|Volume 25 Number 5 May 2023
T. Pierce Brown
Most of my life, I have heard and taught that the Great Commission as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20 has four commands in it. They are 1. Go, 2. Teach, 3. Baptize and 4. Teach. Even if the following remarks are not earth-shaking, it may be that they will encourage deeper study of God’s Word.
It is my present judgment that there is one command in that commission, and the other parts of it are words or phrases telling how that command is to be obeyed. To start with, the word “Go” is not an imperative – a command – but is from the Greek word poreuthentes, which is a first aorist participle, and basically means, “When you go or wherever you go.” Of course, one still has to go, but Jesus does not have to command us to go. Each of us is doing that and will be doing that no matter what Jesus commanded! It is unscriptural to suggest that “If you can’t go, send,” as we have heard most of our lives. It would be just as scriptural to say, “If you can’t sing, play.” The fact of the matter is that you can go, even if it is from the hospital room to the room where the iron lung is. We heard of one who had to be in the iron lung the rest of his life who converted 13 souls!
In the second place, the term “teach” is from the Greek matheteusate, which is first aorist active imperative and means “make a disciple.” We usually have been taught that a “disciple” is a “learner.” That is true, but it is neither the whole truth nor an adequate concept of what Jesus means. Certainly, a man cannot be a disciple without being a learner, but a man can be a learner without being a disciple. Thayer accurately says “one who follows one’s teaching” is a disciple. I have read from Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, but I am not a disciple of any of them! The fact that a man studies and can teach what Marx and Lenin espoused does not mean that he is one of their disciples – a communist!
So, what Jesus wants is not merely a learner but a disciplined follower. This does not suggest that he must have a prayer partner or spiritual advisor to do the disciplining, but it does mean that unless a person is willing to discipline himself to the extent that he denies self and takes up the cross, he cannot be a disciple, in the Bible sense. Thus, the imperative is to make disciplined followers of Christ.
In the third place, the term “baptizing” is not an imperative but is a first aorist active participle from the Greek baptizontes. If I’m not mistaken, there are few exceptions to this rule, both in Greek and in English. When the active participle is used in conjunction with an imperative, it describes the action by which the imperative is to be obeyed. For example, if I said, “Clean the floor, vacuuming it,” the command could not be obeyed by mopping or sweeping. If I said, “Cultivate the field, plowing it,” the command could not be obeyed by hoeing it. When Paul was told in Acts 22:16 to “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord,” the word “calling” is a participle indicating how his sins are to be washed away. It does not mean “and call on the name of the Lord or pray” as some seem to think. When one is saved by calling on the name of the Lord, he is saved by having his sins washed away as he turns his life over into the hands of Jesus. The same word is used when Paul appealed unto Caesar (Acts 25:11). He did not just pray to Caesar, but called on his name by willingly surrendering his life to Caesar’s judgment.
When Paul said in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another,” the words “teaching and admonishing” indicate how the word is to dwell in them richly. I can think of no expression in the New Testament where an imperative is used in this kind of construction with a participle that does not involve the idea that the participle suggests how the imperative is to be obeyed.
What is the significance of that? It means, among other things, that when a person is made a disciplined follower of Christ, one of the means by which this is done must be by baptizing him! That is, one cannot be a disciplined follower of Christ without being baptized. We usually say, “Go, make a learner, baptize that learner, and then teach him to observe what is commanded.” Of course, we need to do that, but that is not exactly what Christ here commanded! What Christ commanded was, “As you go, make disciplined followers of me by doing the two following things: baptizing them into the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you.” You cannot have disciplined followers who have not been taught, baptized and taught to do all the commands!
It is true that one must be taught properly before he can be baptized properly, but we do not know this because of the structure of this version of the Great Commission. It is for various other reasons, among them the fact that “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6) and the fact that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
Let us emphasize also that the “teaching them to observe all things commanded” is a part of the “making disciples.” The first “teach” or “disciple” is from matheteusate, as we have said. The second “teach” is from the participle, didaskontes, and therefore further describes how one is made a disciplined follower. That is, you cannot have the kind of person that is called a disciple of Christ in the Bible without having a person who has heard the Gospel, believed it, submitted himself to the command of Christ by being baptized and is taught that he is to do everything Christ commanded! It is not sufficient to learn about Jesus, to want to be baptized and come into the church and determine that you will take the Lord’s Supper when you want to, whether weekly or quarterly, worship God according to the dictates of your conscience, whether acapella or with a mechanical instrument. You are not a disciple of Christ in the Bible sense until you are baptized into the proper relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and are willing to do all you do by His authority! You may join a “Disciple’s Church” or even one that is called the “Church of Christ,” but that does not make you a disciple – a disciplined follower of Christ. You do not need to know all the things that Christ eventually wants you to do, but you must be willing to do them. If you should say to the preacher, “I want to be a Christian, but I am not willing to do everything Jesus wants of me,” he would have no authority to baptize you, and you could not then be a disciple, no matter how much you had learned.
[Editor’s Note: Brother Brown’s explanation of the Great Commission recorded in Matthew 28:19-20 brings to my mind Acts 8:4, which reads, “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” Jewish persecution of the church in Jerusalem dispersed Christians from that city, and everywhere they went, they demonstrated their Christianity in conduct and in word. As they went along their way, they transported the Gospel from Jerusalem to wherever they traveled. Howbeit, persecution was the motivating factor, Christians acted out the Great Commission account of Matthew 28:19-20. ~ Louis Rushmore, Editor]