Now, reading from v18, it says, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. What is this authority referring to? Jesus is the Son of God from heaven so it makes sense, all authority in heaven has been given to him. What about authority on earth?
Who is the authority or the ruler of this world? We don’t often think of it like this, but Scripture is pretty clear that the authority of the earth is Satan. Satan is called the “ruler of the world” in John 12:31. Satan is called “the god of this world” in 2 Corinthians 4:4. And he is referred to as “the prince of the power of the air” in Ephesians 2:2.
So if Satan has authority in this world, why is Jesus beginning the Great Commission with the statement, all authority in heaven AND on earth has been given me? We know that at a high level that Jesus conquered sin and death and he inflicted a mortal wound upon Satan on the cross, but what does that mean, actually?
I think it has to do with a transfer of authority. In Genesis 3:15, after the Fall where sin entered the world, God judges Satan. And it’s an odd verse.
15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.
There is a foreshadowing of one of the descendants of Eve growing up someday to crush the head of Satan.
What is this reference to the crushing of Satan’s head? If you recall the Passion of the Christ movie, there are 2 scenes that I will never forget. Jesus is praying at the Garden of Gethsemane right before his crucifixion and while he is praying, Satan appears at Jesus’ feet as a serpent and Jesus crushes the head of the serpent. Then, in the second scene, right after the crucifixion, you see Satan in hell shrieking with horror. He thought he had won by killing Jesus. He struck Jesus in the heel, Gen 3, Jesus was injured, he died on a cross, but this turned out to be the greatest reversal in human history. The death of Christ was overturned by the resurrection. And in the movie, you see the moment when Satan realizes that what he considered his greatest victory by striking the heel of Jesus has turned out to be God’s greatest victory. And you see Satan shrieking in horror as the camera pans out.
The head is a sign of authority. In Col 1, Jesus is referred to as the head of the church. That means, I am not the authority. No human leader can claim any kind of ultimate authority. We do what Jesus tells us to do. We live by the Word of God instead of relying on our own creativity and human intuition.
So when Satan’s head is crushed, in some spiritually significant way that I can’t really explain, the authority in this world was transferred from Satan to Jesus. He has authority in heaven AND on earth. And for all who believe in Jesus and who have entrusted their lives to him, we come out from under the authority of Satan and sin and death and we come under the authority of Jesus. He is the head and we are the body of Christ. As Christians, we are under the authority of Christ. Practically, this means that we come under the authority of the Word of God.
This issue of authority is very important. Life is hard. We will experience difficulty. Circumstances beyond our control. Sickness, loss of loved ones, betrayals, our own desires devouring and getting the best of us.
And when those things happen, and they will, you have a choice. Will you rely upon your your intellect, your traditions, your experiences to get you out of it? Or will you turn to the Word of God?
Eph 6 describes Christian life as a spiritual battle, a clash of 2 kingdoms. The kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God. Everyday, we have to ask ourselves, whose authority are we living under? My past, my reasoning, my emotions, will those things dictate my outlook and govern the way I live and act? Or will I choose to come under the authority of Jesus and His Word?
v19-20, now we get to the meat of the Great Commission. With the authority of heaven and earth at his disposal, Jesus gives this commission to his disciples. This is one instance where knowing the original Greek is helpful.
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
When you read this and see the string of verbs–go, make disciples, baptizing, teaching–what do you think is the focus of the Great Commission?
Based on the translation, it seems like there are 2 imperatives, 2 commands–first, go, go to the nations; and second, make disciples. The rest are modifiers. Baptizing and teaching describe what you do after you go and make disciples.
After doing a grammatical study, however, I found something interesting. Actually, only one of the verbs is in the imperative and the rest are participles. The only imperative is to make disciples. The rest–go, baptizing, teaching–are participles, which means, they are modifiers of the main verb, to make disciples.
Then, why do the translators translate the first verb, which is a participle, as an imperative, go? Literally, it should be something like going or in the midst of going, but it is translated as go. Why? Why the ambiguity? I think God is leaving room for 2 types of callings. One falls in line with Peter and the other falls in the line with Paul. Petrine and Pauline.
Peter was a Jewish man, one of the core disciples of Jesus. And after Jesus left, his calling was to minister to Jews, his people and he stayed in one place, at a local church. Paul, on the other hand, was probably a Jewish man as well, but his calling was to leave the local context and culture and minister cross-culturally to non-Jews or Gentiles. Both are callings from God. For me, I’m here, I’m an American and I am ministering to Americans. I feel this is where I would be most effective. And because the numbers show that Christianity is losing steam in this country, I feel burdened for our city, LA. And until God calls me to the ends of the earth, my calling is here. Most of us will fit into this group. The Petrine calling. The Peters of the world.
At the same time, there is a similar yet different calling. The Pauls of the world. Those who are called abroad to cross-cultural missions. I think when most of us read the Great Commission, this is the calling we think of. This passage describes the calling of a foreign missionary. And it is. For those who are called to the ends of the earth, they will hear the verb “go therefore and make disciples,” they will hear the “go” as a personal command for them to go.
What about the rest of us? Does this verse not apply then? I think we are making a big mistake if we think it doesn’t apply. I believe this is a universal calling for all believers, those who go abroad as well as those who stay. If we limit the Great Commission as a calling for foreign missions, then what happens to the rest of us who stay? It relieves us of pressure. We are off the hook. The Great Commission is for someone else, not me.
That is why I believe the command “go” can also be read as a participle. As you go, or in your going, make disciples. Make disciples is the primary command of the Great Commission. And it applies to all of us, the missionary called abroad to a people group who has never heard the gospel as well as the local missionary.
Local missions and foreign missions, which one do we do first? It’s hard to know. There is tension. The Peters of the world will say, we need to take care of our church and our city. The Pauls of the world will say, what about that tribe in the Muslim country that has never heard the gospel? There is tension. Both are callings. We have to pursue both simultaneously.
How do we do it? I think Acts 1:8 provides some guidance.
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
Here we see concentric circles. Jerusalem is the city where Jesus was crucified. It’s also where the disciples were asked to wait for the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which marked the 50th day after Jesus’ death and resurrection. And Christianity spread from that center. Jerusalem is a city in the region of Judea. Jerusalem to Judea. So the circle is getting wider. Then Samaria, the region to the north. The circle continues to the widen. To the ends of the earth.
What do we learn from this? This shows that the mission mindset starts where you are. If you are not on mission with God right now where you are and God calls you to foreign missions, it is highly unlikely that he is going to transform you into a bold evangelist and disciple maker in the plane. Highly unlikely. Mission starts where you are. Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, to the end of the earth. Ever-widening concentric circles.