The Great Commission
“Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day. Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
In this last section of Matthew’s Gospel the Holy Spirit inspired his servant to relate several important things to us; matters full of spiritual instruction. The passage begins with a picture of the blind absurdities unbelief will grasp when the truth of God is willfully rejected. Then Matthew shows us that there is in the hearts of true believers much weakness and unbelief. Even when the risen Christ was standing in front of these worshippers “some doubted.” Then Matthew concludes his Gospel narrative of the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ by recording, for our learning, the great commission our Savior gave to his church just before he ascended into heaven.
In this great commission our Lord Jesus Christ shows us that it is the blessed privilege and responsibility of his church to preach the gospel to all men, to baptize those who profess faith in him, and to teach believers to observe, obey, and keep all that he has commanded and taught.
In verses 11-15 the Spirit of God informs us of a conspiracy made by the Jewish religious leaders, demonstrating their dishonesty. These men were highly respected religious leaders. They pretended to have great reverence for God and his law. They pretended to live by the law of God, keeping the commandments with great zeal. But they were corrupt to the core, self-serving dogs.
“Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.”
Matthew makes no comment concerning this conspiracy on the part of the Jews. He simply states it as a matter of fact. When the chief priests and elders heard from the Roman soldiers who guarded the Lord’s tomb how that he had in fact risen from the dead on the third day, they never gave the matter a thought. They were not interested in knowing the facts. They were not concerned about truth, or concerned for the people they pretended to serve, or concerned for the glory of God. They were only interested in maintaining their position of honor in the eyes of men, power over the lives of others, and personal gain. They gave no consideration to the evidence. All they wanted to do was to protect themselves and their positions. Therefore, they immediately began what is today called “spin control.”
They concocted an unbelievable story and bribed the Roman guards to tell anyone who asked that, “His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept!” That is amazing in itself. But this is even more amazing: — It worked! The Jews who had so willingly followed their blind leaders swallowed their lie hook, line, and sinker. The lie (A lie that is totally unbelievable when you understand the consequences of a Roman sentry sleeping at his post!) was so commonly reported and received that even to this day Jews and others readily grasp I, rather than believing the undeniable evidence of our Lord’s resurrection.
But these things should not surprise us at all. The fact is: the prejudice of blind unbelief is so great that it will grasp, believe, and defend the most ridiculous absurdities rather than bow to and receive the revelation of God, no matter how fully and evidently the truth is manifested. When God sends blindness upon those who have deliberately rejected his truth, that blindness is inconceivably great (John 12:37-40; Rom. 11:8-10; 2 Thess. 2:11-12).
There is no end to the folly of otherwise smart, even brilliant, educated men and women who willfully reject the truth of God. Rather than believe that God created all things, as is evident from any basis of rational judgment, most people believe that all things in creation evolved from something, though they have no idea what, and that that evolutionary process began so long ago that no one has any idea when or where. And they believe these things without so much as a shred of evidence of any kind.
Rather than believe that salvation is by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone, as the Scriptures clearly assert, most people believe that salvation can be obtained in any way a person chooses to seek it, so long as he is sincere. And they believe that we who insist upon the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ are divisive, sectarian bigots.
Rather than bowing to the Word of God and the law of God as the standard of right and wrong, of righteousness and sin, most people are willing to tolerate and even promote abortion (the murder of unborn infants), euthanasia (the murder of the weak and sick), homosexuality, fornication, adultery, and pornography in the name of morality and freedom. In our society those who promote the murder of babies crusade for the protection of rattlesnakes! Our government forbids the teaching of God’s Word and his law in our schools and demands the teaching of homosexuality, lesbianism, and various methods of sexual perversion to our children in the name of sex education! — “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”
I repeat myself deliberately. — There is no end to the folly of otherwise smart, brilliant, educated men and women who willfully reject the truth of God.
“Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted” (vv. 16-17). — Judas was now dead and the apostle Paul had not yet been converted. So there were only eleven apostles at this time. They, along with more than five hundred brethren (1 Cor. 15:6), went into Galilee to meet the Lord as he commanded them, both before and after his resurrection (Matt. 26:32; 28:10).
When they saw the Lord Jesus, “they worshipped him: but some doubted.” Even while the risen Christ stood before them, there were some who doubted. We are not told what they doubted. Therefore I will not speculate about the matter. But we are plainly told that some of the Lord’s disciples, some of those five hundred brethren who were there doubted. I call your attention to this fact because I want you to understand and to be constantly aware of the fact that God’s saints in this world are sinners still. We are forgiven but not faultless, pardoned but not perfect, sanctified but not sinless. Faith and doubt are often found in the same person. We should never have any doubts concerning matters plainly revealed in the Word of God. But the sad fact is, we do. In fact, I have serious questions about the honesty of that man or woman who claims never to have any doubts.
There were some on the mount with the risen Christ who believed and yet doubted. I have had enough doubts at times to drive a man into utter despair. And the very best of the best of God’s saints had this same conflict with faith and doubt. Even when he was imprisoned for the testimony of Christ, John the Baptist had some doubts, doubts in the teeth of all that he had personally seen and experienced (Matt. 11:2-3).
These things are revealed not to excuse or gloss over the horrible evil of our unbelief, but to let us know and to re-enforce the fact that salvation is by grace alone. God’s saints, so long as we are in this world, are sinners still. Our only righteousness is the righteousness of Christ. If we truly understand and believe these things, they will teach and compel us to be patient, gentle, long-suffering, and forbearing with one another, helping the weak, lifting the fallen, and encouraging the unbelieving. Sinners who need grace and experience it are gracious.
