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The Great CommissionWhen we are asked to do or believe something, we should always be like the Bereans and test everything against Scripture (Acts 17:11)... the whole of Scripture (2 Tim 3:16-17).  If a person feels "led by the spirit" to speak, behave, or believe a certain way, they should test that spirit (1 John 4:1) and see if that spirit is in agreement with Scripture or not.

Let's take a journey together through the Bible and see what it says about the matter of "The Great Commission".  As we go, may we seek what is right, be merciful in our speech and actions, and walk humbly with the Lord (Micah 6:8).

Scriptural quotations are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted. Bolded text or other emphases in the Scriptural references are the author's.

While the phrase "The Great Commission" is never found in Scripture, the "commission" usually refers to the command of the Lord found at the end of Matthew chapter 28...

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 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; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)

 

Let's use the standard "who, what, when, where, why" questions and see what Scripture tells us about this command.

 

Who

Who was speaking? It was Yeshua.

To whom was He speaking? To the 11 talmidim [disciples].

It was not to all of His disciples... just the core 11 who were left after Judas had betrayed Yeshua.  Does this mean the commandment is for all of His disciples from that time until today?  The passage doesn't explicitly tell us one way or the other.  Let's continue and see what Scripture will reveal.

 


What

The Great CommissionWhat did Yeshua tell them? Did He tell them to go out and convert unbelieving Jews and Gentiles into Christians?

No.

He gave them three specific instructions:

  1. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations
  2. baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit
  3. teaching them to observe all that I commanded you

 

1. Disciples, Not Converts

Yeshua did not give the talmidim instructions to go out and convert people to some new religion. Yeshua (a Jewish rabbi) gave His disciples (all Jewish men) instructions to go and make disciples (or talmidim in Hebrew). Discipleship in that context means something very specific: training to live in the way of your rabbi.

A disciple is a person who chooses to live his life just like his rabbi.

Although believers have only One who is our Rabbi (the Lord Yeshua), all of the rabbis in the history of the world have followed the same pattern of discipleship: learn Scripture and walk in obedience to G-d's Word according to the manner that the rabbi does.

A disciple is not a person who goes into a classroom and gains knowledge.  There is no such thing as "a discipleship class".  A disciple is not an individual who comes to know what his teacher knows but someone who does what his rabbi does.  Discipleship is not about knowing because it is not about knowledge (1 Corinthians 13:2).  Discipleship is about doing...by faith (James 2:15-26).

A disciple is a person who chooses to live his life just like his rabbi. We are to be conformed to the image of G-d's own Son (Romans 8:29) and live our lives just like our Rabbi.

Does this mean that we need to be crucified by Roman soldiers at the behest of Temple authorities? By no means! Messiah, Himself stated

"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!" (Matthew 10:24)

 

It is enough for us to become like our Teacher and our Master.

The instruction that Yeshua gave to the eleven disciples was this: teach others to live their lives as He lived His life. Nobody can be converted to such a thing because this call to discipleship is not for everyone. As it is written, "For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14) and "it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on G-d who has mercy" (Romans 9:16). It is the same for believers today as it was Yeshua's disciples:

You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. (John 15:16)

 

2. Baptism

Again we should consider that this is the Jewish Messiah and His Jewish disciples. What is He telling them in this command?

Our English word "baptize" comes from the Greek word used in the Apostolic Writings: βαπτίζω [baptizo, Strong's #907].  Baptizo originates in the root βαπτω [bapto, Strong's #911].  Here is what Strong's Greek Dictionary has to say:

A primary verb; to whelm, that is, cover wholly with a fluid; in the New Testament only in a qualified or specific sense, that is, (literally) to moisten (a part of one’s person), or (by implication) to stain (as with dye): - dip. 1 [emphasis added]

 

This perspective would explain why Yochanan [John] was baptizing in the Yarden [Jordan] river: he needed a source of water large enough to enable him to immerse a person completely.  If he was simply sprinkling the person, then he could have done this any place where he could find a cup of water.

 

Is Baptism Something New?

Was the concept of baptism something new to the time of Yeshua?

It was not.

