In Summary:Getting to Matthew 28 marks the closing words of the Gospel of Matthew. Whatever else Matthew may have written, we do not have any of it. There may be other writings from the first century that should be attributed to him, but we do not find them in the canon of Scripture. He finishes with two major components: the Resurrection and the Great Commission.
As is often the case in the telling of history, crucial events can be told with a minimum of words. Much more is said of Mary’s interactions at the tomb of Jesus than is said of His resurrection. Matthew’s presentation of the Resurrection is not structured to persuade the reader of its occurrence. He writes to show the effect of its reality.
An important part of the Resurrection narrative are the witnesses. First, the news is given to the women who came to the tomb. In an era when women’s testimony was not worth much (based on what I’ve heard repeated in many New Testament classes), that Jesus entrusted this knowledge to women is worth noting. At the least, it should remind us that knowing the truth is the first qualification for someone to speak the truth. Mary Magdalene knew the truth and so had the ability to tell others. She should not have been expected to wait for someone else with a better pedigree.
Second, note that the religious leaders and guards, who should have been trustworthy, are not. They know the truth and hide the truth. The guards might be excusable, but the religious leadership has eyewitness testimony to the reality. And choose to ignore it. Trustworthiness only matters if you are willing to listen. The religious leaders did not want the truth, they wanted a story.
Then there is the Great Commission. Jesus gives the disciples a closing command to carry out, and it is one that has no ending point.
In Focus:Taking the Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-20, into focus, let us consider three major points in focus here.
First, the opening line tells us that Jesus spoke of His authority. The King is issuing a command here, and the King’s words are binding. Further, He addresses His authority. It is His, and no one else’s.
Second, the next verse gives us the scope of His commission. The command requires effort, “Go,” and has “all nations” as its end point. A great deal of emphasis is laid on the idea of “nations” as “ethnic groups” these days, but it is worth noting that the disciples would have assumed that. They were all subject to the Roman Empire, but none of them considered themselves “Romans.” It would have followed that an earthly political unit was not the focus of these commands.
Third, the last verse gives the time frame for His work. He promises His presence “unto the end of the age.” That covers all the times that we might be concerned with, does it not? Further, since the time frame is not short, Jesus commands that all He taught be passed on. Not just a few snippets. It will take the fullness of His Words and His presence to carry His followers through to the end of the age.
This is the commission given by the Risen and Ruling King.
In Practice:First, perhaps, we should get a right definition of “commission.” It’s not a percentage of a sale. It’s the charge for the King to accomplish something. A commission is different from a command in this way: a command is about specific behavior while a commission is about a goal. A command says not to run a red light. A commission says to travel to a location. Further, a command might say to go to the store and buy hamburgers. A commission says to prepare a feast.
There is latitude in a commission, provided it is accomplished within the confines of known commands and reflects the character of the commissioner. In this case, it must reflect the character of the Risen King. Being a commission does not make it optional, but instead, leaves it to us to determine the best way to accomplish it in light of the commands and character of the King. For example, telegraphs helped carry out the commission at one point but now are not much help. Sailing ships aided at one point where now, often, aircraft supply. Being commissioned to accomplish the task enables us to apply wisdom and knowledge. Of course, that requires that we acquire wisdom and knowledge.
Now, on to the rest: authority for the Great Commission reminds us that our orders come from our King. If our earthly rulers are impeding our work on the Great Commission, then we must cast off that authority. No President, Premier, or Potentate may stop us—they may force an adaptation of methodology. But that is not the same. We obey the Risen and Ruling King.
Second, the scope of the Great Commission reminds us that Jesus draws no geographic or ethnographic borders on His kingdom. We seem to draw them around our churches and our work to spread the Gospel, but the Risen and Ruling King rules over all. Let the borders we draw around our faith reflect His borders.
Finally, the time frame of the Great Commission reminds us that we will work until the King returns triumphantly. While the times may change around us, our commission does not change with the times. It may be “too late” for some cultures or “too early” for others, but the time frame is not set by sociologists or missiologists or pastors. It is set by the Risen and Ruling King who has promised His support to the end of the age. Because we ought to need it. There comes no point where we live without Him, and certainly no point where we can be effective without Him.
In Nerdiness:Well, the body went long but we still have to get nerdy together.
First, this is Matthew’s only canonical book. I have not seen any major suggestions of Matthew as the author of Hebrews, which surprises me. After all, Matthew uses a lot of Old Testament references. Hebrews uses a lot of Old Testament references. I know the writing style is different, but still, there seems a possibility. Somebody working on a New Testament Ph.D. should look into that.
Second, Matthew explains one of the earliest arguments against the Resurrection when he points out the guards being bribed into lying. It makes me suspect that at least one of those guards came to faith in Christ and told Matthew the truth.
Third, a fun challenge is harmonizing the accounts of what happened on Resurrection Day. Have fun charting that!