The Great Commission and the Spirit (1)
“Go Ye Therefore”
16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore…
One of the most neglected statements in the gospels is Matthew 28:17. The statement that “some doubted.” These were the eleven disciples. By this time they had seen the risen Christ repeatedly so it was not the resurrection that was now their doubt. Clearly, Jesus had risen from the dead. But was He the Christ? Was He the Messiah?
Luke tells us in Acts 1:6 that they had asked; “Lord wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” For them the Messiah had to be the one who restored freedom and royal power to Israel. The question in their minds, their source of doubt was this; ‘how could a resurrected man about to ascend into heaven restore an earthly kingdom to Israel? How would He overthrow Roman rule and how would He supplant a corrupt Sanhedrin?’
Our Lord does not answer this question. Instead, He issues marching orders. Universal and total power is His on earth and in heaven. As Paul later tells us, Jesus Christ is “…the blessed and only potentate, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” He is the world-Savior and Messiah. He is the cosmic Christ. His realm therefore cannot be limited to Israel, nor can it be circumscribed by Israel’s hope. The doubters had too limited a faith, too limited a hope. It was not their dream that the Messiah had come to accomplish, but God’s plan for His universal, or catholic kingdom. And this, Judea was not ready to accept.
In recent years, one Jewish writer has contrasted interest in what he calls the fossilized fast as against interest in what he calls the living people in these words, and this is his statement, “Israel before the Bible!” John 11:50 tells us that Caiaphas, the high priest held to the same view saying it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation perish not. Then and now, the issue is in our lives, our nations, whose will will it be; our will, or God’s will? Our nation, or Christ?
Since all power and authority over all things is given to Messiah Jesus, the disciples then, and we now, are commissioned to bring all things into Christ’s dominion. The answer to the disciples’ doubt; “how can this be done,” is a clear one. The disciples must do it! We must do it! “Go ye therefore!” This is a very central fact.
Instead of a wonder-working messiah, slaying all our enemies, the disciples, the believers are commissioned to disciple, to convert, to teach all nations. All too many churchmen are still today in the camp of the Pharisees. They expect the Christ to return and to set up a miraculous kingdom and before all the troubles and battles ensue to rapture them up into heaven. This is the church’s version of Phariseeism, and it is as wrong as the Jewish Phariseeism.
It is not enough therefore, to equate “go ye therefore,” with missionary zeal. Our Lord condemns false zeal strongly, declaring;
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.”
Strong language, spoken to the most devout people in all Israel. It is not enough to go forth. We must teach, or disciple all nations; “…teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Some would limit this all things to the New Testament or to the recorded words of Jesus. To hold so is to go against our Lord’s very words;
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Again, this is strong language. I don’t know where people ever got the idea, certainly not from the New Testament, about “Jesus, meek and mild.” Amazingly, we do have people who deny that our Lord plainly upholds all of the Law. But of course, we also have some who deny that the Bible condemns homosexuality, such men are either blind or evil guides.
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations… Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you;”
“All things.” The whole Word of God is to be taught to all nations. The answer to the question; “Lord wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” is that a restoration of all men and nations to Christ the King is commanded, and the burden is placed upon you. “Go ye therefore.”
This means bringing all men and nations to Christ as Savior, and making them working citizens of His kingdom by faithful obedience to His Law; the law of righteousness or justice, instead of waiting for the any-moment return of Jesus, the disciples were given as are we, a task of reconstruction and restoration, the duty of restoring God’s creation to God the Son. The atonement, whereby our sins are remitted or forgiven as the work of God the Son; He is therefore the Adam of the new humanity and also king of the New Creation. The task of restoration which began with His atoning work, continues with our restoration and then with our going, our going forth, with our reconstruction of all things by His Law-Word.
This is why the Church from the very early years described itself as ‘catholic’ or ‘universal.’ The term was used in writing, first of all about 110 AD, by Ignatius of Antioch. The way he uses the word ‘catholic’ makes clear that it was a familiar description of the Church. Therefore, it required no explanation by Ignatius. Vincent of Lérins said of the meaning of ‘Catholic,’ that it means that Christ’s body and realm include everything universally; Christ’s body and realm include everything universally.
“Go ye therefore.” Disciple all nations because I am the catholic King, the universal King of creation. This means that it is our duty to bring all things into Christ’s kingdom and dominion in subjection to His grace and Word. Paul tells us that this includes every imagination and thought so that our task requires;
“ Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ..”
Evangelism is thus simply the necessary beginning of our Great Commission, not the sum total of it.
