CAP.33. JESUS RISES AND REMAINS AMONG THE DISCIPLES (28:1-20)
2.THE FINAL INSTRUCTIONS TO THE ELEVEN APOSTLES (28:18-20)
A. The overall meaning of the message.
The event of the crucifixion made it necessary for Jesus to repeat the previous programme, as we find in the last two verses (28:18-20), of which we now take an overview, going over them again later in more detail, starting from his being king (“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”), then re-launching the project of spreading the seed of the Gospel (cf. 13:23-38), through the reproduction of the disciples on all the Earth (“make disciples of all nations”). A mission that would have been possible because Jesus would have helped his own to realize the project (“I am with you always”); implicitly recalling the parable of the mustard seed (13:31-32), to reassure them that their small number would not have prevented a great growth. The task must be carried out as quickly as possible, because only when it is completed will there be “the very end of the age”, with the establishment of a kingdom of God cleansed from the weeds, that is, from “all who do evil” (13:41-43,49).
B. 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.
C. Trinitarian baptism or in the name of Jesus? (28:19b).
“Baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (28:19b).
This text is clear and the churches baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. The problem is that, in all three cases reported in Acts, baptism is done in the name of Jesus only. Even two reminders that Paul makes of it indicate a baptism “in Jesus”.
-Acts 8:16: Philip in Samaria baptised “in the name of the Lord Jesus”;
-Acts 10:48: Peter baptised Cornelius and the others “in the name of Jesus Messiah”;
-Acts 2:38 is even more significant and it is reported that Peter, to those who had accepted his message, said: “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call”. Although Jesus, the Holy Spirit and God (in the sense of God the Father) are named, baptism was done in the name of Jesus only.
-Romans 6:3: “All of us who were baptised into the Messiah Jesus”.
-Galatians 3:27: “All of you who were baptised into the Messiah”.
Many of the differences between the ancient manuscripts concern passages relating to the Trinitarian doctrine, which from a certain point onwards was interpreted and practised exaggerating the divinity of Jesus, though this can easily be derived from the whole of the New Testament. Some maintain that Matthew’s original text was “baptizing them in my name”, a text later modified by the copyists. We will not enter into the merits of the matter, but on the doctrine of the Trinity we have already made specific observations (Further insight n. 4, ‘Bringing the Trinity back in Galilee’, at the end of chap. 4). Recently I returned to the subject with the file ‘Paul and Jesus 2’, using as a title an assertion of Paul (‘There is one God, the Father, and one mediator, the man Jesus’), uploaded on my site on 12/10/18.
In any case, even if one considers the text of Matthew 28:19 as authentic, it seems to us that baptism should be done “in the name of Jesus” because so did the apostles, who are the reference interpreters for all believers in Jesus.
D. Teaching in a complete way (28:20a).
The Acts show that the teaching on Jesus started in a simplified way, especially towards non-Jews. Those who received the first announcement were then given a more systematic and complete education. After Peter’s first preaching, in fact, it is written that the new disciples “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). Paul also used the same strategy and, when addressing the Greeks, he kept the message to a minimum, as he did to the jailer at Philippi and to the Athenian philosophers (Acts 16:31; 17:30-31). The following Letters addressed to believers in that area (Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians) show Paul’s desire to bring them to maturity as soon as possible, using what he considered an inexhaustible source, that is the Scripture, by which at that time they meant the Old Testament. He wrote to Timothy: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2Tim 3:16-17).
E. 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.