So what happened when these disciples went and obeyed the imperative to make disciples? How did it go for them and more importantly, what can we expect when we do so ourselves?
Obedience to the commission resulted in the founding of the Church. A short while after giving this Commission the Lord ascended to His Father. Fifty days later, as He promised He sent the Holy Spirit upon them. Immediately, their preaching was anointed with power and several thousand were converted and the first church was established in Jerusalem. Within a matter of months, the ranks of believers had grown to many thousand. These were not casual followers of a new religion who had raised their hand at a rally indicating they wanted to try Jesus. These were people who were willing to suffer persecution and even death for their new Lord. Nor was this result limited to Jerusalem. Genuine converts were being won outside Jerusalem as well in places like Judea, Samaria, Antioch, and to the far reaches of the Roman empire. Paul and Barnabas, the first official missionaries of the new movement, went city by city making disciples (Acts 14:21).
Obedience to the commission resulted in the maturing of the Church. These new converts attached themselves to the disciples and continued steadfastly in the teaching of the Apostles. They joined themselves as partners in the mission and labor of the apostles. They celebrated loving community and fellowship together as members of the same local body breaking bread together. They learned to lift up their voice to God in prayer for all things. Mature believers in the early church did not take years to form. They grew exponentially in grace and knowledge learning to fully please Christ in all things. The means of maturity was the Word of God (Ephesians 4:8-16). Maturity manifested itself in a life of committed obedience to all that Christ said through His word, example, and His Apostles. Today, discipleship is primarily viewed as informational or educational in nature. It happens when one reads a book or takes a series of courses or completes a series of lessons. Modern believers have convinced themselves that spiritual maturity is based on information and that it takes a long time. However, if one follows the New Testament pattern, mature disciples were made in short order. They were tested by persecution and stood! The secret was the absolute insistence on personal obedience to the demands and expectations of Scripture. This is the forgotten side of the Great Commission in many churches today.
Obedience to the commission resulted in the expansion of the Church. The early church began making disciples in Jerusalem, but in one generation disciples could be found throughout the Roman empire. One text perhaps best illustrates the exciting expansion of the early believers who took the Great Commission seriously and were willing to devote their lives to fulfilling its mandate. That text is Acts 11:19-26. [i] The record in Acts reports that the disciples in Jerusalem were scattered by persecution and took the Gospel as far as Phenice, Cyprus, and Antioch. They went “preaching the Lord Jesus Christ” (11:20). The text further reports that just as He had promised, the Lord was with them and many turned and believed on Christ (11:21, 24). The text further reports that these new converts were instructed in obedience to Christ (11:26).
[i] A wonderful treatment of this passage and its implications for both the Great Commission and the expansion of the early church can be found in Dave Doran’s For the Sake of His Name, Student Global Impact: Grand Rapids, MI, pp. 116-123.