MATTHEW 28:1-10 Biblical Commentary:
Matthew 28:1-10. THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS
RESURRECTION FACTS: Each of the four Gospels includes an account of the resurrection, and there are differences among the accounts. These differences do not discredit the scriptures, but simply suggest that the four accounts were written independently rather than collaboratively.
Matthew's account is based on Mark 16:1-8, but Matthew adds the accounts of the earthquake (v. 2), the angel who rolled back the stone (v. 2), the guards becoming like dead men (v. 4), and the women's encounter with the risen Christ (v. 9).
In Matthew's day, the rumor-mill suggested that the disciples had stolen Jesus' body and the resurrection was not true. Matthew "wishes to certify the historical authenticity of the church's preaching" by emphasizing tight security at the tomb, divine intervention, the women actually touching Jesus, the perfidy of the chief priests and elders, and bribed soldiers who lie (28:11-15) (Snow and Furnish, 3).
The resurrection is the central event of the Bible. The idea of resurrection has its roots in the Old Testament (Job 19:25-26; Ps. 49:15; Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2; Ezek. 37), and is emphasized in most NT books.
The first account of Jesus' resurrection was not the Gospels, but 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. None of the accounts describes the resurrection itself-i.e., of Jesus opening his eyes, standing up, and leaving the tomb. What we know of the resurrection is from witnesses of the open tomb and the risen Christ rather than from witnesses of the resurrection-event.
Matthew's account of Jesus' resurrection includes a number of parallels to his account of the death and resurrection of the saints (27:51-53) (see Allison, 154):
Matthew 28:1. AS IT BEGAN TO DAWN ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK
1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
"Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn on the first day of the week" (v. 1a). The resurrection takes place, not on the Sabbath (the seventh day of the week), but on a weekday (the first day). At creation, God sanctified the Sabbath-the last day of the week. At the resurrection, Jesus sanctifies the first day.
"Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb" (v. 1b). The sabbath ended at sundown, but the women went at first light to the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, witnessed the crucifixion (27:56). Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary" (presumably the mother of James and Joseph) witnessed the burial (27:61), and now they become witnesses to the resurrection.
Deuteronomy 19:15 requires at least two witnesses in a legal proceeding, and Jewish practice admits only men as witnesses. During his ministry, Jesus broke with a number of traditions, and he breaks with another here. The Eleven, all men, are nowhere to be found, while two women serve as witnesses to the resurrection. The 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 listing of witnesses, written earlier than this Gospel, does not include Mary Magdalene, but does mention "brothers and sisters."
Mark 16:1 says that the women came to anoint Jesus but, in Matthew's Gospel, a woman with an alabaster jar of ointment anointed Jesus. Jesus said, "For in pouring this ointment on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial" (26:12). In this Gospel, the women come "to see the tomb" (v. 1) rather than to anoint Jesus. Anyone who has visited the graveside of a loved one can understand why they come.
Matthew 28:2-4. AN ANGEL OF THE LORD ROLLED AWAY THE STONE
2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.
"Behold, there was a great earthquake" (v. 2a). The earthquake, the angel with dazzling clothing, and the rolling away of the stone are eschatological symbols, telling us that God is ushering in a new age. They remind us of Israel's encounter with God at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18). An earthquake also announced Jesus' death (27:51). The angel's appearance is reminiscent of the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9 and 10:6.
"an angel of the Lord" (v. 2b). Earlier in this Gospel, an angel appeared to Joseph to tell him to take Mary as his wife (1:20), to tell him to flee to Egypt (2:13), and to return to Israel (2:19-20).
The angel "rolled away the stone and sat on it" (v. 2c) as if to say, Fait accompli! "The stone at the tomb of Jesus was a pebble to the Rock of Ages inside" (Frederick Beck).
"His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow" (v. 3). The angel's appearance makes it clear that the angel is no ordinary being and this is no ordinary moment in history. Jesus has risen to inaugurate a new era in salvation history. The angel's appearance is reminiscent of Moses' shining face after his encounter with God at Sinai (Exodus 34:29) and Jesus' shining face and dazzling white clothes at the Transfiguration (17:2). The angel's appearance both reflects God's glory and authenticates the angel's heavenly origins.
