In the last study, we discussed this commission of our Lord to His apostles and this ending to Matthew’s gospel which does not reveal the ascension. I stated that the reason I believe that the Holy Spirit left this important fact out was because of the emphasis in the Gospel According to Matthew of our God’s Christ reigning on the earth. The passage reads as follows:
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 28:18-20)
That Matthew is the continuation of prophecy from the Old Testament can be seen from the very first verse:
The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1)
As the Son of both Abraham and David, our Lord Jesus as Man is the rightful heir to covenants that were made to these patriarchs. As God, He could rightly say that He is Lord of heaven and earth, but the promises made to the Patriarchs would need to be fulfilled because the character of God Himself is to keep His promises (Titus 1:2). But neither Abraham, David, nor any of their sons were worthy to be the heirs of these great promises. None that is, but the Man Christ Jesus. This is where Matthew’s gospel begins, with our Lord Jesus Christ’s legitimate claim to these promises. It ends with all power (authority) given to Him in heaven and in earth. This is to state an important fact about the commission in question: This is a commission about authority, discipleship, and obedience. In that order. It is about setting the world that is rightfully His back to His rightful authority. As stated in part 1, it is about sovereignty. At this point, two key phrases in Matthew’s gospel need to be addressed.
The Son of Man
The phrase “Son of Man” occurs 32 times in Matthew’s gospel and it is the way that the Lord most often refers to Himself. This term can be best understood from this prophecy in Daniel:
I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
That the Son of Man is given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom that all people, nations, and languages should serve Him sounds a lot like all power in heaven and earth is given unto Jesus Christ. Scripture gives witness to the fact that He has not yet taken to Himself that great authority, and if we compare that with the experience of human history since this commission was given there is no argument. The only argument that can be given is that it is a “spiritual” kingdom, so that it cannot be seen in this realm. But the book of the Revelation describes the King of kings and Lord of lords conquering and reigning on this earth. That argument of a “spiritual” kingdom falls flat. That argument seems to be of faith, but it is really making God’s Word to say something different than what it does say. It seems to me to do what Abraham and Sarah attempted in bringing Hagar in to “help” God to fulfill His promises. God does not need our help to fulfill His promises. He will fulfill them AS THEY ARE WRITTEN.
In Matthew 24:30, the Lord spoke of the the sign of the Son of man in heaven and gave what that sign was in the very same verse: the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. This may add some insight into just what Stephen saw when, full of the Holy Ghost, he looked up and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. (Acts 7:55-56)
That the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, did not come at that time to judge and to make war can only be accounted for by GRACE. All was ready for Him to do so. The rebellion of the covenant people had reached its height. They sent a message to the King with this act saying “We will not have this Man Jesus to reign over us!” (Luke 19:14)
While the Lord Jesus is graciously waiting at the Father’s right hand to make His enemies His footstool, He is proclaiming through the epistles of Paul the day of salvation, and the word of reconciliation. He is declaring grace and peace today, not because of His “crown rights”, but because of His finished redemption on the cross. Note that He does have the authority to do so because He is Lord of heaven and earth. Paul’s gospel is the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began but is NOW made known (Romans 16:25-26). It is now being made known that in spite of the world’s rejection (Jew and Gentile alike have rejected Him), God is now saving all who come (whether Jew or Gentile) by Him, by His finished redemption at the cross. It is the preaching of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18). But the day will come when the day of salvation will come to a close, and the Lord will take what is rightfully His. He will take His great power and reign on the earth. It will be the reign of heaven on earth. It will be:
The Kingdom of Heaven
The phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” occurs 31 times (32 if the A.V. translator’s addition in Matthew 25:14 is included) and is exclusive to the book of Matthew. The Prophets of the Old Testament spoke of this Kingdom and the most explicit reference is in Daniel’s prophecy in interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of The Colossus.
And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. (Daniel 2:44)
In Daniel 2:36-43, the prophet describes real, literal, physical, political, and geographic kingdoms that reign in the earth. The God of heaven will also set up a kingdom and consume and break in pieces all these kingdoms. With man’s quest for empire even today not satisfied, it is hard to believe anyone with a straight face can say that the kingdom of the God of heaven is in any way set up on earth today. Some will say that it is God operating in “the Church”, but again, this hardly passes the straight face test. “The Church” is being absorbed into the kingdoms of this world, and not consuming them. “The Church” is more broken in pieces than any other institution thinkable. As an aside, the Body of Christ, the Church that Paul writes of, is not an institution, but is the assembly of all believers in Jesus Christ’s finished work of redemption at the cross who are baptized by the Holy Spirit into that Body.
