Exegetical Insight Matthew 28:18-20: The Mission of the Church

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THE CREATION DAYS OF GENESIS gift of prophecy
Barry Hofstetter is an instructor of Latin at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy. Previously: he North American Reformed Seminary and The American Academy. He Studied M.Div. and Th.M. at Westminster Theological Seminary. Graduated in 1991

And Jesus came and said to them,

Matthew 28:18-20 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and look, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Setting the Context

One of the major themes of Matthew is Jesus as the fulfillment of the Davidic/Messianic Kingship. We see this introduced in the first verse of the gospel, which functions as a summary for the introductory genealogy: The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS

The very fact that David is placed first in the summary demonstrates the unique importance of Jesus as the descendent of David. The fact that Abraham is mentioned second links to the promises made to Abraham which themselves find their fulfillment in the establishment of Israel as a nation and particularly in the Davidic kingdom. The genealogy which follows is then divided into three equal parts if 14 generations designed to show that Jesus is within the royal line as a descendent of David. It also, significantly, demonstrates that he is a descendent of Abraham, and so receives the promises that God made to Abraham, including the fact that many nations will be blessed through Abraham and his descendants (Gen 12:1-3). Jesus is shown to be king, not only of Israel but of the nations as well.

This theme of Jesus kingship continues throughout the Gospel of Matthew. The messianic title “son of David” appears 10 times in Matthew (as opposed to three times in Mark and Luke respectively), and always in the context of a miracle, and particularly casting out healing and casting out demons. This emphasizes Jesus’ authority over the kingdom of Satan. His power is greater than that of the kingdom of Satan, which holds power in the forms of disease and demon possession. Jesus speaks with an unmatched authority (Mat 7:46) in the context of properly interpreting and applying the law of God (Matthew chapters 5-7, a kingly function, cf. Deut. 17:18).  An important passage to consider this is one in which Jesus refutes the scribes and Pharisees as they attempt to discredit him with various questions:

DEFENDING OLD TESTAMENT AUTHORSHIP Agabus Cover BIBLICAL CRITICISM

Matthew 22:41-46 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

44 “‘The Lord[257] said to my Lord,[258]
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet”’?[259]

45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, and from that day on, no one dared to question him no longer.

Jesus has already been identified throughout the gospel as the son of David. Here, that association takes on added meaning and authority, as the Messiah is shown to have power and authority which exceeds that of David himself, and this is also given in the context of Jesus posing a question that the Pharisees cannot answer, which in turns highlights his superior interpretation of Scripture and his authority.

Now, why is this important for understanding Matt 27:18-21? It directly contributes to this passage as the culmination of the gospel that Matthew has written. Jesus begins his brief comments to the disciples by declaring that he has received all authority in heaven and earth.[1] This authority (Grk., exousia, legal authority) directly results from his resurrection. Consider this passage from Psalm 2,

AN ENCOURAGING THOUGHT_01

Psalm 2:7 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
7 I will tell of the decree: Jehovah said to me, “You are my son; this day I have begotten you.

Psalm 2 is a song about the ascension of David to the throne. In the New Testament, however, it is associated with Jesus’ resurrection, so that the resurrection is seen as a kind of enthronement, and it is at a coronation when a king receives the legal right to rule (cf. Acts 13:33).  It is therefore particularly as the reigning king that Jesus issues his command to his people. This passage also repeats the same theme with which the gospel begins that of Jesus’ kingship. This is sometimes called a ring composition. This literary device emphasizes all that comes between the first mention of the idea and the last and calls the reader to interpret the entire writing in the light of the emphasized theme.

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS

Exegesis Proper

In the English translation above there appear to be two imperatives (commands), “Go, make disciples,” In fact, there is only one imperative, “make disciples.” “Go” is actually a participle, as is “baptizing” and “teaching.” Participles are a way of taking a verb and making them into adjectives and adverbs, depending on how they are actually used in the Greek sentence. Here, both participles are actually “predicate” participles. This means that they modify the action of the main verb, the actual imperative “make disciples.” They are in turn a particular type of predicate participle, called by many grammarians “instrumental.” This simply means that they tell us what the action of the main verb consists of, how that action is to be implemented. What does it mean to make disciples? It may sound almost commonplace, but it starts with “going.” The disciples are not to wait for the nations to come to them, but they are the ones to go to the nations bearing the message of the gospel. They are also to baptize and teach the nations everything that Jesus commanded them.

This bears further comments. “Nations” (Grk., ethnē) refers essentially to people groups, groups which are connected by common elements such as custom and language, not necessarily literal political entities, so that what sociologists today call “subcultures” would be included. “Teaching them all things that Jesus has commanded is meant comprehensively. This means not only the literal teachings recorded in the Gospels but the Bible as a whole since these documents ultimately issue from Jesus through the Holy Spirit to the people of God (cf. 1 Tim 3:14-17). “Baptizing” is important enough to be mentioned as an essential element of making disciples. Historically, different Christian denominations have certain differences as to the nature of baptism (especially with regard to infants),[2] but nearly all agree that adult converts to the faith are to be baptized. It is not simply enough to say that one is a Christian; baptism is seen here as complete identification with Jesus and the Gospel.

How to Interpret the Bible-1 INTERPRETING THE BIBLE how-to-study-your-bible1

Much more could be discussed profitably from this passage. In summary:

  • Jesus sends us forth to “conquer” the nations by means of the Gospel. He does so as the victorious, resurrected king who fulfills the promises given to Abraham and David.
  • The command is specifically to make disciples in the comprehensive sense. This includes a complete commitment to the kingdom of God (baptism) and deep knowledge of the Bible in application to daily life (teaching them all things).

[1] Some raise the objection, “Didn’t Jesus already have all power and authority as God’s Son?” However, Phil 2:6-11 indicates that Jesus voluntarily divested himself of this power.
[2] CPH NOTE: Infant baptism is unbiblical. See What Do We Learn From the Baptisms in the Book of Acts?

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