Before ascending back to the right hand of the Father, Jesus gave his church a final command—make disciples. What are we to make of Jesus’ words? Over the next three weeks, we will examine the proclamation, the precept and the promise Jesus issued in Matthew 28.18-20, the Great Commission, and how these are meant to fuel in his people a humble, eager and joyful obedience to make disciples.
Matthew 28.16-20 reads:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
First, Jesus announces a proclamation. In verse 18, Jesus declares, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” This is a profound proclamation. Matthew’s Jewish audience would understand that Yahweh has all authority in heaven and earth. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1.1). “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” David writes in Psalm 24. “The heavens are the Lord’s heavens” the psalmist writes in Psalm 115. So Jesus, by claiming to have been given this same authority is announcing that he is God! By his triumphing over sin and death, the authority of Yahweh, the Creator God, has been given to him. As Paul writes in Philippians 2:9-11, “[Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection], God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Every knee bows to Jesus because to him belongs “all authority in heaven and earth.” His possession of supreme authority demands from every living soul a bowing down in obedience.
The reality of our lives is we will bow down in obedience to that which holds authority in our lives. We obey traffic signals because we have deemed the municipal governments that instituted these hold sufficient authority to warrant our obedience of these signals. A blatant and willful disregard of a red light or a stop sign is a rejection of that authority. So too, our failure to bow in obedience of Jesus’ commands reveals we do not behold Jesus as the one to whom belongs “all authority in heaven and earth” including authority over our very life and breath. So, let me paint a biblical picture of what it means that Jesus has been given “allauthority in heaven and on earth” so that we together might fall down in worship and obedience of him.
All authority. He has authority over the universe and all laws that govern it—over all galaxies and solar systems which he slung into existence (Gen. 1:1); over all planets and their orbits which he sustains “by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3); over all meteorites, asteroids, comets and the timing of their appearing; over all actions of gravitational, electrical and magnetic forces and the strength of their forces throughout the universe.
He has authority over the earth and its natural phenomenon—over the sunrise and sunset whose “going out [he makes] to shout for joy” (Ps. 65:8); over all geological formations which he formed (Ps. 90:2) from the top of Mount Everest towering 5.5 miles up to the bottom of the Mariana Trench 7 miles down; over all weather patterns (Ps. 135:7): hurricanes, tornadoes, thunderstorms, gentle rains, sunny days, snow showers, blizzards, windstorms, typhoons, tsunamis and cyclones all of which must be obedient to his command to cease (Mt. 8:26); over all seasons and their timing (Dan. 2:21); over the land whose measurements he determines (Job 38:5) and the sea whose limits he sets and to whose waves he says, “Thus far you shall come and no further” (Job 38:11); over all molecular and atomic realities: atoms and their protons, neutrons and electrons and subatomic particles yet to be discovered.
He has authority over the earth and its physical realm—over the plants, great and small, which he causes to grow (Ps. 104:14): from the giant redwoods to the microscopic algae; over the animals, great and small, which he made with his great power (Jer. 27:5): the blue whale to the microscopic ameba; over all cities, towns and villages: their size, location and inhabitants (Acts 17:26).
He has authority over all human institutions and structures—over all types and forms of government and political parties (Prv. 21:1): presidents, kings, dictators, congresses, parliaments and judicial courts; over all nations that he makes great and destroys (Job 12:23) and above which he rules as the King of kings (Rev. 17:14); over all culture and cultural expressions and forms; over all academies and academic institutions; over all business, industry, enterprise and trade; over all families and relationships; over all sport, recreation, leisure and rest, all of which are gifts from his hand (Acts 17:25).
He has authority over the human body—over sickness, disease, all types and stages of cancer which he can heal with just the touch of his hand (Mt. 8:3); over all disabilities and deformities that upon his word can be undone (Mt. 9:6); over all genetics, DNA and chromosomes (Deut. 32:6); over all neurological, physiological and anatomical functions including every breath we take and every beat of our heart (Ps. 139:13); and over death itself to which he speaks three words, “Lazarus, come out,” and a man dead for four days awakes from his eternal slumber (Jn. 11:43) and whose keys he holds because he died but is now alive forevermore (Rev. 1:18).
He has authority over the spiritual realm and all of heaven—over demons who must be obedient to his command (Mt. 8:32); over Satan himself whose final defeat is certain and sure (Rev. 20:10); over angels who will attend at once to his appeal (Mt. 26:53) and all of whom will accompany him in his glorious return to earth (Mt. 25:31); over the cherubim and seraphim and all the other heavenly creatures who day and night never cease to heap praises upon him (Rev. 4:8); over all decisions in the high court of heaven “he does according to his will among the hosts of heaven” (Dan. 4:25); over the course of all of history saying, “My counsel shall stand and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Is. 46:10) and “no one can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Dan. 4:35); over the fate of the souls of man being the “Judge of all the earth” (Gen. 18:25); and over the just execution of God’s covenant with his people being “the one mediator between God and man” (1 Tm. 2:5).
Colossians 1:16-20 sums it up—“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all thing, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
All things created in the beginning, all things subjected to the curse of sin, have been given to Christ by his death and resurrection so that in him all things might be made new. Such authority does not belong to a mere man. It belongs to God, so Jesus himself is God. This is the proclamation. Is he not worthy of our supreme affection and devotion?