“Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 18:18-20
Many scholars have underlined the remarkable fact that the so-called “Great Commission” seems to play no role in the New Testament church herself, because it is never repeated nor referred to.
The Great Commission is not a commission in the ordinary sense of the word. It is, rather, a creative statement in the way of Genesis 1:3 –
“Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”
Leslie Newbigin looks at Acts 1:8 –
” But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
He states that it is not a command to be obeyed but a promise to be trusted. It is a promise that could only be perceived in the act of obeying, as Peter discovered when he visited Cornelius and said in amazement —
“I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism.”
Paul referred to it all as a mystery or secret only now revealed to him in the act of preaching the gospel to all people —
“And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy “the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus.” – Ephesians 3:6
Mission is a privilege to take part in. Thus Paul introduces himself to the Church in Rome as somebody who, through Christ —
“…God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name.” – Romans 1:5
Mission, for Paul, is the logical result of his encounter with the risen Christ on the Damascus road.
Similarly, in the so-called ‘christological hymn’ found in Philippians 2:6-11, there is no reference to a missionary command. And yet, the worldwide mission falls clearly with the purview of the hymn —
“that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.” – vs 10-11
Mission is therefore, according to the New Testament, derived from Christology. This is how it seems in another early Christian hymn —
Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith[a]:
“Christ was revealed in a human body
and vindicated by the Spirit.
He was seen by angels
and announced to the nations.
He was believed in throughout the world
and taken to heaven in glory.” – 1 Timothy 3:16
Similarly, in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 and Ephesians 2:14-18, mission is christologically founded as the message of reconciliation of the world with God; the service of reconciliation entrusted to the Church, proceeds from the fact that Jesus, with regard to Jews and Gentiles, has broken down the wall with His own body and created out of the two a single new humanity in Himself.
The Church, therefore, is in mission because Jesus was given a name above all names and declared Son of God by a mighty act in that he rose from the dead; because God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself and Jews and Gentiles to one another in a single body to Himself through the cross.
Her whole existence then has a missionary character. Her conduct as well as her words will convince the unbelievers and put their ignorance and stupidity to silence.
” This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.
I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” – 1 Peter 1:1
Peter’s letter goes on to describe his audience that they are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation and a people claimed by God for His own. This new status in Christ has a clear purpose – to proclaim the triumphs of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. Because of this new life in Christ, mission happens, so to speak, for we read about unbelievers calling upon the Christians to explain the hope that is in them. This hope was so conspicuous, the unbelievers became both curious and jealous. To put it in Pauline language – this was they way in which God spread abroad fragrance of the knowledge of Himself. Wherever the apostle lived, spoke and acted as Christ’s fragrance, something happened to the surrounding people.