In order to understand the life of a Christian, we must understand how Jesus has chosen to exert his authority on earth. There are many sources of authority on this earth, and all of them have a varying degree of imperfection. In fact, we could name numerous reactions to authority that have resulted in revolutions, wars, and uprisings. As I read through the life of Bonhoeffer, I am reminded of what one man without any restraint can do to a nation and to the world (Hitler).
"A true leader must know the limitations of his authority. . . if he allows himself to surrender to the wishes of his followers, then the image of the Leader will pass over into the image of the mis-leader. . . He must lead his following away from the authority of his person to the recognition of the real authority of orders and offices. . . " (Metaxas, pg 141).
The context of this passage can hardly be emphasized too much, when it comes to authority. Jesus continually amazed people with his miracles, wisdom, and authority in teaching. But nothing prepared people for the reality that would follow. Jesus the prophet, the one who did miracles, the teacher who confounded the lawyers, was buried and came back to life on the third day. Although God's glory was shown magnificently in Jesus death, God's glory and power had now become frightening through Jesus' resurrection.
The sort of authority that Jesus possessed began to be apparent in Matt 27:51-54, where an earthquake tore the temple curtain in two, "the earth shook", "the rocks split", and "many of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised". The response of the guards was appropriately in awe, "Truly this was the Son of God!" In Matt 28:4, "the guards trembled and became like dead men." The Samaritan woman had made a transition, from saying that Jesus was a prophet, to running into town to tell others all that she had done. Her experience was no less than salvation, and yet, the response of those who saw the risen Christ was even more affected. Whereas the Samaritan woman experienced Jesus gently revealing he was God's Son, those who saw Jesus risen from the dead "became like dead men".
It is at this point, however, that we can misunderstand the implications of Jesus resurrection. How often his resurrection has become, "Jesus died, therefore I have now been given this authority". And yet, we must pay attention to Jesus first statement to his disciples after he rose from the dead. What we find in this statement is the moment that all of creation has been waiting for, from the very moment that Adam and Eve sinned in the garden. We have seen fathers, kings, prophets, and judges attempt to follow God's perfect law and lead God's people to freedom. Matt 1 is full of the genealogy of David, who, even though a man after God's heart, could not bring the eternal kingdom of God into reality.
And so it is here, that we must pay careful attention. Jesus says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matt 28:18). All authority has now been given to Jesus, and the reaction of those who trembled, fell down, and were afraid was appropriate. Jesus doesn't just possess some authority, as the earthly leaders had demonstrated, but Jesus has all authority given to him by God Himself! It is he alone who has this authority. Heb 1:1-4 says:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Jesus exerts his authority through the Great Commission:
- Jesus authority is given to make disciples (Matt 28:16-19) 16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It is very important to understand that Jesus is asking his disciples to be obedient to his authority in a few ways. Whereas, Jesus previously gave the disciples "authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction" (Matt 10:1), it is after the resurrection that he changed the wording of his commission. Now that he is risen from the dead, this temporal mission has now become the Great Commission, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."(Matt 28:18-20). If we are to understand obedience to Jesus authority, we must understand that the mission wording has changed!
We must not overlook the basis of Jesus call to believers. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore . . ." (Matt 28:18-19). The "go" is completely dependant on the authority that Jesus has been given. And all throughout the book of Matthew, there are indications of what Jesus' rule will look like.
- Matt 1:1 - "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ. . . "
- Matt 2:6 - This ruler (one who has authority) will "shepherd" God's people, Israel. This rule is "by no means least among the rulers of Judah", but in fact, supreme (Hebrews).
Note: Remember, when God is going to deliver His people from Egypt, He uses the word "I" seven times! - Ex 3:7-12
In order to understand how Jesus shepherd's his people, we need to look at two examples in this passage:
- Contrast of Matt 28:11-15 and Matt 28:16 - when the people obeyed the religious rulers, because they "did as they were directed" (Matt 28:15), the result is lies and the rejection of Christ.
While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.' 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go
- When man directs the affairs of people, their scheming and efforts lead to a lie that replaces the Gospel. When Jesus is the one who directs disciples, it is Jesus presence through the Gospel that results!
- Jesus' work in his disciples - Matt 28:16-17 - ". . . they worshiped him, but some doubted." Jesus takes eleven disciples and turns the world upside down by exerting his authority in them.
Acts 4:13 - "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus."
"Along with that calling came a cers takes eleven disciples and turns the world upside down by exerting his authority in them.
Acts 4:13 - “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”
“Along with that calling came a certain authority. If anything was clear in Paul’s mind, it was that whatever authority and ministry he possessed did not originate in himself” (Mohler, pg 79).
So, what does any of this have to do with the call to “make disciples”? The relation to making disciples is that Jesus is committed to carrying out this work, through his use of “all authority in heaven and on earth”. The word “make” is bound up in the term “make disciples”. The two words come from the word matheteuo, which means “to train as a disciple; to teach; instruct”, and to “give instruction, teach; to teach orally, instruct. . . .” (Keyword Study Bible, pg 2216). In other words, the word “make” is bound within the call to teach, instruct, and tell others about the gospel of Jesus Christ. The difference between Jesus commission, and any other commission, is that it is Jesus who carries out this work through believers.
The term “make disciples”, then, simply cannot mean that we are to carry out the functions belonging to Jesus Christ alone. There is a continuous discussion in the Christian world that likes to take the idea of “authority”, and make it something else. The fact that Jesus has “all authority” means that he can do what he wishes, in accordance with the will of the Father, and in line with his loving character. Gal 3:3 highlights this initial tendency very well. “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” In other words, now that Jesus is the fulfilment of all authority, both in heaven and on earth, are we to now think that he is divesting it back to his disciples in the same way? This is not the case at all! Jesus remains as the Head of the church, and He still holds the office of the High Priest. In light of this, we are to do what Jesus has directed, and that is to “make disciples” in accordance with his reign at the right hand of God! We are to preach, teach, and speak his Word while Jesus calls people to Himself. He alone has the ability to save a soul, and he alone will do as he wills in this process.
