This is the first installment in a series discussing the commands in Scripture commonly known as The Great Commission. I said this as “commonly known” because that phrase is not found in the Bible. It is not a wrong designation, for it is a very great commission indeed. In this series, I am going to search the scriptures for understanding on this most important command to His Apostles, and work toward an understanding of this command and how it is related to us these nearly 2000 years later. In this study, one thing I would ask of the reader, and that is to ponder this scripturally and not to react emotionally. Without any further delay, here is the Apostolic commission as recorded in Matthew:
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. (Matthew 28:16-20)
This is the end of the Gospel According to Matthew. Before continuing I would like the reader to notice that there is no reference to the ascension of our Lord in Matthew. He is seen on this mountain in Galilee speaking to His disciples, and that is where the account ends. It is quite possible that this is the same mountain where He was transfigured before them and they saw His kingdom glory. That is why He stated to them in Matthew 16:28 that some standing here… shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom. In the very next 2 verses, chapter 17 verses 1&2, He was transfigured before them and His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light (Matthew 17:2). But why no ascension? The other accounts of our Lord’s earthly ministry all record His ascension. It is recorded in Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9-10, and John speaks of His ascension in John 3:13. But not Matthew. He was certainly a witness to this miraculous event, but he does not record it. Why? Accepting with no hesitation the Holy Spirit’s intentional omission in this inspired account of our Lord’s ministry, we would have to conclude that the ascension of our Lord is outside of the purpose of His call on Matthew to write. From the book of Matthew, I offer the following clues as to why this may be:
- Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)
- Ye are the salt of the earth… (Matthew 5:13)
- Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)
- But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins… (Matthew 9:6)
- At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth… (Matthew 11:25)
- And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:19)
- Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 18:18-19)
The very first verse of the Bible says plainly:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
God created the universe, but chose to tell us that He created the heaven and the earth. Indeed, He has a plan for the earth:
For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God Himself that formed the earth and made it; He hath established it, He created it not in vain, He formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else. (Isaiah 45:18)
The Gospel of Matthew has everything to do with God’s plans for earth and His King and Christ Who will rule and reign over it. So Christ ascending to Heaven is outside of that scope, and that is how I would answer the question as to why there is no ascension recorded. Maybe no one has brought this up, but the thought has come to me, so I would assume someone else may have questioned this too.
Details of His commissioning words as recorded in Matthew 28:
- All power is given unto Me in heaven and earth
- All power: ἐξουσία [exousia]–this is authority, privilege, right to rule, or in a word, sovereignty.
- The Lord Jesus Christ is given that sovereignty
- He has that sovereignty in heaven and earth
- Go ye therefore
- Because of this sovereignty, here is the command. It is stamped with His authority and approval.
- teach all nations
- The place of all nations. They are the objects of the teaching of the eleven disciples. The nations, i.e. Gentiles, are to be made disciples.
- An interesting observation: These are not specified as people but nations. The nations as a whole are to be taught.
- baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost
- baptizing them in (Greek εἰς [eis]) the Name. The nations are to be baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. They are to be identified as under His sovereignty. We should do away with the thought of this as a “baptism formula” and begin thinking about what it actually is. The nations are to be identified as under the rule and reign of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Believers today are baptized by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13) into Jesus Christ and baptized into His death (Romans 6:3-4).
- teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you
- This is the content of their training, i.e., discipleship
- These commands are the “ruling charter” of the King. Matthew chapters 5-7 gives a summary of the commandments in force under the King’s reign.
- I am with you alway, unto the end of the world
- This is the duration of the Lord’s stamp of approval by His sovereignty on this teaching (discipleship) ministry.
- It is unto the end of the world (age: Greek αἰών “aiōn“)
This passage is also thought of as our Lord’s last words and last commands. But is this the case? Is this the last word that He has spoken? And what is the purpose of this command? Above we have broken down succinctly using the words of scripture as they are translated in the King James Version (AV) because that has been for many years the Bible in English. I have not sought to find any special version or translation to make these words say what I think they should say. That should be our attitude in Bible study always-that the Word of God speaks, and we listen. In simply reading the New Testament, there are 26 distinct books following. This is not His last word. There was very much left for Him to speak.
