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Commentary Week of August 18, 2013 Jesus Commissions His Church
Compiled by John R. Wible1
Focal Passage Outline and Scripture Passages:
Understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:44-49)
Engage in Mission (Acts 1:6-8)
Connect to Grow (Acts 2:41-47)
Background Passages: Luke 24:36-53; Acts 1–2
Focal Passages: Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:6-8; 2:41-47
What This Lesson Is About: Jesus commanded the church to make disciples of all nations. But we can’t
do that without the empowering of the Holy Spirit and a connection to one another.
How This Lesson Can Impact Your Life: This lesson can help you move from spectator to participant in
what God is doing in the world today through His church.
God’s Plan Fulfilled - Luke 24:36-53:
Luke reported Jesus’ final commission, instruction, and ascension (24:36-53). Just as Luke 12 opened with
the hope of Old Testament promise fulfilled, so Luke 24:43-47 returns to the central theme of Jesus the
Messiah as the fulfillment of God’s plan and promise. Jesus’ final Gospel appearance yields a
commission, a plan, and a promise. The disciples were reminded again that Scripture taught the suffering
and exaltation of Messiah. Jesus also told them that they were called as witnesses to preach repentance.
The plan was to go to all the nations, starting from Jerusalem. The promise was the gift of the Father, the
Holy Spirit (24:49; 3:15-17). As the Baptist promised, so it had come to pass. Enabling power from
heaven, from on high, would come in the distribution of the Spirit upon those who had responded to the
message of Jesus (Acts 2:16-39).
Jesus’ ascension (Luke 24:50-53) pictures the exaltation He predicted at His trial (22:69). God’s plan does
not involve a dead Messiah but one who sits at God’s side. In exaltation, Jesus is vindicated, and the plan
to reach all nations of people goes on. Jesus, the Messiah, is Lord of all, so the message can go to all (Acts
The Gospel of Luke closes with the disciples rejoicing that out of the ashes of apparent defeat, victory and
promise arose. The new way was still alive, and the risen Lord showed the way. Theophilus could be
reassured (1:1-4), while the history continues in Acts.
The Apostles Minister in Jerusalem – Acts 1:1-11 Prologue: Ascension
Acts begins where the Gospel of Luke ended. Luke began his second volume with a prologue that
explicitly linked Acts with Luke’s Gospel (Acts 1:1). It also reminded Luke’s readers of the events that
ended the Gospel, especially Jesus’ ascension and promise of the Holy Spirit. The first section also
1 The principal sources are the SBC Lifeway commentary to the Life Ventures series and materials gathered by Bailey
Sadler Sunday School Class, Fairview Baptist Church, Ashland, KY. This material is an adjunct to the Gateway Baptist
Church Prime Time Sunday School Class weekly lesson and is intended for the private use of the student. No claim is
made is made to authorship or ownership in the material except where indicated in footnotes.
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contains what is often considered the ―programmatic‖ statement for Acts (1:8). This verse provides an
outline for the rest of Acts, a ―map‖ for the spread of the gospel. Jesus told His disciples that the power of
the Holy Spirit would give them the ability to witness ―in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to
the ends of the earth." It is no coincidence that Acts narrates the unhindered movement of the gospel
message from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria, and ultimately throughout the Roman Empire.
Finally, this section closes with a note of hope for the disciples at the ascension. As they stood on the
mountaintop, peering into the heavens for one last glimpse of Jesus, they were reminded of Jesus’ return.
Summary - Acts 2:42-47
Acts contains many summary passages. On the surface these summaries separate the narrated activities of
the apostles. They provide transitions between those narratives. Usually they prepare the reader for events
that will follow. The summaries focus attention on the church itself and offer information about what is
happening to the Christian community.
This first summary in Acts provides a picture of the church immediately after its beginnings. The picture
is one of maturing discipleship. The new converts were being taught, they continued to worship in the
temple, and they were unified economically and spiritually. Finally, God was continuing to add ―to their
number daily‖ (2:47). The church was not only surviving, but it also was growing.
This lesson focuses on our responsibility to be involved in fulfilling the Great Commission, both for
individuals and churches. We must be proactive in reaching the lost with the gospel at both home and
abroad, and in doing so the Holy Spirit will empower us to accomplish His will. Whenever we share the
gospel, we do so in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that he would be a blessing to all nations of
the world (Gen. 12:2-3), and in this way we participate in God’s story.
Understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:44-49)
44 Then He told them, ―These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you —that
everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.‖
45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. 46 He also said to them, ―This is
what is written: The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, 47 and
repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning at
Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And look, I am sending you what My Father
promised. As for you, stay in the city until you are empowered from on high.‖
When we encounter the word Scriptures in the New Testament, the term is referring to what we now call
the Old Testament. For first-century Jews, the Scriptures consisted of three parts: ―the Law of Moses‖
(Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy); ―the Prophets‖ (Joshua, Judges, Samuel,
Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Book of the 12 Minor Prophets); and ―the Writings‖ (the
remaining books of our Old Testament, most prominently the Psalms). Jesus filled many roles during His
earthly sojourn; not least, He was a prophet of God’s Word.
[There was also the oral Rabbinical tradition that was discussed starting principally during the
Babylonian Captivity and the subsequent repatriation. This remained in oral form until it was ―redacted‖
in about 200 AD 200 by Rabbi Judah haNasi. Jesus apparently did not consider the oral traditions as
scripture. Rather, he takes many opportunities to chide those who followed the oral traditions to the letter
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of the law without truly having a loving heart for God.]
On the first Easter Sunday night, Jesus appeared to His disciples in Jerusalem just after two men from
Emmaus had arrived claiming they had seen Him (Luke 24:33-43). Initially, the disciples were ―startled
and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost‖ (v. 37). Jesus assured them He was their resurrected
Lord by showing His hands and feet, scarred by crucifixion. He invited them to touch Him to prove He
was not a ghost (v. 39). Finally, He ate a piece of fish as evidence He was really alive again (vv. 42-43).
Jesus addressed their anxiety by saying, ―These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still
with you.‖ Jesus had talked of His death and resurrection many times (9:22, 44; 18:33). Such matters,
though clearly heard, were not yet fully grasped by the disciples. Not only did Jesus remind them of His
words to them, He reminded them how the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms, the entire
Hebrew Bible, must be fulfilled in all matters written about Him. Jesus explained the whole Bible
pointed to Him and His worldwide plan. Jesus had quoted or alluded to many passages from Scripture to
clarify His death and resurrection to His disciples before His death; He did so after His resurrection also.
