The following is a snippet from a commentary I finished last year, chronologically covering the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I was thinking about this chapter this morning, the Monday after Easter, and how it had to be the greatest Monday in the history of Mondays. The Great Commission itself didn’t occur on this day, but it was on my mind so I thought I’d share. The Bible text under consideration is MATTHEW 28:16-20, MARK 16:14-18, and LUKE 24:44-49. Also, if a word is italicized that means I was lifting the word straight from the translation I was using (the King James in this case).
Mathew tells us the setting. Mark tells us the context. Luke tells us the significance. Matthew tells us the Disciples were in Galilee, resting on the mountain where Jesus first appointed them His Apostles. That’s very thematic since He’s about to leave them in charge as His Ambassadors on earth. Their training is coming to an end and the work is about to begin.
Mark tells us that before Jesus says anything positive, He first scolds His Apostles for their unbelief and hardness of heart. On multiple occasions they were told that Jesus rose and repeatedly did they doubt, scoff, reject or otherwise dismiss the idea as impossible. This is summarized by Matthew, who says that when they saw Jesus most of them worshipped Him, though some still doubted.
Luke tells us that the Lord then followed up His rebuke by opening their minds and connecting the dots between the Old Testament and the New. In other words, He showed them how the words of Moses, the prophets, and those of the Psalms spoke concerning Him. Those men knew what the Old Testament writers said, but now they had a miraculous understanding of what they meant.
Jesus then summarized the writing of the Old Testament prophets by saying “thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer and to rise form the dead the third day.” In other words, it was not just His resurrection, but His whole passion, death, and rising that was foretold. And not only was it foretold but it was the plan of God all along.
Likewise the plan involved the Apostles: “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in [the name of Jesus], beginning at Jerusalem.” That’s Luke’s version of Jesus’ commission. The Lord is issuing marching orders to His ambassadors: Go to Jerusalem and preach two things: Repentance and remission of sins.
What do those two things entail?
They involve two elements: Man’s actions and God’s. First, man has a part to play in his salvation. That doesn’t mean that man earns salvation for fulfilling that part, it just means God expects things from those He saves. Just like Israel of Old had a part to play (“You make Me your God and I will make you My people”) so too do those who want to be saved in Jesus have a part to play. In Luke, that is summarized by the word “repentance.”
The word means “to change.” Based on the usage of the word by the Lord in the parable of the two sons, the word specifically means “to change the mind, resulting in a change of action” (Matthew 21:28-29). Jesus was killed by men whose hearts were calloused and rejected Him as Lord. To be saved a heart must break, melt in submission, and yield itself over to the Lord. That’s Luke’s description of man’s part to play in his salvation.
What is God’s part? Jesus says “remission of sins.” Man can’t take away his own sins. There’s no recipe to follow, to mountain to climb, no deed to do that forces God’s hand and brings about salvation. It must come from God. When we do what God tells us to do, He gives us what we do not deserve. It’s not about earning vs. not earning; it’s about deserving vs. not deserving.
We deserve Hell. We get Heaven.
This message of repentance and remission is to be preached by the Apostles to all the nations (not just the Jews), beginning at Jerusalem. The follow-up to this, of course, is the Book of Acts, which picks up right where Luke’s account leaves off.
Matthew and Mark record similar messages to Luke but the word choice is varied. In Matthew’s account Jesus speaks of His power and authority given in Heaven and in earth. Luke hinted at that with the line that remission of sins must be preached “in His (Jesus’) name.” With that power and authority, Jesus tells the Apostles to go and teach all nations.
It’s notable that Matthew tethers the authority of Jesus with the message of the Gospel preached by the Apostles. “All power is given to Me, therefore you go and preach…” Jesus’ days walking the earth, preaching and ministering are over. He’s soon to ascend and begin His role as King over His Kingdom and High Priest over His new spiritual nation (1 Peter 2:9). It’s up to the Apostles to be “Jesus on earth” (2 Corinthians 5:20). That doesn’t mean they preach whatever they want, either: On the contrary, their message is already written; they just need to go tell the world of saving Grace and make it known to every race.
What happens after they preach? Matthew says they will be “baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” In other words, Jesus expected baptism to be directly connected to the preaching of His death, burial, and resurrection. Following baptism would come a teaching of the new Disciples to “observe all things,” that Jesus previously commanded the Apostles.
Essentially, Jesus is providing the formula for the spread of Christianity. It’s not supposed to be a movement that ends with twelve witnesses to a resurrection. It’s a soul-winning, evangelistic effort, involving the teaching of minds and the changing of hearts. Connected with that is the message of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, as well as the baptism of the believer, and the expectations that come with being a Disciple of Jesus.
What role, specifically, does baptism play? Mark answers that in His recording of Jesus’ words. He has Jesus tell the Apostles: “preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be condemned.” Thus, with all three accounts in view, a full understanding of Jesus’ words can be attained…
The Lord wants His Apostles to assume His role of Heavenly spokesman, being His eleven (soon to be twelve, and then later, thirteen) witnesses and Ambassadors on earth. The message they are to preach concerns His death, burial, and resurrection. Those who hear the message but do not believe will remain condemned. The response by those who do hear and believe that message is to be repent and be baptized.
What follows that is remission of sins.