PREPARATIONS BEFORE THE PUBLIC MINISTRY(3:13 TO 4:22)
2.THE SPIRIT LEADS JESUS TO THE DEVIL (4:1-11)
B.Is it the Devil that gives power over nations?
We look deeper here at the above-mentioned offer of power that the Devil makes to Jesus, because the way of understanding it conditions our vision of God and the world, including our journey of faith: we do it by going to the parallel passage in Luke, where it is expressed more clearly. In Luke 4:5-7 it is written: “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours’”.
Starting from this text in Luke, some believers develop a ‘theology of the unfortunately’, which leads them to make statements such as: “Unfortunately, brother, until Jesus returns, the world is dominated by the ‘Prince of this world’, who is the Devil and who gives power to those who obey him. As long as we are in this world, therefore, unfortunately we cannot live that life as believers we would like to live”. Rather than doctrinal matters, this is about not remaining victims of a crippling pessimism, which attributes to the Devil powers similar to those of God.
Can the Devil truly give to whom he wants the kingdoms of this world? And would this be the Gospel, that is, the ‘Good news of Jesus’? As for that statement of the Devil, as we have seen, it is Jesus himself who does not take it seriously, ordering him to leave and with Satan forced to obey as any subordinate would. This, however, is just one episode of Jesus’ fight with the forces of evil, which will carry on through the whole Gospel and it will be good to analyse it gradually, limiting ourselves now to some brief considerations, that immediately counteract a fear of the Devil that Jesus did not have and that therefore his disciples should not have either.
In Daniel 4 it is told of how the emperor Nebuchadnezzar was forced to recognize that “the Most High”, that is God, “is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes” (an expression repeated three times, vv. 17, 25, 32). Did God later abandon that role maybe? Since the Devil is referred to as “the father of lies” (John 8:44) and since the amazing promises to Adam and Eve to become “like God” turned out to be counterproductive (Gen 3:4-8), I think we should conclude that the Devil’s promises to Jesus were actually a lie.
It has been argued that, according to Revelation 11:15-18, the kingdom of the world will pass to Jesus in the future only. That passage, however, cannot be set against other passages of Revelation and the Bible in general, but we must seek a way to harmonize them.
For example, God let the pharaoh of Egypt persecute Israel for a certain time, because that served to get them out of that country, so that they would become a mature people, able to carry on their history in the ‘Promised Land’ (Exo 1-14). The apparent full sovereignty of the pharaoh before Moses’ arrival, in short, was in reality subordinate to the omnipotence of God, functional to a plan of God and temporary, that is, with precise limits decided by God. Something similar can be seen in the case of Herod who killed the apostle James and was then punished (Acts 12), demonstrating that God never ceased to exercise his lordship over the world.
The Devil’s influence on this world will certainly reach a maximum point, but God remains sovereign and the authorities are ministers of God, not of the Devil (Rom 13:1-6). The goal of God is now the evangelisation of the whole world and the Devil certainly cannot stop it (as can be seen from the whole of the book of Acts and from history).
We stop here, also because it will be for the Gospel of Matthew itself to give us the opportunity to take up the subject again, at least with the clear final message of Jesus: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (28:18). Certainly, it has not been the Devil who gives Jesus that power: Jesus rejected his deceptive benefits and then the Father supplied him with the authentic and lasting ones.
JESUS RISES AND REMAINS AMONG THE DISCIPLES (28:1-20)
2.THE FINAL INSTRUCTIONS TO THE ELEVEN APOSTLES (28:18-20)
- Evangelising people with the power of Jesus (28:18-19a).
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (28:18-19a).
The statement that Jesus was given “all authority” is clear, but since it is not easy to see its realization in this world, it is then understood as saying: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and will be given to me on earth”. Only after having ‘walked’ a certain path did I seem to see the power of Jesus in this world and I described it in the book ‘Culture and the Bible’ (Part V, ‘Hints of Christian Geography’). While in chapter 7 of this book (par. 2/B) we have compared this statement of Jesus with the Devil’s claim to be able to give the kingdoms of this world to anyone he wants to, as expressed in Luke 4:5-7.
It is evident that one of the two statements is false and it is not surprising that, among unbelievers, those prevail who think that this world is dominated by the forces of evil. It is instead surprising to hear people who call themselves followers of Jesus and then believe in the dominion of the ‘prince of this world’, that is, of the Devil. Implicitly considering Jesus as weak and lying!
