The final chapter of the each of gospels records a version of what is known as the Great Commission (Mt. 28:16-20; Mk. 16:15-18; Lk. 24:44-49), a command by Jesus to his disciples to make disciples of all the nations of the world. The great commission is the fulfillment of all promises that God gave to Abraham that in him “all the families of the earth will be blessed.” An understanding of the purpose and structure of Matthew provides insight into the meaning of Mt. 28:16-20. The purpose of Matthew’s Gospel is to:
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“demonstrate that the Hebrew Scriptures have all along been pointing to Jesus as Messiah and inaugurator of God’s kingdom … To show that Jesus has brought forgiveness and personal renewal, enabling a true understanding and keeping of the Torah’s intend, and to explain how Jesus is with you to the end of the age, is forming a community that is the church of Jewish and Gentile followers to model the presence of God’s kingdom in the present age and to take God’s mission to the nations.”
This paper will explore the foundation for Jesus command to his disciples and expounds that the exegesis and context of the text help us to conclude that this passage is about the fulfillment of the OT promises and Abrahamic covenant (Gn. 12:2).
The Background of Matthew 28:16–20
The Great Commission must understand it in light of Mt. 24:14 which says that a witness must go to all the nations before the ends of time.
Matthew written his Gospel to the audience who was Jewish to instruct them how to read their Bible (Old Testament) and convinced them that Jesus was the promised Savior and Messiah (Gn. 3:15, 12:3, Dt. 18:15, Mic. 5:2, Isa 7:14, 2 Sam. 7:16, Zech. 9:9-10.) Matthew quotes the Old Testament extensively to support how OT speaks about Jesus, and then he put the special emphasis on Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecies which would have been important to a Jewish audience.
The last picture of that Gospel according to the Matthew gives us in his gospel is about the risen Lord and emphasizes on the mission to the Gentiles, the worship of Christ and the weakness of the disciples. This closing passage served as a resurrection appearance, testifying to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. Blomberg says, “The concept of bodily resurrection draws its clearest OT background from Dan. 12:2,” and he emphasis on the one who is Daniel talking about is Jesus.
The Great Commission also ties together Gospel of Matthew by bringing to completion the covenant theme implicit in Mt. 1:1-17. The sacrificial Son of Abraham has now completed his work. The sovereign Son of David is now restored to his full majesty. Now the Son of David, the king, sends his disciples with his authority. Therefore, we as the spiritual offspring of Abraham must join with him in fulfilling God’s covenant promise that through Abraham God would bless all peoples of the earth.
The Exegesis of Matthew 28:16-20
Matthew 28:16, Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. (Οἱ δὲ ἕνδεκα μαθηταὶ ἐπορεύθησαν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν εἰς τὸ ὄρος οὗ ἐτάξατο αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς)
The resurrection narrative comes to its climax when women have seen the empty tomb and have met the resurrected Jesus. Matthew recorded the official appearance of Christ to his disciples after the resurrection. This meeting that was scheduled in advance, mentioned twice by Jesus and once by an angel (26:32, 28:7, 10) Chapter 28 shows how the women have been successful in their mission when they have been obedience the command and then through them, the Jesus’s disciples went into Galilee. This is the first time in the NT that twelve disciples have now become the eleven disciples and that is a reminder of the tragedy of Judas and his fate (27:3-10).
In the Bible, a mountain is a specified place for meeting with God. For instance, God gave the ten commandments on the mount of Sinai, and “ever since Sinai, mountains have been the classic loci of the Lord’s great revelation.” God has revealed Himself historically on the top of mountains, and now Lord gave final revelation to his disciples on a mountain. Matthew, continius and says that the eleven disciple went to the mountain that Jesus had directedthem. We have no way of identifying this mountain and can only conjecture, but the verb ἐτάξατο, ‘commanded,’ help us to understand that disciples knew where they had to go. The disciples were familiar with Galilee, and we need not doubt that there was no problem for them with appearing at a mountain that is unknown to us, because probably they knew it from the night before Jesus suffered, when Jesus said, “After I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee” (Mt. 26:32; Mk. 14:28).
Matthew 28:17, And when they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted (καὶ ἰδόντες αὐτὸν προσεκύνησαν οἱ δὲ ἐδίστασαν).
