Toward the end of Matthew 28, we find the passage known as the Great Commission. The commanding nature of Jesus’ words here usually draw my attention immediately. Somehow, “Do this!” resonates with me, even if my attitude is not necessarily perfectly compliant. Today, however, the disciple’s doubt and Jesus answer to it impresses me:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
Doubt is not surprising; rising from the dead is unusual. Did some doubt and others worship? The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Jesus’ response appears, on the surface, to skirt the disciple’s doubt. Neither does it jump right to “Do this!”. Does this interjection about His authority touch their questions and their doubt? I think it does. As I thought about this passage, I realized the doubt centered around Jesus’ death. Then I asked the question, “Are life and death in the domain of heaven or earth?” Both! An unnatural division typically exists in our thinking between the spiritual (in heaven) and physical (on earth). We speak of spiritual vs. secular, separation of church and state, and so on. The truth is that the Creator formed the universe according to His own nature. He is holy. He exhibits perfect and complete integrity – no division. “The Lord our God is One.” God is omnipresent. His creation is more unified than we give it credit for. Many of these conceptual divisions are useful to help us focus our thoughts, but we probably shouldn’t take it too far. [Neither should we go as far in this direction as the pantheists and fail to recognize that God is distinct from His creation, even though it reflects his nature. The Bible teaches that man's sin allowed corruption into creation, but God is still holy.]
One sense in which we use the word authority is knowing truth or possessing knowledge. We commonly say a particular person is an authority on a subject. This sense applies here. Jesus knows the disciples doubts. God is omniscient. Another sense in which we use the word authority relates to ruling. God is sovereign. Note that Jesus says all authority has been given to Him. Daniel 7:13-14 and Revelation 5:13 place Him on the throne to rule “for ever and ever”. If all authority belongs to Jesus for ever and ever, then there is none (legitimately) left for any of the rest of us. This idea convicts me of deeply ingrained personal beliefs that are just wrong! When I perceive some violation of “my” authority as an individual, or manager, or parent; I take offense. I get angry. Knowing that all authority actually belongs to God for ever and ever tells me that I must root out this wrong belief. Jesus instructs his followers: be stewards or servants. I have long given at least mental assent to this concept. The master assigns responsibilities to the steward, who then operates under the master’s authority. The master’s authority does not actually transfer to the steward. Now, I need to get beyond mental assent of this fact and let God’s grace change this belief (that any authority was rightfully mine) with the truth that all authority belongs to Him.
In this vein, let me skip to the end of the Great Commission:
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
This is good news for the steward. The Master will be forever present to exercise His authority in support of the steward’s charge.