The difficulty of seeing here and now the power of Jesus lies in the fact that he exercises it now focusing mainly on one aspect, to extend it in a complete way later. The power that Jesus exercises now is not ‘restricted’, but ‘focused’ and the focus that interests him is linked to the task he entrusted to us, introduced by a THEREFORE that relates it to his power (“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. THEREFORE go and make disciples”). It is as if Jesus were to say: “Since I have been given full powers, throw yourselves into evangelisation and I will help you with my power”.
Abraham was given the Promised Land, but his descendants took possession of it after becoming sufficiently numerous (Gen 13:15; 15:13-14; Exo 12:37). The 120 disciples at the beginning of Acts (1:15) were few to rule the world, but already at the end of Acts we find that the disciples had permeated vast areas. When in all nations there are disciples of Jesus, then Jesus will begin to exercise full dominion over all nations.
From the KJV Bible we see that we are not told to make disciples, said here as ‘teach’, “IN ALL nations”, but “ALL nations”. This suggests that Jesus does not only care that there are English individuals that believe in him, but that they also represent a nation, that is, that an ‘English’ church is formed. As a start we can consider the translation of the Bible, first in Latin and then English. The interest of God in maintaining national identities was manifested in the ‘simultaneous translation’ made at Pentecost for the benefit of the many nationalities present there (Acts 2:5-11), followed by the choice of the Greek language for the New Testament and continues even today, with the many Christians engaged in the translation of God’s Word into languages that are still devoid of it.
- Is Jesus with us every day or is he in heaven? (28:20b).
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (28:20b).
This clear statement echoes the promise made in 18:20: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them”. It is significant that these two statements are found only in Matthew and that they confirm the will of Jesus to remain in some way on Earth as risen, even in the ‘present age’.
Jesus’ presence here and now is crucial to establish our relationship with him, but leaves several questions open. In what sense is Jesus with us? How does it reconcile with the fact that he ascended to heaven, from where he will return at the end of time? (Acts 1:11; 3:20-21; Heb 10:12). Is he present only through the Holy Spirit, who replaced him? (John 14:15-25; 16:12-15).
ASCENSION. Jesus’ ascension to heaven is recorded only by Luke, who puts it at the end of his Gospel and at the beginning of the book of Acts (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:11). We must therefore consider the meaning that Luke himself gives to it and that can be derived by continuing the reading of the Acts. In them we find that Jesus actually goes up to heaven and is then replaced by the Holy Spirit, who from Acts 2 onwards remains at the centre of the scene (2:4,38; 4:8,25,31; 5:3,31; 6:5; 7:55; 8:15-17,29,39; 9:31; 10:38,47; 11:15,24; 13:2,52; etc.). But this does not mean that Jesus remains totally absent, because we see him intervening directly especially in Paul’s life (9:3-5; 18:9; 22:18; 23:11; 26:16). This direct presence of Jesus in his life should not be considered an exception, for Paul was raised up as a model to imitate (1Cor 4:16; Phi 3:17; 4:9). Jesus then promises a personal and direct relationship also to the members of the terrible church of Laodicea: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Rev 3:20).
HOLY SPIRIT AS A SUBSTITUTE. Since it is John who dwells on the fact that Jesus will be replaced by the Holy Spirit (14:15-25; 16:12-15), also in this case we must see the framework in which it is inserted. Even for John, for example, the absence of Jesus is not total and indeed his presence is in some way strengthened. To be brief, we consider two other passages of John which we find in the same context, starting from 14:19: “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live”. The relationship between Jesus and the disciples, after the descent of the Holy Spirit, will not be ‘through an interposed person’, but will remain ‘direct and between the living’. Very significant is also 14:23: “Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them”. Everything becomes more understandable if we consider that Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not act in competition, but in collaboration. Opening ourselves to the influence of the Holy Spirit, then, means understanding Jesus better and thus coming to establish a deeper relationship with him.
The presence of Jesus in the midst of his people, moreover, is in continuity with the Old Testament, where we find that God is close to Adam, present in the life of the patriarchs, in the midst of the people of Israel before the Temple, in the Temple and after the destruction of the Temple (e.g. Gen 2:19; 17:1; 28:16-17; Exo 40:36-38; 1Kin 8:10-11; Eze 11:16).
In conclusion, Jesus disappeared in the eyes of the world, who will see him as a judge on his return (Mat 25:31-32; Rev 1:7), but Jesus continues to be present among the disciples in a secret, real and effective way.