In the original Greek text, ‘προσκυνὲω,’ means ‘worship; fall down and worship, kneel, bow low, fall at another’s feet.’ In the OT Moses worshiped the angel of the LORD from the burning bush (Ex. 3). Like Moses when the women saw the risen Jesus, they fall down and worshipped him (28:9), and now the eleven disciples did the same. This would seem to indicate not only that they recognized Jesus but that they thus believed he had risen from the dead. Jesus told the women that the disciples would see him in Galilee (28:10), and now we read that they did see him. The two questions are on the last three words of the verse: οἱ δὲ ἐδίστασαν, ‘but some doubted.’ What exactly does the definite article ‘οἱ δέ’ refer? And what is the ‘ἐδίστασαν,’ ‘doubted?’
There are three ways to take the ‘οἱ δέ ,’ ‘but some’ who doubt: ‘some’ of the disciples doubt; ‘all of them’ doubt; or ‘some others’ (than the disciples) doubt. Any of the three can fit ‘but some’ (οἱ δέ), so the question is which fits the context best. Is “doubt” antithetical to worship, and so the same group cannot be included in both? What is the true meaning of ‘ἐδίστασαν,’ ‘doubted’? The Greek verb used here ‘δισταζω,’ ‘doubt’ implies hesitation or indecision, rather than unbelief. In this instance, the doubt experienced by the disciples falls short of outright unbelief ‘ὰπιστια’. When δισταζω is used with the meaning ‘hesitate’, the use, as here, is consistent with ‘hesitate to believe’ and ‘doubt’ does not mean ‘unbelief’.
Matthew 28:18, Jesus came and spoke to them, saying All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐλάλησεν αὐτοῖς λέγων Ἐδόθη μοι πᾶσα ἐξουσία ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς).
In this verse, Jesus is alluding to the Dan. 7:14, the Son of Man who receives from the Ancient of Days the kingdom and the power. Dan. 7:14-15 is the passage that Jesus has quoted in 26:64, and in response to the doubts (hesitate) of disciples, Jesus came near and reassurance them, and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ He means that his authority is world-wide and absolute, so their commission was also worldwide. Of course, that Jesus already had authority during his earthly ministry (7:29; 9:6, 8; 11:27; 21:23). But now he has all authority, and that word ‘all’ will be repeated insistently in verses 19 and 20.
“All authority,” literally means there is no greater power than Christ’s authority in the entire universe. The word οὐρανῷ (heaven) is used to mean “sky, air, heavenly celestial, heavenly, celestial, heavenly realms.” The Greek word used as an adjective πᾶσα [πᾶς] defines the type of authority that He has been given. The word γῆς (earth) includes the earth; land, country, region; soil, ground; mankind.” Gaebelen says, “The son becomes the one through whom all God’s authority is mediated.” There is no other greater person or god in this world like Him, and his authority is over all earth and heavenly realms.
Matthew 28:19, Therefore,go and make disciples from all the nations baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος).
This verse is the link between the authority of Jesus and the fulfilling of the duties of disciples. The word οὖν (therefore,) gives the understanding that the subsequent commission flows out from the authority of Jesus. Since He has all authority over all mankind and universe, the disciples must go to all nations with all confidences to make disciples. Jesus elaborates the Great Commission by using the word “therefore” and declares the purpose of Great Commission. Jesus starts commissioning his disciples by telling them the imperative command ‘πορευθέντες,’ (to go,) to fulfill and obey his command. As Moses had to go to Egypt to accomplish his calling, also Jesus had to come to this world to accomplish his calling.
The Commission for the disciples is to “make disciples.” Jesus Christ includes two items that the disciples are to carry out in their process of making disciples. One, to baptize and two, teaching.
Baptism is a signs and seals of the covenant. In the Greek NT, the expression of baptism “into the name” signifies to come into the “possession” of another. We do not belong to our self. We are his possession, and we are his people. In Rom. 6:3-4 and Col. 2:11-12, Paul says, our union sign and seal with Christ is baptism. We are identified in him by Baptism.
Matthew 28:20, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ μεθʼ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος).
