Is there any worth in last words? Reading the recorded last words of famous people in many cases opens up a window into the contents of their heart. While it becomes immediately obvious that many were not in their right minds at the time, many, being completely lucid, used their final moments to curse God; even refusing to die. Still others could not resist a final humorous and sarcastic poke at life; while others expressed a longing to be with God.
In Scripture also, we read the dying words of many. For example, the repentant thief on the cross beside Jesus said, “Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’” (Luke 23:42). We read of Stephen’s final words while being stoned to death by his accusers, as he cried out, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:40). Some of the last written words of the great apostle Paul hold a special place in the hearts of many:
“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the LORD, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Jesus’ Final Words
Our Savior spoke His last words on earth following His resurrection to His disciples, and possibly others. Scripture says that as they were there, they worshipped Him, but some doubted (Matthew 28:17). These last words spoken by the Lord are traditionally known as “The Great Commission.” They are taken from two separate accounts of the same event in Matthew and in Mark:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
“He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation’” (Mark 16:15).
Though the term “Great Commission” appears nowhere in Scripture, it is nonetheless accurate. Some scholars say that the term came into being during the seventeenth century; spoken by a particular Lutheran nobleman who believed that Jesus’ words extended to all Christians, and not just to His disciples. The term again appears and is attributed to the nineteenth century missionary Hudson Taylor. He either said or wrote:
“The Great Commission is not an option to be considered, but it is a command to be obeyed.”
This simple yet powerful statement echoes his heartbeat. Being a missionary, he no doubt understood and believed in the greatness of Jesus’ words. But what makes the Great Commission so great? When it comes to evangelism, we cite here five reasons why the Great Commission is actually so very great.
1. Its Source
“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63).
Jesus Christ is the source of the Great Commission. To say it precisely, every single word He ever spoke is great because He cannot say anything less. Every question, every response, and every command, carries with it the stamp of His authority. As spoken in our verse above, His words are Spirit, and they are life. His words are not random thoughts and surmising; they are divine truth.
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2. Its Substance
What is the message of the Great Commission? The underlying truth behind the Great Commission is that all are lost and in need of a Savior. The message is an urgent call and command for every blood-washed child of God to go. The actual command is to “make disciples,” that is, to cause all men to become followers of Christ. We find the message, or the substance, stated in three powerful facts spoken by Paul:
“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Paul says here that we are saved when believe first that Jesus died for our sins, secondly that He was buried, and thirdly, that he rose again on the third day. These facts comprise the gospel. Paul explains it further in his letter to the Romans:
“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (Romans 10:9-10).
Millions have been saved over the course of several thousand years, by placing faith in this powerful message centered around Christ and what He has done.
3. Its Supremacy
Throughout the missionary life of Paul the apostle, he demonstrated just how great he knew Jesus’ words to be. Christ actually gave Paul his own personal commission which reinforces Christ’s original command to his disciples:
“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me’” (Acts 26:15-18).
The supremacy of the Great Commission refers to its centrality. This centrality is built upon the truth that Christ was Paul’s life; everything he did revolved around Christ, His command, and the urgency he felt to spread His gospel. Paul told the Corinthians:
“And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).
The early Church gave themselves over to the Great Commission. Men like Peter, John, Stephen, Barnabas, Silas, Paul, and so many others, carried the light of the glorious gospel throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to uttermost parts of the then-known world, as prophesied by Christ Himself (Acts 1:8).
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4. Its Scope
When carrying out Christ’s command to “therefore go,” it is important to understand that it is for everyone. Since all are sinners, all need and deserve to hear the gospel message. Matthew and Mark speak about taking the gospel to all the world, to all nations, and to every creature; this is all inclusive and no one is to be excluded. Every race, color and ethnicity are to be the targets of the Great Commission.
In all truth, God doesn’t need us; He could do it all by Himself. But because He is God, He graciously allows us to be His hands extended to a world that is lost. We simply have to align ourselves with His will.
5. Its Special Promise
“…and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20b).
Here we find in our final reason what makes this Great Commission so possible. In light of the scope of it all, which we have just discussed, the Lord promises us that He will be with us. And that is all the assurance that we need. Without hesitation, we should boldly commit our efforts to Him, relying totally on Him, knowing that His presence abides with us. As we preach, teach, make disciples, and baptize, we are guaranteed the power of His promise.
While it is an awesome responsibility, may we all proceed with the same passion possessed by the early Church, in making Christ’s command supreme in our lives and ministries.
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Michael Jakes is an Associate Pastor, Bible teacher, and writer. He is co-founder of That’s The Word! Ministries, a distinctly Cross-centered outreach. He has also been active in youth ministry for over 30 years, and hosts four live weekly podcasts: ‘The Sunday Sermon Series’, ‘The Line By Line Podcast‘, ‘The Bible Speaks Live’, and ‘The Cutting It Right Bible Study’. Michael is also the author of, The Lights In The Windows, a book focusing on the need for the Church to evangelize. You can follow him on YouTube and on his Facebook page at: That's The Word Ministries | Facebook. Michael and his wife Eddye have been married for 40 years, and reside in New York.