“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:18-20
And then He was gone. This is called the Great Commission, Jesus’ final words to His Apostles before ascending into heaven.
So now what? How do we actually share the Gospel with all nations? If you were going to brainstorm ways to do it, what would be some of your suggestions? Use modern technology to share a viral Youtube video or create some sort of website? Go on a worldwide preaching tour everywhere for the rest of your life? Drop bibles from planes? Put up signs and tell people where you’re having your discussion group and then hoping that everyone shows up?
It’s easy to see how ridiculous a challenge Jesus gave us as Christians. If we didn’t know any better, we may have even given up. But thank God that Jesus actually left us with a model for how we are to carry out the task of evangelization!
What did Jesus do? Sure, he preached to thousands and thousands of people all over Israel, but He spent most of His time with His 12 Apostles. Jesus spent 3 years with these men, teaching them not only by His words but by His examples. See, as great as it was that thousands of people heard at least one speech by Jesus, there needed to be people who could do what Jesus was doing when He left, as hearing one speech didn’t make one a disciple capable of leading others to God. There actually was a tradition that the Apostles were familiar with that Jesus was modeling: the apprenticeship of young Jewish men to Rabbis. These young men who dreamed to be Rabbis would do everything that their mentor would do, speaking the same way, studying the same way, eating the same way, etc. These disciples would follow their Rabbis so close that it was said that they were covered in the dust of their Rabbi. With that in mind, it becomes much easier to see why Jesus’ Apostles were so quick to understand what Jesus was doing. One of the most famous parts of the Gospels becomes even more interesting with this in mind: Peter followed Jesus when He was walking on the water, out of faith in Jesus’ ability to allow him to do what Jesus was doing!
Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, and then the Apostles followed the model that Jesus gave them in their ministry. They still preached, as Jesus did, but they focused on building up disciples who could carry on the work of evangelization when they themselves died (this was a rushed process, as all of the Apostles were martyred sooner or later). St. Paul’s letter to his disciple Timothy gives instruction in this:
“What you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well.” – 2 Timothy 2:2
St. Paul’s disciples were Sts. Titus and Timothy as well as Barnabas, St. John the Evangelist’s disciples were Polycarp and St. Ignatius of Antioch, and St. Peter’s disciples were St. Mark and St. Linus, the second pope. These disciples would be bishops and leaders in the Christian communities and help instruct the next generation.
By following this model of investing in a handful of disciples each, the amount of Christian disciples exponentially increases. Instead of one “super-evangelist” travelling everywhere hoping that a one time speech will influence people for the rest of their lives, this model leads to a deeper conversion and a more sustainable method of growth so that the whole world can not only hear the Gospel once, but have a profound personal experience of it through their friends.
Let’s demonstrate the power of spiritual multiplication in an ideal situation where every disciple from the Apostles on has 2 disciples every 10 years and then sends them out to do the same:
1 Jesus to 12 Apostles to 24 Disciples in 10 years.
24 to 192 new disciples in 30 years.
192 to 1536 new disciples in 30 years.
1536 to 12288 new disciples in 30 years.
12288 to 98304 new disciples in 30 years.
98304 to 786432 new disciples in 30 years.
786432 to 6291456 new disciples in 30 years.
6291456 to 50331648 new disciples in 30 years.
50331648 to 402653184 new disciples in 30 years.
402653184 to 3,221,225,472 new disciples in 30 years.
That’s nearly 4 billion disciples alive within just 280 years of Jesus. Think about it.