After Jesus died and rose again, he appeared to his disciples and many others, beginning a short period of teaching before he ascended back to heaven. During this time, Jesus prepared his disciples for the mission he was giving to them, telling them, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). In other words, just as God the Father sent the Son into the world to accomplish the mission of redeeming his people, so Jesus was now sending his disciples on a mission, and he made that mission explicit just prior to his ascension. Known as the “Great Commission,” Jesus commanded his disciples,
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.Matt 28:19–20
The imperative verb in this commission identifies the central purpose for the church, the body of believers the apostles would found: “make disciples.” Jesus’s mission for his followers was that they would make more followers, and the other participles in this commission as well as descriptions of this commission recorded in Mark and Luke explain how making disciples would take place.
First, making disciples requires proclamation of the gospel. Mark’s account of this commission emphasizes this necessity: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:14). Luke records the content of this gospel message: “Thus it is written, that Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46–47). A disciple is a follower of Christ, and the only way to follow him is to repent and believe in him.
Second, baptizing new disciples in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit was to be the visible sign of membership into Christ’s body, the church. Baptism becomes an important church ordinance that identified converts with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
Third, Christ commanded that his followers teach these new disciples to observe all that he had commanded. Here we find explicit instruction regarding the formation of a Christian’s theology as well as his behavior.
During what has come to be called Jesus’s “High Priestly Prayer” following the Last Supper (John 17), Jesus revealed the central goal of this mission of making disciples. After praying that his disciples would be protected from the world (v. 15) and sanctified in his truth (v. 17), Jesus says that he is sending them into the world (v. 18) with his word (v. 14) so that others would believe in him (v. 20). But then Jesus explains the purpose of this mission:
That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.John 17:21–23
Christ’s goal for his people is that they would share a profound union with him and with one another. This center of unity is a communion with the glory of God; it is being in God and he in us. It is, as he says later, the love of the Father with which he loved the Son being in us, and Christ in us (v. 26). To put it very simply, the purpose of the mission Christ gave his disciples is communion together with God, the very purpose for which he created them.
The immediate context of this prayer, the Last Supper, is no coincidence, for communion with God in his presence is what his people celebrate at the Lord’s Table; it is a visible representation of the communion we share with Christ and with each other as his body. And when God’s people make their center the worship of God through Christ, set apart from the world by truth, Christ indicates that two things happen: first, as we draw near to fellowship with God, we become one with one another, and second, that very communion we have with God and with one another causes the world to believe in Christ.
In other words, Christ’s commission to make disciples is directly connected with his worship—making disciples is making worshipers of God through Christ, and the sincere worship of God’s people will help to draw more people in that communion.
This important connection between the church’s mission and worship is succinctly stated by Devin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert in What is the Mission of the Church:
The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship the Lord and obey his commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father.1
This was a weighty commission, one that would cost many of his followers their lives, and one that would control the priorities, resources, and energies of his people throughout all church history. Yet Jesus did not leave his people to accomplish this mission alone; rather, he promised that he would be with them always, to the end of the age.
1 Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 62.