‘Go and Make Disciples’
“All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. Go therefore and make disciples.”—MATTHEW 28:18, 19.
1, 2. (a) What assignment did Jesus give his followers? (b) What questions regarding Jesus’ commands will be considered?
IT WAS a spring day in Israel in 33 C.E., and Jesus’ disciples were gathered on a mountain in Galilee. Their resurrected Lord was about to ascend into heaven, but first he had something important to tell them. Jesus had an assignment for them. What was the task? How did his disciples respond to it? And how does that assignment apply to us today?
2 What Jesus said is recorded at Matthew 28:18-20: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” Jesus spoke of “all authority,” “all the nations,” “all the things,” and “all the days.” His commands involving those four all-embracing expressions raise some important questions, which can be summed up in the words why? where? what? and when? Let us consider the questions one at a time.*
“All Authority Has Been Given Me”
3. Why should we obey the command to make disciples?
3 First, why should we obey the command to make disciples? Jesus stated: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. Go therefore and make disciples.” The word “therefore” points to a major reason why we should obey this command. It is because Jesus, the one who issued the command, has “all authority.” How extensive is his authority?
4. (a) How extensive is Jesus’ authority? (b) How should our understanding of Jesus’ authority influence our view of the command to make disciples?
4 Jesus has authority over his congregation, and since 1914 he has had authority over God’s newly established Kingdom. (Colossians 1:13; Revelation 11:15) He is the archangel and as such commands a heavenly army of hundreds of millions of angels. (1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Peter 3:22; Revelation 19:14-16) He has been empowered by his Father to bring to nothing “all government and all authority and power” that oppose righteous principles. (1 Corinthians 15:24-26; Ephesians 1:20-23) Jesus’ authority is not limited to the living. He is also “judge of the living and the dead” and has God-given power to resurrect those who have fallen asleep in death. (Acts 10:42; John 5:26-28) Surely a command given by the One vested with such vast authority should be viewed as of the highest importance. Therefore, we respectfully and willingly obey Christ’s command to ‘go and make disciples.’
5. (a) How did Peter obey Jesus’ words? (b) Peter’s obedience to Jesus’ instructions led to what blessing?
5 Early in his earthly ministry, Jesus taught his disciples in a striking way that recognizing his authority and obeying his commands would lead to blessings. He once told Peter, who was a fisherman: “Pull out to where it is deep, and you men let down your nets for a catch.” Peter was sure that there were no fish, so he told Jesus: “Instructor, for a whole night we toiled and took nothing.” However, Peter humbly added: “But at your bidding I will lower the nets.” After Peter obeyed Christ’s command, he caught “a great multitude of fish.” Overwhelmed, Peter “fell down at the knees of Jesus, saying: ‘Depart from me, because I am a sinful man, Lord.’” But Jesus answered: “Stop being afraid. From now on you will be catching men alive.” (Luke 5:1-10; Matthew 4:18) What do we learn from that account?
6. (a) What does the account about the miraculous catch of fish illustrate regarding the type of obedience that Jesus requires? (b) How can we imitate Jesus?
6 Jesus gave Peter, Andrew, and other apostles the assignment to “become fishers of men,” not before, but after they made this astonishing catch of fish. (Mark 1:16, 17) Clearly, Jesus did not require blind obedience. He gave the men a convincing reason why they should obey him. Just as obeying Jesus’ command to let their nets down led to overwhelming results, so obeying Jesus’ command to ‘catch men’ would lead to great blessings. In full faith, the apostles responded. The account concludes: “They brought the boats back to land, and abandoned everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:11) Today, as we encourage others to share in the work of making disciples, we imitate Jesus. We do not require that people simply do as we tell them, but we give them convincing reasons to obey Christ’s command.
Convincing Reasons and Proper Motives
7, 8. (a) What are some Scriptural reasons for Kingdom preaching and disciple making? (b) What scripture especially motivates you to continue with the preaching work? (See also footnote.)
7 Because we recognize Christ’s authority, we have a part in the Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work. What other Scriptural reasons for doing that work can we share with those whom we wish to move to fine works? Consider the following observations made by several faithful Witnesses from different lands, and note how the cited scriptures support their comments.
8 Roy, baptized in 1951: “When I dedicated myself to Jehovah, I promised to serve him always. I want to keep my word.” (Psalm 50:14; Matthew 5:37) Heather, baptized in 1962: “When I think of all that Jehovah has done for me, I want to show him my gratitude by faithfully serving him.” (Psalm 9:1, 9-11; Colossians 3:15) Hannelore, baptized in 1954: “Each time we are in the ministry, we are supported by angels—what a privilege!” (Acts 10:30-33; Revelation 14:6, 7) Honor, baptized in 1969: “When Jehovah’s time of judgment comes, I do not want anyone in my neighborhood to be able to charge Jehovah and his Witnesses with negligence and say, ‘I never received a warning!’” (Ezekiel 2:5; 3:17-19; Romans 10:16, 18) Claudio, baptized in 1974: “When we are preaching, we are ‘under God’s view’ and ‘in company with Christ.’ Imagine! While we are in the ministry, we enjoy the company of our best Friends.”—2 Corinthians 2:17.*
9. (a) What does the account of the fishing experience of Peter and other apostles reveal about the proper motive for obeying Christ? (b) What is the proper motive for obeying God and Christ today, and why?