"For fear of him the guards shook (eseisthesan) and became like dead men" (v. 4). The guards are scared to death! The earthquakes (seismos), and the guards quake too (eseisthesan-from the same root as seismos). Jesus, who is supposed to be dead, is alive. The guards, who are supposed to be alive and guarding Jesus' body, become like dead men (France, 1100). They were prepared for Jesus' disciples, but not for the angel.
Matthew 28:5-6. HE IS NOT HERE, FOR HE HAS RISEN, JUST LIKE HE SAID
5 But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where He lay.
"The angel answered the women, 'Don't be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus, who has been crucified" (v. 5). The women must have feared harassment by the Roman guards, but went to the tomb anyway. Then the earthquake and the angel's dazzling appearance must have frightened them. They must have feared that someone had played mischief with Jesus' body. However, it is difficult for faith to dwell with fear, and the angel comes to restore faith.
The angel rolls the stone back (v. 2), not to let Jesus out, but to let the women in. The resurrection is history-has already taken place. There were no human witnesses to the actual resurrection. These women witnessed Jesus' death and his burial. Now they witness the fact that, in spite of Rome's best efforts, Jesus is gone. The angels assure the women that Jesus has been raised (passive voice-the raising is God's action) just as Jesus had predicted.
"He is not here, for he has risen, just like he said" (v. 6a). The Good News is not just that Jesus' spirit lives, but that he has been raised bodily to new life. For a full doctrine of the resurrection, we must turn to Paul, who tells us that Jesus is the "first fruits of those who have died" (1 Corinthians 15:20)-that the Good News of Jesus' resurrection leads to the Good News of our own resurrection-that the resurrected body is somehow transformed into a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44)-but that it is a true body nevertheless. The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus' resurrected body allows him to enter a locked room without a key (John 20:19, 26), but he nevertheless presents his wounded hands and body to Thomas for inspection (John 20:27) (see Bruner, 1077).
"Come, see the place where the Lord was lying" (v. 6b). The angel invites the women to see, not the risen Christ, but the empty tomb.
*The angel gives these women four imperatives: "Come" (v. 6b), "see" (v. 6b), "go" (v. 7a), and "tell" (v. 7a) (Boice, 640-642). These could easily be the main points of a sermon.
Matthew 28:7. GO QUICKLY AND TELL HIS DISCIPLES
7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you."
"Go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has risen from the dead'" (v. 7a). The angel commissions the women to tell the disciples, making them the first to proclaim the Good News of the resurrection. If Matthew were trying to concoct a believable story, Jesus would appear first to Peter or one of the other men. But just as Jesus breaks the mold by choosing women to be the first witnesses, he again breaks the mold by choosing them to be the first preachers. Their first sermon is "to the choir," as it were-to the disciples-to those who should need no convincing but sometimes do. In this case, the "choir" has lost faith and desperately needs the word that these women bring.
"behold, he goes before you into Galilee" (v. 7b). Prior to the crucifixion, Jesus told the disciples that he will "go ahead of you to Galilee" (26:32). "Galilee is for Matthew not mere geography, but theology, 'Galilee of the Gentiles' (cf. 4:12-17), the appropriate setting for the Great Commission to all nations (28:16-20)" (Boring, 499). It is also Jesus' home and the place where he has done most of his work.
"there you will see him" (v. 7c). The promise is that these disciples will see, not just the open tomb, but the risen Christ.
Matthew 28:8-10. BEHOLD, JESUS MET THEM
8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me."
"They departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring his disciples word" (v. 8). The women run to tell the disciples. Not only are they obeying a direct order from the angel, but also they are obeying their human impulse to share good news. In spite of the angel's reassurance, they are afraid, the natural response to wildly unusual events. But they are also joyful, because the angel promised that Jesus is alive.
"Behold, Jesus met them, saying, 'Rejoice!'" (chairete) (v. 9a). Jesus meets them and says, "Rejoice!" He would have spoken Aramaic, but Matthew is writing in Greek. The Greek word, chairete (from the root word, chairo), is a common greeting, and means "Rejoice!"
