One of Jesus' most familiar statements is found in Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus made this statement after he was resurrected from physical death but before he returned to live with God. He made this statement to his eleven surviving disciples. Judas was dead.
Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Earlier in the gospel of Matthew Jesus sent his twelve disciples to teach among the Jewish people. Israelites and Jews were the same people. When Jesus sent these disciples out the first time, they were instructed to teach only Israelites and no other people (Matthew 10:5,6). After his death, Jesus instructed eleven of these same men to go teach all people to be his disciples. Jesus' instruction for these disciples to go among all people was an unusual, strange instruction.
Jesus could give them this instruction because all of God's authority belonged to him.
Israelites [including Jesus' disciples] thought only Israelites could be Jesus' disciples. The resurrected Jesus said anyone could be his disciple.
What was a disciple? When Jesus lived, a disciple was a student who wanted a teacher to instruct him. At that time, their education system did not use schools, secondary schools, colleges, and universities as many countries have today. Their system of education was simple. A student [disciple] learned from a chosen teacher who agreed to teach the student.
Jesus' basic instruction to these eleven men: go among all people and make disciples. People who wanted to be Jesus' disciples would do two things. (1) Because they wanted Jesus to be their teacher, they would be baptized. (2) Because they wanted to learn from Jesus, they would learn to follow Jesus' teachings. Jesus promised the eleven that he always would be with them.
People who become Christians want to be Jesus' disciples. They want to follow Jesus Christ. They want to learn his teachings. They want his teachings to guide the way they live their lives. They are baptized because they choose to be Jesus' disciples.
Being baptized to escape punishment after death is proper (Acts 2:40; 24:25). It is good to escape punishment after death. However, we were baptized to do more than escape punishment. Being baptized because we are commanded to be baptized is proper (Acts 2:38). It is good to do what God commands us to do. However, we were baptized for reasons greater than obedience to a command. We were not baptized to continue living the life we always lived. As Christians, we were baptized because we wanted the new life God gives Christians in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:20-24; Colossians 3:9-11).
What is the highest goal and the best understanding of baptism? The highest goal and the best understanding for baptism is the desire to be Jesus' disciples. Christians want Jesus to teach us how to be husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children, neighbors, workmen, etc. We want Jesus to teach us how to live and die. We want Jesus to teach us how to be and to act like people who belong to God.
To be Jesus' disciple, Christians learn from Jesus' example. We learn from the way he followed and obeyed God. We learn from the way that he treated other people. We learn from the lessons he taught people. We learn from the way he treated his enemies. We learn from the way he died. We learn from what he said when he was resurrected. We learn from what Christians taught in Acts and the epistles.
Christians are Jesus' disciples. We want Jesus to teach us how to live. Jesus is our teacher. We are his students.
Should Jesus be our teacher? Yes! He is the only human who never committed any evil (1 Peter 2:21,22). He is the only human to do God's will perfectly (Matthew 17:1-5). He is the only human who could die for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:20,21; 1 Peter 2:24). We follow Jesus, and we teach other people to follow Jesus. Because we follow Jesus, we must allow Jesus to teach us how to live.
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