word of God. Mysticism is very much antithetical to a biblical view of spirituality.
We have to recognize that a lot of things that we may think about in terms of discipleship—ideas that come to our minds—are contemporary expressions of this, but that’s not part of the core meaning or even the secondary meanings of this particular word.
I want to talk about this a little bit. The verb is MATHETEUO. It’s not used a lot outside of the Gospels. I’ve got a breakdown here, not only of the verb MATHETEUO, but also of the noun MATHETES, which is the word for a disciple; that’s the noun.
Other than a reference to just the Twelve, the noun is used one time in Matthew and one time in Luke. This is a reference to general disciples. Let me back up a minute.
A big discussion today—and we will see an issue on this in just a minute—which has been going on for quite a while is, is the term “disciple” equivalent to a believer? In other words, is every believer a disciple and if you’re a disciple does that mean you’re a believer. That’s not what’s in the Bible.
The Bible recognizes that there are many believers in Jesus Christ who are justified; they are saved and will spend eternity in Heaven; but they aren’t disciples. They never become disciples. They are just glad to be born again, but they do not take up the challenge to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When they die they’re no more mature, they know no more about the Bible than they did the day after they were saved. They’re just not that interested in growing. They’re distracted by the cares of the world.
We find in the Scripture that the term MATHETES for disciple describes not only the Twelve; that’s the dominant use in the Gospels and in Acts, it’s never used in the Epistles. Isn’t that interesting? Because what you will get if you listen to a lot of contemporary Bible teachers is that Matthew 28:19–20 is your catch-all phrase, your key defining purpose for the church: it’s to make disciples.
Paul never uses the noun or the verb, Peter never uses the noun or the verb. John never uses the noun or the verb. So what’s going on?
Jesus seems to make a big deal about it, but only Matthew makes a big deal about it in terms of the verb. He’s the only one who uses the verb in relation to what Christ teaches. I think that’s an important observation that is ignored by most people. It’s not that technical of a term; that’s all I’m saying.
We learn from it that as a noun, it refers to those who are students, those who are followers. They’re pupils, they’re learners; they are followers of a teacher. That’s how it’s basically used when we look at its use in the ancient world.
It’s used to describe believers other than the Twelve. For example, you have the two on the road to Emmaus in Luke. They’re not part of the Twelve, but they’re disciples. Matthew talks about other believers other than the Twelve by referring to them as disciples one time and Luke one time, to the two on the road to Emmaus. That’s it.
They’re used to refer to the students, the followers of John the Baptist four times in Matthew, two times in Mark, two times in Luke, two times in John.
Jesus teaches about a disciple, a disciple something or other, and talks about some characteristic of a disciple as a follower of his teacher. He does that three times in Matthew, one time in Luke, not at all in Mark, and three times in John. These are just general principles about a disciple.
We have the Pharisees mentioned by Matthew one time. Joseph of Arimathea is identified as a disciple in Matthew one time, in John two times. The verb is used three times in Matthew alone. Mark never uses the verb, Luke doesn’t use the verb, John doesn’t use the verb.
It refers to the Twelve in Matthew 66 times, Mark 44 times, Luke 33 times, and John 71 times.
In Acts it’s different: one time it refers to the Twelve; all of the other uses in Acts are references to just general believers. There you might get the idea that it is a term that is synonymous with being a believer, but you won’t get that from the Gospels.
We see that people who were in the early church weren’t the kind that just said, “Okay, I believe in Jesus; I’m glad I’m saved, that’s it.” They seem to be oriented to being students of the Word.
When it comes to a disciple, we have a problem today, and this problem is those who understand “disciple” to be a synonym for a believer. You run into this most specifically from the lordship salvation crowd.
This dominates today and one of the most vocal spokesman for this is John MacArthur. John MacArthur’s had a tremendous ministry. I believe many people are saved. I used to listen to MacArthur all the time on the radio back in the 70s and early 80s, and that’s about the time that his lordship salvation began to be so visible.
For those who don’t know, lordship salvation is in part the idea that salvation is not just belief in Christ. You have to accept Jesus’ full authority at that time—in other words His lordship—or you weren’t saved.
Another aspect is they think that there’s a difference between true belief and false belief. That you can have a true belief in Jesus as your Savior, believe He died on the Cross for your sins, and if it’s true, it will necessarily be evidenced by good fruit—which makes everybody fruit inspectors.
They will also teach that there are those who can believe Jesus died for their sins, but it’s a false faith (you didn’t know that!). They will say it is a false faith because if it’s not evidenced by good works, then you didn’t really believe.
Everybody falls prey to that at some point or another. You look at somebody, you talk about some world hero, you talk about some mass murderer, and you hear that they had made conversion at some point, had a clear understanding of and belief in the gospel.
Like Karl Marx; when He was a teenager, about 15, his father who was Jewish converted to Christianity and Karl Marx wrote in high school a paper on justification that nailed it. He really clearly understood. People say, “Ah, if you look at the rest of His life, he didn’t have real faith.”
If you believe that, you don’t believe in grace. That’s the key: that there is a difference between justification and sanctification. Justification is “I believe Jesus died for my sins and I’m saved.”
Sanctification is what I do after that. After that a lot of people are just like the parable of the tares: they’re just choked out, and they never grow.
This is what MacArthur says. That’s a brief overview of lordship, and this comes to focus in his definition and understanding of a disciple.
He says, “A disciple refers to believing and learning.” That’s the idea, believing and learning. Where does he get the idea of believing in that? We have to ask that question.
He has imported that to the definition, and you won’t find a Greek dictionary, you won’t find anything in a word study of that word that even comes close to indicating that belief is part of learning. He imports that.
He says it “refers to believing in learning. Jesus is not referring simply to believers or simply to learners, or He would have used other words. MATHETEUO carries a beautiful combination of meanings.”
Well, let me stop there. He did use other words. He used other words in Mark and Luke and John, and Paul used other words in his Epistles, and Peter in his Epistles, and John in his Epistles.
MacArthur has made a fundamental logical flaw here by making this word the end-all, be-all, catch-all for defining what a Christian is.
“MATHETEUO 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.”
That is what a disciple is, but he’s going to say that’s true of every believer. That’s where he has a fallacy. He goes on to say:
“If you abide in My Word, Jesus said, then you are truly disciples of Mine.” And he completely blows that because “abiding” is fellowship, “abiding” isn’t being saved. Not all believers abide in Christ. Whenever we sin and we walk in darkness, we’re not abiding in Christ. That’s what 1 John is all about, but of course, he has no clue of what 1 John is talking about.
He goes on to say, “A person who is not Christ’s true disciple does not belong to Him and is not saved.”
So if somebody believes Jesus died for their sins when they were eight years old in Sunday school, then when they get off to college, they reject Christianity and reject the truth, according to MacArthur, they weren’t really saved.
The question is, how do you know if you’re really saved? The Bible says you know you’re saved because you believe in Jesus as your Savior. That’s what John says: 95 times he uses the unqualified term, “believe.” He doesn’t say sincerely believe, truly believe, genuinely believe, he says believe and you have eternal life.
When MacArthur came out with his first book The Gospel According to Jesus, dealing with his theology of Lordship, there was a bookstore in Irving, Texas, called “The Living Vine.” I lived in Irving, pastored in Irving at the time, and another pastor friend of mine named Tommy Ice came up from Austin. It was the Christian Booksellers’ convention in Dallas and the owner of this bookstore invited a bunch pastors to come and for MacArthur to talk to us.
Tommy and I sat just under the sneeze glass there at MacArthur’s feet, and when he finished giving his articulation of the gospel, I raised my hand and I said, “So, Dr. MacArthur, how certain are you that you’re going to go to Heaven when you die? Because you’re relatively young now, you’re in your late 40s, early 50s, and what happens if you turn against Christ as you get older?” He said, “Well, that’s possible. So I guess I have a 95% assurance of salvation.”
That’s what lordship salvation gets you: you just don’t really know. The reason MacArthur got that way: he had a close friend, he’d been involved in ministry with him in high school and in college doing evangelism, working Campus Crusade.
Then this buddy goes off to college somewhere back East and comes back as an atheist, rejecting the Bible and just rejecting everything about Christianity. MacArthur just can’t deal with it, so he said the only solution to come to is, he never was really saved.
I had the same thing happened to me: one of my close friends that I grew up with at Camp Peniel, was a counselor with him. I heard this guy preach great sermons on salvation. I’ve no doubt that he was saved, but now he’s a New Age psychiatrist and has been for the last 45 years. But he’s saved.
