“All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18). Who is the man who can claim to have been given all authority in heaven and on earth? Has a more amazing statement ever been made, a more startling claim ever been registered? In the climactic moment in Matthew’s entire Gospel, here is Jesus, with the Eleven, in Galilee, ascended onto the mountain, uttering what has become known as “the Great Commission”: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:19–20).
How can Jesus have all authority in heaven and on earth? In the context of Matthew’s Gospel, the reader is reminded of the gambit proposed to Jesus by “the tempter,” the devil, Satan, who took Jesus “to a very high mountain” and showed him all the kingdoms of this world and their splendor and said to him, “I will give you all these things if you will fall down and worship me” (Matt 4:8–9). Jesus refused, rebuking the devil, “Go away, Satan!” Later in the Gospel, Jesus tells his closest followers that he must suffer, and be killed, and be raised the third day, and when Peter takes him aside and begins to rebuke him, denying the necessity of the cross, Jesus, in similar terms, tells Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matt 16:21–23).
So it is only after the crucifixion that Jesus claims to have all authority in heaven and on earth. It is the risen Christ who, in the manner of a conquering, victorious general, ascends the mountain and commissions his followers to go and conquer the worlds, similar to Alexander the Great and other military leaders who set out to subdue the universe and subject it to their will. But Jesus’ will be a gentle conquest, in keeping with his invitation, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28–30).
And as his followers go into all the world in order to disciple the nations, Jesus himself, Isaiah’s Immanuel, which is translated “God with us” (Matt 1:23), will be with them: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” How, then, can the church’s mission possibly fail, if Jesus, the risen Christ, the conquering general, will himself be present with his people in the power of the Holy Spirit? Indeed, “This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come” (Matt 24:14). In the original scene, as Matthew tells us, “When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted” (Matt 28:17). Will you and I worship, or will we doubt?