It is with great interest, care and a real blessing to look at the differences in the gospel accounts, especially in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. We can say that John’s Gospel takes up a very special and dear place in the Word, and in our hearts. In this article, it is my intention to draw on some differences that we find in the Lord’s commission to His disciples and what this could possibly mean for us, or what could we take out of this. Obviously, this is very important as “every scripture is divinely inspired” (2 Tim 3:16). A friend actually asked me once about the commission in the gospels and if they all apply to us and if we should go and make disciples, etc, so I endeavoured to explain from the Scriptures what the significance of the commission is and what we can take from these instructions.
After His resurrection and before ascending into heaven (the Father’s house), the Lord gave instructions to His disciples that we find in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 21. The Lord did not ascend into heaven in John’s gospel. We might ask, why the differences?
Let us just outline what we have in the Gospels.
In Matthew, the Lord Jesus is speaking on Jewish ground, or earthly ground. He is addressing earthly people, the remnant in the future, as represented by the disciples. Therefore, they are instructed to:
- Go “and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt 28:19).
- They are also to baptise them “to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (v19), so we see the Triune God at work in baptism. We see this in the Lord’s baptism in Matthew 3.
- The last thing is that the disciples were to teach them (the nations).
In Mark, the Lord Jesus commissioned them to:
- “Go into all the world and preach the glad tidings to all the creation” (Mark 16:15). We can notice the difference already between Mark and Matthew.
- The Lord also told them the result that he who believes will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned (Mk 16:16).
- He also gave them signs that follow those that have believed (Mk 16:17).
In Luke, the Lord Jesus commissioned them to:
- Preach repentance and remission of sins in His name, beginning at Jerusalem (Lk 24:47).
- They are witnesses of these things (v48)
- They were told to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit descends (v49)
So here we have the outline of the commission to the disciples in the Synoptic Gospels. Matthew deals with the Jewish remnant, so it is fitting that in Matthew the disciples are told to go and make disciples. The baptism is an outward testimony that we have died and have been buried with Christ (Rom 6:3-4). The general order of baptism is that a person hears the Word of God, believes (is fully convicted and confesses that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that he/she needs a Saviour) in the Word, and then is baptised. There are numerous examples in the book of Acts (see Acts 8 the Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 9 the conversion of Paul and Acts 10 the conversion of Cornelius). The reason I drew attention to these examples is that these three people represent “all the nations” in Matthew 28. A brother in our assembly has kindly pointed out that the eunuch of Acts 8 is descended from Ham, whereas Paul, who was called Saul in Acts 9 is descended from Shem, and Cornelius in Acts 10 is descended from Japheth. These are Noah’s three sons who started the nations in Genesis 10. When a person comes in our midst, has attended our meetings for some time, and is known of us and is truly saved, if not baptised, we can by all means baptise the person in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit on the grounds of Scripture. This is just an example.
We can also teach people who come in our midst, not only what the Lord told his disciples, but the whole Scripture. We have brothers who are able to do this and are gifted in teaching and we have separate meetings and occasions for that (see 1 Cor 14).
In Mark, we have a different commission. The Lord instructs His disciples to go into all the world and preach the glad tidings. What does this involve? Can everyone do this? It is obvious that not everyone is gifted in this particular thing, but we can all, in some measure, tell others about the glad tidings, or the good news. We can do it one-on-one or show by our behaviour that we are different. The apostle Paul tells young Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5). We can all in some way do this, but we do not have to do like missionaries or become missionaries, unless one is convinced that this is the will of God for them and spends much time in prayer and dependence. We certainly should pray for all the missionaries and everyone who would desire to go and preach the gospel in various countries, but doing the work of an evangelist starts at home, maybe in our own assemblies, or our workplaces, etc.
The message in Mark 16, following the commission, is a very serious and solemn one. The Word of God is clear. Whoever believes (from the heart) shall be saved, but if anyone does not believe, he will be condemned. Dear reader, which category are you in? I trust that you have already believed in the glad tidings, the good news that Christ died and rose again according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3-4). If you do not believe, or are unsure, speak to someone who loves you and cares for you, or kneel down and ask the Lord for forgiveness and ask Him to be your Saviour, and you will certainly be saved (John 3:16), He will not cast you out (John 6:37). If you still do not believe, you will die in your sins (John 3:18; 8:24).
The signs that follow that the Lord Jesus spoke about were only there for a short time, to confirm the things and that the nations may be established in the truth of the gospel. We read of this in the book of Acts, but after the apostles departed from the scene, we do not need any more signs because we have the complete Word of God (2 Pet 1:19).
In the Gospel of Luke, we have yet another different commission. This is simply that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in the name of Jesus. We see how many times in Acts we read of ‘that name’ and also the apostles preached the remission of sins in Acts (see ch 2:38; 3:19; 5:31 – there may be other verses but this will suffice).
The disciples were witnesses of the Lord as He told them and they were to remain in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit. This, of-course, happened on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, and from there on, the apostles went out and preached, beginning in their own home city, so there is the stress there that preaching the gospel begins at home, and then abroad, when all avenues at home (in the home city) have been exhausted, or as the Lord leads. We see Philip preaching in Samaria in Acts 8, and then went to the desert as the Spirit asked him to. We also see Peter going to Cornelius, a Gentile, in Acts 10, and then Paul going on his missionary journeys into the other nations. Before closing this article, I would like to suggest another commission that is of a personal nature for each and every one of us. This is found in John 21 when Peter was restored and the Lord Jesus said these simple words, “follow me” (Jn 21:19). This, we may say, is the commission in John’s Gospel and speaks to each one of us. Do we really want to follow Him, the One who loved us and gave Himself for us? Each of us has the ability to follow Him in our personal lives and walk. We may stumble and fail, but He is gracious and will be with us as we depend on Him continually and follow Him. At the start of John’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus found Philip and said, “follow me” (Jn 1:43) and now at the end of the Gospel of John, He tells Peter the same words He told Philip. Of-course, this could apply to all of us, and if we want to please Him, we ought to just simply follow Him, not looking at anyone else or turning to our brother, as Peter did in John 21:21. We will do well to follow Him and simply mind our own business (not worry or look at our brother or sister and what they do or do not do).