- Main Text: Matthew 28:16-20
- Accompanying text: Psalm 40:9-10
What this passage means to us
As we come to the end of Matthew’s Gospel, let us think about why he wrote the Gospel and how his closing remarks connect to that intent. Matthew has stressed throughout how Jesus is the fulfilment of the messianic prophecies, and that Jesus has supreme authority, not only over the believer’s life but also over nature and over Scripture itself. The final words, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20), resonate with how Matthew began his account – that Jesus is “God with us”. (Matthew 1:23). “Christ became their sending authority and their authorisation. He also shared in their ministry. He was their authority and the Companion… The apostles were not asked to do mission work for Christ but rather with Christ… Their great need is to practice constantly the consciousness of His presence” .
Matthew recorded many memorable phrases that relate to what Jesus expects his followers to become and to do. For example, “Love your enemies”, “do unto others as you would have done to yourself”, “deny yourself”, “fishers of men”, etc. It is common practice in some evangelical churches to take the idea of the Great Commission in isolation and to see it as the definitive commandment on the subject of the church’s mission, and not to grasp the relevance of Matthew’s words within its historical setting and its relationship to the rest of his book. “There can be no doubt that this kind of appeal to the ‘Great Commission’ has succeeded in mobilizing and bolstering evangelical missionary ‘forces’. Still, grave concerns about such an appeal have to voiced. First, it is almost always polemical, an attack on what is regarded as the watered-down understanding of mission in ‘ecumenical’ circles. Second, it is usually couched in a most simplistic form of biblical literalism and proof-texting, with hardly any attempt at understanding the commission from within the context in which it appears in Scripture. Most important, it removes the church’s involvement in mission from the domain of gospel to that of law” . The Pharisees were task-driven in their ideas about preparing for the kingdom. What Matthew has emphasised time and time again is that Jesus tells us that the believer’s life is more relationship-driven than task-driven. Even the Great Commission is about others and how Jesus is with us and with them, even to the end of the age.
Note the relevance of the word/concept of “all” in this passage — “all” authority, “all” places throughout heaven and earth (therefore the universe and/or multiverse), “all” nations (not just the Israelites), “all” or “everything” that Jesus had commanded, “surely” as in with “all” certainty, “all” as in “always”, throughout “all” of time. Every person, place, and time is subject fully to God’s authority which is mediated by Jesus Christ, and believers are baptised into the fullness of the Godhead, into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, bringing the believer into “an existence that is fundamentally determined by, i.e. ruled by, Father, Son and Holy Spirit” .
Context and Story-line
The disciples, now poignantly “the eleven” proceeded to Galilee as they had been told to do. Thus, the Gospel message returns to the place where it began, that is, in Galilee of the Gentiles, where the light is about to be proclaimed to “all” nations, thus including the Gentiles. Some say that it was the same locale as the Mount of transfiguration. It is here that Jesus commissioned them to go to all nations with the Gospel.
No record exists of the effect Matthew’s gospel had on its readers. “Our first gospel is essentially a missionary text. It was primarily because of his missionary vision that Matthew set out to write his gospel, not to compose a ‘life of Jesus’ but to provide guidance to a community in crisis on how it should understand its mission and its calling” . Was part of that crisis a backlash by the Jewish community against Christianity? Matthew uses the Old Testament to counter traditional Jewish claims, and to flesh out how Jesus fulfilled messianic prophecies. At the same time Matthew’s writing is pastoral, outlining how Christians can respond to and live in crisis, and it is also missional, encouraging believers to seek opportunities for the continuing work of Christ.
Matthew ends his gospel account with the same emphasis with which he began it. God’s purpose has been from the beginning (re the genealogies) and will continue into time immemorial (the end of the age), and Jesus, the “Immanuel” meaning “God with us”, will continue to be with us “always”, and we join with him in fulfilling that purpose. Jesus’ abiding presence is linked essentially to the believers’ participation in following him and in spreading the good news. It is because Jesus remains with us that his Spirit compels us to live the Christian life and in so doing, in going forward with him, to make disciples, to baptise and teach them. The book of Acts proceeds to illustrate his presence at work in the disciples (“pupils”), now called apostles, (“those who are sent”).
- 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10
- Isaiah 60:1-2
- Psalm 96:1-3, 10-13
Other GCI resources
Footnotes and references
- George W. Peters, A Biblical Theology of Mission (USA: Moody Press, 1984). 251-2.
- David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission (New York, USA: Orbis Books, 2000). 341.
- Donald A. Hagner, Word Biblical Commentary Volume 33B: Matthew 14-28, (Nashville, USA: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995). 888.
- David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission (New York, USA: Orbis Books, 2000). 57.