The Great Commission

matthew_12569

Matthew 28:16–20 (NLT)

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,* baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The 11 disciples were careful to follow Jesus’ instructions after his resurrection from the dead to go and meet him in Galilee.  Matthew concludes with them fulfilling these instructions.  Jesus meets them at the unnamed mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  The mountain is unnamed here, but Matthew may want his readers to remember Mount Sinai, where Moses met with God.

The hard words here are that when the disciples saw Jesus, their response was mixed.  Some worshiped Jesus, but some doubted.  Matthew may be referring to Thomas’ unbelief as in John.  There was a strange mixture of faith and unbelief that accompanied the first appearances of the risen Christ.  The women were afraid but filled with joy (Matt. 28:8).

Jesus’ final words in the Gospel begin with a truth claim:  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him.”  (v. 18)  Jesus had demonstrated his authority through his teaching and his healing ministry.  These signs pointed to Christ’s authority on earth.  But the new information is that all authority in heaven has been given to Christ.

Christ is already on the throne in heaven.  While not yet everything is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.  Yet somethings are fulfilled.  This “yet and not yet” paradox is evident in many of Jesus’ teachings.  I had a professor in seminary who made the statement that as much as 95% of the prophecies in the OT have been fulfilled in the first coming of Christ.  I think it is impossible to substantiate such a claim.  However, it is fair to say that the majority of OT prophecies have been fulfilled in Christ’s coming and ministry.  The remainder of the prophecies to be fulfilled concern Christ’s return, the final judgment, and other such topics in eschatology.

Jesus’ purpose in making this statement about his authority is that his disciples would accomplish the mission which he was to commission them.  Jesus’ disciples are called first to “Go.”  This is an imperative.  The church is not supposed to stay.  It is supposed to go.  The process of making disciples follows Jesus’ own disciple making process.  Jesus was sent on a mission from God (missio dei) to humanity.  Both the sending and the going are mirrored in the mission of the church.

Secondly, we are called to “make disciples.”  The commission is not to make converts.  We have given the mission short shrift in American religion in that we have the idea that the mission of the church is to make converts.  In fact, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for doing just that.  The commandment here is to “make disciples,” that is followers of Jesus Christ.

Our emphasis on the moment of conversion has given some people the idea that all it takes is to walk down an aisle and say a magic prayer and suddenly you are saved.  Yet, salvation is meant to be a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Savior.  Conversion is the doorway into a life of discipleship.  That is why Christianity was originally called the Way.  Christianity is the way of salvation.  The emphasis is on a life lived for Jesus.  So Jesus said, “I am the door.”  (John 10:6) and “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  (John 14:6)

Then Jesus gives specified 2 tasks in the process of making disciples:  “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus understood water baptism as the entry way int to the life of faith to which he was calling his disciples.  So we continue to emphasize that baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the body of Christ, the church.  Incidentally, this is the clearest reference to the Trinity in Matthew.  The doctrine of the Trinity would take several centuries to fully develop, but the doctrine was present in the words of Christ.

The second task of making disciples is “teaching them to obey everything” Jesus had taught.  (28:20)  Matthew has given a document that alternates between Jesus’ life and teaching.  He may have had this second aspect of the Great Commission in mind as he wrote the text.

The object of this Great Commission is “all nations.”  Right from the very beginning, Christianity has been a religion that was about tearing down walls between Jews and Samaritans (Luke 10:29-37; John 4:1-42; Acts 8:4-25), and those between Jews and Gentiles (Acts 10; 14).  The Great Commission emphasizes the inclusivity of the Good News.  The call to salvation is to “whoever who believes in him.”  (John 3:16)

We have no ascension of Jesus in Matthew.  Instead, he simply disappears like Moses disappeared from the mountain (Deut. 34).  The Gospel according to Matthew ends with the final promise of his presence:  “And be sure of this:  I am with you always even to the end of the age.”

Lord, you have given the church a commandment:  “Go and make disciples of all nations.”  Help us to remember our commission and to be about your business.  Open our eyes to see those in our circle of influence who need to hear the Good News:  our friends, relatives, associates and neighbors.  Fill us with the Spirit of boldness to share the good words with those around us.  Open our eyes to see the open doors you have placed in front of us.  Bring to our minds the unsaved people in our times of prayer.  That “whoever” would come to know you as Lord and Savior, just as we have come to know and love you.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

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