Summary: God wants us to do things His way
Into all the World
This morning’s passage is often called the “Great Commission”. All of the Gospels have a Commission although there is some variance of how it is worded. As a good teacher, Jesus would have repeated the Commission at various times and with different words to help make a comprehensive portrait of what He expects of us in our mission to the world. Today, we will study the one in Matthew which ois the most comprehensive of them.
Exposition of the Text
The Great Commission passage begins with either verse 16 or 18, depending on how your translation divides the paragraphs. This depends on whether one sees a break in time between verse 17 and 18. Verse 16 begins with a resurrection appearance of Jesus in Galilee. We do know from Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus made multiple appearances to people after the Resurrection to both large and small groups of people as well as to His half-brother James. Luke also informs of this when he tells us that Jesus spent forty days after the resurrection teaching His disciples, although He does not mention any in Galilee. Only John and Matthew record resurrection appearances in Galilee.
We do not know exactly why Matthew skips over the Jerusalem appearances other than the initial appearances to the women in which the eleven are instructed to go to Galilee to meet Jesus there. We do get a clue in verse 16 when they assemble at the mountain at Galilee which Jesus had appointed them to meet. This may well have been the mountain where the Sermon on the Mount was preached, although that is speculation. Mountains are important in Matthew, a point that Dr. Warren Gage points out. He notes that there are seven mountains in Matthew, a perfect number. He also notes that the Galilee Mountain serves as a mountain of blessing and Jerusalem the mountain of cursing. This would then be a reenactment of the blessing and curses ceremony recorded in Deuteronomy (Ebal and Gerazim). Matthew is rich in Old Testament imagery. This is why so many see Matthew as being written to Jewish-Christians.
Verse 17 is difficult to translate. Literally it says in the Greek: “And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him, but they doubted.” Did they all doubt, or just some? Many translators see there being two groups mentioned, those who believed and others who doubted. Another question is what was the manner of doubt. In the Jerusalem appearances in Luke and John, they did doubt that it was Jesus, and some doubted more than others. It isn’t every day one confronts resurrection in this manner. Assuming that his appearance was after the original appearances to the disciples in Jerusalem, after which they went to Galilee, it would seem odd that any of them would have doubted the fact that Jesus rose from the dead any longer. If they weren’t sure, would they have assembled at this mountain in obedience to Jesus’ command?
I think that the area of doubt was not a concern over whether Jesus had bodily risen. Instead, it seems that some or all of them doubted whether they should worship the risen Jesus. Jesus was indeed alive, but was He God? Only God was to be worshiped. If Jesus was anything less than God Himself, even an exalted angel like Michael, worship of Him would be absolutely forbidden. As Jews, they knew this. They doubted, yet they worshiped Him.
It is at this point that Jesus comes closer to them and says to them “all authority is given me in heaven and on earth”. This would seem to be to assure them that they were correct in worshiping Him. Jesus, indeed, is God. These words are also the rationale for the Great Commission as well, as Michael Horton notes. It is precisely because of who Jesus is that they are called to absolute obedience to His command to go.
The Great Commission has imperatives for all of its verbs which places all the verbs on equal footing when translated into English. Actually, there is only one imperative “Make Disciples”! The English begins verse 19 “…” For since “Go” comes first, and then “make disciples” “baptize”, and then “teach” it places emphasis on going as though this is the most important thing to do and that all of the other imperatives are supplemental. Actually “go” is not an imperative at all. It is a participle which provides necessary information. If one is going to make disciples of all nations, one would have to go out into the nations.
The core command, then, is “Make disciples of all nations”. The other two participles describe how disciples are to be made. They are to be made by baptizing them and then carefully teaching them everything Jesus had taught them Baptism is the entry point into the people of God, a sign and seal of saving faith in Jesus. In other words, this is evangelism or as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians, “plant”. The second part of the commission is to carefully instruct them in the faith. In other words, Christians are to be nurtured or as Paul puts it “water”. The two work together. Both are necessary. These are means for God to grow the Kingdom.