Joy and rejoicing are common themes throughout both Old and New Testaments. A man could rejoice in the wife of his youth (Proverbs 5:18)-or for the prospect of salvation (Psalm 51:12). Women sang songs of joy when David returned from a victory over the Philistines (1 Samuel 18:6-7). The people could rejoice at the prospect of Yahweh breaking the rod of their oppressor (Isaiah 9:3).
We first encounter this word chairo in the response of the Magi to seeing the star stop above the house where Mary was taking care of the baby Jesus. They "rejoiced with exceedingly great joy"-a literal translation would be "they were overjoyed (chairo) beyond measure" (Matthew 2:10). So from the beginning of Jesus' life to his resurrection appearances, rejoicing was an important part of this Gospel (see also 5:12; 13:20, 44; 18:13; 25:21, 23)
"They came and took hold of his feet, and worshiped him" (v. 9b). The women immediately recognize Jesus, unlike the accounts in Luke 24:16 and John 20:14, and come to him. They take hold of Jesus' feet, their act bearing witness to Jesus' bodily resurrection. They worship him. This is one of only three occasions in the Gospels where people worship Jesus (see 2:11; John 9:38).
"Don't be afraid" (v. 10a). Jesus repeats the angel's reassurance. He also repeats the angel's command to go and tell the disciples, but with a significant difference. He says, "Go tell my brothers that they should go into Galilee" (v. 10b). Brother-brother is a more intimate relationship than disciple-master. Another gracious moment! Jesus promised to confess before the Father anyone who confesses Jesus before people, but warned that he will deny anyone who denies him (10:32-33). The disciples have deserted Jesus (26:56), and Peter has denied him (26:69-75). Justice demands that Jesus reciprocate, but love demands that he forgive.
The eleven disciples go to Galilee (28:16)-"Galilee of the Gentiles" (4:15)-where they hear Jesus tell them to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (28:19). This is not the first time that Jesus includes Gentiles in his ministry. The Magi (2:1-12) introduced Gentiles at the story's beginning. Jesus healed a Centurion's servant (8:5-13) and a Canaanite woman's daughter (15:21-28). Now the Great Commission formalizes ministry to those outside the Jewish nation.
Matthew 28:11-15. THE GUARDS WENT INTO THE CITY
11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, "Tell people, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.' 14 And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.
Even though the guards are frightened at the earthquake and dazzled by the angel, they do not become disciples. They are hirelings (see John 10:13) whose remain loyal to their paymasters. Having been bought, they stay bought!
Matthew is writing this account, in part, to counter the rumor that the disciples stole Jesus' body from the tomb. These verses tell how that rumor got started. The soldiers report the early morning events to the chief priests, who bribe them to say that the disciples have stolen Jesus' body from the tomb. Matthew notes, "This saying was spread abroad among the Jews, and continues until this day" (28:15).
Matthew 28:16-20 Biblical Commentary:
MATTHEW 28:16-20. THE GREAT COMMISSION
The various Gospels emphasize different aspects of this Great Commission:
• From the beginning, MATTHEW has emphasized Jesus' teaching. The Sermon on the Mount, early in Jesus' ministry (Chapters 5-7) constitutes the largest body of Jesus' teaching in the New Testament. Now Matthew portrays Jesus' last act of ministry as teaching his disciples the basics of Christian ministry: Going, baptizing, making disciples, and teaching.
We will see in the book of ACTS that the church takes on an evangelical, missionary-oriented character that is very different from what we have seen of the disciples so far. The explanation for this change is that (1) they have seen the risen Christ and (2) are responding to Jesus' Great Commission.
This text has had significant influence on the church. It stamps Jesus' approval on baptism as a key element of discipleship and makes baptism normative for Christians. It gives a Trinitarian formula ("in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit") that the church has followed through the centuries. It also emphasizes the key role of baptism in Christian discipleship.
MATTHEW 28:16. BUT THE ELEVEN DISCIPLES WENT INTO GALILEE
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.
