Last words are important. In many instances, last words are the means by which a man or woman is known, while for some they are a chance to be quippy, funny, obstinate, or succinctly sum up their lives. Blues singer Bessie Smith died saying, “I’m going, but I’m going in the name of the Lord.” Nostradamus predicted, “Tomorrow, at sunrise, I shall no longer be here.” He was right. Darth Vader implored his son to “Tell your sister… you were right…”
Last words mean something.
Jesus’ last words were simple but rich. They build on his authority and reveal his purpose. They contain a great promise of his presence:
I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations. baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
But over the years, I have encountered an oddity in people’s interpretation of Jesus’ last words. Some remember nothing more than “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” – forgetting Jesus’ command to teach obedience, and also the encouraging promise of his presence. Others further narrow “make disciples” so that it means only evangelism – essentially dismissing half of what actual discipleship is all about.
The Example of Jesus
But Jesus’ relationship with His disciples shows us the error of these simplifications. Certainly Jesus preached the good news of salvation to them, set them free from sin in Him, and showed them the coming Kingdom. But he didn’t stop there: he continued to teach His disciples; he showed them how to live by his own example; he explained the Scriptures to them; he helped them grow in their relationship with God and himself.
And thank goodness that he did, for although his disciples repeatedly professed that Jesus was the Son of God and Messiah, they were slow to really learn what that meant. Immediately after Peter professed that Jesus was the Messiah, he promptly rebuked Jesus for saying He would die – implicitly saying he knew more than the Son of God. Peter didn’t understand. None of the disciples did – not really.
Discipleship, as seen in Jesus’ ministry to His disciples, requires time, energy, and effort long past a profession of faith.
A Consistent Pattern
The pattern of discipleship demanded in Jesus’ last words fits with the scriptural pattern from both Testaments. For example, God tells Joshua to “study this book of instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it.” (Joshua 1:8)
In the same vein, the Apostle Paul warns the Colossians to, “be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit” (Colossians 2:8). He also warns Timothy to “guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding irreverent, empty speech and contradictions from the ‘knowledge’ that falsely bears that name” (1 Timothy 6:20). Paul knew, as Jesus and the authors of the Gospels knew, that the only way to obey Jesus’ commands was to understand them – and the only way to understand them was by taking the time to study them and get to know them.
Jesus’ last words were a command to make disciples of all nations, but we can only do so if we are disciples ourselves. He called us to teach others to obey His commands, but we can only do that if we understand and obey His commands ourselves. Jesus commands us, regularly, to preach the Good News to people, but Jesus also commanded us to disciple people. Jesus demonstrated it in the way he lived, and his disciples followed his example in their own ministries. We must do the same.