Earlier the same day Jesus had ―interpreted‖ for the two from Emmaus ―the things concerning Himself in
all the Scriptures‖ beginning with ―Moses and all the Prophets‖ (24:27). He helped His disciples
understand how the Old Testament pointed to Him and was fulfilled in Him.
Regarding Jesus as the suffering Messiah, read Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. For Jesus’ resurrection, read
Psalm 16:10; read Isaiah 2:1-4 and 49:6 for Jesus’ worldwide mission as a light even to the Gentiles.
Jesus’ reference to the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms was a typical way of saying ―the
whole Bible.‖ The Hebrew Bible constitutes our Old Testament. Fulfilled means ―to complete‖ or ―to
bring to fullness.‖
Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. Supernaturally Jesus was raised from the
dead. He showed the disciples how the Scriptures were completely fulfilled in Him. Many times during
His pre-crucifixion ministry, Jesus’ disciples did not grasp what He told them (9:45). That Easter Sunday
night everything began changing.
To understand the Scriptures means ―to comprehend‖ or ―to gain insight.‖ Before His death, the
disciples could not wrap their minds around the idea Jesus would die. Nor did they understand how He
would come back to life. After His resurrection, they began to understand more clearly.
First, to understand the Scriptures meant the disciples had to discard flawed notions of Messiah and
embrace God’s plan of the Messiah who would suffer and rise from the dead the third day. Messiah
derives from a Hebrew word meaning ―anointed.‖ Priests (Ex. 28:41), kings (1 Sam. 10:1; 16:13), and
prophets (1 Kings 19:16) were anointed for service to the Lord. Ultimately, Jesus is ―the Anointed One‖ or
the Messiah (Christ is the Greek equivalent of Messiah) in the fullest since of the word. Most Jews
looked for a charismatic, military leader who would overthrow the Romans and lead an independent
nation of Israel. Jesus shattered those misconceptions. He fulfilled in His sacrificial death on the cross and
His miraculous resurrection this aspect the Scriptures.
Second, to understand the Scriptures meant repentance for forgiveness of sins had to be proclaimed
in His name to all the nations. In Luke’s version of the Great Commission (see Matt. 28:18-20),
proclaimed meant to herald, spreading the king’s message. Forgiveness means ―remission‖ or ―sending
away.‖ Repentance is the radical change of mind and attitude resulting in a changed life. When we repent
of our sins, turning from our rebellion and wrongdoing, God forgives us, sending our sins away. We are
justified and can enjoy His presence once again. This message was not for Jews only but for all the
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nations. The term nations renders the Greek ethnos, referring to non-Jews. The term ―ethnic‖ comes from
this Greek word. This worldwide mission embracing all earth’s ethnic groups was beginning at
Jerusalem. Jesus did not want His disciples to pass up sharing the gospel with anybody on their way to
sharing the good news with others living at a distance. We are to share, starting where we are and moving
out from there. We must go in order to understand. Until we cease to be ―spectators‖ in church and
become ―participants‖ in evangelistic endeavors and missions, we do not understand the Scriptures.
Having told His disciples these two aspects of understanding the Scriptures, Jesus called them
witnesses. Witnesses renders the Greek term from which we get our word ―martyrs.‖ Early Christians
were faithful witnesses for Christ even to the point of death. Many people think of martyrs as those who
die for a cause; early Christians were those who lived for a cause, being silenced only by death. These
things refers to Jesus’ mission to suffer and rise again and the disciples’ mission to proclaim repentance
and forgiveness to all nations. Jesus had accomplished His mission. The disciples were challenged to
Before they could begin their mission, the disciples needed to stay in the city of Jerusalem, until they
received the Holy Spirit. Jesus said ―I am sending you what My Father promised.‖ God had promised
to pour out His Spirit on all humanity (Joel 2:28). Luke 24:49 anticipates the coming of the Holy Spirit at
Pentecost. The Spirit’s coming would result in the disciples being empowered from on high. The term
empowered literally means ―clothed with power.‖ The phrase from on high indicated the empowerment
was of divine origin.
What about us? We can be informed followers of Christ by studying the Bible (Old and New
Testaments) with prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit to give us understanding and the insight to
know how to put it into practice in our lives. The Holy Spirit does for us what Jesus did for His first
disciples; the Spirit opens our minds to understand the Scriptures. We must rely on this empowerment as
we go to all the nations with the gospel.
Engage in Mission (Acts 1:6-8)
6 So when they had come together, they asked Him, ―Lord, are You restoring the kingdom to
Israel at this time?‖
7 He said to them, ―It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own
authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My
witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.‖
Acts begins where Luke’s Gospel ends. Jesus spoke to His disciples about the kingdom of God during the
40 days between His resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:3). He then reminded them to remain in Jerusalem
―for the Father’s promise,‖ a reference to the Holy Spirit (vv. 4-5). They needed to engage in the mission
of winning the world to Christ, but they first needed Holy Spirit empowerment.
When they had come together indicates an undesignated time, probably on the fortieth day, as
subsequent events indicate. The disciples asked Jesus if He was restoring the kingdom to Israel at this
time. Their question revealed their state of mind as Jesus prepared to depart this earth. These disciples had
not yet received the Holy Spirit; Pentecost was still 10 days away. Their question was not asked from a
Spirit-empowered vantage point, but rather from a limited theological framework. They had grown to
accept in those 40 days God’s Messiah did die and was raised, but they had not grasped the broader
implications of Jesus’ mission. While Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God (v. 3), they were hearing
kingdom of Israel (v. 6). Jesus’ vision involved a worldwide mission of bringing God’s good news to all
peoples; the disciples’ vision, like that of many first-century Jews, was of a small, autonomous nation
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restored to independence, freed from Roman oppression. Jesus’ view was global in scale; the disciples’
was narrowly nationalistic.
Jesus neither evaded nor dismissed their question. Rather He said, ―It is not for you to know times or
periods.‖ The phrase times or periods referred to measured time (chronos, from which we get
―chronology‖) and condition of time (kairos, as in our statement, ―the time was right‖) respectively.
