1-3. (a) What does a farmer do when the crop is too abundant for him to gather it alone? (b) What challenge does Jesus face in the spring of 33 C.E., and how does he meet it?
A FARMER faces a real challenge. Some months earlier, he plowed his fields and sowed seeds. He watched with great care as the first blades appeared, and he rejoiced as the plants matured. Now all his hard work is rewarded, for the time to reap has arrived. His dilemma is this: The crop is too abundant for him to gather it alone. To meet this challenge, he wisely decides to hire some workers and send them out into his fields. After all, there is only so much time to gather his precious crop.
2 In the spring of 33 C.E., the resurrected Jesus faces a similar challenge. During his earthly ministry, he sowed seeds of truth. Now there is a harvest to reap, and the crop is abundant. Many responsive ones need to be gathered as disciples. (John 4:35-38) How does Jesus meet this challenge? On a mountain in Galilee, shortly before ascending to heaven, he gives his disciples a commission to find more workers, saying: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them . . . , teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”—Matthew 28:19, 20.
3 That commission lies at the very heart of what it means to be a genuine follower of Christ. Let us, then, examine three questions. Why did Jesus issue the commission for more workers? How did he train his disciples to find them? How are we involved in this commission?
Why More Workers Were Needed
4, 5. Why would Jesus not finish the work that he had started, and who would have to carry on the work after he returned to heaven?
4 When Jesus began his ministry in 29 C.E., he knew that he was starting a work that he would not finish on his own. In the short time he had left on earth, there was a limit to the area he could cover and the number of people he could reach with the Kingdom message. True, he confined his preaching mainly to Jews and proselytes, “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24) However, those “lost sheep” were scattered throughout the length and breadth of Israel, a land covering thousands of square miles. Besides, the rest of the world field would eventually have to be reached with the good news.—Matthew 13:38; 24:14.
5 Jesus recognized that much work would remain to be done after his death. To his 11 faithful apostles, he said: “Most truly I say to you, He that exercises faith in me, that one also will do the works that I do; and he will do works greater than these, because I am going my way to the Father.” (John 14:12) Since the Son was returning to heaven, his followers—not just the apostles but also all future disciples—would have to carry on the preaching and teaching work. (John 17:20) Jesus humbly acknowledged that their works would be “greater than” his. How so? In three ways.
6, 7. (a) In what ways would the works done by Jesus’ followers be greater than his? (b) How can we show that Jesus’ confidence in his followers was not misplaced?
6 First, Jesus’ followers would cover more territory. Today their witnessing has reached the extremities of the earth, far beyond the borders of the land where Jesus himself preached. Second, they would reach more people. The small band of disciples Jesus left behind quickly grew into the thousands. (Acts 2:41; 4:4) Now they number into the millions, and hundreds of thousands of new ones are being baptized each year. Third, they would preach for a longer period of time—right down to this day, almost 2,000 years after Jesus’ ministry of three and a half years ended.
7 Jesus was expressing confidence in his followers when he said that they would do “works greater than these.” He was placing in their hands a work that was of utmost importance to him, that of preaching and teaching “the good news of the kingdom of God.” (Luke 4:43) He was convinced that they would faithfully carry out the assignment. What does this mean for us today? When we zealously and wholeheartedly pursue the ministry, we show that Jesus’ confidence in his followers was not misplaced. Is this not a remarkable privilege?—Luke 13:24.
Trained to Give a Witness
8, 9. What example did Jesus set in the ministry, and how can we pattern our ministry after his example?
8 Jesus gave his disciples the best possible training for the ministry. Above all, he set a perfect example for them. (Luke 6:40) In the preceding chapter, we discussed his attitude toward the ministry. Consider, for a moment, the disciples who traveled with Jesus on his preaching tours. They observed that he preached wherever people could be found—on lakeshores and hillsides, in cities and marketplaces, and in private homes. (Matthew 5:1, 2; Luke 5:1-3; 8:1; 19:5, 6) They saw that he was a hard worker, rising early and serving well into the night. The ministry was no casual pastime for him! (Luke 21:37, 38; John 5:17) They no doubt sensed that he was motivated by deep-rooted love for people. Perhaps they saw in his face a reflection of the compassion he felt in his heart. (Mark 6:34) What effect do you think Jesus’ example had on his disciples? How would you have been affected?
