At the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus gave his final instructions to his disciples—which we know as the Great Commission. You might be wondering: do these instructions apply to me, too? After all, not everyone did what the apostles did.
To answer that question, let's take a look at what Jesus instructed the disciples to do, and then we'll see what other Christians in the Bible said and did later.
What the Great Commission says to do
With slight variations, these words appear in all four gospels and the Book of Acts, but the most well-known phrasing comes from Matthew 28:16–20:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
In the Great Commission, there are three things Jesus told the disciples to do: make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey Christ's commands. Really, it's one thing—making disciples—with two directions about how to do it: baptizing them and teaching them to follow Christ’s commands.
Does every Christian have to "go and make disciples of all nations," baptize people, and teach them to obey Christ's commands? Is "going" one of the commands we need to follow as modern disciples?
Did other Christians obey the Great Commission?
The gospel spread quickly throughout the world as the apostles followed Jesus's command to "go." But what about the second generation of Christians—did they go, too?
Paul tells the Corinthians to share the ministry of reconciliation
In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul talks about the message of reconciliation all Christians are tasked with sharing:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-20, NIV).
Paul is telling the Corinthian church that they, too, are Christ's ambassadors in the world, and they are all called to share the gospel.
Believers are shown evangelizing in Acts
Just after Stephen’s death, the church is persecuted and scattered throughout Judea and Samaria—”all except for the apostles” (Acts 8:1). As Paul hunts down Christians, the Bible says that those who were scattered are said to have preached the word wherever they went (Acts 8:3-4).
These early Christians believed the Great Commission was for them, not just the apostles.
Paul encourages church members to teach each other
Paul wasn't there when Jesus gave the Great Commission, but he played a major role in spreading the gospel throughout the known world. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul gave these instructions to his young protégé:
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others (2 Timothy 2:2, NIV).
In other words: "You—who I've been teaching—are to teach others to teach others."
Titus 2 is all about teaching in the church, too. It might be tempting to argue that Titus is the equivalent of my pastor, and I'm therefore exempt from the command to teach, but Titus 2:3-5 pretty clearly tells Titus to prepare others to teach.
So it seems that even later in the New Testament, believers trained one another to teach, continuing to spread the gospel and make disciples.
All believers have gifts to build up the church
When Paul talks about the "body of Christ," he isn't just talking about the apostles, or your pastor. The whole church is "the body." If you're a follower of Christ, that includes you (1 Corinthians 12:27-30). God has given every individual the tools they need to build up the church (Ephesians 4:11-16).
The gifts that God has distributed (apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers) all work together to fulfill the Great Commission. These tools help bring people into "the body," and equips these new believers to thrive and mature.
The New Testament never shifts away from the need to make disciples. Paul's letters provide numerous examples of discipleship in action. His letters were often shared from church to church, extending beyond his original audience, encouraging all believers to continue pursuing Christ and teaching others to do the same—as they still do today.
So is the Great Commission for you, your pastor, or the disciples?
The answer is all of the above.
Learn what making disciples looks like
Jesus didn't give the church an impossible mission. Sharing the gospel becomes a lot easier when you have a clear idea of how and why you're doing it. We've developed a four-week curriculum called We Are All Missionaries to help you explore what sharing the gospel is all about.