Summary: As Christians, we derive our authority directly from Jesus Christ, the universe's highest, sovereign power, and as such, he's charging us to reaffirm our commission to fulfill our duties and responsibilities to go out and make disciples of all nations.
In just a bit, we’re going turn in our bibles to the Gospel according to Matthew 28, and look at VV 16–20. Specifically, we’re going to see why this portion of scripture is called “The Great Commission,” what that meant for the disciples, and what that means for us today.
When I hear the word commission, the first thing that comes to my mind is the commission military officers receive when they enter into service. Commissioned officers derive their authority directly from a sovereign power and, as such, hold a commission charging them with the duties and responsibilities of a specific office or position.
Now, as most of you know, like many within our congregation, I was enlisted. However, a few of our members served as commissioned officers. Both the enlisted and officers affirm their service by reciting similar oaths. They both begin with: I, [and then we state our name ], do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; [and] that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” Now, from that point, the oaths differ a little bit.
The Enlisted then affirm: I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.” Officers, however finish their oath by stating: “I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will, well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God”
Let’s see how this ties into the Gospel. Please turn in your bibles to the Gospel according to Matthew 28:16–20. Let’s start off our time by concentrating on V.18.
ALL AUTHORITY GIVEN TO JESUS
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” There’s two questions we need to ask. What is this authority mean; and from whom was Jesus given this authority? We’re going get to the answers, but it’s gonna be a roundabout way.
Now, you’ll notice nowhere in this passage is word the commission ever used — for the exception of the header, which is only put there by the publisher anyway. In all reality, there’s only passage in the entire bible that uses the word commission — that’s Acts 26:12. In this passage, the Apostle Paul was standing trial before King Agrippa with the charge of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, Paul’s standing before the King, and Agrippa gives permission to Paul to plead his case. Paul starts telling his story of how at one time he great Pharisee and how he persecuted the Christians. Then, Paul recounts the time when he journeyed to Damascus in order to “take care of the Christians”, under the authority and commission of the chief priests — that last phrase being the exact verbiage used in V12.
As with the definition that I gave earlier, Paul derived his authority directly from the chief priests and, as such, held a commission, charging him with the duties and responsibilities to persecute the new and growing church. However, on his way to Damascus, Jesus knocked him off from his donkey, and charged Paul with a new commission. Paul told Agrippa about that as well. That commission was this.
Jesus said to Paul, “I have appeared to you — [and hear this word]— to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. [Here’s the specific commission]. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” (Ac 26:16–18).
In other words, Jesus commissioned Paul — in the authority of his sovereign name — to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything [Jesus commanded him.]” Paul’s charge was the same Jesus gave to the disciples. But from where, some might ask, did Jesus receive this authority, and what’s that look like. That brings us back to Matthew.
This word authority in the Greek means a bunch of things: The first thing it means a “freedom of choice, or right.” We can see this in the commissioning oath of our country’s military officers when they say, ““I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.”
This word also means “the right to control or command, authority, absolute power, and warrant.” This last way is how the word is used — both in the passage with Paul, as we just saw — as well as here in Matthew 28. Still, both of these definitions speak to the kind of authority Jesus was given from a higher sovereign power; and that’s God the Father.