But this kingdom of heaven, where the God of heaven reigns over the earth, while spiritual (that is empowered by the Spirit of God and of His Spirit) in character, is also a literal, physical, and political kingdom with God’s Christ (Messiah) reigning over it. It is on the earth. Read in the following Messianic Psalm:
Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion.
I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto Me, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten thee.
Ask of Me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him. (Psalm 2:6-12)
Notice that it is on the holy hill Zion-in Jerusalem-where the King is set. Notice that the heathen, i.e. Gentile nations, are the King’s inheritance. Notice the uttermost parts of the earth are the King’s possession. Notice that the kings of the earth are to be subjected to the King of kings. Notice they are to be in fear of His wrath. Notice that He will truly be King over kings. The kings will call Him King. He will be the King of kings.
Notice further the character of this King’s reign:
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:2-4)
In discussing the previous Psalm, we hit on many of the themes in this prophecy. But notice in the end of this passage: weapons of war will become tools of agriculture. And how greatly will tools of agriculture be needed in the Kingdom of God’s Christ! There will be no war to destroy the land, and nations will not even have trained armies! They will NO MORE LEARN WAR! The ageless dream of world peace will finally be realized as the Prince of Peace is enthroned ON THE EARTH!
Misinterpretation and Misapplication of Matthew 28:18-20
Most evangelical and fundamentalist Christians take this commission as a general call for all Christians to evangelize, and that it is the last order of the Lord for “the Church”. This is a fundamental misreading of this passage. It is not about evangelism. It is not a commission directed to “the Church” by way of Apostolic succession. It will not be the successors to the 12 Apostles that will sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel, it will be the 12 Apostles themselves. Regarding reading this as strictly a commission to evangelize, I do not know whether it would ever have been misread this way except that it has been coupled together with Mark 16:15 and made to harmonize with 2 Corinthians 5:20.
Some have recognized this and somewhat shifted their statements of importance to “making disciples”. In this “disciple making” endeavor, there is of course an emphasis on baptism, as well there should be if taking this as the Lord’s standing orders, and interpreting this baptism to indeed be the baptism with water as John the Baptist preached. But an important question about this baptism comes up: How should baptism be done? It seems that the majority of evangelical denominations are firm that immersion is the only Biblical method. Some still prefer sprinkling or pouring and argue for this method as being the correct Biblical method. This argument between the method and meaning of baptism has created an unbridgeable divide that can only be crossed temporarily when arguing against a common foe: Those who have come to the Scriptural conclusion that in the body of Christ there is but one baptism, and that is the baptism where the Holy Spirit places the believer into the body of Christ and baptizes us into Jesus Christ, identifying us with His death, burial, and resurrection. See Ephesians 4:3-6, 1 Corinthians 12:13, and Romans 6:3-4. I have found Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer’s doctrinal summarizations in his Systematic Theology to be very helpful at times, and his two entries on baptism are no exception. I have links below to copies of those pages that I made to share them with you.
I have found the conclusion to the Ritual Baptism entry enlightening:
In concluding this discussion of ritual baptism it may be stated that all who claim the right to private judgment in the matter of the mode of their baptism should accord the same right to others. There should be latitude enough in any assembly of these believers for these variations. The sin-if such a thing there be-of administering this ordinance in an unscriptural way could never compare with the greater sin of exclusion, separation, and the breaking of the outward manifestations of the unity of the Spirit. That believers remain in the unbroken bonds of fellowship and affection is, according to the New Testament, far more important than is the mode of ritual baptism. The world is to be impressed with the love of Christians one for the other (cf. John 13:34-35; 17:21-23). It is needless to point out that separations and contentions over a mode of baptism have little value in the eyes of the unsaved.1:
It has little value to the Lord either.
