The Great Commission, as it is known, is broader than many Christians realize. First of all, it involves Christians being sent into all the world. “As my Father hath sent me,” said Jesus to the disciples, “even so send I you” (John 20:21). Then, just before His return to heaven, He told them what they would do as they went: “Ye shall be witnesses unto me…unto the uttermost part of the earth.” But how could they (or we) possibly do such a thing? “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you,” was His statement (Acts 1:8).
And what does it mean to be witnesses? The actual Greek word also means “martyrs,” so this commission could well involve real sacrifice. But what would be the content of their witness? Earlier He told them that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations” (Luke 24:47). A more succinct and yet more comprehensive statement of His Great Commission had been given on another occasion when He said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
The gospel we are to preach is, of course, the good news about Christ. That, in fact, is precisely the meaning of the Greek word itself. It is not good advice or good philosophy. It is the wonderfully glad tidings in the record concerning Jesus Christ—specifically who He is, what He has done, and what He will do in the ages to come.
Its central focus is on the substitutionary death of Christ for our sins, His physical burial, and bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). But it also includes His creation of all things in the beginning (Revelation 14:6-7 calls that the “everlasting gospel”). Furthermore, it includes the promised “hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel” (Colossians 1:5), as well as everything that God in Christ has said or done in anticipation of His promised heavenly Kingdom.
The most extensive definition of that commission was given when Jesus met with His first 11 disciples on a mountain in Galilee and said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Twice in this missionary mandate we note that He stressed the ministry of teaching. The scope of the commandment is indeed extensive; all nations are to be taught, and the teaching is to incorporate everything that Jesus taught.
And even that is not all. There was another great commission given to men and women back at the very beginning of time, and it is still in effect. “Have dominion over…every living thing that moveth upon the earth,” God told our first parents (Genesis 1:28). This primeval dominion mandate necessarily implies comprehensive scientific research into the nature of the earth and all its living creatures—plant life, animal life, human life. Then, for us to “subdue” the earth, as Genesis 1:28 also commands, must involve the development of all kinds of technology and commerce and—especially—education! What is learned and implemented in one generation would be useless if not transmitted to the next generation. That requires the vital ministry of teaching!
When Christ told the disciples to “teach all nations,” the actual language He used was “make disciples in all nations.” A disciple is not just a listener (like a student whose mind may be closed or filled with trivia) but one who is a real learner and user of the information provided by his teacher. The word disciple is obviously related to discipline. True education requires both a disciplined teacher and a disciplined learner. It is appropriate also that the various individual areas of study (science, math, language, etc.) are themselves known as disciplines.
The “all things” we are to “teach” must clearly include everything that Christ comprehended in both His dominion mandate and His missionary mandate. Remember that our Lord created them all and has paid the price for their full redemption. He has promised that “the [creation] itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). This responsibility is further implied in Christ’s command to “preach the gospel,” for, as noted above, gospel itself also embraces all that Christ is and does and says, from creation to consummation. It is infinitely more comprehensive than just the atoning death and bodily resurrection of the Savior, as essential as these are. Belief in this central core of the gospel, along with personal faith in Christ and His Word, is vitally important and is sufficient for one’s personal salvation—if truly understood and sincerely believed. But this simple gospel is definitely not all that is involved in the Great Commission or in the dominion mandate that the commission incorporates and extends.
The gospel of Christ that we have been commanded to preach, the person and work of Christ of whom we are to be witnesses, and the comprehensive teaching implied in the Great Commission and the dominion mandate involve nothing less than the wonderful plan of God for His entire creation in the eternal ages to come.
No individual Christian can preach or teach all these things. These orders must involve the entire company of His disciples, each using his or her own individual abilities and opportunities to help in the implementation of God’s great plan and doing it faithfully, as unto the Lord.
Furthermore, there is surely more than one type of teaching gift. Teaching the Bible is different from teaching music, for example. Also, teaching middle-school children is very different from teaching graduate students in science or teaching pastoral students in a seminary. But all teaching requires good preparation, sincere interest in students as well as subject matter, and—for Christian teachers in particular—doing it as unto the Lord. “Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Colossians 3:23).
The Lord does not call everyone to be a teacher. In fact, He warns those who are not truly called to a teaching ministry against it. “My brethren, be not many masters [same Greek word as teachers], knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (James 3:1).
We need to realize that the dominion mandate still applies to all people, both Christians and non-Christians, whereas the Great Commission is the responsibility of Christians only. The latter, therefore, have a double responsibility in subduing the earth. With respect to science, for example, we not only want to win individual scientists to salvation in Christ but also to bring the sciences themselves under submission to God and His Word. This includes warning students about the deadly fallacies of evolutionary philosophy and secular humanism in general. It applies in an extreme sense to college and university teachers, especially to those teaching science at the graduate level as they prepare our future scientific researchers and educators.
Considering the importance Christ placed on teaching in His Great Commission and its preeminent position among the gifts of the Holy Spirit,1 as well as its essential importance in implementing God’s dominion mandate, the entire Christian community is surely responsible to provide whatever support is needed to enable these teaching ministries to function effectively.
- Some of the gifts of the Spirit are listed in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:28, and Ephesians 4:11. The gift of evangelism is mentioned in only one of the three lists, for example; the gift of teaching is in all three.
Adapted from Dr. Morris’ article “On the Vital Ministry of Teaching” in the January 2004 edition of Acts & Facts.
* Dr. Henry M. Morris (1918-2006) was Founder of the Institute for Creation Research and received his Ph.D. in hydraulics from the University of Minnesota.