9 As followers of Christ, we pattern our ministry after his example. Hence, we leave no stone unturned when it comes to giving “a thorough witness.” (Acts 10:42) Like Jesus, we call on people in their homes. (Acts 5:42) We adjust our schedule, if necessary, so that we can call at a time when they are more likely to be at home. We also search out and discreetly preach to people in public places—on streets, in parks, in stores, and in the workplace. We keep “working hard and exerting ourselves” in the ministry, for we take this work seriously. (1 Timothy 4:10) Deep, heartfelt love for others motivates us to keep looking for opportunities to preach wherever and whenever people can be found.—1 Thessalonians 2:8.
10-12. What important lessons did Jesus teach his disciples before sending them out to preach?
10 Another way that Jesus trained his disciples was by providing them with extensive instruction. Before sending out first the 12 apostles and later the 70 disciples to preach, Jesus held what amounted to training sessions. (Matthew 10:1-15; Luke 10:1-12) The training produced good results, for Luke 10:17 reports: “The seventy returned with joy.” Let us consider two of the important lessons Jesus taught, keeping in mind that his words are to be understood against the background of Jewish customs in Bible times.
11 Jesus taught his disciples to trust in Jehovah. He told them: “Do not procure gold or silver or copper for your girdle purses, or a food pouch for the trip, or two undergarments, or sandals or a staff; for the worker deserves his food.” (Matthew 10:9, 10) It was common for travelers to take along a girdle purse for money, a food pouch for provisions, and an extra pair of sandals.* By instructing his disciples not to worry about such things, Jesus was, in effect, saying: “Place your trust entirely in Jehovah, for he will take care of your needs.” Jehovah would provide for them by moving those who accepted the good news to extend hospitality, which was a custom in Israel.—Luke 22:35.
12 Jesus also taught his disciples to avoid unnecessary distractions. He said: “Do not embrace anybody in greeting along the road.” (Luke 10:4) Was Jesus telling them to be cool or aloof? Not at all. In Bible times, greetings often involved much more than a simple hello. Customary greetings included various formalities and lengthy conversation. One Bible scholar states: “Salutations among the Orientals did not consist, as among us, of a slight bow, or extension of the hand, but [were] performed by many embraces, and inclinations, and even prostrations of the body on the ground. All this required much time.” By telling his disciples not to engage in the customary greetings, Jesus was, in a sense, saying: “You must make the most of your time, for the message you bear is urgent.”*
13. In what ways can we demonstrate that we take to heart the instructions that Jesus gave his first-century disciples?
13 We take to heart the instructions that Jesus gave his first-century disciples. In carrying out our ministry, we place our complete trust in Jehovah. (Proverbs 3:5, 6) We know that we will never lack the necessities of life if we “keep . . . seeking first the kingdom.” (Matthew 6:33) Full-time Kingdom preachers the world over can testify that even during difficult times, Jehovah’s hand is never short. (Psalm 37:25) We also recognize the need to avoid distractions. If we are not careful, this system of things can easily sidetrack us. (Luke 21:34-36) This, however, is no time to be distracted. With lives at stake, our message is urgent. (Romans 10:13-15) Keeping a sense of urgency alive in our hearts will prevent us from allowing the distractions of this world to consume time and energy that would be better spent in the ministry. Remember, the time left is short and the harvest is great.—Matthew 9:37, 38.
A Commission That Involves Us
14. What indicates that the commission recorded at Matthew 28:18-20 applies to all followers of Christ? (See also footnote.)
14 With the words “Go . . . and make disciples,” the resurrected Jesus placed a heavy responsibility upon his followers. He had in mind more than just the disciples who were present that spring day on the mountain in Galilee.* The work he commissioned involves reaching “people of all the nations,” and it continues “until the conclusion of the system of things.” Clearly, this commission applies to all followers of Christ, including us today. Let us take a closer look at Jesus’ words recorded at Matthew 28:18-20.