Speculations about God’s timing, whether focused on measurement (what day? what hour? etc.) or
focused on conditions (what’s happening? what does this event mean? etc.) are at best misguided. The
restoration of the kingdom to Israel would come about through the building up of the kingdom of God
through His church as the disciples brought more and more people into the fellowship of faith. When
would Israel be restored? Such matters were set by the Father by His own authority. In essence, Jesus
told the disciples, ―You do not have security clearance to gain such information.‖
Jesus then refocused His disciples on their real mission. Rather than expend their energies on fruitless
speculations as spectators of the restoration of a nation, Jesus was preparing them to become full
participants in God’s worldwide mission. Jesus reiterated what He had first told them on Resurrection
Sunday night 40 days earlier (Luke 24:48-49): ―You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come
on you.‖ The word power refers to ―strength,‖ ―ability,‖ or ―capability.‖ The power would come directly
from the Holy Spirit, enabling the disciples to go and to do what God expected of them. Jesus defined
their mission in one statement, ―You will be My witnesses.‖ (See earlier comments on Luke 24:48
regarding witnesses.) God expected the disciples to be full participants in the mission of winning the
world. They had to start in Jerusalem, the city of the crucifixion at Passover and the pouring out of the
Spirit at Pentecost. They had to branch out to people living in the region of Judea. God also expected
them to be Jesus’ witnesses even to people the Jews disdained, the people of Samaria. Yet, God was not
content for them to reach to all Judea and Samaria; He commissioned the disciples to go to the ends of
the earth, a reference to people in those lands most distant from Israel.
Connect to Grow (Acts 2:41-47)
41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were
added to them. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the
breaking of bread, and to the prayers.
43 Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through
the apostles. 44 Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. 45 They sold
their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. 46 Every
day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from
house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, 47 praising God and having
favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.
Ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven, God fulfilled Joel 2:28 by pouring out His Spirit on all
believers. Devout Jews from every nation, living in Jerusalem at the time, heard the gospel in their own
languages and dialects. Some mistakenly attributed the sound they heard to drunkenness of the disciples,
but Peter stood up and preached the need for sinners to ―repent … and be baptized,‖ urging them to ―be
saved from this corrupt generation‖ (Acts 2:1-40).
Added (2:41, 47) frames Acts 2:41-47. The word added renders the Greek prostithemi, meaning ―to put
to‖ or ―bring to.‖ The church experienced remarkable growth on Pentecost Sunday because the Lord
added to the church. In this we see a fundamental tenet of Luke’s theology. The disciples were
participants in the Lord’s ministry. Jesus ministered on earth during His sojourn (Gospel of Luke); then,
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He ministered through His disciples after His ascension (Book of Acts).
Those who accepted the message were baptized. The word baptized meant ―to be dipped‖ or ―to be
immersed‖ in water. Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan (Luke 3:21) and commanded His followers
to baptize all who believed in Him (Matt. 28:19). The apostles obediently baptized … about 3,000
people, who accepted the message of repentance and faith.
Those who accepted the message devoted themselves to growing spiritually. Spiritual growth required
the development of healthy habits. First, they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. Devoted
themselves meant ―to attach themselves to‖ or ―to be faithful to.‖ The term teaching referred to those
things the apostles had been taught and passed on from Jesus (Matt. 28:20). Second, healthy Christian
fellowship and unity were essential for effective discipleship and witnessing. Fellowship, koinonia,
referred to the close association these believers maintained with one another. Third, they devoted
themselves to the breaking of bread. Some scholars view the breaking of bread as a reference to
communion, eating the Lord’s Supper together. Other scholars believe the breaking of bread was a
reference to eating their daily meals together, a practice of high hospitality in the first century. Fourth,
they devoted themselves to the prayers. Prayer was integral to the life of Jesus; it was also integral to the
success of His disciples.
Those who accepted the message lived in fear. Modern Christians are often repulsed by the idea we
should fear God, opting instead for a mellower concept of relating to Him. However, the word fear in this
verse does not refer to the debilitating dread psychiatrists talk about today. Rather fear is the reverential
awe people had toward God as they appreciated the many wonders and signs He performed through the
apostles. The opposite of fear would have been either apathy or deliberate ignorance, either of which was
Those who accepted the message shared their resources. The phrase in common renders the Greek
koinos, a word related to koinonia, or fellowship. Just as the believers closely associated with one another
in fellowship, they also shared their resources with one another.
Those who accepted the message put people’s needs above personal possessions. Because of their close
koinonia, the believers readily saw the fallacy of valuing personal property above other people’s needs.
When they saw a person had a need, they sold their possessions and property and distributed the
proceeds accordingly. The slogan ―Love God, Love people‖ described their disposition perfectly.
Those who accepted the message valued togetherness with other believers. They devoted themselves to
the daily practice of meeting together in the temple complex. The new believers remained faithful Jews,
fulfilling temple obligations, and probably testifying to their newfound faith. In addition, Jesus had taught
His disciples in the area of Solomon’s porch, which ran the length of the eastern side of the temple
complex. Thus His disciples met and discussed the faith there also. They also spent time together eating
their daily meals as they broke bread from house to house. They ate with a joyful and humble
attitude. Joyful referred to exultation or gladness; humble referred to sincerity or simplicity. The word
attitude renders the Greek term kardia or heart.
Those who accepted the message praised God for all He was doing. He had given them favor with all
the people. The phrase all the people was Luke’s typical way of referring to the Jews. Primarily from the
Jews of Jerusalem the Lord had added to the church those who were being saved. At Pentecost, the first
growth in the church was confined primarily to Jews who embraced Jesus as their Messiah, but the Lord
had bigger things in store. He would add people to His church from all over the world.
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What about us? Do we understand church unity is essential for effective discipleship and witnessing? Do
we recognize the need for new believers to connect with other believers as they become part of the
fellowship? If you are a new believer, begin by actively participating in your local church. If you have
been an active member of the local church for some time, lead your church or small group to evaluate the
quality of Christian fellowship and how your group reaches out to welcome new believers. The lost people
in our communities and around the world await our witness.
Biblical Truths of This Lesson in Focus
• Understanding the Scriptures means we must go to others with the gospel.
• Jesus broadens our perspective to embrace a worldwide mission.
• Christian unity is essential for becoming active participants in God’s worldwide mission.
Sidebar: How These Events Fit into God’s Grand Story
From the beginning, God’s Story included the mission of His people to be a blessing to all nations (Gen.
12:3b), serving them as a kingdom of priests and holy nation (Ex. 19:6). God called His Servant to be a
light to the Jews and to the Gentiles (Isa. 49:6).
Jesus fulfilled the role of being a light even to the Gentiles (Luke 2:32). The church was to become His
royal priesthood and holy nation, proclaiming His praises (1 Pet. 2:9).
1. This information was provided by International Mission Board, Global Research, August 2012 Global
Status of Evangelical Christianity Listing of Unreached People Groups. Available from the Internet:
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How These Events Fit into God’s Grand Story: From the beginning, God’s Story included the mission
of His people to be a blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:3b), serving them as a kingdom of priests and holy
nation (Ex. 19:6). God called His Servant to be a light to the Jews and to the Gentiles (Isa. 49:6).
Jesus fulfilled the role of being a light even to the Gentiles (Luke 2:32). The church was to become His
royal priesthood and holy nation, proclaiming His praises (1 Pet. 2:9).
SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the
Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.
How do these events fit into God’s grand plan? After Jesus rose from the dead, He gave instructions to
His followers about what to do between the time He was with the Father and His return. The
establishment of the church was part of God’s plan, and Jesus already had explained to His disciples that
they would be an integral part of that plan, at least in the early stages. The coming of the Holy Spirit on
the Day of Pentecost inaugurated a new era in God’s plan of redemption. Since the Messiah had come
into the world, died, and come back from the dead, the forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed to all
nations and God’s invisible kingdom would expand throughout the globe. The citizens of this kingdom
conquer God’s enemies through love, suffering, and sharing the gospel with the lost so they may enter this
kingdom by faith in the crucified and risen Messiah. This aspect of the kingdom, which has been in effect
as part of God’s grand story for about 2,000 years now, will continue until Jesus returns.
SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One
LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.
Background Context: Luke 24 contains a series of resurrection appearances Jesus made during His 40
days on earth prior to His ascension (Acts 1:3), as do Matthew 28 and John 20—21. The events in the last
part of Luke 24 likely occurred just prior to Jesus’ ascension, and it is at this point that Jesus prepared His
disciples for their task after He would no longer be with them.
The Book of Acts picks up where Luke’s Gospel ends, which is not surprising since both were written by
Luke. Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples asked Him a question consistent with
Messianic expectation among the Jews in the first century. King David and King Solomon reigned 40
years each over Israel, and this 80-year period was the only time in Hebrew history that Israel was the
dominant power in the Mediterranean world. This golden era of the Hebrew monarchy ended with
Solomon’s death and the division of the kingdom into two weak nations, Israel in the north and Judah in
the south. Eventually, both nations went into exile because of covenant disobedience. Assyria took Israel
into captivity in 721 BC, and the monarchy ended when Babylon took Judah into captivity and destroyed
both Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC. After the Babylonian captivity ended, the monarchy was not
restored. No king ever sat on the throne of Israel or Judah again. But the Old Testament promised that a
son of David would become a Messianic title—one that the disciples had heard applied to Jesus. So it is
not surprising that the disciples in Acts 1—in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection—would wonder if the
time had come.
Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost covers Acts 2:14-36. Peter proclaimed that Jesus of Nazareth, the
One who was crucified, was raised from the dead and is both Lord and Messiah. The response of the
crowd was to ask how to be saved (v. 37). Peter told them to repent (vv.38-40).
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SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One
LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.
ASCENSION OF CHRIST: The ascension of Christ is that occasion when at the close of His earthly
ministry the risen Christ Jesus was taken up into heaven. It was a moment of joy for the disciples; for He
said they were to be His witnesses among all the people of the earth. It was a moment of worship, for He
blessed them with His outstretched hands and promised His power for the mission He had assigned to
their care (Luke 24:47-51; Acts 1:2-3, 8-9).
Some have a problem thinking of Jesus ―going up‖ into heaven. But for Luke to note that from the
disciple’s perspective Jesus was taken up from them is completely natural. Jesus was taken up, much as a
father picks up his child and carries him away. Luke described the event this way; ―After he said this, he
was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight‖ (Acts 1:9). The cloud
symbolized the mysterious, majestic presence of God with His people (compare Luke 9:34-35 and Exodus
A careful reading of Luke and Acts raises the question about when the ascension occurred. Luke 24 seems
to imply that Jesus was taken up into heaven in the late evening of the day He arose. But Luke’s account
in Acts clearly says the ascension happened forty days after the resurrection (Acts 1:3). Though several
suggestions have been made to harmonize these accounts, two explanations provide the most plausible
1. Jesus did in fact ascend to heaven on Sunday evening as Luke 24 indicates. However, He returned to
the earth for special appearances throughout the forty days until a second public ascension happened as
described in Acts 1:3. John’s account of the resurrection appearance lends weight to this line of reasoning.
On Easter morning Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, ―Do not hold on to me for I have not yet returned to the
Father‖ (John 20:17). One week later He invited Thomas: ―Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out
your hand and put it into my side‖ (John 20:27). Apparently He had ascended on Sunday night and
returned to be with the disciples a week later (John 20:26).
2. Others suggest that Jesus was raised up and glorified in one great exaltation early on Sunday morning.
He returned for each of the appearances throughout the day and through the forty days as the risen and
glorified Son of God. Peter Toon calls this the ―secret and invisible‖ ascension that was followed for the
benefit of the disciples forty days later by the ―visible symbolic demonstration‖ of that earlier ascension.
The ascension means that the humanity of God’s creation into which He emptied Himself at the
incarnation (Phil 2:7) has been taken into glory. All things human can be redeemed from the effects of sin,
so that what God intended from the beginning (see Gen 1:31, ―It was very good‖) can now be fully
achieved. The ascension means that Christians are never without a voice before the Father. Jesus, the
Great High Priest, lives now in glory to intercede for His brothers and sisters (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25).
The ascension means that the heavenly reign of our Lord has begun, and one day what is now dimly seen
will be fully realized as He becomes all in all (see Eph 1:20-23; Rev 3:21). It means that God the Father is
fully satisfied with the Son and has seated Him at the Father’s right hand, where He reigns as our Great
High Priest (Heb 1:3; see 1 Pet 3:22).
The ascension is a visible reminder that Jesus has left the task of world missions to His disciples,
empowered by the Holy Spirit whose work would not start until Jesus went away (John 16:7; Acts 1:8).
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The ascension is the sign that Jesus will come again to receive His people unto Himself (Acts 1:11). The
description of the ascension is the dramatic assertion that Jesus was taken up into heaven to be with the
Father with whom He reigns then, now, and forever.
SOURCE: Holman Bible Handbook; General Editor David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers;
ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING:
The Uttermost Part of the Earth: First-Century Views
By Warren McWilliams, Chairman of history and theology at Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee,
PLUTARCH (AD 46-120), the biographer of many famous Greeks and Romans, once observed that
ancient geographers who did not know about a region placed marginal notes to the effect that beyond this
point was ―nothing but sandy deserts full of wild beasts, unapproachable bogs, Scythian ice, or a frozen
sea‖ (―Theseus‖ Lives).
The known world of the first century AD was considerably smaller than our world today. The missionary
impulse of the early Christians, however, would take the gospel almost to the ends of the known world by
about AD 100. From the beginning, the followers of Jesus realized that the gospel was too powerful to be
limited to the Jewish nation. When Jesus told the disciples that they would be His witnesses ―in
Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth‖ (Acts 1:8), they may
not have realized the full extent of their missionary enterprise. Although today we generally think of our
world getting smaller because of improved communication, to the first-century citizen of the Roman
Empire the world was growing constantly. Through the reports of explorers and traders and the
calculations of astronomers, educated Romans were aware of much of Europe, Africa, and the Middle
East. Their knowledge of the Atlantic Ocean and the Far East was much more sketchy. The purpose of
this article is to survey briefly what the typical Roman in the first century AD would have known about
the world beyond the borders of the Roman Empire.
