Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
These well-known verses form the Great Commission, outlining the primary task Jesus has left His disciples prior to His return. Often when these verses are discussed, the focus is on what the command is. While this is important, unfortunately we often miss out on understanding who is giving the command. Thus, we will consider three launchpads for meditation that will help us better understand Jesus in the Great Commission.
Jesus as the New David
The first launchpad for meditation explores the Jesus as the New David theme from the beginning of Matthew to the end. The introduction and conclusion of each gospel account tends to contain the major themes of the gospel, so it is no surprise that Matthew 1 and Matthew 28 frame the entire gospel.
At the start of chapter 1, Matthew introduces the genealogy by writing, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Unfortunately, modern readers are quick to skip the tedious list of names in the first half of chapter 1.
But to the original audience, this genealogy would have proclaimed Jesus as the New David. Besides simply saying that Jesus is the son of David, Matthew includes at least two hints within the genealogy to highlight that Jesus belongs to the line of David.
First, is the clear use of gematria, an alphanumeric code of assigning numerical value to a word. With gematria, each Hebrew letter, from first to last, is assigned a numerical value. The numerical value of a word is determined by summing up the value of the composite letters.
In Hebrew, the name David consists of three letters that sum to 14. It is not a coincidence that the genealogy is arranged into three groups of 14 generations. Additionally, the name David appears as the 14th name in the genealogy.
Second, although several kings are listed in the genealogy, only David is honored with the title “the king”.
Following the genealogy, the reader is reminded of Jesus’ Davidic lineage when the angel refers to Joseph as “son of David” (Matthew 1:20).
Before jumping to the end of Matthew, let’s pause to consider what Jesus as the Son of David would have meant to the original audience. In 2 Samuel 7, God makes a covenant with David. Within the covenant, God promises to raise up an offspring of David and establish the throne of his kingdom forever. Throughout the prophets, this coming Davidic Messiah is to reign forever over all the peoples of the earth in a kingdom of justice and peace (for example, see Isaiah 9).
Importantly, the coming Messiah King is none other than the Son of Man described in Daniel 7:13-14: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
With all this background on chapter 1 and the meaning of the Davidic Messiah, let’s fast forward to the end of Matthew, and carefully consider what is meant by all authority in heaven and on earth being given to Jesus.
Instead of worshipping the devil in exchange for “all the kingdoms of the world” (Matthew 4:8), Jesus receives from the Father all authority in heaven and on earth. With the allusion back to Daniel 7, it is clear that Jesus is the Son of Man (that is, Jesus is the Messiah King).
Every king has a kingdom, and in the Great Commission we learn that Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth.
In summary, in the words of Charles Quarles:
“Jesus is the new David, our King. He is the fulfillment of God’s covenant with David. He will rule over a kingdom composed of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue forever and ever. We must kneel before his throne as humble subjects, recognizing that he bears all authority and that he deserves and demands our fullest submission”.
Jesus as the New Abraham
The second launchpad for meditation explores the Jesus as the New Abraham theme from the beginning of Matthew to the end. Just as Jesus as the son of David implies much more than being a descendent of David, Jesus as the son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1) implies that Jesus is more than just a descendent of Abraham.
In the Old Testament, God makes Abraham’s descendants into a great nation. The 12 tribes of Israel are to be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth. As the Son of Abraham, Jesus is the Founder of a new chosen people who are set apart to be a light to the ends of the earth.
In both the genealogy and the account of the Magi, Jesus is portrayed as the Messiah for not only the Jews but also the Gentiles.
Contrary to most genealogies of the time, Jesus’ genealogy mentions four women in addition to Mary (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba). Importantly, all four women were non-Jewish. In the person of Jesus, God’s redemptive plan includes Gentiles.
Indeed, the first people to worship Jesus were Gentiles. Neat and tidy modern-day manger scenes obscure the startling reality that the magi were Gentiles. With their occupations as magicians, enchanters, and sorcerers, Jewish people actually avoided associating with magi.
This worship of Jesus by Gentiles provides a backdrop of contrast for the rest of the book. Throughout Matthew, Jesus is rejected by the Jewish leaders but embraced by those on the margins of Jewish society, including many Gentiles.
Fast-forwarding to Matthew 28, we read about Jesus commissioning His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. Just as the people of Israel were to be a light for the Gentiles so that God’s salvation may reach to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6), the people of Jesus are to make disciples of all nations.
In summary, in the words of Charles Quarles:
“Jesus is the new Abraham, our Founder. He fulfills God’s covenant with Abraham by creating a new chosen people composed of both Jews and Gentiles who will be holy as God is holy and who will serve as a light to the nations.”
Jesus as the Incarnate Creator
The third launchpad for meditation explores the Jesus as the Incarnate Creator theme from the beginning of Matthew to the end.
In Matthew 1:23, we are told that Jesus will be called Immanuel (which means “God with us”). Unlike David or Abraham, Jesus is not merely human. He is God with us.
Jesus’ divine identity is confirmed in many ways between chapters 1 and 28, but for brevity, I will simply highlight two examples.
First, in both the baptism (see Matthew 3:17) and transfiguration (see Matthew 17:5), we hear the Father’s voice from heaven describing Jesus as his beloved son.
Second, after the calming of the waters in chapter 8, the disciples exclaim “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” In the disciple’s mind, only God calms the sea. Psalm 89:8–9 is clear that it is Yahweh who stills the raging waters: “O Lord God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O Lord, with your faithfulness all around you. You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.”
Fast-forwarding to Matthew 28, we see at least two more ways in which Jesus is portrayed as God.
First, the disciples are to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share the same name. Along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, Jesus is divine.
Second, after the command, Jesus gives His disciples the promise “and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”. This very last verse in Matthew points the reader back to Matthew 1:23 where Jesus is Immanuel (God with us). These verses frame the entire gospel.
This very last verse in Matthew should also point us back to the Old Testament. The promise “I am with you” should remind the reader of many Old Testament passages where God assures His people of His presence. For example, in Genesis 26:24 God says to the scared Isaac, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.”
In summary, in the words of Charles Quarles:
“Jesus is the new Creator, Immanuel, Yahweh in human flesh. He performs the miracle of new creation, transforming his people from the inside out, so that they become the people he desires. Those who experience the new creation never cease to be awed by his glory and greatness and offer him their sincerest adoration, worship, and praise.”
So, my prayer today is that we would be faithful to the person giving the Great Commission. As the New David, Jesus is worthy to be proclaimed king to the ends of the earth. With Jesus as the New Abraham, we can have confidence that His people will be from all the nations of the earth. And with Jesus as the Incarnate Creator, we can rest assured that God is with us.