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He instructed his disciples to make disciples of all nations, and teach them to do all that He had commanded them, Blomberg says “The language of ‘everything I have commanded you’ frequently occurs in the OT (Ex. 7:2; Dt. 1:3; Josh. 22:2; Judg. 13:14; Jer. 1:7).”
Along with baptism, ‘make disciples’ is the commands that Jesus gave to his disciples. The disciples are not allowed to use their own commands for teaching, they have to teach the same commands that Jesus had taught– teaching the Scripture and practicing the sacraments.
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At the end of the Commission, Jesus gives a promise along with assurance to his disciple. and strengthen their faith and he promised to stay in union with each of his followers ‘to the end of ages.’
Jesus Christ as the Son of Abraham, fulfilled the Old Covenant. He first came to his people (Israel) and then when he has been rejected by them, through Israel, he delivers the grace and mercy of God to all nations (Gentiles). God’s kingdom grows by the sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of David with all nations. The Biblical comprehension of God’s mission for the church is connected to the Abrahamic covenant. God’s promise to Abram is importance and blessing for all the nations is accomplished in his descendant, Jesus. By going, baptizing and teaching, Jesus asks his disciples to make disciples, by obeying his command, they are fulfilled the promise of blessings that were given to Abraham.
- Bauer, Walter, William F. Arndt, Felix Wilbur. Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature a Transl: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
- Bauer, Walter, William Arndt, Felix Wilbur. Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker. A Greek-english Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
- Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew: A Commentary Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007.
- Carson, Donald A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
- Davies, William David, and Dale C. Allison. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Edinburgh: Clark, 1997.
- France, Richard Thomas, Randolph Vincent Greenwood. Tasker, and Leon Morris. The Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-varsity Press, 1994.
- Gaebelein, Frank E., J. D. Douglas, and Dick Polcyn. The Expositors Bible Commentary: With the New International Version of the Holy Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1984.
- Hubbard, David Allan., Glenn W. Barker, Ralph P. Martin, and Donald A. Hagner. Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1995.
- Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. Commentary, Practical and Explanatory, on the Whole Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997.
- Kohlenberger, John R., Edward W. Goodrick, and James A. Swanson. The Greek-English Concordance to the New Testament: With the New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997.
- Kruger, Michael J. A Biblical-theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016.
- NIV Faithlife Study Bible: Intriguing Insights to Inform Your Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017.
- Osborne, Grant R., and Clinton E. Arnold. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.
 William D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Vol III, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1997), 683.
 Michael J. Kruger, Biblical-theological Introduction to the New Testament – the Gospel Realize (Crossway Books, 2016), 32.
 Donald A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 157.
 Craig L. Blomberg, “Matthew,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007), 100.
 The word “disciple” in the original Greek text is μαθητής. A disciple is a follower who transforms into the exact likeness of their master through total obedient and submission. DISCIPLE (Gk. mathētḗs “one who learns”). A student or follower. As used in the New Testament, the English term (from Lat. discipulus “pupil”) reflects the Greek sense of the disciple as an adherent to the teachings of a particular teacher or school of thought (John 9:28; cf. Matt. 22:16); the followers of John the Baptist are thus identified as disciples (e.g., Mark 2:18; John 1:35, 37). To an extent, the function of the disciple is similar to that of the rabbinical talmîḏîm (cf. 1 Chr. 25:8; RSV “pupil”), who studied the Law under the guidance of a particular teacher; however, akin to the alternate Greek sense of the disciple as an apprentice, these students themselves sought to gain ordination as teachers. Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 285.
 Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 744.
 Frederick Dale. Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007), 806-807.
 τάσσω is used of various kinds of appointing; here it clearly refers to a command given by Jesus, though there is no indication of when the command was given. BAGD notes that the middle is here used in the sense of the active, and that πορεύεσθαι is to be understood (2.b).
 Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 63.
 Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14–28, WBC 33B (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 884.
 Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, vol 1, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 1077.
 John D. Barry, Douglas Mangum, et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Mt 28:17. Also (BDAG, p. 252).
 R. T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 419.
 John R. Kohenberger III, Edward W. Goodrick and James A. Swanson, the Greek-English Concordance to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 1062-1095.
 Ibid, 1202.
 Frank E. Gaebelen, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Regency Reference Library,1984), 595.
 Walter Bauer et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 575.
 Blomberg, 100.