The first-century views of the world drew heavily on the knowledge accumulated by travelers, explorers,
and scientists from previous centuries. Some early scientists (for example, Pythagoras, about 530 BC) had
concluded that the earth was a sphere, but many of the ancients held to the belief that the earth was a flat
disk. Aristarchus of Samos (about 310-230 BC) developed the view that the sun was the center of the
solar system, but most people held to the older geocentric (earth-centered) view rather than this
revolutionary heliocentric (sun-centered) view.
[There is also a theological aspect of the centricity of the universe. In the late 1500s and early 1600s AD,
Galileo championed the concept of heliocentrism. This was controversial within his lifetime, when most
subscribed to either geocentrism.
The matter was investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, and they concluded that it could be
supported as only a possibility, not an established fact. Galileo later defended his views in a work that
appeared to attack Pope Urban VIII, thus alienated him and the Jesuits, who had both supported Galileo
11 | P a g e
up until this point. He was tried by the Inquisition, found "vehemently suspect of heresy", forced to
recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.
The concept that the Earth, thus man, is not at the center of the universe was hard to accept. In retrospect,
and theologically, it reinforces the supremacy of God, represented by the sun. If God is supreme, then the
Church and more particularly, the Church leaders, IE. Pope Urban VIII is not supreme. It is difficult to
determine whether Pope Urban was particularly threatened by the theory or merely miffed with Galileo
for not supporting Pontifical Supremacy. Some evidence of the later idea is given by the subsequent
acceptance by the Church of the concept of Geocentricity.
In the 16th century AD, a fully predictive mathematical model of a heliocentric system was presented by
the Renaissance mathematician, astronomer, and Catholic cleric Nicolaus Copernicus of Poland, leading
to the Copernican Revolution. In the following century, Johannes Kepler elaborated upon and expanded
this model to include elliptical orbits, and supporting observations made using a telescope were presented
In the second century BC, Hipparchus speculated that the round earth rotated on an axis and developed the
idea of longitude and latitude lines to locate places. Eratosthenes, chief librarian at Alexandria, Egypt
(276-196 BC), calculated the circumference of the earth at the equator as being 250,000 stadia (about
24,662 miles), 200 miles in error, but amazingly accurate.1
In the second century BC Posidonius (135-51
BC) repeated Eratosthenes’ calculations but reached a much smaller figure. Posidonius’ smaller world
was perpetuated by Strabo (63 BC-AD 24) and Ptolemy.
The reports of travelers and explorers added to the Roman’s knowledge of the world. The early
Phoenicians had told of horrible sea monsters, suns that never shone, and suns so hot that never shone, and
suns so hot that the seas boiled. Herodotus (about 484-425 BC) recorded many of these stories. One of
these recounted a voyage through the Red Sea and around the top of Africa. Many people did not believe
such a story, however, and Ptolemy insisted that Africa was connected to Asia, making the Indian Ocean
an enclosed body like the Mediterranean Sea.
About 470 BC Himilco, a Carthaginian, reportedly sailed as far as England and Ireland. Pytheas (fourth
century BC) sailed from his hometown of Massilia (modern Marseilles, France) to England, Scotland,
Iceland, and the Arctic Circle (Strabo 1.4.2). The travels of Alexander the Great to the east added to the
Greek’s knowledge of the world.
The science of geography was refined in the first century AD by scholars building on the research of
people such as Eratosthenes and Hipparchus of Nicea. Marinus of Tyre incorporated new information.
Strabo’s Geographia (about 7 BC) consisted of seventeen books, with two books on the history and
methods of geography, eight on Europe, six on Asia, and one on Egypt and North Africa. Probably the
most definitive geography of the ancient world was written by Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemaeus, about AD
90-168), librarian at Alexandria. His eight volume Geographia listed about 8,000 places, giving their
approximate latitudes and longitudes. Having accepted a smaller circumference for the earth, he assumed
Europe and Asia covered half the globe. Later explorers such as Columbus followed his calculations,
assuming the distance from Europe to Asia across the Atlantic Ocean was shorter. His views were
dominant until the time of Copernicus.
2 John’s insertions.
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Although the Romans apparently were interested in cartography (map making) for military and
administrative usage, few copies of first-century maps exist. The famous Tabula Peutingeriana
(Peutinger Table) probably reflects information in Roman itinerary maps from the first century AD,
although it may derive from maps by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (63-12 BC) based on Roman military
To the typical Roman citizen in the first century the geography that really mattered was the empire itself.
Although there was curiosity about the people beyond the frontiers of the empire, the empire was so large
that most Romans would be only vaguely aware of the provinces of the empire itself. During the first
century the empire extended from the British Isles to the Sudan, from Portugal to the Euphrates River. Its
north-south axis was about 1600 miles, and its east-west axis was about 2800 miles. The population was
probably about 70 million in the first century. In this period the emperors did not attempt to expand the
empire geographically but focused on stabilizing what had been achieved up to Augustus’ reign (27 BC-
By reviewing the boundaries of the empire, moving clockwise from the western end of the Mediterranean
Sea, we can see what the Romans knew about their world. Spain, Portugal, and Gaul were the western-
most provinces of the empire. Gades (Modern Cadiz) was the chief port of western Spain. Spain shipped
products such as wine to Britain, Gaul, and the Rhineland over the Atlantic Ocean, but apparently sailors
did not venture very far into the Atlantic. In earlier centuries the Phoenicians had kept warships on patrol
across the Strait of Gibraltar (Pillars of Hercules) to keep others from exploring the Atlantic. Himilco’s
journey to England and Ireland (about 470 BC) and Pytheas’ journey to Iceland (about 330 BC) were
apparently the exceptions over the centuries. Such voyages had been reported, however, and the Romans
were aware of them.
Great Britain was one of the few places where the Romans tried to annex territory in the first century.
Claudius conquered southeastern England in AD 43. The complete conquest of England occurred later in
the first century. Hadrian (ruled AD 117-138) erected the Wall of Hadrian across northern England to
keep out invaders and smugglers. The areas to the north and west of England were known to the Romans
primarily through the reports of early explorers such as Himilco and Pytheas.
