The first word in Matthew’s account of the Great Commission is a single imperative, “Go” (28:19). Mark provided a little more information when he wrote, “Go into all the world” (16:15). “Go” is an active verb. It requires movement. The Greek word being translated here is poreuomai, and it can mean to “go, proceed, travel” or “to depart from someone” (1). W.E. Vine noted in his dictionary that “in ordinary parlance” poreuomai “mark[ed] the end of a conversation” (2). In essence, it was used to inform the audience that time had come to depart from the conversation and act on the information that was received (e.g. Luke 7:22; 17:19; John 4:50; Acts 9:15). Therefore, when Jesus told the disciples to “Go,” He was instructing them to depart from Him and proceed “into all the world” with the assignment that He had given them.
Why was the command to “Go” so important that it received first billing in the Great Commission? I believe that Jesus lead with “Go” because He wanted to remind His disciples that the assignment required interaction with the world rather than seclusion from the world.
The night before His death, Jesus prayed to the Father on behalf of His disciples, and, in this prayer, He identified the relationship He expected His disciples to have with the world. He prayed in John 17:14-18,
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
Based on this prayer, it is apparent that Jesus expects those who follow Him to distinguish themselves from the world but not to distance themselves from the world. We distinguish ourselves from the world so that we do not “love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15) nor become “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2). However, we refuse to distance ourselves from the world so that we can fulfill our function as “ambassadors for Christ” who might influence the world with “the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
It would have been easy for the church to isolate themselves from the world. They could have avoided being abused, mistreated, persecuted, and even killed. They could have focused on fellowship, edification, and worship (Acts 2:42-47). They could have emphasized keeping themselves “spotless and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14). But from the very beginning they knew that the mission was to advance the kingdom not hide the kingdom.
So here is the ultimate question: are you fulfilling Christ’s command to “Go into all the world”? Many of us will quickly answer “yes” because we fund “professionals,” such as missionaries, who possess the responsibility to evangelize the world. While supporting missionaries is a worthwhile and necessary endeavor, we must concede two things. First, we must concede that Christ expects each disciple to “Go,” not just the ones who are paid to do so. Second, we must concede that Christ does not expect each disciple to relocate in the process.
Consider for a moment the evangelistic strategy that Jesus gave the first Christians. He told them, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). He identified local (i.e. Jerusalem), domestic (i.e. Judea), cross-cultural (i.e. Samaria), and international (i.e. the ends of the earth) targets for their evangelistic efforts. As the story of Acts unfolds we see different individuals “going” to different world targets. Peter initiated the Jerusalem campaign on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). The Judean campaign was prompted by persecution which forced the dispersion of disciples throughout the region (Acts 8:1; 11:19-21). Meanwhile Philip began the work in Samaria (Acts 8:4-25), and Paul headed up the first international campaign (Acts 13-14).
The lesson to be learned from these examples is that the world into which we “go” does not have to be in a different community or across the ocean. The world to which we “go” may simply be the world outside our front door. Wherever there are souls that are lost there are disciples needed to “go.” So where will you “go” next?
(1) Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd ed. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 692.
(2) W.E. Vine, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1996), 269.