The Great Commission in 3D

Speaking about the importance of missionary work in the nineteenth century, the great British missionary Hudson Taylor once said that “the great commission was not just an option to be considered, but a commandment to be obeyed.” This statement carries the weight of its truth still today, since the task of bringing the Gospel of Christ to all nations remains unfinished.

One has to first understand what God is doing around the world today in order to further advance the cause of the Gospel. However, it has become quite complicated to reflect on Missions today, for it has become a complex area of study. Just like Missiology (the area of study concerning missions) the missionary movement also presents complexities of its own.

We have experienced first hand the complexities of the missionary movement in our ministry in Greece, where the population of believers total only 0,18% of the population, summing up to around 20,000 people in the entire country. In Greece we also have had to chance to minister to Muslims coming from Iran, Iraq and Kurdistan and we have learned through them that God is doing great work in the Persian countries. According to recent studies, today 1/3 Muslims that come to Christ do so through dreams, and the Persian church present strong signs of growth even though it is under intense persecution.

God is also moving tremendously in Asia. South Korea is today the 2nd greatest missionary nation in the world, and Christians make up 30% of the country’s population. It is also in South Korea that we find the biggest congregation in the world made up of about 100,000 people. Still in Asia, we have known that the Church in China has recently pledged to send about 100,000 missionaries to the Unreached Peoples of the World (UPW’s),  and Christians today sum up about 5% of the population. Perhaps the most surprising statistic in Asia comes from Mongolia, which is the country that has more missionaries for every 1,000 Christians than anywhere else in the world, including the United States. Such are the complexities that we are presented with when trying to understand the missionary movement in the world today.

With all of this in mind, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the current state of missions in the world today. But it is only when we reflect about Missions through the prism of Biblical Theology that fully understand the essence behind the Great Commission and the commandment to take the Gospel to every nation. The Great Commission is present in the 4 Gospels, meaning that it is hugely important in the Kingdom of God. However, it is in Matthew 28 that we are able to see the Great Commission in it’s 3 dimensions, in its width, depth and length.

The 3 dimensions in 3D are the width, depth, and length. When all these dimensions are combined they really offer us a complete and beautiful perspective on the Great Commission. So let’s cover each one starting first with the width.

1 – Width – Matthew 28:10

We find the WIDTH of the Great Commission in the invitation given by Jesus to his disciples to come and meet him in Galilee. Throughout the narrative of the Gospels we are able to find numerous passages where Jesus is inviting specific people to follow him, however we see that not everyone responded to that invitation in a positive way.IN Luke 18 we find the narrative of the Rich Young Ruler, who became deeply sad upon finding out about the cost of following Jesus, for he saw that it would mean giving  his entire wealth away.

In Matthew 8 we find the stories of 2 men that could not accept Jesus’ invitation because they were not willing to give up their comfort and family ties. It is with this in mind, that in Matthew 22 Jesus teaches about the importance of this invitation referring to the Kingdom of God as a banquet that a king decided to offer to his son. Jesus goes on to declare that all the guests reject the king’s invitation because they were busy taking care of their own lives and businesses, Jesus then concludes by stating that “many are called, but few are chosen.”

The width is the first dimension of the Great Commission, it is wide because many receive the calling to follow Christ, but very few decide to do so. In Matthew 28:10, by inviting his disciples to meet him in Galilee, Jesus was pulling them out of their protection and comfort in Jerusalem, inviting them to cross the entire country in order to meet with him. It is only after we accept the invitation to follow that we proceed to the 2nd dimension of the Great Commission.

2 – Depth, Matthew 28:16

We find the DEPTH of the Great Commission in the meeting Jesus has with his disciples in that mount in Galilee. Throughout Matthew’s narrative of the Gospel, as in the Sermon of the Mount and the Mountain of Transfiguration, we find that whenever Jesus wanted to teach something deep and important to his disciples he called them to a private place. We find that same principle here in the Great Commission, for they weren’t invited by Christ to simply discuss ministry strategies, but so that they could meet face to face with the resurrected Christ. This meeting was so profound that while some worshiped, others doubted.

Speaking about those disciples that doubted, in Luke 24 with find that Christ didn’t reject them as unbelievers, but he treated their doubts by giving proof that it was him and by opening their understanding of Scripture. It is in the dimension of depth that we are treated before being commissioned by Christ. It is in that personal meeting that we are taught by Christ.

We are also able to find the depth dimension present in the lives of the great men in Scripture. Moses had a life transforming meeting with God in the cave with the burning bush and it was also there were he received his commission. Gideon was met with the Angel of the Lord personally and also was commissioned by Him. Isaiah also saw himself before God, where he was transformed and later commissioned. In the New Testament we see that Paul was blinded by the radiance of the glory of Christ, and his life and ministry were deeply transformed.

In this second dimension, the Bible shows us that a deep and genuine encounter with Christ  will result in us participating in his mission. This was also true in the life of Henry Martin, a missionary to India, who once said that, “The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become.” It is from this place of personal meeting with Jesus that we are then taken to the 3rd and last dimension of the Great Commission, the length.

3 – Length, Matthew 28:19

We find the LENGTH of the Great Commission when Jesus finally sends out his disciples. We see that the invitation and the meeting result in the sending out. It is in this 3rd dimension that the reality of the Great Commission is fulfilled. The order to “therefore go and make disciples” becomes the guideline of the commission, where the disciples become disciple-makers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that a “Christianity without discipleship will always be a Christianity without Christ.” Bonhoeffer saw that only through discipleship we can reproduce the missional model of Christ. To be commissioned means to be under the same mission, making disciples, baptizing and teaching them to keep all of Jesus’ commandments.

Finally, after we have understood the Great Commission in 3D we can know that it is not only a commandment to be obeyed, but also a privilege to be received. For it is in the invitation that we are chosen by Christ, in the meeting we are treated and transformed by him, and in the sending out we participate in his mission.May we be faithful to fulfill the Great Commission in all of its 3 dimensions.