"But the eleven disciples went into Galilee" (v. 16a). "Eleven" reminds us of Judas' treachery. The original number of apostles correlates with twelve sons of Judah and the twelve tribes of Israel. Where there were twelve apostles, now there are eleven. Luke will report the restoration of the original number with the elevation of Matthias to the apostolate (Acts 1:12-26), but Matthew reports the Great Commission falling on the eleven.
Bruner says, "The number 'eleven' limps.... The church that Jesus sends into the world is fallible, 'elevenish,' imperfect. Yet Jesus uses exactly such a church to do his perfect work.... Jesus takes this imperfect number and gives it a perfect vocation" (Bruner, 1090). That encourages us, because we, too, limp-but the Christ who began a good work with the eleven disciples is continuing it with us.
The disciples went to Galilee. Jesus was born in the shadow of Jerusalem, but Joseph and Mary took him to Galilee after their return from Egypt because of their fear of Archelaus, the son of Herod who ruled Judea after his father's death (2:22-23). Jesus, therefore, grew up in a remote area, far from the Temple.
Galilee was known as Galilee of the Gentiles (4:15) because it was home to many Gentiles. So Jesus had his roots in a region far different than the more orthodox and less tolerant Judea (the capital province) and Jerusalem (the capital city). Most of Jesus' ministry took place in Galilee, and he returns there after his resurrection to commission his disciples.
The disciples go "to the mountain where Jesus had sent them" (v. 16b). In this Gospel, important things happen on mountains: The Sermon on the Mount- the last temptation-the Transfiguration. We don't know the name of this mountain, but its' location is irrelevant. Its' significance is more theological than geographical, signaling the importance of this commissioning.
Jesus told Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, "Go tell my brothers that they should go into Galilee, and there they will see me" (28:10). While women are not permitted to serve as witnesses in court, Jesus chose them to bear witness to his resurrection. While the usual custom is that men give orders and women obey, Jesus has these women order the men to go to Galilee.
The men must be tempted to doubt the women's testimony. First, they are (only) women. Second, how difficult it must be to believe that a dead man has come to life again! The order is to go to Galilee, a long walk. Just as the women deserve commendation for carrying out their orders, so do the men. It is a leap of faith to set out on the journey to Galilee.
MATTHEW 28:17. BUT SOME DOUBTED
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.
This is the first time in this Gospel that we find the disciples together since Jesus was arrested and the disciples deserted him (26:56). Only Mary Magdalene and the other Mary have seen the risen Christ. We can only guess at the disciples' state of mind as they proceed toward the mountain, but we know what happens when they finally see Jesus-"they bowed down to him, but some doubted" (distazo).
Distazo has as its root dis, which means "twice" or "two ways." Distazo can mean "hesitate." The picture that comes to mind is Robert Frost's poem, "The Road Not Taken." In that poem, a traveler comes to a fork in the road, and hesitates, knowing that his choice will make all the difference, but not knowing which fork would be the better choice. That is the experience of these eleven disciples when they see Jesus. They want to believe-and they do believe-but they are torn. Knowing that Jesus died, they hesitate to believe their eyes when see him alive again.
We should not be surprised at either reaction-worship (bowing down) or doubt/hesitation. It is certainly fitting that the disciples should worship Jesus. They know that he was executed and buried. They know that Good Friday appeared to be the end. But now they see Jesus alive again, confirming beyond doubt that he is the Messiah. They see with their own eyes that their teacher is Lord of life, exercising power even over death.
But we can also understand why some would doubt/hesitate. Nothing in their experience has prepared them for what they are seeing, except the resurrection of Lazarus, which is not reported in this Gospel (see John 11). Earlier, Jesus observed, "If they don't listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rises from the dead" (Luke 16:31). Now Jesus' own disciples experience a tinge of doubt as they see Jesus who was raised from the dead.
We are tempted to criticize the disciples for doubting, but we should not imagine that we would have done better. Jesus does not rebuke the disciples. He understands their doubt, but speaks to their faith. He understands their frailty, but calls them to carry on his work. How wonderful! Jesus chose to do his work through the original less-than-perfect disciples, so we can be confident that he can do the same through us.
