Tuesday, March 13, 2012

5.5 The Great Commission

continued from last week
... Unfortunately, the final memory of the mission in Galilee is one in which these villages ultimately rejected Jesus as king.

The ultimate mission for the disciples in Matthew comes of course in the Great Commission in Matthew 28. This is the climax of Matthew's presentation and it points to the continuation of Jesus' mission after he has departed from the earth after his resurrection.  We call it a commission because the eleven remaining disciples are sent into all the nations to continue what Jesus has started while he was on earth.

Sometimes you hear people point out that the word "go" is actually a participle in the original Greek: "Having gone" (Matt. 28:19).  The emphasis is thus not on going but on making disciples, which is the main verb.  Some then argue that going is an assumption rather than a command--in other words, there is no question that they would go. Probably, we shouldn't try make any major point from the word at all.  Matthew uses a similar construction elsewhere where there is no emphasis on going (e.g., Matt. 11:4). [1]

So the focus here is not on going but on the eleven "making disciples." The eleven go under the authority of Jesus (28:18). Jesus certainly had authority before his resurrection (e.g., 9:6), but quite possibly Matthew thinks of Jesus now gaining all authority and not only on earth but in heaven now as well.  He has been enthroned as cosmic king and thus all must now "bow the knee" and worship him (28:16). They carry his authority with them in part because he will be with them to the end of the age (28:20).

How are they to make further disciples? First, they are to baptize wherever they go.  This is presumably a baptism associated with repentance, a physical cleansing that represented the spiritual cleansing and forgiveness of sins.  Interestingly, Matthew speaks of baptism "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."  This may reflect the extent to which Christian understanding had developed by the time of Matthew's writing, probably after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. [2] Acts (e.g., 2:38) and probably Paul (1 Cor. 1:13) baptized in the name of Jesus and probably reflect the earliest sense of baptism.

The second element of discipling that the Great Commission mentions is teaching future Jesus followers to do the things that Jesus commanded.  Jesus' love commandment in Matthew 22:37-40 is of course the very heart of what Jesus commanded while he was on earth. He boiled all his teaching down to love of God and love of neighbor. In the next chapter, we'll also look at the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, arguably the central presentation of Jesus' teaching in Matthew.

The Great Commission is directed at the eleven disciples.  Did Jesus in Matthew mean it to apply to more than just these eleven? ...

[1] Probably, "go and make disciples" is the best translation, since a participle can be used as a light command when associated with another central command.

[2] The reason Matthew probably dates to the time after the destruction of Jerusalem is at least two-fold.  First, there is the likelihood that Matthew used Mark, which would place it later.  But more centrally, there is the way Matthew may have edited the parable about a banquet.  Compare Matthew 22:7 with Luke 14:15-23.


FrGregACCA said...

"This is presumably a baptism associated with repentance, a physical cleansing that represented the spiritual cleansing and forgiveness of sins."

Biblically, baptism not only represents, but EFFECTS spiritual cleansing, forgiveness of sins and "regeneration" in that who are baptized are baptized into Christ and into his death.

Ken Schenck said...

In my mind, that's a possible truth that developed in the minds of later Christians, possibly under inspiration. I'm just not sure it's something the biblical writers were thinking.

FrGregACCA said...

Ken, when speaking of baptism and of the Lord's Supper, realistic, not representative, language is always used in the New Testament.

"Baptism now saves you."

"Washing of regeneration".

"...don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."

"Those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ."

"Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you shall not have life within you."

There are many other examples.

Ken Schenck said...

I'm not denying that this language describes very real spiritual events associated with baptism. I'm just trying not to "taint" it with later issues and categories. You don't give any glib examples, but I think of how some make a big deal out of the wording, "This is my body" in favor of transubstantiation, when nothing about this wording precludes a metaphor, like if I were to say, "I am a lame duck." An example of this way of talking that connects to the first verse would be if I were to say something like, "Walking across the stage gave me a job."

Bob MacDonald said...

The sacraments are indeed signs and seals of our redemption -a strong image. But the imprinting and correction process is a long one and one that must be walked not just read about. Further it is not under our control, but effected by the Spirit with our cooperation on behalf of ourselves. Then too, on behalf of others - like the mariners and those Ninevites! But poor Jonah - after the judgment, not the wrath of God but the fury of a human!