As I understand grace, MacArthur doesn’t. MacArthur says if you’re not a disciple for the rest of your life, then you weren’t really saved.
The Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich Lexicon of Greek says that MATHETES means to be a pupil, a learner, one who engages in learning through instruction from another.
You can be a disciple and not a believer. That was Judas Iscariot. You can be a believer and not a disciple, and that relates to a lot of the people who left Jesus as He became closer and closer to the Cross.
The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology:
“A man is called MATHETES when he binds himself to someone else in order to acquire his practical and theoretical knowledge.” He becomes a student. “He may be an apprentice in a trade, a student of medicine, or a member of a philosophical school. One can only be a MATHETES in the company of a DIDASKALOS, a master or teacher, to whom the MATHETES since the days of the Sophists generally had to pay a fee. An obvious exception to this is when MATHETES refers to spiritual dependence on a thinker long since dead.”
This word group MATHETES / MATHETEUO is used in the Septuagint to translate Hebrew words for learning.
Deuteronomy 4:10, talking about what Israel learned when they stood before the Lord at Horeb, “when the Lord said to me—Moses said—‘Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me.’ ”
Learn is MATHETEUO in the Septuagint. What are they learning? They are learning God’s words. That’s the focal point.
Deuteronomy 17:19, “It should be with him, and he shall—this is talking to the king who writes out his own personal copy of the Torah—it shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of His life that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes.”
MATHETES is about learning. It’s about being a student of the Word and learning God’s Word.
Deuteronomy 31:12, “Gather people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the Lord.”
What are they hearing? They’re hearing the Word of God. That is how you made learners is you taught them the Word of God.
This idea is still very much a part of Jewish culture in the Second Temple period when Jesus is teaching. Pharisees had their disciples; John the Baptist had his disciples. They were learning from them; they were students. Jesus had His; most were believers. As we know with Judas, some were not.
Psalm 119:71 also uses MATHETEUO in the Greek, “It is good for me that I’ve been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes.” Great passage when you’re going through suffering. This is a teaching time for the Lord.
It’s paralleled in the pastorals in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”
Those who desire to live godly are those who are becoming disciples. They are learners, they’re growing spiritually. That’s what a disciple is.
I’m going to stop there today. We understand what “disciple” is: a disciple is someone who’s a learner, he is taught.
Acts 2:42 and other passages in Acts tell us how the apostles understood this. At the end of Peter’s sermon on that first day of Pentecost when the church was born, the description of those early believers is, they were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching. They were learning.
That’s the function of becoming a disciple: you devote yourselves to the teaching of the Word. It’s not a Sunday-only thing; it is a seven-day-a-week operation.
We understand this is what the disciples were doing because the Sanhedrin prohibited them from teaching the people. They didn’t listen to them, and they’re accused again of teaching the people. That’s what they did.
When you have the word “preaching” that’s used here in these verses, it’s EVANGELIZO which means to give the gospel, to evangelize. It’s not the artificial breakdown we have in churches today, where preaching is what you do on Sunday morning—a motivational exhortational message—and teaching is restricted to Sunday school or to some other environment.
If you look at the early church in Acts and in the pastorals, the primary thing that they did was to teach, to instruct people in the Scriptures. That’s how you feed the sheep. That’s how you equip the saints. That’s the mission of the church.
It’s not in a small group; it is to whoever. It may be ten people, twelve people, 1,000 people or 10,000 people. It is instructing them in the Word of God. That is how we make students of the Word of God is by teaching them the Word of God.
“Father, we thank You for the opportunity to study and reflect on this, to understand the mission of the church is to make learners of the Word, teaching them the Word, giving them a hunger and thirst to know Your Word, to learn Your Word. It is the content of Your Word that motivates us through God the Holy Spirit.
“Father we are thankful that we have such a great picture of salvation in the Scriptures—Jesus as the Lamb of God. How it teaches us that He and He alone did everything necessary for our salvation, so that salvation is not based on our works, not based on either works done ahead of time or works done afterwards.
“It is based simply and solely on believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting in Him. At the instant we do, we have eternal life. We pray that anyone who is listening online, anyone who is listening to this lesson who has never believed in Jesus, that they would understand clearly that that is the issue: that if we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will have everlasting life.
“Father, we pray that You would challenge us, each one of us in our own lives: Are we willing to be disciples and in areas of our life, such as in our family and our homes make disciples?
“We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”