The disciples will grow into the role that Jesus gives them. While their conduct in the book of Acts is hardly flawless, they will press ahead in the face of great opposition. They will sow seeds that will take root-multiply-waft across oceans on winds of faith. Jesus' choice of ordinary people to carry out an extraordinary mission is fully in keeping with God's work throughout history. God chose the young lad, David, instead of one of his strapping brothers. God sent most of Gideon's army home before sending the rest into battle. To God, our ability is less important than our availability. Our ability can even get in the way if it obscures God's role in our achievement.
MATTHEW 28:18. ALL AUTHORITY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH
18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
"Jesus came" (v. 18a). More commonly the supplicant approaches the authority rather than the other way around-the disciple comes to the teacher-the sick person comes to the healer. Jesus reverses the roles here, perhaps to overcome their doubt/hesitancy-perhaps to demonstrate his own approachability-perhaps to model the kind of "reaching out" behavior that he expects of the disciples to fulfill the Great Commission.
Earlier, Jesus claimed, "All things have been delivered to me by my Father" (11:27). Now he claims, "All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth" (v. 18b). The model for this statement is Daniel 7:14, "To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed."
At the beginning of Jesus' ministry, "the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." (But) Jesus said to him, "Get behind me, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and you shall serve him only'" (Matthew 4:8-10). Now, having cast his lot with the Father, Jesus receives from the Father what the devil promised (earthly kingdoms) and more (heaven and earth). We must keep in mind, too, that the devil's proposal was really a temptation rather than an honest promise. The devil could not be trusted to honor his promise, even if Jesus did fall down and worship him.
Matthew speaks often of authority (7:29; 8:9; 9:6; 10:1; 21:23, 24, 27). God has given Jesus authority, and Jesus exercises authority now as well as in the final judgment. His authority spans heaven and earth. There is no time or place where it does not apply.
But now his kingship comes to fruition, with his authority extending not only over the earth but also over the heavens. This authority clearly establishes Jesus' right to command obedience from his disciples and his ability to empower them.
MATTHEW 28:19. GO, AND MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
"Go, and make disciples" (v. 19a). In the Greek, "make disciples" is the only imperative verb. Going, baptizing, and teaching are participles-subordinate to "make disciples." The mission is to "make disciples." To accomplish that mission, the disciples must go, baptize, and teach, so there is an imperative quality to each of those-but the only imperative verb (and the primary mission) is "make disciples."
A disciple is a learner-a student-a follower-a person committed to learning what a teacher has to teach. Typically, a young man aspiring to be a rabbi would ask a practicing rabbi to accept him as a disciple. A modern parallel would be an apprentice-or a student musician asking a master musician to be his/her teacher. The disciple is expected not only to learn what the rabbi teaches, but also to practice what the rabbi preaches. In other words, the idea is not simply learning, but also living. Hence"teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you" (v. 20) is a natural component of Jesus' Great Commission.
It is interesting to see what Jesus includes and does not include in this commissioning. He doesn't command the disciples to preach-to evangelize-to win the world. He charges them with the responsibility of replicating their own kind by creating new disciples-new people of faith.
They are to "make disciples of all ethne" (v. 19a). This is another allusion to Daniel 7:14, which says, "all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him".
The word ethne is usually translated nations, but Greek-speaking Jews also use it to refer to Gentiles. Earlier, Jesus instructed the disciples, "Don't go among the Gentiles, and don't enter into any city of the Samaritans" (10:5). Now he removes the prohibition. The disciples worked first among Jews. Now they will expand their mission to include Gentiles.
Gentiles play a major role in this Gospel:
The disciples hear the call to "make disciples of all ethne" but fail to understand its' implications. Only later will they fully appreciate its meaning. In the early chapters of Acts, they will accept Gentiles, but only Gentiles who have become Jewish proselytes. Only after much debate and a dramatic intervention by God (Acts 10) will they begin to admit Gentiles to the church. By the time of the writing of this Gospel, the issue has been long since resolved.