This ending to Matthew is looking ahead to the fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven brought down to Earth. While He has here established His right to reign, this Kingdom will not be an accomplished fact until
The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)
Now all of us can see looking at this world around us that this is not the rule and reign of our Lord in this world today. This world is in constant chaos, injustice, and war, but the Kingdom of heaven that the scripture reveals is one of righteousness and peace. So what is the answer to this dilemma? The Apostle Peter gives us insight on where to find the clues to this:
Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. … But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. … And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:3-4, 8-9, 15-16)
So the Apostle Peter’s statement that the Apostle Paul has written regarding these things, let us look to the Apostle of the Gentiles (Nations) for clues as to why the sovereignty of this world has not become the sovereignty of Jesus Christ although He is by right Lord of all.
And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, Which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:19-23)
Paul states here in exalting fashion the place where our Lord Jesus is now: He is at the right hand of God, in the heavenlies. But what about God’s plan for the earth? Has He abandoned that plan? God forbid! He is at the right hand of the Father graciously and patiently waiting.
The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. (Psalm 110:1)
So now we ask the question again, what about God’s plan for the earth? If we have any trust in God’s Word, we should know that He will accomplish His purposes. While the elect nation (Israel) and the rest of this world’s nations (Gentiles) have been ripe for judgment, He is in mercy waiting. The longsuffering of our Lord is salvation.
…receive not the grace of God in vain. (For He saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.) (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)
He is now in grace offering salvation to Jew and Gentile alike, not on the basis of covenants but on the basis of mercy. He is offering salvation by grace through faith in the finished work of redemption by Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross (Ephesians 2:8-9, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, etc.). He is reigning in grace today until this offer is no longer available and is taken off the table:
…when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power; When He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed ) in that day. (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10)
Many have called this time of the longsuffering of our Lord a period of amnesty. It is truly a reign of grace. It is NOT the time when He is ruling the nations with a rod of iron. While our gracious God is speaking in grace and peace to the earth, the nations are living and speaking back in rebellion. But He will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31). He will return in righteousness to judge and make war (Revelation 19:11). He will smite the nations, and will rule them with a rod of iron (Revelation 19:15). Then His disciples, His Apostles who were promised 12 thrones where they would sit in the regeneration and judge the 12 tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28), will lead a discipleship mission, where they will teach all nations, and baptize them in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)
From the above evidence, the commission here in Matthew from the mountain in Galilee seems in every way to be looking forward to the coming Kingdom age. It is after the seventh angel sounded in the book of Revelation that the elders in heaven are recorded to say: We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned. (Revelation 11:17) The Lord will begin to take His great power when He makes the counter-declaration of war upon the nations.
Now, many might say that the Lord Jesus Christ is reigning now in the hearts of believers, and this is true to some extent. The extent of His reign in the believer’s heart is to the extent that we yield ourselves as His servants (Romans 6:16-23), and that we let the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16). However, this is not the kingdom that the prophets of both testaments, and of which He Himself spoke. His kingdom appears in prophecy to be a real, literal, physical, political, and geographic reign. It appears to be this because it will be a real, literal, physical, political, and geographic kingdom of heaven on earth. To this end He was born of the virgin:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
That is why the angel Gabriel said to Mary:
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: And He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end. (Luke 1:31-33)
In connection with this reign and the commission that we are discussing, read about the 144,000 from the 12 tribes of Israel in Revelation chapters 7 and 14. These are Jehovah’s true witnesses. When His time to reign comes, it will not be a silent reign, and all Heaven and Earth will know that His time has come!
And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. (Revelation 19:6)
Notice that He takes this reign when He comes in righteousness to judge and make war (Revelation 19:11). It is then when He will make His right to sovereignty a reality, and He will be declared absolutely and finally without question or any more opposition:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS
Which in His times He shall shew, Who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; Whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to Whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:15-16)
Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For He hath put all things under His feet. But when He saith all things are put under Him, it is manifest that He is excepted, which did put all things under Him. And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:24-28)
In the next part in this series, we will further explore this command to bring the nations under the subjection of the ruling King and to disciple them to be proper subjects. We will explore the scriptures regarding Christ ruling over the nations of the earth from both the Old and New Testaments. Until then, this one question I will ask: Have you received the grace of God and believed on the only Name by which you are saved and believed the gospel that He has given to you, that Christ died for your sins and was buried and rose from the dead according to the scriptures? The Lord is longsuffering, and the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation, but the day of salvation will not last forever. Which side are you on? Will you accept His offer of salvation by grace though faith in His finished work of redemption?