9 The account about the remarkable catch of fish also shows the importance of having the proper motive for obeying Christ—love. When Peter said, “Depart from me, because I am a sinful man,” Jesus did not depart, nor did he condemn Peter for any sin. (Luke 5:8) Jesus did not even criticize Peter for begging him to go away. Rather, Jesus kindly answered: “Stop being afraid.” Morbid fear would have been a wrong motive for obeying Christ. Instead, Jesus told Peter that he and his companions would become useful as fishers of men. Today, we likewise do not use fear or similar negative emotions, such as guilt and shame, to coerce others into obeying Christ. Only whole-souled obedience based on love for God and Christ makes Jehovah’s heart rejoice.—Matthew 22:37.
“Make Disciples of People of All the Nations”
10. (a) What detail about Jesus’ command to make disciples posed a great challenge for his disciples? (b) How did the disciples respond to Jesus’ command?
10 The second question raised in connection with Christ’s command is, Where should this disciple-making work be carried out? Jesus told his followers: “Make disciples of people of all the nations.” Prior to the time of Jesus’ ministry, people of the nations were welcomed if they came to Israel to serve Jehovah. (1 Kings 8:41-43) Jesus himself preached mostly to natural Jews, but now he told his followers to go to people of all nations. In effect, the fishing grounds, or preaching territory, of his disciples had been limited to a small “pond”—the natural Jews—but it was soon to include the entire “sea” of mankind. Although this change posed a challenge to the disciples, they readily obeyed Jesus’ instruction. Less than 30 years after Jesus’ death, the apostle Paul could write that the good news had been preached not only to the Jews but to “all creation that is under heaven.”—Colossians 1:23.
11. What expansion of ‘the fishing grounds’ has taken place since the early 20th century?
11 In more recent times, a comparable expansion of preaching territory has been seen. At the beginning of the 20th century, the ‘fishing grounds’ were confined to a few lands. Yet, Christ’s followers back then imitated the example of the first-century Christians and eagerly expanded the territory in which they preached. (Romans 15:20) By the early 1930’s, they were making disciples in some one hundred lands. Today, our ‘fishing grounds’ have been expanded to 235 lands.—Mark 13:10.
“Out of All the Languages”
12. What challenge does the prophecy found at Zechariah 8:23 highlight?
12 Making disciples in all nations is a challenge not only geographically but also linguistically. Through the prophet Zechariah, Jehovah foretold: “It will be in those days that ten men out of all the languages of the nations will take hold, yes, they will actually take hold of the skirt of a man who is a Jew, saying: ‘We will go with you people, for we have heard that God is with you people.’” (Zechariah 8:23) In the larger fulfillment of this prophecy, the “man who is a Jew” represents the remnant of anointed Christians, while the “ten men” represent the “great crowd.”* (Revelation 7:9, 10; Galatians 6:16) This great crowd of Christ’s disciples would be found in many nations, and as Zechariah noted, they would be speaking numerous languages. Does the modern-day history of God’s people illustrate that aspect of discipleship? Yes, it does.
13. (a) What development regarding languages has taken place among God’s modern-day people? (b) How has the faithful slave class responded to the growing need for spiritual food in different languages? (Include the box “Publications for the Blind.”)
13 In 1950 the mother tongue of about 3 out of every 5 Witnesses of Jehovah worldwide was English. By 1980 that ratio had changed to about 2 out of 5, and today the native language of only 1 out of every 5 Witnesses is English. How has the faithful and discreet slave class responded to this linguistic shift? By providing spiritual food in ever more languages. (Matthew 24:45) For instance, in 1950 our literature was published in 90 languages, but today that number has risen to some 400. Has this increased attention to people of various language groups had results? Yes! An average of some 5,000 people ‘out of all tongues’ become disciples of Christ each week of the year! (Revelation 7:9) And the increase is continuing. In some lands the “nets” are bringing in a very good catch!—Luke 5:6; John 21:6.
A Rewarding Ministry—Can You Share in It?
14. How may we help those in our territory who speak a foreign language? (Include the box “Sign Language and Disciple Making.”)
14 In many Western lands, the arrival of immigrants has brought the challenge of making disciples of people of ‘every tongue’ close to home. (Revelation 14:6) How can we help those in our territory who speak a language other than ours? (1 Timothy 2:4) We can use the correct fishing gear, so to speak. Offer such individuals literature in the language they speak. If possible, arrange for a Witness who speaks their language to visit them. (Acts 22:2) Making these arrangements is now easier, since many Witnesses have learned to speak a language other than their own in order to help foreigners to become Christ’s disciples. Reports show that helping in this way is a rewarding experience.
15, 16. (a) What examples illustrate that it is rewarding to help those who speak a foreign language? (b) What questions regarding service in a foreign-language field might we consider?
