In the four Gospels and in the first chapter of Acts we have the privilege of listening in to Jesus’ conversations with various people. We are in effect eavesdropping on God! The last three of these conversations that are recorded for us in the New Testament have to do with Jesus’ task for His disciples after His return to reign at the Father’s side. Christians often refer to this task assigned by Jesus to His disciples as the Great Commission. It was given in the days before our Savior’s ascension into heaven, several weeks after the Resurrection.
Despite ongoing doubts among His disciples, being hard-hearted and slow to believe, just as you and I are, most of them were now thoroughly persuaded that Jesus was indeed risen from the dead, and so their faith that He was the Christ, the true Son of God, was firmly established. Now they were ready to get their marching orders, ready to hear from His lips what work it was that He wanted them to do. He gave this Great Commission on several occasions and in various forms so they would have no uncertainty about their calling.
We will look first at the account we find at the end of Matthew’s Gospel (28:18-20). Jesus appeared to His disciples on a mountain in Galilee. They were back on home ground since so many of them came from the region around Lake Galilee. He gave them a command, and along with His command He added some words of encouragement.
“All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.”
GO AND MAKE DISCIPLES!
He commanded them to “go and make disciples of all nations.” We are so familiar with these words that we don’t stop to think how challenging they must have been to those who heard them from Jesus’ lips. This little group of eleven ordinary people were to go to all the nations of the earth and turn their hearers into disciples of Jesus like themselves! They were having a hard time believing in Him even though they had been with Him for three years and had lived through all the extraordinary events of His ministry and, in particular, of these past few weeks with His death and resurrection. Yet this little group who were so slow to believe were to convert the nations of the earth!
Most of them had probably not traveled beyond their own little patch of the world, the small kingdoms and provinces along either bank of the Jordan River and across Israel to the Mediterranean Sea. They would have heard from travelers about other parts of the vast Roman Empire that stretched right across north Africa, way up into northern and western Europe, up into Asia Minor (present-day Turkey and Armenia), and over eastward to the borders of Persia (present-day Iran). But they would have no personal knowledge of these faraway places or of the unknown countries and nations beyond these that they perhaps had heard described.
Yet these ignorant, unschooled men—these eleven—were to go and teach the nations to obey everything Jesus had taught them, and to baptize many in these nations into their newfound faith as they became followers of Jesus. Think of the challenge this commission still is to us today, and we take it for granted that we are part of a worldwide church numbering untold millions of followers of Jesus. Then try and imagine how the apostles must have felt!
THE AUTHORITY OF CHRIST
But Jesus also gave them some comforting words (they needed them!). He told them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” He rules the unseen world of the spirits. He triumphs over the demons. He defeats the false gods of the nations and breaks their power so that His disciples are able to go out into the world with con- fidence. They will know, as they proclaim the Gospel, that Jesus has the name that is above every name in the heavens, above every power of darkness, above every spiritual force of wickedness. These men already knew that in the Roman Empire and beyond, people worshiped many different gods. They were being sent out into a pagan world where most of the people they would try to reach would be under the influence of spirits and false gods. They had experienced firsthand the power of the hosts of Satan as those enemies tested them and sought the death of Jesus. But Jesus assured them that just as He had conquered Satan by His death on the cross and made that adversary’s plans of no effect, so he would rule the heavenly powers for them as they went into the pagan world.
RULER OF THE NATIONS
Jesus also encouraged them by saying that all power has been granted to Him over this earth. Jesus would rule the nations for their sake as they traveled to them. He would open doors around the world to places that seemed inaccessible. He is the Lord above every lord, the King above every king. Even Caesar, the emperor of an area so vast it was unimaginable to them, would be subject to Jesus. This was the first of His comforting words to the disciples as He gave them their “impossible” calling. It is the same for us. All the powers of the nations, all the unseen powers of darkness, are in subjugation to Christ. There is indeed only one superpower today, and it is not the United States or its President. It is the Lord Jesus Christ. He rules the nations for the sake of His church, for the sake of the Gospel going out to those nations.
THE PRESENCE OF JESUS
Jesus had some additional encouraging words for them. The first were about power. The second were personal. Jesus promised that He Himself would be with them. Wherever they would go, however hard the road, however challenging the situation, however unwelcoming the people, whatever their feeling of weakness, He would be beside them providing comfort, encouragement, and strength, just as He had been for the past three years of their lives. They would never again be alone. This is His promise to us too, to accompany us always along whatever path into the world He calls us to travel.