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (v. 18). — Our risen Lord here declares himself Lord, asserting that all sovereignty, power, dominion, and authority over all things had been given to him as our Mediator (Rom. 14:9; Phil. 2:8-11; Ps. 2:8; John 17:2). This power was not given to him as God the Son, the second person of the blessed Trinity. That could never be. As God, he is one with the Father and equal to him in all things from eternity. This power has been given to Christ as our Mediator, because of his obedience unto the Father as our covenant Surety. John Gill wrote, “This is not usurped power, but what is given him, and what he has right to exercise; having finished sin, abolished death, overcome the world, and destroyed the devil.”
Our Savior’s power is the power of absolute, universal monarchy. He rules all things everywhere and rules them absolutely. That is the theme of David’s song in Psalm 68:17-20...
“The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place. Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them. Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah. He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto GOD the Lord belong the issues from death.”
Christ is King over all. The angels of heaven are dispatched by him (Heb. 1:14). The Holy Spirit and his gifts of grace are dispensed by him (1 Cor. 12:4-12). The gifts of the ministry are distributed by him (Eph. 4:8-16). The people and events of this earth are ruled and disposed of by King Jesus. Indeed, Satan and the very demons of hell can do nothing in the earth but by his permission and his decree.
And our Lord Jesus Christ exercises this dominion at all times for the salvation of his people. He declares, “Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him” (John 17:2).
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (v. 19). — This is the great commission our Lord Jesus has given to his church. There is absolutely no question about what the mission and ministry of the church of God in this world is. Our work is clearly defined and established by our Master. This commission is not given just to the apostles. It is not given only to preachers, pastors, evangelists, and missionaries. It is a commission given to the whole church of God. This is not a command to go to mission fields, though that is certainly included in it. Rather, this is a charge to us all to be Christ’s witnesses as we go through this world. The text might better be read, “Therefore, since I am Lord, as you are going into all the world, teach all nations!” J. C. Ryle correctly asserts, “It is the bounden duty of every disciple of Christ to do all he can in person, and by prayer, to make others acquainted with Jesus.”
The church of God in this world is here given a threefold responsibility. All three things are our duty and our privilege. It is not our duty to perform part of this commission. We are commanded and responsible to perform the whole thing.
First, our Lord commands us to teach, or make disciples of all nations. God has an elect multitude scattered among the nations of the world. Christ has his sheep everywhere. It is our responsibility to seek them out. And the only means we have of doing so is by teaching them his gospel. John Gill informs us that the Persic version explains our Lord’s commission most accurately, “Bring them to my religion and faith.” You and I are responsible in the generation in which we live to make known to all men the gospel of Christ. Only the Holy Spirit can regenerate and save. Only he can give faith in Christ. But we are responsible to tell out the message of grace. We must make all men know who Christ is, what he did, why he did it, where he is now, and how God saves sinners by the merits of his obedience and death as the sinners’ Substitute.
Second, we are commanded to baptize all those who become Christ’s disciples. The order given is clear. Our Lord does not say baptize all nations and make them my disciples. He says, make disciples and baptize them. Baptism is to be administered only to those who are by their own profession Christ’s disciples (Acts 8:37). Baptism, being symbolically buried with him, immersed with him in water, is the believer’s confession of faith in Christ. As such, baptism is the mark of distinction between believers and the rest of the religious world. It is our public oath of allegiance to Christ as our Lord. Baptism, rising up out of the watery grave, portrays and confesses our hope of resurrection glory.
Our Lord Jesus specifically tells us that those who are immersed with him in the watery grave are to be immersed “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” as if to declare that the great salvation we are commissioned to proclaim, which we confess in believer’s baptism is the gift and operation of the triune God. Baptism is to be performed in the name of the holy Trinity, the one true and living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Third, it is the responsibility of God’s church to teach believing sinners all that Christ has commanded us. No local church and no body of churches have any right to alter the doctrine of Christ, dismiss any portion of it as insignificant, or hold back any portion. And none have any right to add anything to the doctrine of Christ, or invent doctrines of their own. It is not our responsibility to decide what people need to hear and know. We are responsible to teach exactly what Christ has commanded in his Word, all of it.
After giving his great commission, as if to encourage us in the work, strengthen us for it, and comfort us in the trials sure to accompany it, our Lord Jesus Christ makes this great promise to his church. — “And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (v. 20). With those words, our Savior inspires us to be faithful to him in all things, assuring us of his presence with us. He is with us everywhere, at all times, forever. He is with us daily to pardon, forgive, and sanctify us. He is with us to lead, guide, and protect us. He is with us to provide for us, strengthen us, and preserve us. He is with us in sorrow and in joy. He is with us in trial and in triumph. He is with us while we live. He will be with us when we go down to the grave. He will be with us forever!
This is our Savior’s word of promise to his church, to you who believe on him, and to me; and he will stand by it. He who is “the Amen,” puts his own name to his promise. — “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Christ himself is the one who made the promise, the thing promised, and the security of the promise.
If the Lord Jesus Christ is with us, compromise is inexcusable, failure is impossible, and whole-hearted devotion to him and his cause is most reasonable (Isa. 55:11; 1 Cor. 15:58).