When Jesus commissioned His disciples from a mountain in Galilee with the words, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” did He really mean, “go”? I have often heard it taught that because “go” is actually a participle in Greek, it could more literally be translated, “in your going make disciples.” This view means that all Christians are to be making disciples, so wherever you go, make disciples–evangelize and teach others to follow Christ no matter where God has placed you. This understanding of Matthew 28:19 does have a place for international missions because of course some of the Apostles then and some of Jesus’ followers now will want to bring this good news to all nations in light of other Scriptures that speak to people from all nations coming to Christ as their Savior.
While being theologically accurate, I believe that Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:19 have a stronger emphasis than this, making modern versions that don’t say, “in your going” accurate, and leaving us to question our hearts perhaps more than we would otherwise about our involvement in missions today.
Every participle in Greek does not need to be translated into English as an “-ing” word such as “going.” The context and structure of the sentence also plays a part. “Go” in Matt. 28:19 is closer to the main verb “make disciples” than “baptizing” and “teaching,” and it is also a different form of participle. Grammarians call this a coordinating participle rather than a subordinate participle. In other words, “go” must be obeyed and seen as some sort of command to be able to carry out the main command, “make disciples.” A few examples of this same structure in Matthew makes this extremely clear. Another king with vastly less authority than Jesus, King Herod, commanded the wise men, “Go and search diligently for the child…” (Matt. 2:8). While “search diligently” is the main verb, the participle “go” here has such a command force that Matthew said that Herod “sent them to Bethlehem” (Matt. 2:8). This was not to be understood as simply, “in your going, search carefully for Jesus.” Just five verses later the angel of the Lord uses the same Greek structure to command Joseph to save baby Jesus’ life: “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt…” (Matt. 2:13) In order to obey the main command, “take the child,” Joseph had to “rise.” In the Great Commission King Jesus is indeed commanding His disciples to go so that they can obey the command to make disciples of all nations!
As Christians we are to go here (to our community, region, and nation) and there (to the nations), making disciples as we baptize (implying evangelism) and teach what it means to follow Christ. We are to have a sense of urgency when the risen Christ commands us to go and make disciples. Let’s not soften it.
For those of us who are not missionaries, this is a reminder of our responsibility to be involved in the world-wide advance of the Gospel through going (short-term as an encouragement or perhaps long-term), financially supporting missionaries, encouraging and assisting missionaries, and praying for them. What a wonderful commission from our King!