There is a great wonder to Jesus’ proclamation that all authority in heaven and on earth is his. And his precept to make disciples is a weighty command. But the command to make disciples is not a decree issued by a distant tyrant or an unconcerned autocrat. Jesus’ authoritative command is accompanied by the glorious promise of his presence.
Verse 20 of Matthew 28 declares: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus carefully places the precept between the proclamation and the promise. The proclamation is meant to push us out in obedience to the precept, and the promise is meant to comfort us in our obedience of the precept. The proclamation tells us who Jesus is. The promise tells us what Jesus will do. The proclamation initiates our obedience and the promise bolsters our obedience. “I am with you always,” the resurrected Christ promises. In the Greek, “I am” is repetitive to make it emphatic. It literally says, “I, I am with you always” or “I myself am with you always.” The resurrected Jesus who just conquered sin and death promises to never to leave those whose sin, three days ago, hung him on the cross. Brothers and sisters, if this promise is not hope, if it is not comfort, if it is not peace for you then nothing ever will be. Jesus who hung and bled and died on our account, in our place, who exhausted the wrath of God due us for our sin, who rose up from the grave defeating death so that death is not the end for us if we trust in him, the Jesus to whom belongs all authority in heaven and on earth, whose worth beckons the incessant praise of the heavenly hosts, to whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess as the absolute and supreme Lord over all, this Jesus promises always, to the end of the age, be with his bride, the church, to do us good and bring us into everlasting joy.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This promise is the great ballast that steadies and holds the ship of the church as she embarks on her mission to make disciples. It is the ever-enduring well of joy from which the church can draw to sustain her in her mission. “Behold, I myself am with you always, to the end of the age.”
So we have the proclamation: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me;” the precept: “make disciples of all nations;” and the promise: “I am with you always.” What are we to make of these? How are we to respond to these words of the resurrected Jesus? Certainly, Jesus’ intention in speaking these words was not that they fall flat and render no change. Certainly he does not wish that we persist in the current state of affairs. He wants to stir us to action. Yet he does not merely command his church to “make disciples” in isolation. By proclaiming that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, he gives warrant to the task of making disciples. Making disciples is the right and legitimate thing to do because Jesus holds absolute and supreme authority. We must obey. Also, by promising to always be with us, he gives us deep rooted confidence that we are not alone in the task—the One who conquered death and ever lives to make intercession for us is with us. So the precept to “make disciples” is not the command of a self-absorbed, power-hungry, narcissistic dictator who condescendingly charges his subjects to do his bidding. “Make disciples” is the precept of the One to whom all authority in heaven and on earth rightly belongs, who himself labored to the point of his own death to “make disciples of all nations” and who rose from the dead that he himself might ever be with us, to the end of the age.