Most translations of Matthew 28:19 begin with
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them …
What "of" means here is ambiguous:
- all people from all nations should be baptized. (Proselytize)
- a few people from each nation should be baptized. (Evangelize)
It is often assumed to have the first meaning, a mission to convert the entire world.
But if that is the case, why has the commission failed so badly?
After 2000 years, most of the world still rejects Jesus's message.
Instead, Matthew 28:19 could mean to spread the word as far as possible, accepting those few converts that God calls to serve as examples throughout the world, even though the vast majority of the world will remain unconverted.
Consider the parallel passages:
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
— Mark 16:15
… repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
— Luke 24:47
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
— Acts 1:8
They say "preach the gospel to every creature", "preached in His name to all nations", "be witnesses to Me … to the end of the earth".
These all confirm the idea of bearing witness and preaching the gospel throughout the world.
But they do not state, or even imply, that the whole world will believe and become converted Christians.
The idea of "the Great Commission" to convert the world to Christianity is an extra-biblical concept.
The Bible instead teaches that until Jesus returns, the number of true Christian converts will be very small;
it is Satan's false version of Christianity that will dominate.
Jesus predicted that at the time of the end, just before his return, Christians would be a persecuted minority:
… they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.
— Matthew 24:9
But before it is silenced, the true Church will spread the message to the world:
… this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.
Consider the "two witnesses":
Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves.
And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.
— Revelation 11:9–10
It is only with the advent of radio that a massive blanketing of the world with the Gospel has become possible.
And only with the advent of the internet that the whole world can observe the events happening in the streets of Jerusalem.
If there is a "Great Commission", it is to make the world aware of the gospel, so that when the end arrives people will recognize that what they had heard wasn't simply nonsense, and they will turn to God.