A Study in Discipleship: Matthew 28:16–20

In this study, Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs explores what it means to make disciples. Jesus commands us to make disciples, but what does that entail? Dr. Gibbs’ perspective helps us understand the Great Commission and what it means to be a disciple of Christ. The following is adapted from Matthew 21:1–28:20 in the Concordia Commentary series.

Theme Text 

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16–20)

Baptizing and Teaching

Matthew’s readers/hearers are reminded as well that “make disciples” (28:19) is not to be thought of only in terms of initial conversion to faith in Jesus. Baptism is, indeed, the crucial entry point and establishes the ongoing connection with the Son’s death and resurrection, as well as with the Father and the Spirit. The making of disciples continues as the teaching shapes, carves, heals, and transforms God’s children. The Great Commission is not just to get converts, although it certainly is about that.

The Great Commission is also to nurture and educate believers as they mature and grow in faith and love for all, even for their enemies. So yes, evangelism—but then also training in righteousness, in compassion, in Law and Gospel. Bible classes and sermons, as well as the mutual encouragement of fellow Christians in groups both large and small, are all part of the making of disciples. And it is to go on for all the days, until the consummation of the age (28:20).

Discipleship: A Lifetime of Learning 

This means that the American “gold standard” of coming to worship for 
one hour every Sunday is simply not enough. Before saying anything else, let 
me return to the Christological heartbeat of the command to “make disciples” 
(28:19); it is carried out on the basis of Jesus’ saving authority (28:18) and in 
the comfort of Jesus’ ongoing presence (28:20). Having said this, however, we 
must reckon with the fact that the culture all around us is teaching us to guard 
everything that it wants its disciples to guard; that teaching happens relentlessly.

Somehow the church (in America, at least) will need to recapture the truth that once a disciple has begun to be such, there is an entire lifetime of teaching and learning that must happen in order to be Jesus’ disciple. I am not talking about some distinction between “Christian” and “disciple.” There are no categories here. It is only that the making of disciples entails both participles: “baptizing” (28:19) and comprehensive “teaching” (28:20) in the life of discipleship. There are many ways for the Gospel to become even more precious to me than it already is. There are many ways for Christ’s truth to shape and transform you more fully than it already has.

Text adapted from the Matthew 21:1-28:20 (pp. 1643–44), © 2018.

Scripture: ESV®.

156077To learn more about the Great Commission and the Gospel of Matthew, read the Concordia Commentary Matthew 21:1–28:20

Read Commentary



Previous Article
23 Finance Terms Every Pastor Should Know
23 Finance Terms Every Pastor Should Know

The financial situation of congregations and nonprofit ministries is very important, though it is a...

Next Article
Digging Deeper into Scripture: Matthew 9:9–28
Digging Deeper into Scripture: Matthew 9:9–28

A quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin regarding taxes is “In this world nothing can be said to be...

Browse Books for Pastors

Learn More