Full-body immersion [Hebrew: tevillah] in a body of water [Hebrew: mikveh] existed for centuries before the birth of Messiah and remains even until today.  Tevillah/baptism is used in several situations. It is used for ritual purity by the priesthood (e.g. Exodus 29:4, 40:12, etc.). It is used for ritual purity by women (Leviticus 15). It is also used during the traditional ceremony for conversion to Judaism.

Submerging in a pool of water for the purpose not of using the water's physical cleansing properties but expressly to symbolize a change-of-soul is a statement at once deeply spiritual and immensely compelling. No other symbolic act can so totally embrace a person as being submerged in water, which must touch and cover every lesion, every strand of hair, every birthmark. No other religious act is so freighted with meaning as this one which touches every aspect of life and proclaims a total commitment to a new idea and a new way of life as it swallows up the old and gives birth to the new.2 [emphasis added]

 

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

 

Could it be that Messiah gave us a greater understanding of the well-known ritual of tevillah (and its symbolism of being reborn) and established it as the sign of the new covenant by which we have new life in Him?

 

Is Baptism Only Found in the Apostolic Writings?

It is not.

While the word "baptism" is not found in the Tanakh, the Greek words baptizo and bapto are found in the Septuagint.

The story of Elisha and Naaman in 2 Kings chapter 5 contains the Greek baptizo.  Naaman was the captain of the army of the king of Aram.  Naaman had leprosy [Hebrew: tzara'at] and heard about the prophet Elisha in Israel. Naaman went to the house of Elisha in Israel:

So Naaman came with his horses and his chariots and stood at the doorway of the house of Elisha. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored to you and you will be clean." But Naaman was furious and went away and said, "Behold, I thought, 'He will surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.' "Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?" So he turned and went away in a rage. Then his servants came near and spoke to him and said, "My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, 'Wash, and be clean'?" So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child and he was clean. (2 Kings 5:9-14)

 

The Greek word translated as "dipped" (highlighted above) is the word baptizo. What makes this passage important is the other highlighted word above: "wash". The Greek word translated as "wash" is λούω [louo, Strong's #3068] which means "to wash an entire person". There are other words used to wash only a part or to wash garments. The instruction that Elisha provided was one to wash (or immerse) completely. Naaman eventually went an "dipped" (baptizo) himself seven times in the Jordan. We can see from this passage that the Tanakh references full-immersion baptism.

Here are the passages in Torah that use bapto:

  • Exodus 12:22- "You shall take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood..." [immersion in blood]
  • Leviticus 4:6- "and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood..." [immersion in blood]
  • Leviticus 4:17- "and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood..." [immersion in blood]
  • Leviticus 9:9- "...and he dipped his finger in the blood..." [immersion in blood]
  • Leviticus 11:32- "...it shall be put in the water and ... then it becomes clean." [immersion in water]
  • Leviticus 14:6- "and shall dip them... in the blood..." [immersion in blood]
  • Leviticus 14:16- "the priest shall then dip his right-hand finger into the oil..." [immersion in oil]
  • Leviticus 14:51- "and dip them in the blood..." [immersion in blood]
  • Numbers 19:18- "A clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water..." [immersion in water]
  • Deuteronomy 33:24- "...And may he dip his foot in oil." [immersion in oil]

 

In these passages, we see immersion in blood, oil, and water. Consider these passages from the Apostolic Writings:

"I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (Mark 1:8)

 

Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)

 

But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. (John 19:34)

 

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? (Romans 6:3)

 

Blood, water, Spirit, baptism.  The words and imagery of the Torah link all of these together.

 

3. All I Commanded You

This part of the Great Commission is most often ignored or misunderstood.

What did Yeshua teach and command them?

Yeshua taught His Jewish disciples for two to three years. During that time, He taught His disciples the proper interpretation and application of the Law of Moses. That is what rabbis do and why they are called a rabbi. Rabbi translates into English as "teacher".

Teacher of what?

Euclidean geometry?  Medieval Russian literature?  Underwater basket weaving?

No.  Rabbis teach Torah.

The word rabbi comes from a Hebrew word that means "great one".  How is a rabbi great?  In his knowledge of Torah.