The northern border of the empire was protected by a line of fortification (limites) that consisted of forts,
walls, and natural boundaries. The defenses were designed primarily to discourage small raiding parties
and to control border traffic.3
Rivers such as the Rhine and the Danube served as natural defenses. The
Romans were aware of several groups of ―barbarians‖ who lived on their northern border, including the
Thracians, Moesians, Dacians, Illyrians, and Syco-Sarmatians. Some of these groups had been conquered
by the end of the first century, but many really were never incorporated into the empire. Through trade
the Romans had some contact with Scandinavia.
Many Christians in the Roman world would have been, of course, very familiar with the eastern end of the
Roman Empire, including Greece, Macedonia, Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. The influence of
Hellenism through Alexander the Great’s invasions had acquainted them with their neighbors as early as
the fourth century BC. Most Romans especially were aware of this eastern region because of the Jewish
revolts against Rome (AD 66-70, 132-125) and the resistance of the Parthians, but they were often at war
over control of Armenia. Parthians were present at Pentecost (Acts 2:9). According to Pliny, a Roman
knight in Nero’s reign traveled to the Baltic costal region.4
Roman knowledge of the Far East was based primarily on trade rather than military expansion. During
13 | P a g e
the first century AD, trade with India and China apparently flourished. Traders traveled both overland and
by ship. From the time of Augustus sailors going to India used the monsoons, starting out in early
summer and returning in the fall. According to Pliny the Elder, Hippalus was the discoverer of the
usefulness of the monsoons for sailing to India on the open sea rather than along the coastline. Strabo
reports that 120 ships left each year from the Red Sea port of Myos Hormos, heading for India. Traders
soon became familiar with the eastern and western coasts of India. An anonymous handbook, The
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, probably from the late first century AD, described the harbors in the Red
Sea, sailing distances, and the political formalities of trading.5
Pliny the Elder recorded the voyage of a
freedman in the reign of Claudius to the island of Ceylon.6
Some sailed as far as China, but the overland
routes were more popular for traders, although they sometimes had difficulty with the Parthians. Chinese
records mention a delegation from Rome in the time of Marcus Aurelius. Trade with India flourished in
the first century, and numerous Roman articles were discovered there. Strabo noted that an embassy from
a king in India visited Augustus (15.1.4). Ptolemy’s Geography records the journey of Maes Titianus, a
Syrian trader, about AD 100 along the northern route to China.7
The continent of Africa virtually was unknown to the typical Roman. Settlements rarely went farther than
200 miles inland from the coast. The desert provided a natural southern boundary. Traders knew the east
coast along the Red Sea, but no one tried to circumnavigate the southern tip of Africa. The southernmost
archeological evidence of Roman influence is a mausoleum at Germa in the Fezzan.8
Sailors may have
gone down the east coast of Africa as far as modern Uganda, but apparently no explorers or traders went
very far down the west coast of Africa.9
To the Romans in the first century AD Rome was caput mundi, ―capital of the world.‖ They were aware
of other peoples in the world. They were most aware of the ―barbarians‖ to the north and the Parthians,
Indians, and Chinese to the east.10
In the first century the Romans seemed satisfied to consolidate their
empire rather than expand it or even send explorers into the unknown regions. Roman interest in the
world outside the borders of the empire was guided primarily by trade. One scholar noted that five major
commodities especially were sought by the Romans: amber (Free Germany), ivory (Africa), frankincense
(southern Arabia), pepper (India), and silk (China).11
Early Christian missionaries would have a different
motive for going beyond the borders of the empire. They would be witnesses of the risen Jesus to ―the
uttermost part of the earth.‖
1. Norman J. W. Thrower, Maps and Man: An Examination of Cartography in Relation to Culture and
Civilization (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972), pp. 17-19.
2. Loo Bagrow, History of Cartography, rev. and enlarged R. A. Skelton (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1964), pp. 37-38.
3. Ronald Syme, ―Flavian Wars and Frontiers,‖ The Cambridge Ancient History, ed. F.E. Adcock, M.P.
Charlesworth (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1936), 11:182-84.
4. Cited in Sir Mortimer Wheeler, Rome Beyond the Imperial Frontiers (London: G. Bell and Sons,
1954), p. 9.
5. Ibid., pp. 112-30.
6. Pliny Natural History 6.84-85.
7. E. H. Bunbury, ed., A History of Ancient Geography (London: John Murray, 1879), 2:529.
8. Wheeler, pp. 104-107.
9. M.P. Charlesworth, Trade routes and Commerce of the Roman Empire (Cambridge: University Press,
1924), p. 65.
10. James Oliver Thomson, History of Ancient Geography (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1948)
gives a valuable survey of geography until the decline of the Roman Empire.
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11. Wheeler, p. 176.
SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention;
Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 39, No. 4; Summer 2013.
Baptismal Practices In The Early Church
By: Martha Bergen, Associate professor of New Testament, Hannibal-LaGrange College, Hannibal,
THE WORD BAPTISM carries with it the idea of a religious ritual signified by water. While baptismal
practices may occur in non-Christian circles, Webster defines baptism as ―a Christian sacrament marked
by ritual use of water and admitting the recipient to the Christian community." 1
The Bible reveals that ceremonial washings occurred in both Old and New Testament eras (see Ex. 29:4;
Lev. 14:8-9; Mark 7:3-4; and John 2:6) and served as a means of purification. During New Testament
times, various sects and Jews who proselyted used water in their baptismal rituals and even immersed
The Greek word for "baptism" is baptisma and is based on the verb baptize, meaning "to
immerse or submerge.‖ The term baptisma, unique to Christian literature, refers to John's baptism or
The baptism John the Baptist practiced led the way for Christian baptism. Like Christian baptism, his
baptism was connected to a person's repentance and forgiveness of sin. Nevertheless, it differed in two
ways. John's baptism did not signify a person-al faith in Jesus Christ, nor did it signify the presence of the
Holy Spirit in the life of the new believer (contrast Mark 1:4 with Acts 2:38). The foundation of Christian
baptism is John's baptism of Jesus, the God-man who serves as an example for all humankind. An
examination of Jesus' baptism reveals two significant occurrences: He was declared God's Son, and the
Holy Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove. Another basis for Christian baptism is Christ's
mandate found in Matthew 28:18-20, the "Great Commission," which includes baptizing others in the
name of the Trinity.
In the early church, baptism was indicative of a person’s relationship with Jesus Christ, following his
conversion to Christianity. Baptism by immersion symbolized Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. The
candidate's being sub- merged into the baptismal waters represented his own "death and burial" to self and
sin and his "resurrection" to a new life under Christ's lordship (see Rom. 6:3-8). Many also see an
eschatological significance, pointing to the bodily resurrection of Christians when Christ returns to earth
and establishes His eternal kingdom. Not all Christians, however, have agreed on the manner and meaning
of baptism. Even the early church fathers raised differing concerns regarding this topic.