In some quarters today, Christians reject the call to "make disciples of all ethne," preferring not to encroach on indigenous cultures and religions. We must admit that we have sometimes made mistakes in our attempts to spread the Gospel, but that does not relieve us of responsibility to find right ways to do it. In any case, we have an urgent responsibility to proclaim the Gospel-that salvation is by grace alone in Christ alone. If not, we have little to offer beyond a bit of moral instruction and clubby companionship. It if were not for the church's response to the Great Commission, few people would have ever felt the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. His name would be only a minor footnote in history. It is now our responsibility to continue the work.
*Churches that fail to take the Great Commission seriously wither and die. Disciples who fail to take it seriously tend to be sterile-produce no spiritual offspring. How can we persuade our children to pay the price of discipleship if there is no urgency attached to it?
"baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (v. 19b). This Gospel tells of Jesus baptism (3:13-17), but he has not commanded the disciples to be baptized-and there is no record of them being baptized. In this Great Commission, however, he commands them to baptize as if this is a standard rite with which they are familiar. Of course, by the time this Gospel was written, baptism had become an established practice within the church. In the very early church, baptism was done in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27). The threefold baptismal formula ("in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit") was adopted later, and it is that later tradition that is reflected by Matthew's account of the Great Commission. Being baptized in the name of indicates a new relationship, a rebirth, an adoption. Being baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit indicates that the new relationship involves all three faces of the Trinity.
MATTHEW 28:20. BEHOLD, I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS
20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
"teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you" (v. 20a). In this Gospel, Jesus had a significant
teaching ministry (4:23; 5:2; 7:29; 9:35; 11:1; 13:34; 21:23; 26:55). Now he enlists his disciples to continue that ministry.
*Our responsibility does not end with leading people to make an initial decision to follow Christ. We must continue the discipling process by teaching disciples what Jesus taught-and by teaching obedience to those teachings. While living on this earth, none of us will understand or obey perfectly, so the requirement for learning never comes to an end.
The commandment is to teach what Jesus commanded rather than our personal opinions. Given life's complexity, it is inevitable that we will sometimes teach what amounts to personal opinion about particular matters. However, we should remember that the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees was corrupted by their equating the traditions of the elders (human teachings) with the law (God's commandments). It is important, then, that we carefully distinguish between Jesus' teachings, which are authoritative, and our opinions, which are not.
In this Gospel, Jesus began his ministry with teaching (in the Sermon on the Mount) and concludes his ministry by commissioning his disciples to teach all nations. The placement of these emphases on teaching is not accidental, but signals the importance of teaching in Matthew's understanding of discipleship.
Teaching is a slow process that requires patience and personal involvement on the part of the teacher. We must be satisfied with small progress, and trust God to finish the work.
We must not miss the importance of the word obey. Our teaching must do more than convey information. We must also persuade the ethne (nations or Gentiles) to obey Jesus. Here the line blurs between teaching (where the emphasis is transmitting information) and preaching (where the emphasis leans more to persuasion).
Nor should we miss the importance of the phrase, "all things that I commanded you." Jesus does not permit us to pick and choose what we will believe or obey.
Jesus' Great Commission must have sounded like an impossible dream to the disciples. How could eleven very ordinary disciples take the Gospel to the whole world? How could they convey the love of Jesus to people whose languages they could not understand? How could they take the word to continents whose existence they could not even imagine? And yet, by the grace of God, it happened!
The task is still overwhelming! The world has grown ever more complex, dangerous, and hostile to Christ. Christians today are victims of massacres in numbers that make Rome's Coliseum seem tame by comparison. More Christians died of persecution in the 20th century than in any other, and the 21st century is on track to set a new record. And yet the worship of Christ continues to grow in places where it has been persecuted for the best part of a century. We need not lose faith, because our work is Christ-powered-Holy Spirit-powered.
"Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (v. 20b). This Gospel opened with the words of the prophet, "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son. They shall call his name Immanuel; which is, being interpreted, God with us" (1:23). It closes with Jesus' promise to be with us always. From beginning to end, therefore, the promise is that we will live under the umbrella of the presence of God/Jesus.
When Jesus promises to be with us "even to the end of the age," he is promising to be with us now-and in the future-and into that time where the whole idea of time has become meaningless-into eternity.