We come to the end of Matthew’s gospel with what’s come to be known as The Great Commission:
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Mountains play a big part in redemptive history. In fact the word mountain is used 304 times in the Bible, so it’s no surprise that Jesus commissions his remaining 11 disciples on a mountain. The fallen world below needs to be saved, and that salvation can only come from above.
Notice what happens when they see Jesus, worship and doubt. I can understand the worship part. The man not only did amazing miracles during his earthly ministry, but after being hung on a cross, and buried, he came back from the dead three days later. I’m sure they had no idea how to process all this information, how God could be one, yet here was Jesus standing before them as a divine being. It would take several hundred years for some of the greatest minds in the Church to sort of figure it out. And Jesus accepts their worship. He is God.
But doubt? Seriously? What could they be doubting? First, to me this is one of the greatest testimonies to the Bible’s authenticity. If you’re making up a story, and the hero of the story has done amazing things, even conquering death, you don’t include doubt. That would make it seem too human and real, which is exactly what it does. Why would Matthew include this little detail, “but some doubted”? We can only speculate, but one reason might be that some (more than one) actually doubted, and Matthew implies that thus they didn’t worship. We all have to make up our minds, who is this Jesus. And it isn’t necessarily easy to believe he is the Messiah, God in human flesh, risen Savior and Lord of the universe. Even for those who witnessed it all. He put the ultimate existential question to them earlier in his ministry: “Who do you say I am?” Every human being will eventually have to answer this question, and only those who worship get it right.
But Jesus, who surely knows some are doubting, doesn’t call them out on it. You idiots! All these years, and everything you’ve seen, and you still doubt? He just ignores it and gives them all the same charge, “go and make disciples of all nations.” But before that he tells them the reason they should and can do this is because, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” That is a lot of authority! And what is authority? The power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience. But Jesus, we might think, it sure doesn’t look like you have all authority. I mean, the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket. But that’s the point, that in the midst of a fallen, messed up world, Jesus is giving his disciples the power to go make disciples. He calls the shots. And he told them earlier that, “many are called, but few are chosen.”
Why did Jesus need to be “given” this authority? You would think that as the second person of the Trinity and creator of the universe that he would naturally have authority, but that would not take into account the nature of redemption. Jesus came to earth as the “last Adam,” in Paul’s phrase. The first Adam was given charge to keep the garden and expand God’s kingdom over the entire earth, but he failed. Jesus came to do what he didn’t, to fulfill the law in perfect obedience to the Father, and pay the penalty Adam incurred by his disobedience. This authority he speaks of was given to him by the Father because he earned it, and he will use it to build his kingdom on earth, what Adam should have done, through the making of disciples.
Why make “disciples” instead of let’s say followers? Or some other designation. The word disciple in Greek means learner, so the life of the follower of Jesus is one of learning, and this learning is to go to “all nations.” As far back as God’s promise to Abram, that all the peoples of the earth would be blessed through him, God’s plan went well beyond the physical land and nation state of Israel. And the Lord says through Isaiah, that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Christianity is fundamentally a thinking religion, not an experiencing one. The latter only flows from the former.
Jesus also ordains baptism in Triune format, clearly equating Father, Son, and Spirit. So not only does Jesus accept their worship, he tells them each person of the Trinity is equally God. That had to be a mind bender for ancient Jews. We also learn from his charge that baptism is no longer limited to males and Israel as a sign and seal of the covenant as circumcision was. It is now a universal indication that we are God’s covenant people. And as Peter tells the people in his first sermon in Acts 2 after he commands them to repent and be baptized, that “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” The faith in the New Covenant is still a familial faith, but now for the entire world.
And finally how could Jesus be with them, and us, to the end of the age if he was not God. I just finished reading Eusebius, The Church History, and the kind of persecution Christians endured in the first three hundred years was sobering. And we know similar persecution goes on today, especially in Muslim and communist lands. It’s hard to see Jesus “with us” in those times, but that is his promise, always. And our hope is on the other side of the grave, not this one.