Fill the Earth: What is the Only Element in All 4 “Great Commissions”?

When people think about “missions,” the Scripture passage that most often comes to mind is doubtless Jesus’ so-called “Great Commission” of Matt 28:18–20. And for good reason! This passage clearly speaks to the church’s call to take the gospel to all people groups and make disciples.

But as many biblical scholars and missiologists have pointed out, Matt 28:18–20 is only one among several post-resurrection commissions that Jesus gives to His followers.

Other post-resurrection commissions are found in Luke 24:44–49; John 20:21–23; and Acts 1:6–8.**

Each of these passages has a different emphasis when describing the mission of Jesus’ followers. But there is only one major element that all of these commissions has in common.

The Role of the Spirit in Missions

In chapter 8 of Fill the Earth, I explore each of these four post-resurrection commissions and show how the primary common denominator between them is Jesus’ abiding presence with His people through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The role of the Spirit in missions becomes clearer as one progresses through these commissions in canonical order, and this observation of the Spirit’s essential role in missions is then reinforced by the nature of the grammar used in these commissions.

Oftentimes missions-focused people emphasize the command in Matthew to “go and make disciples,” and indeed we are called to “go.” But this emphasis in Matthew is unique. The only imperative issued in Luke is to “stay in Jerusalem” so that the Spirit may be poured out (24:49); the only imperative in John is to “receive the Holy Spirit” (20:22); and there is no imperative in Acts!

Since the imperatives in Luke and John essentially command Jesus’ followers to “prepare to receive” and “receive” the Spirit when He comes—and since the commission in Acts contains no imperative at all—we may conclude that the bulk of Jesus’ post-resurrection commissioning language emphasizes Jesus’ followers as the vehicles through which the Spirit will work to fulfill the mission of God’s people.

This ought to shape dramatically how we view our call as the church to carry out our mission in the world. For more info go to To purchase, go to:


** Mark 16:9–20 contains another post-resurrection commission, though this portion of Scripture is not attested by the earliest Greek witnesses and therefore is often viewed a unoriginal to Mark. For this reason I do not treat the Markan “Great Commission” along with the rest.


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