Our Rabbi gave His disciples commands in regards to the full and proper interpretation of Torah (e.g. do not lust after a woman or you have committed adultery in your heart) as well as the appropriate and complete application of those commands. Please note that Yeshua never taught his disciples to disregard any portion of the Torah. If He ever had done so then He would have sinned:

"You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 13:4-5)

 

None of the charges against Yeshua include teaching disobedience to the Torah.

Please note that Yeshua's critics and opponents never understood Him to be teaching against the Torah.  If the "experts in the Law" ever thought Yeshua was teaching against the Law, then they would have had a valid reason to call for His death.  None of the charges against Yeshua include teaching disobedience to the Torah.  Instead, we find in the gospels false charges are brought against Him.

The first time we find accusations of "speaking against the Law" is in Acts 6:13 as part of the false charges brought against Stephen.  Since these were false charges, Stephen must not have been speaking against the Law. The same false charges are brought against Paul in Acts 21:28. The leaders of the believers in Jerusalem flatly stated the exact opposite was true a few verses earlier (Acts 21:19-24): Paul walked orderly keeping the Law.

Although Messiah directed it toward His eleven talmidim, all of us, as His disciples, should be obeying this "all that I commanded you" portion of the Great Commission.


When

When did Yeshua give this command?

Matthew 28 records this command of the Master after His death, burial, and resurrection but before His ascension. It is at this point that many claim Yeshua "fulfilled" (in their minds "performed them fully, so we don't have to obey") the commandments.  If ever there was ever a time when Messiah could have made the statement "the Law no longer applies" this would have been it.  Instead, He tells his disciples to go out and teach others to obey the Law.

 

Where

Where did this occur?

But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. (Matthew 28:16)

 

The Galilee (shown in the image at right below) is a region of the Land of Israel (at left below).

Accordance Maps- Regions of the Land of Israel Accordance Maps- The Galilee

Although there are several landmarks recognizable by their names (Mt. Tabor, Moreh, Carmel, etc.), Scripture does not give us the name of a particular location other than "the mountain which Jesus had designated".

The mountain could have been any of several peaks in the broad area that is the Galilee.

 

Why

There are a number of reasons why this command was given at this time to these specific individuals. Much of what we could list would be speculation. Instead, let's examine the first words of the great commission:

 

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 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; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)

 

"Therefore"...hmmm.  Therefore means "as a consequence of something", go. As a consequence of what? All authority has been given to Messiah in heaven and on earth.

"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth."

Messiah Yeshua has stated that He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. This absolute authority leaves no room for anyone else (e.g. Satan) to have any authority.  Anything and everything that happens in heaven and on earth occurs under the authority of Yeshua the Messiah, the Son of the Living G-d (Matthew 16:16).  At the end of time, He hands over the kingdom to G-d the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24).

It is because of this that the disciples are given the order to "go" and make disciples of all the nations.

 

Paul indicated that this instruction was completed in his day. As he wrote in his letter to the Romans:

Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known [past tense] to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 16:25-27)

 

So, too, may we seek that it be completed in our day as well.

 


Summary

The Great Commission found in Matthew 28 contains three parts:

  1. Go therefore and make disciples [not converts] of all the nations
  2. baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit [symbolizing the new life we have in Yeshua]
  3. teaching them to observe all that I commanded you [proper obedience to Torah and all of G-d's commandments]

 

We should remain faithful to His instruction... all of it.

 

Closing thoughts

Since Yeshua never spoke against the Law and never taught His disciples to disobey the Law, why do we find so many teachers, pastors, and priests flatly teaching their students and congregations to do so? This is the mystery of lawlessness that was already at work in Paul's day. It is as He described it:

For the mystery of lawlessness [Torah-lessness?] is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:7-10)

 

As Messiah Yeshua Himself said:

"So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear." (Matthew 13:40-43)

 

May we hear and obey all that you have commanded us, Lord. Oh, how we long for your return.

Come quickly, Lord Yeshua!

 

Footnotes

1. Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries. Dictionaries of Hebrew and Greek Words taken from Strong's Exhaustive Concordance by James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., 1890. [back]
2. Mikveh: Immersing in the Ritual Pool- http://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Life_Events/Conversion/Conversion_Process/Mikveh.shtml [back]

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Today is

Yom Sheni, 18 Kislev, 5780

Monday, December 16, 2019

 

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