The final words of Jesus before his Ascension give the Christian church its marching orders: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20).
Pardon some nerdiness for a moment, but the grammar of Jesus’s command is worth our attention. In English, we might read Jesus’s instruction as four commands: go, make disciples, baptize, and teach.
In the original language of the New Testament, though, there is only one command here: make disciples. The other three phrases explain how this task of making disciples is to be accomplished.
Obviously, if we’re going to make disciples of the nations, we must go. So that instruction is clear enough.
What intrigues me is that Jesus commands his followers to make disciples by baptizing and teaching. That is to say, if we are going to obey Jesus’s commission, we only do so if we’re seeking to see people baptized and taught. This is how our Lord instructs us to make disciples.
The flipside of this is that, if you want to become a disciple of Jesus, you do so by being baptized and taught.
Given Jesus’s instructions here, then, we should not be surprised at all by what happens in Acts 2. In this chapter, Peter preaches the inaugural sermon of the church. He is explaining the Spirit-given phenomena that the crowd has witnessed.
The core of his explanation is Jesus Christ. Peter’s message is that his audience had rejected their Messiah, crucifying him. God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, exalted him to heaven, and given him the promised Holy Spirit. It is Jesus, then, who has poured out the Spirit on the apostles.
The crowd is conscious-smitten, and they cry out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter’s answer: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
We are then told that three thousand people obeyed Peter’s word. They were baptized and added to the church. And what was this new body of believers known for? “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
Let’s tie this together: Jesus commands his followers to make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them all that he commanded. In Acts 2, Peter preaches and people repent. These people are baptized and then devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching. This is no accident. The apostles were doing exactly what Jesus commanded them to do.
The final command of Jesus remains our mission. We are to go into this world, making disciples. But if we take Jesus’s words seriously, we cannot make disciples without baptizing people and teaching them all that Jesus commanded. And we cannot claim to be disciples without being baptized and being taught the apostolic doctrine.