Nearly 2,000 years ago on a mountain near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus instructed the eleven Disciples to take the Gospel and the teachings of Jesus out to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:46-49; cf. Acts 1:7-8). At this commission, Jesus specified that disciples were to be made of all the nations, that these believers and followers of Jesus should be baptized, and that they should be taught to do all that Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). Now typically referred to as the Great Commission, the exact origin of the phrase is unknown, but it is at least centuries old and communicates the idea of the primary mission, which was given to the Disciples and to the all Christians.
Although the Great Commission also appears in Mark, ancient manuscript variances have suggested to many recent scholars that the original ending of the Gospel of Mark was not as extensive as appears in most modern Bible translations. A majority of modern scholars contend that Mark 16:9-20 was not part of the original text because the 4th century AD New Testament manuscripts Sinaiticus and Vaticanus do not contain those verses, suggesting that the book either concluded with verse 8 or the original ending was lost in antiquity (Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20; Ehrman, The New Testament). However, these verses are found in almost every other ancient manuscript of Mark beginning in the 4th century AD, the pages from the ending of Mark in Sinaiticus were replaced in antiquity, and Vaticanus has a large blank area after verse 8, suggesting emendation of the originals (Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament; Farmer, The Last Twelve Verses of Mark). Further, based on ancient citations, this does not appear to be the view of the early Church, as the “long” ending of Mark is attested in Church writings as early as 160 AD (Justin Martyr, Apology). This “long” ending of Mark continued to be quoted by Church scholars through the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, and even by the Roman governor of Syria, Sossianus Hierocles, when he criticized Christianity around 300 AD (Tatian, Diatessaron; Irenaeus, Against Heresies; Hippolytus of Rome; Anonymous, De Rebaptismate; Eusebius, Against Hierocles). While Clement and Origin quoted several passages from Mark, and their lack of citations contribute nothing to the puzzle of the ending, Eusebius in the 4th century may have preferred the shorter ending and took a position contrary to the earlier Church writers. However, debate continues as to exactly which verses from the end of the book should be considered original to the Gospel of Mark. The commission in Mark may also be understood as specifically for the Apostles in contrast to the wider audience of Matthew, since its context, certain commands, and particular address to the Disciples differ (Myers, “Mark 16:16-18: An Alternate View”). Alternatively, these instructions and predictions for the Disciples could have been given just prior to the ascension in Bethany, when Jesus blessed the Disciples, after the Great Commission on the mountain in Galilee (Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:50-51).
The location of the Great Commission is not specified in the Gospels beyond a mountain in Galilee. Therefore, any proposed identification is tentative. However, the top of Mount Arbel overlooking the west side of the Sea of Galilee seems to be the most likely possibility, and it has been a landmark for millennia. In the late 1st century, Josephus mentioned the many caves on the side of the mountain and the village of Arbela near the Sea of Galilee (Josephus, Life and Antiquities and Wars). Mount Arbel is the highest “mountain” around the Sea of Galilee, with a prominence of about 1250 feet/380 meters. It also is in close proximity to places such as Capernaum and the western side of the sea where Jesus and the Disciples spent most of their time during His public ministry in Galilee. If the Gospel accounts are taken in unison, the Disciples went from Jerusalem to the mountain in Galilee that Jesus had designated, reclined while waiting for Him, and when He arrived and had eaten a piece of fish, Jesus proceeded to emphasize to the Disciples the importance of the worldwide spread of the Gospel, making disciples, and the signs that would accompany the Apostles to verify this message and their authority from God (Matthew 20:16-20; Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:36-47). This commandment to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people and all nations is still considered by many Christians to be a primary commandment and a mission of the Church today.