15. Why are we wise to obey Jesus’ command to make disciples?
15 Before giving the commission, Jesus says: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth.” (Verse 18) Does Jesus really have such vast authority? Yes, indeed! He is the archangel, commanding myriads of myriads of angels. (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Revelation 12:7) As “head of the congregation,” he has authority over his followers on earth. (Ephesians 5:23) Since 1914, he has been ruling as Messianic King in heaven. (Revelation 11:15) His authority reaches even into the grave, for he has the power to resurrect the dead. (John 5:26-28) By first declaring his extensive authority, Jesus indicates that the words that follow are not a suggestion but a command. We are wise to obey, for his authority is not self-assumed but divinely bestowed.—1 Corinthians 15:27.
16. By telling us to “go,” what is Jesus calling upon us to do, and how do we fulfill this aspect of the commission?
16 Jesus now outlines the commission, which begins with a single word: “Go.” (Verse 19) He thus calls upon us to take the initiative to reach others with the Kingdom message. In fulfilling this aspect of the commission, there is room for a variety of methods. Preaching from house to house is a most effective way to make personal contact with people. (Acts 20:20) We also look for opportunities to witness informally; we are eager to initiate a conversation about the good news wherever appropriate in the course of our daily life. Our specific methods of preaching may vary, being adapted to local needs and circumstances. One thing, though, remains the same: We “go” and search for deserving ones.—Matthew 10:11.
17. How do we “make disciples”?
17 Jesus next explains the objective of the commission, namely, to “make disciples of people of all the nations.” (Verse 19) How do we “make disciples”? Basically, a disciple is a learner, a taught one. Making disciples, however, is not merely a matter of imparting knowledge to others. When we study the Bible with interested ones, our goal is to help them to become followers of Christ. Whenever possible, we highlight Jesus’ example so that our students learn to look to him as their Teacher and Model, living the way he lived and doing the work he did.—John 13:15.
18. Why is baptism the most important milestone in a disciple’s life?
18 A vital part of the commission is expressed in the words: “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit.” (Verse 19) Baptism is the most important milestone in a disciple’s life, for it is a fitting symbol of his wholehearted dedication to God. Thus, it is essential for salvation. (1 Peter 3:21) Yes, by continuing to do his best in serving Jehovah, the baptized disciple can look forward to endless blessings in the new world to come. Have you helped someone to become a baptized disciple of Christ? In the Christian ministry, there is no greater cause for joy.—3 John 4.
19. What do we teach new ones, and why might the teaching continue after their baptism?
19 Jesus explains the next part of the commission, saying: “Teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Verse 20) We teach new ones to heed Jesus’ commands, including the commands to love God, to love neighbor, and to be disciple makers. (Matthew 22:37-39) We progressively teach them to explain Bible truths and defend their growing faith. When they qualify to participate in the public preaching activity, we work along with them, teaching them by word and example how to have a meaningful share in this work. The teaching of new disciples is not necessarily finished prior to their baptism. Newly baptized ones may need additional instruction to help them meet the challenges involved in following Christ.—Luke 9:23, 24.
“I Am With You All the Days”
20, 21. (a) In carrying out Jesus’ commission, why do we have no reason to fear? (b) Why is this no time to slow down, and what should be our determination?
20 The final words of Jesus’ commission are most reassuring: “Look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 28:20) Jesus recognizes that this assignment is a weighty one. He also knows that fulfilling it will at times provoke hostile reactions from opposers. (Luke 21:12) There is, however, no reason to fear. Our Leader does not expect us to carry out this assignment unaided or alone. Is it not comforting to know that the One who has “all authority . . . in heaven and on the earth” is with us to support us in fulfilling this commission?
21 Jesus assured his disciples that he would be with them in their ministry throughout the centuries to “the conclusion of the system of things.” Until the end comes, we must continue to carry out Jesus’ commission. Now is no time to slow down. An abundant spiritual harvest is in progress! Responsive ones are being gathered in great numbers. As followers of Christ, let us be determined to fulfill the weighty commission that has been entrusted to us. Let us be resolved to give of our time, energy, and resources to carry out Christ’s command: “Go . . . and make disciples.”
A girdle purse was perhaps a type of money belt used to carry coins. A food pouch was a larger bag, usually of leather, slung over the shoulder and used for carrying food or other provisions.
The prophet Elisha once gave similar instructions. When sending his servant Gehazi to the home of a woman whose son had died, Elisha said: “In case you encounter anyone, you must not greet him.” (2 Kings 4:29) The mission was urgent, so there was no time for needless delay.