3 Overlooked Points in Matthew’s Great Commission

April 11, 2012 — Leave a comment

Its Resurrection week! And what better way to spend it then looking at some of the ways the gospels draw the Story to a close.  The Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 is by far the most familiar.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore Go and make disciples, baptizing them in that name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always even to the end of the age.”

Here are three things Matthew does in these few short verses.

1. Making disciples is rebuilding the temple.

Matthew follows Chronicles by being the only other book in the bible to open with a genealogy.  Their endings are likewise similar.

This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you – may the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up.”

Note the connections.

  1. Universal authority.  Jesus says, “All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  Cyrus, says, “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth.
  2. Orders to go.  Jesus tells his disciples to “go, make disciples.  Cyrus authorizes anyone who wants to build the temple to “go up.”
  3. God’s presence.  Jesus promises his disciples, “I am with you always.”  Cyrus prays that God would “be with” those who go.

The main difference between the two accounts is in the disparity between the building the temple and making disciples.  The difference, however, is precisely the point.  Making disciples, for Matthew, is building the temple.

2. Matthew’s gospel is the teaching that makes disciples.

Jesus’ instruction in Matthew to teach “all that I have commanded you”, refers specifically to his teaching recorded in Matthew.  Don’t forget, Matthew originally circulated alone.  It was likely his readers would know little of Jesus beyond the narrative he provides.

Such a thought seems to be behind Matthew’s writing.  For it appears Matthew copied the gospel of Mark and changed it by adding numerous sayings of Jesus in five major teaching sections.  Each section represents an essential issue/chapter in Christian discipleship.

• Kingdom Living (Ch. 5-7)
• Kingdom Mission (Ch. 10)
• Kingdom Growth (Ch. 13)
• Kingdom Leadership (Ch. 18)
• Kingdom Judgement (Ch. 23-25)

By ending with the call to ‘teach all that I have commanded,’ Matthew reminds us that his gospel is a ready-made manual on how to do just that.

3. Matthew’s five sermons set us up for the Great Commissions ending twist.

Matthew’s five teaching sections are marked by a consistent pattern.  Jesus gathers his disciples, He teaches his disciples and then he departs. Matthew 28 fits the pattern with one surprising exception. Jesus gathers his disciples, he teaches his disciples but just when you expect him to leave he stays.

And surely I am with you always even to the end of the age.

There is no ascension in Matthew. There’s no departure like Luke records. The broken pattern emphasizes Jesus’ abiding presence. Just when you thought he was going to leave, Jesus remains.

What do you think?  What insights have you found in the ending of Matthew?

Matthew Scott Miller

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