- Jesus authority is given to baptize disciples (Matt 28:19)
Since Jesus has been given “all authority”, his disciples are to “Go therefore” and also baptize these disciples. Jesus could have left this commission with the perpetual need to “make disciples”. In other words, a continual process of disciples making disciples could have been the call, until Jesus returns. But he has also left us a powerful picture of salvation through baptism. Jesus doesn’t just want people to hear the Gospel, he wants people to see the Gospel!
Baptism – baptidzo – “wash, cleanse by washing”; “to overwhelm, saturate, baptize”; “to be baptized into anything, meaning into the belief, profession, or observance of anything” (Keyword Study Bible, pg 2120).
- Matt 3:11 – John’s baptism vs Jesus baptism
- John’s baptism was for the sole purpose of repentance, that is, his baptism required people to turn from their sins and acknowledge God. Jesus’ baptism is to identify with Jesus death resurrection, that“just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4).
- Matt 3:15 – Jesus was baptized by John in order to “fulfill all righteousness”
“’Our Lord’s baptism tended,’ says Dr. Macknight, ‘to promote the ends both of his own mission and of his forerunner’s, as it established the authority of both’” (Matthew Henry).
Baptism, then, is the visual picture of the Gospel, where the crowning achievement is the defeat of death, and the resulting new life! Whereas John’s baptism baptized people for the repentance of sins, Jesus baptism results in a resurrected life. When John baptized, Jesus had not yet defeated death, and so baptism is a powerful picture of the completeness of the Gospel!
- Col 2:12-15 – “. . . having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”
This baptism is to be carried out in light of, and through, the Trinity. Jesus calls all disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, because this relationship is the one where his authority rests.
- Matt 7:21 – “. . . but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
- Matt 12:50 – “. . . For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
The Gospel has always been carried out as a message, with specific contents, in a specific pattern, as a “once-for-all faith”. Any twisting or distorting of this message does not make this message more palatable or easy to accept. It replaces the authority of Jesus Christ with a man-made message that contains no authority! Such it is with baptism. Baptism must be carried out in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because salvation itself is through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- Jesus authority is given to teach disciples to observe all that he commanded (Matt 28:20)
“We should not be surprised, then, that Jesus’ final, climactic command is that we teach all nations to observe all that he commanded. This leads to his ultimate purpose. When obedience to his commands happens, what the world sees is the fruit of Jesus’ glorious work and the worth of his glorious person. In other words, they see the glory of God. This is why Jesus came and why his mission remains until he comes” (Piper, pg 19).
The verse must be stated, as it is, or we will miss the significance of what Jesus is asking his disciples. Jesus does not simply transmit information, but he teaches others to live by his teachings. The verse says, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
a.Observe – tereo – verb – “to attend to carefully”, to “keep”, “to guard”.
Matt 23:3 – “so do and observe whatever the tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.”
The terms “do” and “observe” are in contrast to the Pharisees tendency to “preach” things that they “do not practice” (James 1:22). The book of James challenges us to not only hear the Word but to also do what it says. A disciple of Christ is not one who simply hears the Word, attending church and celebrating the Gospel, but one who also obeys the Gospel (1 Pet 4:17).
And Matt 5:20 clarifies by saying, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pahrisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Q: And how does righteousness exceed the Pharisees? By hearing and doing.
Q: And who are those who see the kingdom of heaven? Those who hear and do. Anyone who simply hears is not justified by Christ’ righteousness!
b.Jesus asks his disciples to observe all that “I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20).
Jesus has given a Gospel that has the power to make demands on people’s lives! And this Gospel does not make these demands as an alternative to the world system, but on the reality that all people are under the demand to obey the Gospel. In other words, the Gospel is not just demand of obedience for Jesus’ disciples, but to the entire world. Jesus is not an option among other options, but the only option for a world suffering the effects of their sin.
i.Matt 15:3 – The Pharisees had broken the commandment to honour their father and mother by giving to the church and ignoring the needs of their own parents. It is always at this point that false religion creeps in. That is, obedience to God’s Word is found in knowing how the pieces work together. One must know Scripture, not just isolated pieces of Scripture.
- Matt 19:17 – Jesus tells the rich man to “keep” the commandments. And yet, he is already keeping the commandments to “not murder”, “not commit adultery”, “not steal”, “not bear false testimony”, “honour your father and mother”, and “love your neighbour as yourself”. After all, when he says “All these I have kept”, Jesus does not refute him in this assertion. However, what the man needed was to forsake his riches and follow Jesus. He was following many commandments, while breaking the larger commandment to follow Jesus! This is what happened to Nicodemus as well. He did many things, but he had not been born again (John 3-4). We also have the tendency to try and follow many commandments, and yet not follow Jesus in the grace offered through the cross.
iii.Matt 22:37 – Jesus gives the greatest commandment. That is, to “love the Lord your God” and to “love your neighbour as yourself”. And yet, as Voddie Baucham pointed out, this is still only a summation of the Law. So, what is Jesus driving at? How is he going to exert his authority? He does so by loving God through submission on the cross, and loving man by “laying down his life for his friends”. John 13:34 says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you. . .”
Finally, even though Jesus has exerted his authority through many miracles and interactions with people, his greatest act of authority was carried out on the cross. Jesus used his authority to offer himself on the cross, defeat death, and rise again to reign forever at the right hand of God. Those who accept his offer of salvation are those who identify with Jesus greatest act of authority.