Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:16-20
It is normally wise to read a letter or a book in light of its conclusion. This is certainly true with the Biblical books and letters. Matthew has been telling the account of our Lord’s death and resurrection with an emphasis on Jesus being the true King of the universe. As King of the Universe, the One to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given, Jesus gives assurance, authority, and instructions to His Church.
R.T. France writes:
Hitherto in Matthew’s narrative it has been Jesus who has been the “teacher.” But now the verb “teach” is used with the disciples as subject, marking the decisive change which follows Jesus’ death and resurrection. But even so their duty of teaching derives from the authority of the risen Lord. So they are to teach not their own ideas, but what Jesus has “commanded,” [the Greek word is] a term which hitherto has been especially associated with the “commandments” given by God through Moses. The basis of living as the people of God will henceforth be the new “commandments” given by Jesus. Not that these are opposed to the commandments of the OT, but … Jesus’ teaching has given a new interpretation to the old law, and it is by obedience to His words that salvation is henceforth to be found (Matthew 7:24-27). To be a disciple is to obey Jesus’ teaching. [Please don’t misunderstand Prof. France at this critical point. While nobody is saved apart from being a disciple, nobody is saved on the basis of how good a disciple they are. Salvation does not flow from doing what Christ commands. Doing what Christ commands flows from being saved. – Pastor Booth].
But the presence of Jesus Himself among His people ensures that it is not simply a relationship of formal obedience. In context this assurance is focused not on the personal comfort of the individual disciple but on the successful completion of the mission entrusted to the community as a whole. In OT commissioning scenes the assurance of God’s presence was to empower His often inadequate servants to fulfill the task He had called them to. So here it is to the commissioned disciples as they set about their daunting task that the divine presence is promised, without which they cannot expect to succeed. But the difference now is that it is not God Himself who promises to be “with” them, still less an angel sent by Him, but the risen Jesus, who has just been declared to stand alongside the Father and the Holy Spirit in heavenly sovereignty. In the Fourth Gospel Jesus promises the continuing presence of the Spirit with His disciples after He has left them, but in Matthew the presence is that of Jesus Himself. And this is not simply for a short-term objective, for the mission they have been given will keep them (and their successors) busy to “the end of the age.” Jesus’ physical presence with His disciples was limited to the period of His earthly life span, but the spiritual presence of the risen Jesus has no such limitation: it is as an eternal, divine being that Jesus will be among His obedient people, “God with us.”
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 24
Q. 24. How doth Christ execute the office of a prophet?
A. Christ executeth the office of a prophet, in revealing to us, by his word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation.