Matthew 24:14 is not a commission to anybody in particular—not to the first-century apostles nor to anyone else. It is simply a statement of fact by Jesus Christ, prophesying that the gospel will be preached in all the world as a witness and then will the end come.
Matthew 24:14 and Matthew 28:19-20 are not synonymous. In the latter verses, though preaching as a witness is included within the scope of the commission, it actually places more emphasis upon the entire process of conversion, feeding, growing, and overcoming than merely witnessing, as in Matthew 24:14. The key word here is "process."
The word "teach" in Matthew 28:19 is the key to this understanding. Many Bibles have a marginal reference beside it: "make disciples." "Go you therefore into all the world and make disciples."
"Teach" is not wrong as long as we understand that it implies a process. All the teaching required to make a disciple cannot occur merely in making a witness. There are major differences between the two. At best, preaching the gospel to the world begins the process of teaching. Disciples are created through steady feeding, a believing response in those who hear combined with overcoming.
The second factor appears in verse 20: "Observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." The key here is "all things." That cannot be done merely through a witness. As we are learning, observing all things is a lifelong project requiring the structure of a church. This is the reason why the church exists.
What is being emphasized in verses 19-20, though witnessing is included in it, is the feeding of the flock because it is the called, the elect—God's children—who are His greatest concern. These are the ones who are being prepared for the Kingdom of God. It takes a great deal of feeding and experiences with God for Christ to be formed in us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 1)
The third commandment involves the quality of our personal witness of everything God's name implies. His name represents His position as Creator, Lifegiver, Provider, Ruler, and Sustainer, as well as His character, power, and promises. As Matthew 28:19-20 shows, "God" became our spiritual Family name upon regeneration by His Spirit, and thus we have a responsibility to grow and uphold that name's reputation by bringing honor upon it by our words, deeds, and attitudes.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part One) (1997)
The word "in" is better translated "into." At baptism, we are immersed into the name of the Father. We now bear that name and all it implies! As sons of God, we bear our Father's name. "God" is our spiritual family name!
Are we living up to it? Are we "walking" as God would walk were He living our lives so we do not tarnish the reputation of His name? The third commandment concerns the quality of our personal witness in everything that name we bear represents, as it applies to humans.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Third Commandment (1997)
Clearly, baptism is a commanded ordinance for those who would be saved. Though it is strictly a physical ritual, our participation in it shows the sincerity of our repentance, our belief of His Word, our desire to obey God, and our acceptance of what Jesus Christ did on our behalf. It is such an important beginning to our Christian lives that Jesus says that "unless one is born of water [baptism] and the Spirit [by a laying on of hands (Hebrews 6:2; Acts 8:17)], he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Basic Doctrines: Water Baptism
By stating this as He did, He was admonishing the apostles not to become fixated on the fulfillment of prophecies but to remain focused on preaching the gospel. For that end, He will give them power. He wanted them to concentrate on the job at hand. The Great Commission, though, is now not only global geographically, but in terms of time, it is also totally open-ended. Moreover, no God-given, intermediate goals are in sight. The church today must take its cue from the way Jesus Christ handled the situation with the first-century church.
What began at this critical time in history was that God's global re-educational institution—the church, the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16)—was taking its first steps in teaching everyone worldwide how they should live. The church Jesus founded was beginning to preach the gospel from this starting point in both place and time, an activity that will eventually reach every person who has ever lived. In other words, beginning then, the church became the focal point of God's reeducation program.
Jesus was transitioning His work from what was merely an Old Covenant, Israelite, religious organization—of interest to relatively few outside Israel—to an educational organization that in terms of time will span thousands of years and become of intense interest to everybody. In directing the apostles in this way, Christ wanted His church to inaugurate this work yet keep it contained within the parameters He and the Father set as the church progressively developed at the speed it could handle effectively.
It may be helpful to remember that the earliest brethren in the church had to face their public responsibilities to Jesus without the help of what is now roughly one-third of the Bible—the New Testament. Scholars posit that the gospel of Mark was written first, followed by Matthew, Luke, and John. The earliest possible date even for Mark appears to be around AD 40, but some place it as late as AD 65.
In addition, it appears that I Thessalonians was the first of the epistles circulated within the church, but the apostle Paul did not write it until approximately AD 50. How many new converts even possessed their own copy of an Old Testament in their homes? Very few. There were no printing presses, no radio and television broadcasting, and no computers. To purchase a copy of the Old Testament would have cost a working man an entire year of wages! Was there a reference work similar to a Strong's Concordance of the Bible for somewhat more serious researching? Of course not.
Looking back in this way confirms that the early preaching of the gospel was a work of faith, highly dependent on the apostles' spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ. What likely sustained the members' spirituality was the spoken word delivered to people who listened carefully and concentrated with great intensity. These “pioneers” were remarkable, spiritually-minded people.
The Jewish religious leadership perceived that the apostles lacked preparation for such a huge responsibility (Acts 4:13). This terminology does not mean that the apostles had received no education at all. The wording expresses that the Jews considered the apostles to be common men who lacked the educational advantages they would have received had they been prepared for such public evangelism in rabbinical schools. However, recall that Mark 3:13-14 establishes that Jesus chose and appointed those He specifically wanted as apostles so that they might be with Him (that is, to witness His teaching and activities), and He sent them out to preach. Undoubtedly, He was searching for budding characteristics that He could build upon. He prepared them well to carry out their responsibilities.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Four)
If one stopped with verse 19, one would have a solid case for asserting that unless a church is preaching to the unconverted, one is not really preaching the gospel as Christ intended. Making disciples and baptizing certainly refer to conversions from the world into Christianity. But Christ also says, ". . . teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you." Teaching the fullness of God's way of life cannot be done before baptism and the receipt of the Holy Spirit.
If that is not so, why did Christ inspire the writers of the New Testament to discuss refinements to basic truths and deeper knowledge and understanding with already converted people? Why all the admonitions to grow and to overcome our sins? Why does Paul say, "Leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection" (Hebrews 6:1)? Why does he later say in the same book, "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25)? Why all the encouragement to hope in God and His promises? Why all the strong correction?
John W. Ritenbaugh
Get the Church Ready!
At baptism, His name becomes our spiritual family name through regeneration by His Spirit, or adoption. Paul writes in Romans 8:14, 16: "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. . . . The Spirit [it]self bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God." By God's adoption of us, it becomes our responsibility to grow in godly character, upholding His name and bringing honor upon it by our words, attitudes, and deeds.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 28:20: