Contemporary English Bible translations render Mark 16:15 in very clear ways:
No doubt about it: We followers of King Jesus are a commissioned people. That is clear from the mandate in Mark 16:15 to spread the Good News in all the earth. We delude ourselves if we see world evangelism involvement simply as an optional add-on.
In one form or another, the command to go everywhere and tell everyone appears in all four gospels as well as in Acts (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:46-48, John 20:21 and Acts 1:8). Over the last two hundred years that command has come to be known as the "Great Commission."
That the Great Commission appears in Mark's gospel indicates something of its importance. With just 16 chapters, Mark is the shortest of the gospels (at 28 chapters, Matthew is the longest). Some things in the other gospels do not appear in Mark. For instance, Mark says nothing about Jesus' birth or childhood. Thus, it seems that, for Mark at least, the Great Commission was more significant than the Christmas story.
To be sure, in the oldest Greek manuscript found to date of Mark's Gospel, chapter 16 ends at verse 8. Verses 9-20 are missing. As a result, Bible scholars are not sure who actually penned Mark 16:15.
Whether Mark wrote those words or someone else added them later does not change the fact that they are about something Jesus said and something we know to be God's will. This is not the only place in Scripture that has the Great Commission. Biblical passages like "I am sending you" (John 20:2), "Be my witnesses to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8), and "Go make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19-10) all state that same command as Mark 16:15.
Clearly, we must not ignore the Great Commission, nor should we try to explain it away. It was obviously paramount in the biblical writers' minds. Dare we place less importance on it than they did?
How can believers today carry out the Great Commission? Well, it certainly includes the actual going to the ends of the earth. However, it may also mean financial support. It could be spending time in intercessory prayer in support of world evangelism. It can mean preparing publicity to stir world evangelism interest and passion. It could be telling a missionary story once a month to a children's group at church. It could be mentoring a young person who feels called to missionary service.
A million years in the future, most of the things that take up our time and energy now won't matter much. What will matter is whether people are with their Creator or separated from Him in hell. Thus, whether we carry out the Great Commission will matter for all of eternity.
"If God's love is for anybody anywhere, it's for everybody everywhere." -- Edward Lawlor [ more ]
-- Howard Culbertson,
This mini-essay on a world missions Bible passage is one of more than three dozen articles in the "Heart of God" series published in Engage magazine. That series explores what the Bible says about missions.