With that said on baptism, we will leave the subject for now. In regard to the baptism in Matthew 28:18-20, from what I have previously stated regarding my present understanding of this passage, the baptizing of nations in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost has more to do with identifying all nations as under the sovereignty of the One to Whom all authority in heaven and in earth is given than with a physical water ceremony. In relation to this observe the following passage from Isaiah2:
Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently, He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonied at thee; His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men: So shall He sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at Him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider. (Isaiah 52:13-15)
In discussion misinterpretations and misapplications of this commission, I could not exclude the remarks that Pope Francis made in an interview in May of 2016. When questioned about the fear of Islam and whether that fear is justified, he said this:
Today, I don’t think that there is a fear of Islam as such but of ISIS and its war of conquest, which is partly drawn from Islam. It is true that the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam. However, it is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations, in terms of the same idea of conquest3
While many evangelicals were somewhat appalled at this statement, I recall thinking to myself at the time, “He is not altogether wrong”. Now, keep this in mind that it is not often that I would side with any pope, let alone this particular pope, about anything. I was before that time taking a closer look at these verses in Matthew and already concluding that this commission is a command to bring nations under the sovereignty of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I found what the Pope said interesting because I am aware of the view that the Roman Catholic church takes that it is the manifestation of God’s kingdom on this earth. Now when we think of these words in the context of a “world conquering church”, do not events in history such as the crusades, conquests and converting of people groups to a so-called “Christianity” (which was really nothing more than swapping old idols for new ones), make a little more sense? Misinterpretation and misapplication of scripture, i.e. bad doctrine, gives birth to wrong action and practice.
This “conquering church” idea is not unique to Roman Catholicism either. Many post-millennial protestants, “reconstructionists” as they call themselves, have this same “world transforming”, or “Christianizing the world” view of these verses in Matthew.4 This line of thought emphasizes law-keeping for Christians, and speaks of the need for Christians to establish God’s law as the law of nations. While all of the nations of the earth would do well to walk in the precepts of the Lord, the role of Christians is not law enforcement or to bring the nations under subjection, but to preach the word of reconciliation. The emphasis on law keeping is in keeping with wrongly applying this commission. The Lord did say that they were to teach all nations to observe whatsoever things that He commanded. But this is the Kingdom commission, to be taken up during the Kingdom, when Our Lord Jesus takes to Himself His great power and reigns.
Pentecostal “Dominionist” theology views this somewhat the same way.5 This thought speaks of taking dominion over everything and advancing God’s kingdom, and that this world has been and is getting much better over the last 2000 years. Really?
These views, and others that are similar are not (entirely) wrong on their interpretation of these verses. They are very wrong on their application. One of the primary errors in application is that it was given to “the Church”. It was not. It was given to the Apostles, those 11, soon to again be 12 with the appointment of Matthias. There is no “Apostolic succession” stated here at all. The 12 Apostles will still be the very agents to carry out this commission. I can say that because I believe what the scriptures state about their place and the regeneration (Matthew 19:28). That they have all died is irrelevant. I also believe in the resurrection.
In conclusion, I believe this commission in Matthew to be the standing orders of Christ’s Apostles in His Kingdom. The Kingdom of God will come, and the will of God will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Now, as we are here living in this present evil age (Galatians 1:4), we are to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:12-13)
In the next part of this series, we will study the account in Mark 16 in which the Lord sends His disciples to preach the gospel to every creature. In the mean time, I will ask you, have you believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished provision for your redemption by His blood? He is all that you need, but you do need Him!
I am indebted to Matthew Henry’s commentary on the Bible and his words for this thought and relating to me this verse. In his commentary, many of the thoughts about the “Christianizing” of nations and of “the Church” being the manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth are plainly written. There is a mixture of this with evangelism, but to him the primary objective was the “Christianizing” of nations and the of world. I have excerpted some of the writing from this work here for the purpose showing some of his thoughts on this subject.
http://www.la-croix.com/Religion/Pape/INTERVIEW-Pope-Francis-2016-05-17-1200760633 For a pdf printout of this interview, please click here.
http://chalcedon.edu/faith-for-all-of-life/the-christian-reconstruction-movement/on-the-great-commission/ For a pdf printout of this article, please click here.
http://www.charismamag.com/spirit/prophecy/15402-the-case-for-dominionism For a pdf printout of this article, please click here.