But this is definitely not all. A further task is set forth; “…baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” “Go ye therefore.” Baptize. This was the great sign of covenant membership. It replaced the circumcision of the covenant with Abraham, although very early Christians stressed their continuity with Abraham by circumcising their males as the seed of Abraham in Christ, and by baptizing them into Christ. They did both.
Baptism as a covenant sign means membership in the covenant. But how can a male child eight days old understand the gospel, understand the faith, that he was first in Israel circumcised and then in the Church baptized? And in either case, it’s obvious that he cannot understand. In either case it is the grace and mercy of God that effects salvation. Man in his misguided and false zeal attributes too much power to himself. And this is wrong. He assumes the Lord’s work depends on human effort. But our Lord, while commanding us; “go ye therefore,” tells us that our total dependence must be on Him.
The disciples were all men of Israel. Infant male circumcision was a familiar fact to them. It was a witness to the sovereign and electing power of God. This is why the baptizing of all members of a family was a practice of the apostles. It was a witness to predestination, to God’s sovereign grace. “Go ye therefore,” in His power, knowing that it is not you, but God working in and through you and apart from you that will accomplish His purpose. And it is to be done “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,” that is, in the power of the Trinity. But to invoke the name means little to modern man. To the apostles, it was the name of power, supernatural power. “Go ye therefore…” in the name, in the power.
The Sanhedrin therefore in Acts 5:28, 40 and so on, forbad the use of the name. To be baptized into the name of the Trinity is to be baptized into power. Go ye therefore in the power of the name, the name of Christ, the second person of the Trinity. The Church today argues about the mode of baptism, as though power rested in the form; whereas our Lord tells us the power is in the name.
There are many references to baptism stressing a variety of things, all true. It is clearly associated with salvation in I Peter 3:21. In Romans 6:1-11 it is compared to death and resurrection. It means incorporation into the new humanity of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:13. In adults, forgiveness of sins in Acts 2:38, and other verses. It is also tied to a confession of faith, Acts 18:8 and a number of other verses. It means a total dependence on His grace and mercy. It requires of us the response of obedience, of faithfulness.
The Great Commission does not end here. It goes on to say, “…and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Our Lord ascends into Heaven and the disciples stand there looking upward. How were they to command the world with the king gone? How would a world which had crucified the king trust them to be a people of power? Or treat them as they sought to extend His dominion? This was a frightening question, a frightening mandate. “Go ye therefore,” without me? Yes, He said, without me. “Go ye therefore,” in the name. But what could they expect from men who killed Jesus the Messiah? Perhaps no king ever left a more bewildered army behind.
God’s power would soon come to that army at Pentecost. Meanwhile, and always, there was the abiding promise of His presence. Later, Paul and his missionary fellowship declared to the believers;
“Let your conversation (or behavior) be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.’ So that we may boldly say, ‘The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.’”
If our life is governed by God’s covenant and covenant faithfulness, we will then move in the power of His name, in the assurance of His presence, and in the confidence of His victory. “Go ye therefore,” in the name.
J.S. Wright, in his analysis of the Great Commission, stresses among other things, two facts which are relevant here.
“The supreme authority of the one who commissions; baptism seals the contract and is to be, literally, into the name of the Trinity. It submerges into a new relationship with Father, Son and Spirit.”
Wright’s use of the word ‘contract’ instead of covenant is worth commenting on. While ‘covenant’ is the broader and clearer meaning, contract reminds us of an aspect of covenant we now often forget. A contract, and a covenant, a legal document; covenant is emphatically a legal fact and we neglect this to our peril. Baptism is a legal transaction whereby we acknowledge God’s total ownership of us and of our children. Hannah’s words in taking the young Samuel to Eli are relevant to baptism.
“Therefore also I have lent (or returned, or given) him to the LORD; as long as he liveth he shall be lent (or given) to the LORD.”
We were all given to God. We were baptized in the name. The presupposition of the Great Commission is that we are God’s property, commanded by Him to be sent where He ordains. He promises to be with us always. He says our power does not depend on His physical presence, but we go in the power and in the name of Jesus Christ. “Go ye therefore.”
And the Great Commission is an echo of an earlier commission. It is called great in contrast to the earlier one, to Joshua. And Joshua is told, go and wheresoever the soles of your feet shall tread, that ground shall be given unto you if ye go in my name and in my power. #Go ye therefore.” And God shall bless you.
Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books. Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting: https://chalcedon.edu/founder