Concerns and Issues Associated with Baptism
The church has had to address baptismal practices throughout its history.
Mode of Baptism. The means of baptism has been an issue throughout church history. What is the
appropriate mode or method of baptism? Some have accepted immersion as the only justifiable mode,
while others believe effusion (pouring) or sprinkling water over the head is valid. Those adhering to
immersion support this mode as symbolizing Christ's death, burial, and resurrection and base their support
on passages Re Romans 6:4. Baptists support this view, highlighting the climactic work of Christ. Those
who favor pouring or sprinkling often use the argument that baptism depicts more than just Christ's death,
burial, and resurrection; but rather, the whole of His ministry, basing their position on passages such as
15 | P a g e
Infant Baptism vs. Believer's Baptism. Another issue is who can be baptized. Baptists have always
stressed the significance of believer's baptism, baptism that results from one's personal faith and trust in
Christ. An individual, though sinful from conception, must come to the realization of his need for Christ
(see Rom. 10:9- 1 0). Infant baptism, therefore, contradicts this principle. Those supporting infant
baptism, however, make reference to the baptism of households (note Acts 16:33), as well as to Christ's
appeal to children as part of His ministry (see Matt. 19:14). While infant baptism was, by the fifth century,
a common practice, some believe it may have originated because of the desire to safeguard children in the
event of a premature death.4
Triune Baptism vs. Single Baptism. A third issue concerns the number of times one should be baptized.
Triune baptism corresponds with the three Persons of the Godhead and as such must occur three times for
baptism to be valid. Some believe, based upon Acts 2:38, that earliest Christian baptisms used the formula
of "in the name of Jesus," whereas the Trinitarian formula resulted from Christ's final commission (Matt.
Others suggest the use of Christ's name would refer to one's confession associated with baptism,
rather than a prescribed formula for baptism. The debate over triple versus single immersion is reflected in
the practice of eastern and western churches today-the former practicing triple immersion and the latter
using a variety of practices.6
Baptists baptize into the three Persons of the Godhead but do so with single
Baptismal Preparations and Ceremonial Practices
Early Christian worship practices probably somewhat paralleled Jewish patterns. However, they received
a new perspective in light of Christian conversion. Worship was a means of instruction whereby its
elements (baptism included) were teaching tools. While one's conversion to Christianity almost
immediately resulted in baptism and seemingly had little to no instruction (see Acts 16:11-15), the
encounter of Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch gives evidence that instruction did occur in some instances
(note Acts 8:30-38) and should not, therefore, be dismissed. 7
Though texts throughout portions of the New Testament mention baptism, the Scriptures offer no evidence
of a pre- scribed formula for its preparation and practice. However, supplemental sources, for example the
Didache and Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, give evidence that moral instruction, fasting, and prayer
preceded the actual event. Teachings from the Didache allowed pouring water onto the head three times if
running water was not available. Cold water was preferable to warm water. Both the baptizer and the one
to be baptized were too fast for two days prior to the event, along with others who were able.8
By A.D. 200, an established ceremony was in place. The candidate, having gone through a season of
instruction (possibly up to three years), faced a verbal examination prior to his baptism. At the time of
baptism, believers offered prayers beseeching the Holy Spirit into the baptismal waters. On the eve before
Easter, the candidate would undress, renounce Satan, and be anointed with oil. This was known as the "oil
of exorcism," which was to strengthen the candidate in his final struggle with Satan.9
As he stood in the
water, the candidate confessed his faith in each Person of the Godhead, being immersed after each
confession. Afterwards he was anointed, dressed, and anointed a third time before a "laying on of hands.
At this point the candidate received the kiss of peace from the congregation, followed by participation in
Baptism and Circumcision
Around the time of Christ, Jews accepted Gentile converts and began to baptize them. Yet circumcision
16 | P a g e
remained the chief means into Judaism. Baptism has often been compared to the circumcision event.
However, this analogy is flawed. Only males are circumcised, whereas both males and females are
baptized; moreover, while circumcision concerns the "flesh:' baptism concerns the "heart" and is thus
spiritual. God's promise in Christ is to "spiritual Israel," not the 'Israel of the flesh." Those who are
spiritual Israel are so because of their faith. 11
The early church demonstrated faith as it practiced Christian baptism. First and last it pointed to Jesus
Christ, the one who was baptized to ―fulfill all righteousness" (Matt. 3:15, NIV) and who expects His
followers to do likewise, giving testimony of their relationship to Him.
1. See "Baptism' in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, loffi ed. (Springfield, MA: Meuiam-
Webster, Incorporated, 1993),91.
2. A- Hamman, 'Baptism: Baptism in the Fathm' in Encyclopedia of the Early Church (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1992),107.
3. Lars Hartman, "Baptism' in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, David N. Freedman, ed. (New York:
Doubleday, 1992), 583.
4. Everett Ferguson, 'Baptism' in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (New York: Gariand Publishing, Inc.,
5. R. P. Roth, 'Baptism (Sacramentarian View)' in The Zondevan Pictorial Dictionary of the Bible (Grand
Rapids, Zondvan Publishing House, 1976), 465.
7. James E. Reed and Ronnie Prevost, A History of Christian Education (Nashville: Broadman and
Holman, 1993), 73.
B. Didache, chapter 7, Charles H. Hoole. trans. http://www.earlychristianwrifings.com/text/didache-
9. Hamman, 108.
10. Ferguson, 132.
11. Johnnie Godwin, "Baptism,‖ and Chris Church, "Infant Baptism‖ in Holman Bible Dictionary
(Nashville, Holman Bible Publishers, 1991), 150, 696.
SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention;
Nashville, TN 37234; Summer 2004.
TO MAKE DISCIPLES By Darryl Wood, Pastor of Moulton Baptist Church, Moulton, Alabama.
The effective disciple of Christ inevitably influences other people to become disciples. Jesus began
that cycle when He commissioned His followers to “make disciples.”
ONE OF MY FAVORITE seminary professors explained something he learned early in his ministry. He
said, ―I feel a heavy responsibility as a teacher of preachers. They learn invaluable lessons from academic
exercises and books. But the most important thing is that they see me live for Christ. I teach them more
in that way than any other. In turn, these ministers will teach their congregations by how they live for
This seasoned teacher understood the cycle of Christian discipleship. The effective disciple of Christ
inevitably influences other people to become disciples. Jesus began that cycle when He commissioned
His followers to ―make disciples‖ (Matt. 28:19).
