The Promise-Driven Great Commission

Tullian Tchividjian
Tullian Tchividjian

During Mike Horton's session this past Saturday at our inaugural "Gospel-Centered Life"  conference at Coral Ridge, he asked the audience to say the words of the Great Commission from Matthew 28 out loud. As you can imagine, almost everybody said in unison the words, "Go therefore…". Mike rightly pointed out that the Great Commission actually begins with the words, "All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me" (v. 18). It's only after Jesus says that, that he says, "Go therefore…" (v.19).

This is a super-important, paradigm shattering observation. To miss it, is to miss the gospel. In fact, if we don't see it, our entire understanding of the church's mission will be wrong and weak.

In an article that Mike wrote for Modern Reformation magazine entitled The Great Announcement, he expands on this idea:

Just go. Just do it. "Get ‘er done," as they say. Reflection slows you down.

The same thing can happen with the Great Commission. It doesn't really matter if we don't get all the details right as long as we are zealous. It is easy to subordinate the message to the mission, the evangel to evangelism, as if being busy with outreach could trump the content of what we have been given to communicate.

Of course, it can work the other way, too. We can be preoccupied with getting the message right without actually getting it out. The evangelist D. L. Moody once quipped to a critic of his methods, "I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it." If "zeal without knowledge" is deadly (Rom. 10:2-3), then knowledge without zeal is dead. The Great Commission doesn't give any quarter to either of these extremes.

"Go therefore into all the world and make disciples." This is the version of the Great Commission that many of us memorized. However, it leaves out a great deal. To begin with, it leaves out the whole rationale for the commission in the first place. Although it sounds a little corny, a good rule of thumb in reading the Scriptures is that whenever you find a "therefore" you need to stop and ask "what it's there for."

When we see an imperative such as "Go therefore," we need to go back and look at what has already been said leading up to it. There is no reason for us to go into all the world as Christ's ambassadors apart from the work that he has already accomplished.

The Great Commission actually begins with the declaration, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matt. 28:18). This is the rationale for everything the church is called to do and to be. The church's commission is indeed directed by a purpose ("making disciples of all nations"), but it is driven by a promise.

Read the whole thing here.

Mike's excellent point is one that I've made time and time again. Namely, that imperatives - indicatives = impossibilities! Whenever we see an imperative in the Bible (what we must do) we need to look for the indicative that grounds it (what Jesus has done). Because, no matter how hard you try or how "radical" you get, any engine smaller than the gospel that you depend on for power to do what God has called you to do will conk out…most importantly, the Great Commission!

Originally published January 28, 2011.

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