Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Great Commission of the King

Many (if not most) Christians have heard of the Great Commission:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:19–20).
But all too often these verses are quoted, and even thought of, in isolation from their context, which includes in particular Jesus’ preface to the Great Commission in Matt 28:18.

Immediately preceding the words of the Great Commission, Jesus proclaimed his universal authority. In saying “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt 28:18), Jesus clearly stated his understanding that he was the divinely-appointed Messiah. Jesus understood, in accordance with Old Testament prophecy (see my previous post ‘“All Authority in Heaven and on Earth Has Been Given to Me”: Intertextuality between Matthew 28:18 and the Old Testament’), that he had been appointed by God to be King over all the nations on earth.

It is important to understand, therefore, that the Great Commission is a function of Jesus’ great authority as the King of all nations. The presence of the word οῦν therefore in v. 19 makes explicit the causal connection between Jesus’authority (as stated in v. 18) and the Great Commission (stated in vv. 19–20). Because all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to the risen Lord Jesus, disciples are to be made of all nations.

The Great Commission, therefore, is not just about evangelism in the narrow sense of merely preaching the death and resurrection of Christ. The gospel is supremely the proclamation of the lordship of Christ, and the Great Commission is the command of the divinely-appointed Messiah for the church to engage in the important task of calling upon all people everywhere to submit to the lordship of the divinely-appointed risen King.

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