The imperative to ―make disciples‖ (matheteusate) originated from the verb manthano-―learn from
someone‖ or ―come to know.‖1
As Jesus’ pupils, His disciples learned from Him about how to live God’s
way. Their attachment to Jesus began with a commitment to believe in Him and continued as a lifelong
17 | P a g e
process of learning from Him.
A true Christian disciple is a person given over to Christ in mind and heart. Discipleship requires more
than mental assent. The Lord demanded a commitment to live as He lived day by day.2
Jesus said, ―If you
continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine‖ (John 8:31).3
He made that statement to Jews
who said they believed in Him. Jesus told them that true discipleship results in more than verbal
commitment. It includes continued obedience.
When Jesus commanded His followers to ―make disciples,‖ then He expected them to participate in the
disciple-making business. They functioned as more than learners themselves. A true disciple also served
as a teacher of others to bring them to loving obedience to Christ.
The context in which Jesus spoke this imperative affects the interpretation of its meaning. The command
to ―make disciples‖ occupies the central place in the passage known as the Great Commission (Matt.
28:18-20). After His resurrection and prior to His ascension, Jesus prepared His followers to continue His
mission. He spoke the Great Commission during that time of training. Through this commission, Jesus’
disciples received specific direction for the nature of their future ministry.
Greek and Jewish cultures both provide background for the concept of disciple making among Christians.
Greek teachers exhibited a superior knowledge. Pupils affiliated themselves with these teachers in an
extended relationship. Over time the learners gained knowledge from the teachers. A disciple gathered
either technical skills or academic information from the teacher.4
The Jewish rabbinic schools probably provided the background of Jesus’ ideas even more. The teacher-
pupil relationship took on unique characteristics. Teaching the law revolved around a lengthy training
process in which a rabbi taught and practiced the law in front of his pupils. Societal tradition bestowed a
special status on rabbis that gave them authority among their students. Generally, potential students
approached the teacher for permission to be admitted to study with that rabbi. Students and teacher
established a close relationship, which included eating and traveling together and living in close
proximity. Intense sessions consisted of instruction by the teacher in the law. Memorization on the part
of the student required great effort. After years of faithful study, the student received status as a rabbi. He
then began the process of training other students. Thus the cycle continued. He became responsible to
impart knowledge of the law and demonstrate life under the law to others.5
The rabbi’s goal was not his
own veneration. Ultimately the rabbi assisted the student in an approach to God. The teacher practiced
his craft as an instrument of God.6
In some ways Jesus’ role as a teacher resembled that of the rabbis. Jesus, like the rabbis, claimed
authority as a Teacher (Matt. 28:18). He expected complete submission to God’s teachings. Jesus sent
His disciples out to spread the good news of salvation and win converts. They were to demonstrate what
He taught them through obedience.7
As Master Teacher, however, Jesus differed from the rabbis. His authority extended beyond theirs. He
held ―all‖ authority (Matt. 28:18). Additionally, unlike the rabbis, Jesus took the initiative to call out His
own disciples. They did not seek to attach themselves to Him. Jesus’ teaching style showed direct
personal involvement with His disciples. This exceeded the more formal relationship of rabbis to
students. The Jewish rabbis eventually sent out their disciples to be rabbis themselves. The students shed
the learner status in rabbinic culture. Jesus’ disciples, however, remained as learners after Him all their
The rabbi-student association lasted for an extended period. Jesus’ relationship with His disciples,
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however, continued even after He left the earth. He committed to remain with them ―always‖ (Matt.
What did Jesus mean, then, when He commanded His followers to ―make disciples‖? The rest of the
Great Commission explains Jesus’ intent. Three subordinate participles accompany the central command
to ―make disciples.‖ These participles (going, baptizing, teaching) explain how to go about the disciple-
Matthew 20:19 opens with the command to ―Go‖ (poreuthentes). Great debate surrounds this term. Some
argue that the word was an urgent command for the disciples to go into the world with the gospel. Thus
the term carried the weight of an imperative. Since the term is a participle, it also can to translated ―as you
are going‖ or ―as you go.‖ The emphasis, then, could be that as the disciples went about their daily lives,
they were to practice disciple making. Thus Jesus intended making disciples to be a normal part of life as
one went about a daily routine.
A second participle, ―baptizing‖ (baptizontes), indicates another aspect of the disciple-making process
(Matt. 28:19). Christian baptism signified initiation into kingdom life. At one point, the Pharisees noted
that Jesus made and baptized more people than John the Baptist (John 4:1). This highlighted the fact that
Jesus reached new converts. So baptism referred to more than the act of baptism. It conveyed the idea of
reaching people, who committed themselves to follow Christ. Disciples were to be made by bringing new
people into the faith.
A third participle, ―teaching‖ (didaskontes), further defines the work of making disciples (Matt. 28:20).
Discipleship extends beyond an initial commitment to Christ. It includes an ongoing obedience to Christ’s
ethical demands. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, ―Whoever then annuls one of the least of these
commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but
whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven‖ (Matt. 5:19, NASB).
Discipleship embodies teaching right action based on a commitment to live like Christ.
How did Jesus’ followers understand this command to ―make disciples‖? Certainly out of their
relationship with Jesus and their culture, they grasped His command clearly. Just as Jesus took the
initiative to draw them to Himself, they were to draw other people to Him. Jesus was their model.
The Master Teacher took them into His inner circle. They became His disciples and His friends. He
invested Himself in them in a personal way. Jesus’ disciples subsequently opened themselves up to other
people for the same purpose. The original disciples welcomed others into their number as Jesus had
To accomplish this task of going, baptizing, and teaching, the disciples had to focus on obedience to
Christ. Even though He eventually left this world in human form, discipleship meant a continued
obedience to His demands. Jesus’ followers knew these expectations because they saw Jesus live them
Jesus envisioned a cycle of disciple making. As the disciples followed His example, they introduced other
people into the process of Christian learning. The chain reaction created a multiplication effect.
The goal of the disciples became to make other people into learners as they were themselves.9
not attempt, however, to duplicate people after their human image. Rather, they pointed new learners to
the example of Christ’s life. As the disciples submitted their lives to Christ, they directed others to do the
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What implications does this idea of disciples producing other disciples foster for Christians today? A
unique responsibility falls on modern believers to continue the discipleship multiplication cycle instituted
by Jesus. If other disciples become like you, what quality of disciples will the Lord have? Generally,
those who learn from you about Christ will be no more committed to Him than you.
Effective disciples desire that other people become disciples. This requires that you create an
environment whereby others can grow as learners after Christ. Do you seek people out and invite them to
join you in the process of learning about God? Do you build personal relationships with potential
disciples to enable them to see a learner in action? Do you provide an example of obedience by the way