15 Consider two examples from the Netherlands, where organized Kingdom-preaching is carried out in 34 languages. A Witness couple volunteered to go and make disciples among Polish-speaking immigrants. The response to their efforts was so overwhelming that the husband felt compelled to reduce his secular employment so as to have one more day a week available to study the Bible with those showing interest. Before long, the couple were conducting over 20 Bible studies each week. They remarked: “Our ministry makes us very happy.” Disciple-makers feel especially happy when those who hear Bible truths in their own language are moved to express appreciation. For instance, during a meeting held in Vietnamese, an elderly man stood up and asked for permission to speak. With tears in his eyes, he told the Witnesses: “Thank you for the efforts you are making to learn my difficult language. I am so grateful to learn many wonderful things from the Bible in my old age.”
16 It is no wonder, therefore, that those who serve in foreign-language congregations feel greatly rewarded. A couple from Britain said: “The ministry in the foreign-language field is one of the most exciting we have experienced during our 40 years of Kingdom service.” Could you adjust your circumstances so as to have a share in this stimulating ministry? If you are still attending school, could you study a foreign language in preparation for this type of ministry? Doing so may open the door to a gratifying way of life filled with blessings. (Proverbs 10:22) Why not discuss this with your parents?
Varying Our Methods
17. How might we reach more people in our congregation territory?
17 Understandably, circumstances do not permit most of us to cast our “nets” in foreign-language territories. However, we might be able to reach more people than we do at present in our own congregation territory. How? By varying, not our message, but our methods. In many areas a growing number of people live in high-security buildings. Many others are not at home when we call during our house-to-house ministry. So we may need to cast our “nets” at different times and in different locations. Thus we imitate Jesus. He found ways to talk to people in various settings.—Matthew 9:9; Luke 19:1-10; John 4:6-15.
18. How has witnessing in various settings proved to be effective? (Include the box “Making Disciples of Business People.”)
18 In some parts of the world, witnessing wherever people can be found is an important method of disciple making. Experienced disciple-makers have been giving increased attention to witnessing in a variety of places. In addition to sharing in the house-to-house ministry, publishers now witness at airports, in offices, in stores, in parking lots, at bus stops, on streets, in parks, on beaches, and elsewhere. A goodly number of newly baptized Witnesses in Hawaii were first contacted at such locations. Varying our methods helps us to carry out to the full Jesus’ command to make disciples.—1 Corinthians 9:22, 23.
19. What aspects of Jesus’ commission to us will be discussed in the following article?
19 Jesus’ assignment to make disciples included details not only about why and where we should do that work but also about what we should preach and until when we should continue to do so. These two aspects of Jesus’ commission to us will be considered in the following article.
We will consider the first two questions in this article. The last two questions will be discussed in the following article.
For more information on this prophecy’s fulfillments, see The Watchtower, May 15, 2001, page 12, and Isaiah’s Prophecy—Light for All Mankind, Volume 2, page 408, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Do You Recall?
• For what reasons and with what motive do we share in Kingdom preaching and disciple making?
• To what extent have Jehovah’s servants today carried out Jesus’ commission to make disciples of people of all nations?
• How may we vary our ‘fishing method,’ and why should we do so?
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Publications for the Blind
Albert is a Christian elder and full-time minister who lives in the United States. He is blind. Using Bible literature in Braille helps him to be more effective in his ministry, including his activities as service overseer. How is he handling his congregation assignment?
“We have never had a more effective service overseer in our congregation than Albert,” says James, the presiding overseer. Albert is one of some 5,000 blind people in the United States who, throughout the years, have received Bible publications in English and Spanish Braille. In fact, from 1912 onward, the faithful slave class has provided more than one hundred different publications in Braille. By using advanced methods, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ printeries presently emboss millions of pages each year in over ten languages and distribute these to more than 70 countries. Do you know someone who may benefit from Bible publications prepared for the blind?
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Sign Language and Disciple Making
Thousands of Witnesses around the globe, including many zealous youths, have learned sign language to help deaf people to become disciples of Christ. As a result, in Brazil alone, 63 deaf individuals were baptized in one recent year and 35 deaf Witnesses there now serve as full-time evangelizers. Worldwide, there are over 1,200 sign-language congregations and groups. The sole sign-language circuit in Russia is, geographically speaking, the largest circuit in the world, taking in the whole of Russia!
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Making Disciples of Business People
While visiting business people in the offices where they work, a Witness in Hawaii met an executive of a transportation company. Although busy, the man agreed to study the Bible for 30 minutes a week in his office. Every Wednesday morning, he tells his staff to hold his telephone calls and then gives his full attention to the study. Another Witness in Hawaii studies the Bible once a week with the owner of a shoe-repair shop. The study is held right at the shop counter. When a customer comes in, the Witness moves to the side. When the customer leaves, they resume the study.
Both the executive and the shop owner were contacted because the Witnesses took the initiative to cast their “nets” in different locations. Can you think of locations in your congregation territory where you might contact people who are hard to find at home?
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Could you serve in a foreign-language field?