Discipleship and the Great Commission
Matthew 28:19 (ESV)
“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,”
You know the feeling when you hear something over and over again; so much that it becomes cliché and, in a way, loses meaning to you? In some cases, the meaning may no longer even be grasped or understood the way it was intended. Do you ever get de-sensitized to the message being communicated?
The “great commission” found in Matthew 28:19 is one of the most well-known and often cited verses in Scripture. Many Christian churches and other ministries base their vision and/or mission statements upon it, especially the words “go”, “make”, and “disciples”. We wonder though, how many of them have lost sight of the true message Messiah was communicating here? The common understanding is that we are to go out and spread the gospel, the good news of Messiah’s death and resurrection. Some take it a step further and teach that we need to ask Jesus (His Hebrew/Aramaic name being Yeshua) into our hearts so that we receive salvation. Then we need to follow the good moral life outlined in the 10 commandments, with the primary focus being on love.
We certainly agree that the whole gospel needs to be taught to the nations. In fact, we recommend our teachings: “What is the Gospel?”, “The Lost Sheep”, and “Believing” as good tools to do just that. However, we believe there is more to the great commission than is commonly taught.
The operative verb in the statement “go and make disciples”, is actually “make” and not “go”. Some may have been taught this, but many others have never heard this. What is the significance of this? Well, it changes the focus from the “going out” to the “making” of disciples. The “what making disciples” means is found at the end of the sentence at the beginning of verse 20.
Matthew 28:20 (ESV)
“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Teaching others the Word is what Yeshua meant by making disciples.
The whole purpose of the great commission is to teach the nations to do all that Messiah had taught. What all Messiah taught is beyond the scope of this post, but you can read about our understanding of the statement in an article on our website called: “The Great Commission: What Does It Really Mean?”. In short, Messiah taught, lived, and walked out the Torah, (Instructions or Law of God) perfectly.
The Greek word used for the phrase “make disciples” is mathēteuō, and it carries a couple of different meanings.
The word is Strong’s G3100 and means:
to be a disciple of one, to follow his precepts and instructions; to make a disciple, to teach, instruct
Its root is Strong’s G3101 which means:
intransitively, to become a pupil; transitively, to disciple, i.e. enroll as scholar:—be disciple, instruct, teach.
In order to make a disciple, we have to teach someone to follow the precepts and instructions (torah) of a single individual. In this case, it is teaching them all that Messiah taught, which is to follow the Torah in its true form, spirit, and intent. The purpose of the command from Yeshua is to teach others to live and follow the Word; living and walking out the Word in our lives just as Messiah lived and walked out the Word when He was here in the flesh.
Our mission is not to convince people to follow a set of man-made rules and doctrines, but to show and point them to Yeshua and how He walked. Unfortunately, to many, this is exactly what discipleship means. To them it means they need to get someone to come to their church, or join their religion, and then tell them how to act and live.
Others believe that discipling someone is being a mentor to them. In truth, there is an aspect of mentoring in discipleship. However, even when mentoring, we need to remember that we are not to be making disciples of men, but only pointing them to the Word and the example of Messiah.
There are others that, like the Pharisees of old, love the acclaim or esteem of having their own disciples. Just as in Paul’s day people loved to claim they had X amount of followers, or that they were baptized and discipled by Paul, mankind is still the same. Paul did not want that notoriety, nor should we seek after it. We are not to follow men, we are only to point others back to the Word exampled by Messiah who taught and lived only the will of the Father.
Our focus should be to direct people back to the Word of YHWH, and nowhere else. The Word is the only authority we have, and it is not our own. In truth, discipling someone is coming alongside them and helping them learn and grow in the Torah, the Word of YHWH. It is pointing them back to the Word in all things, and never to a man or doctrine of man. If they are in sin, tell them with love; help to hold them accountable to the Word. If they ask a question, guide them back to Scripture as much as possible. Be a living example for them of what it looks like to walk out the Torah in your own life. We should always strive to be following Messiah’s example; in that way those around us may see Him in us. It’s like Paul said concerning the same topic.
1 Corinthians 4:16-17 (ESV)
I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ,
1 Corinthians 11:1 (ESV)
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
We hope that this has helped you better understand what it means to be a disciple and to disciple others. It’s never supposed to be about us, but should only point to Him.