The “Why” of Making Disciples

by Bob Johnson

Matthew 28:18-20 is a well-known passage, usually referred to as “The Great Commission.” But calling it that may cause us to miss a key emphasis of this passage. By putting the focus on “go and make disciples,” we risk overlooking the why of making disciples.

Verse 18 is the key to unlocking this passage. The resurrected Jesus came to his disciples in Galilee, just as he said he would. When some of them saw Jesus, they worshiped him. Some, however, couldn’t believe their eyes. They doubted. Nevertheless, Jesus said to them in verse 18, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me” (emphasis added). There it is. This is the message all four gospel writers, each in their own unique way, is trying to convey.

While Jesus is called many things by others in the gospels — Son of God, Holy One, etc. — the name he most often used for himself was “Son of Man.” For example, in Mark 10:45, Jesus says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In using this term, “Son of Man,” Jesus was referencing a well-known passage in the Book of Daniel. In Chapter 7 of that book, the prophet has a vision of heaven:

“’As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. . . . In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed’” (Dan. 7:9, 13-14, NIV, emphasis added).

Matthew is signaling to us that Daniel’s vision has come to pass in Jesus! He is the Son of Man of Daniel’s vision. Jesus’ resurrection is the validation that he is the one who came to the Ancient of Days on a cloud and has now been given all authority, glory and sovereign power. All peoples, nations and men and women of every language will come to worship him.

So why did Jesus tell us to “go, make disciples of all nations”? Because God has at last come in Jesus to establish his saving rule on earth so that God’s original intent revealed in Genesis 1:26-27 could come to pass. I call this intent “The Genesis Project”:

“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”


We are to bear and reflect God’s image in God’s temple of heaven and earth. Taking our cue from God’s nature as three in one, we are to reflect oneness in our relationships with God, with others, with creation (as stewards), and even with ourselves. The descendants of Abraham were chosen by God to be the instrument of fulfillment of The Genesis Project. But they failed over and over, instead choosing idolatry and self-worship. God had to come in the person of Jesus to show us what authentic human life as God intended looks like.

Matthew 28:18-20 is very much a message about how we ought to live NOW, not just what we have to look forward to in heaven. N. T. Wright laments, “So often this has been turned into a very different message, about ‘telling people how to go to heaven,’ that we have ignored the far more startling truth that Jesus was ACTUALLY talking about how heaven was coming to us. In other words, how God, the God of heaven and earth, was coming to earth to establish his sovereign, saving rule.” (N. T. Wright in Lent for Everyone)

This passage brings up a question: “If Jesus really is King and Lord, why is the world still such a mess? How does Jesus work out his ‘lordship’?”

Again, taking a cue from N. T. Wright, we can never forget that Jesus also came as a servant who took on our infirmities and suffered insults, mockery, torture, and finally, death. He was obedient throughout his life to a heavenly, not an earthly, vision of power. His resurrection not only established that his servant-anchored kingdom was the right one, but it also established that kingdom once and for all.

Jesus’ followers are to implement his kingdom by going and making disciples. What is a disciple? A follower, a learner, a student who is shaped by Jesus’ example and teaching. Disciples of Jesus are the means by which God’s Genesis Project will be established.

That is the greatest why there ever was. Disciples — followers of Jesus — get to participate with God in establishing the saving rule that has been deep within God’s heart from the beginning and revealed throughout all of Scripture.

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