At the end of the book of Matthew it is recorded that Jesus instructed His disciples to go and make disciples. As a result of this command, this verse has been used as the battle cry for missionaries. Taking the gospel around the world! However, the verse does not actually say that, and when we understand what it in fact states, we see that the Great Commission diminishes what Jesus said.

From the ESV, although most modern translations are basically the same, Matthew 28:19 states, “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.” This is basically the same translation as the King James version even though the ESV claims to take the original language into account. Why is this important? Let us walk through the original statement so we can see.

When it comes to translating Scripture from the original Greek, we need to pay attention to the type of verb that is being expressed. For commands, we typically find these in the imperative. Therefore, it is necessary, urgent, or required that we do the statement. In Matthew 28:19 “Go”, in our translations, is expressing an imperative. However, there is an issue with this, because the word for “go” is not in the imperative in the original language; rather, it is the word “make disciples” that is the imperative. So why does this matter? Well, you see, the disciples were not commanded to “Go”, they were commanded to “make disciples”. Is not the meaning basically the same? Actually, it is not. Let us look at the word “Go” and see. “Go” is not a normal verb, it is actually a participle. This means it is not expressing a simple action, but more of a characteristic type of action. This can be seen in the difference between someone who is known to be truthful and someone who is telling the truth. One emphasizes the character of the person, where the other stresses the action, which may or may not be a characteristic of the one telling the truth at that moment. What Jesus said was, while you are caused to go, make disciples … He never gave them a command to go.

Having been cause to go, make disciples from all the Gentiles, immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit while teaching them to guard all the things, as much as I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:19,20

Thus, you see, they were not commanded to go and make disciples, but while they were going, they were to teach the Gentiles concerning all that Christ had commanded them. The focus is not about people far off, but those we encounter in our everyday life. There are many theologians through the years that have pointed out that this command was to the disciples, not to the Church. And to be honest the context does support that. Far better than for a Church that had not yet come into existence. However, the truth of what is said is valid for today. Wherever God takes us, let us share the message of the Gospel of the Christ to those around us, not just by word, but by our actions, so that they can see we are disciples of Christ and give us an opportunity to share our hope. By changing the command to “Go and make” rather than “as you go, make” the emphasis changes from the people around us to someone that is far away, and from teaching them about salvation to just giving them the salvation message and moving on. Therefore, the Great Commission undermines the significance of living a life for Christ as a luminary in the world around us and focusing on the importance of the local Church.

Rather than “Go and make disciples” how about we do what Christ in essence was telling the disciples and as we go about our everyday life share the gospel by showing them the hope we have in Christ through our lives.