Discipleship as a Lifestyle, Not as a Program: A Brief Exegesis of Matthew 28:19a
(Grammar aids from Louw-Nida, Drumwright, Mounce)
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
UBS 4th Edition
18 καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐλάλησεν αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ἐδόθη μοι πᾶσα ἐξουσία ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ [τῆς] γῆς. 19 πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος, 20 διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν· καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ μεθʼ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος.
There is so much to discuss regarding The Great Commission. Volumes have been written about its theological significance. What could very well be discussed here are many things: it being placed at the end of an ancient biography, emphasizing importance; it being given to a group of disciples instead of one, emphasizing a collective obedience; it being based upon the Lordship of Christ. There are so many things that could be dissected in regards to these final three verses in Matthew. What I want to focus on is v. 19a – specifically “Go” and “make disciples.” It is my prayer that the reader would see (perhaps for the first time) that Jesus is not commanding the disciples to do something in addition to their Christ-following life, but instead is further defining what their Christ-following life should look like.
“Therefore” demands an understanding of the previous verse. In v.18 Jesus begins to speak, and He is speaking to the eleven disciples (v. 16). Jesus begins with the statement, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” Jesus Himself has rights over all of creation – period. He has direct control over any and everything and He has every right to command any and everything. This authority is the foundation on which Christ will give the disciples The Great Commission. There is nothing that is not under Jesus Christ’s control, and so it follows that if Jesus gives a command, that command should be carried out with no compromises or hesitations.
“Go” is not the best way to translate the Greek in this verse. πορευθέντες is aorist, passive, plural, nominative, and participle. It is also contemporaneous, which means that it is done alongside the main action, in this case the making of disciples. Alternate translations can include “to travel” or “to behave.” Being a participle, the time of the action must be determined by the main action of the sentence, again the making of disciples. Though the time-tense will match the leading verb, “the aorist participle has action prior to the action of the leading verb, whether the tense of the action in that verb is past, present, or future… The aorist participle may be translated with the helping word ‘when’ or “after.’” This word is not an imperative and so cannot be seen as such, but rather as a temporal clause indicating time. Instead of “go” a better translation would be “as you all go” or “when you all go.” πορευθέντες is by no means the first part of a two-fold command, such as “go” and “make disciples.” Instead, this word is defining when the making of disciples will occur. It will occur “as you all go.” This can even be seen as “as/when you all live your life” because of the implications of behavior in the verb.
“And” has been added by translators to clear up the English, but since πορευθέντες is seen as a time-defining temporal clause and not at all an imperative, the “and” is unneeded.
“Make disciples” is translated from μαθητεύσατε. This word is aorist, active, imperative, plural. Imperative gives the state of command. This is the command that Jesus has the right to give. If passive this word would mean “to be” disciples, but in active form it conveys a “making” of disciples. The noun-form for this word is usually translated as “disciple,” but means exactly the same thing as “student” or “pupil.” “Follower” can also be a translation. The word “disciple” can often carry some undefined implications with it. In many cases, it may be better to just say “make students/followers.”
The command is to make followers. We are to do this as we live our lives – as we go about our every-day lives. The thought that an hour-per-week meeting with 3 men can be discipleship is heresy. The training up of students of Christ must occur as a 24/7 commitment. The specified time to make disciples is not “when you meet weekly for prayer and scriptural studies.” The specified time to make disciples is instead “when you go about your daily behaviors and practices.” “Life together” as Bonhoeffer called it. Instructing and building up followers of Christ is also a completely unbiased endeavor. The specified people that Jesus commands the 11 disciples to make disciples of is “πάντα τὰ ἔθνη” – all the nations/peoples/ethnicities. There can be absolutely no preferences as to who you teach about Christ’s commands. God wants all people to know, and so Christ commands us to tell all people. Racism and hyperactive-cliques are 100% in contrast to disciple making, and as long as these things are active in your life, you will never be able to carry out this Great Commission. Period.
So The Great Commission is not something that says to go to a certain place and build a program to invest 2 hours a week into young Christians. The Great Commission is the Lord Jesus Christ’s command that throughout our lives, as we go about our daily behaviors, we are to train people up as students of Christ. Making disciples is a 24/7 duty and is based upon the Lordship of Jesus Christ, by Whom all things hold together and exist. Our lives as Christians are now additionally defined as a lives of continuous teaching and training up and nourishing. Disciple making is not another duty to fulfill, but another definition of what it means to follow Christ.
Now may Jesus Christ receive glory and honor and majesty and fame for the works of His hands. For He has begun a good work in every believer and He alone will sanctify – not our disciple making. There is no other beauty but Him, the only true context of life. May He be praised. Amen.