In the Fulness of Time/Part 158

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2012
Over the past 14 years we have been privileged to have Dr. Figart share with us from his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. With this article we bring this series to a close – in the Fulness of Time!

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Christ’s Resurrection: Proof by the Disciples’ Witness. Matt. 28:16-20

Mt. 28:16-20 “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke unto them, saying, All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age. Amen.

Each of the Four Gospels has a distinct conclusion, with individual records of the resurrection appearances of Christ. Mark gives the appearance “first to Mary Magdalene” then to “two of them as they walked and went into the country,” and then to “the eleven as they sat eating” (16:9-14). Luke includes the appearance to the two who “went that same day to a village called Emmaus,” then to Jerusalem “to the eleven gathered together and those that were with them,” whom He took to Bethany, and there ascended up to heaven (24:13-50). John’s Gospel records the appearance to Mary Magdalene, to the ten disciples that same evening when Thomas was absent, to the Eleven eight days later, to seven of the disciples at Galilee, to the disciples the next morning at the Seas of Galilee, and the personal interview with Peter (John 20:11-19; 21:1-23).

Significantly, Matthew limits his account to two of these occasions, Christ’s appearance to the women near the tomb, and the appearance in Galilee to the disciples some time later (28:9-10, 16-20). A number of authors have considered this appearance of Christ in Galilee the same as the one “to more than five hundred brethren at once” (1 Cor. 15:6). The reasons given for this comparison include the fact that “some doubted” (verse 17). Thus, these doubters must not have been the Eleven, since they saw Jesus before. Second, to the women Jesus said, “Go tell my brethren” (verse 10), a term He never used of the Twelve; therefore it must have referred to a much larger gathering of all His followers in Galilee. For example, Christ used the term “brethren” generally in 23:8: “But be not ye called Rabbi, for one is your master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.” Admittedly, the passage has its difficulties, but the following observations should be noted:

In Mt. 28:10, when Jesus said: “Go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee,” He surely did not mean that the women should go tell more than five hundred! It was the Eleven who were in Jerusalem at the time; these men were told that Jesus would go before them into Galilee.

In Mt. 28:16-18 there is repeated reference to the eleven disciples, but no reference to more than five hundred: “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke unto them….” To insert another group into this context is an unfortunate intrusion.

In Mt. 28:16 the words “Jesus had appointed them” refers back to 26:32 which was immediately after the Lord’s Supper, when Jesus said to the Eleven, not to more than five hundred, “But after I am raised up again, I will go before you into Galilee.” This is closely connected with 28:17, “And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.” It should not be surprising that some of the Eleven doubted. Several times in Mark 16:11-16 the Eleven refused to believe those who saw Him, and “he appeared to the eleven as they sat eating, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart because they believed not them who had seen him after he had risen.” Even when the Eleven saw Him, “they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had see a spirit” (Luke 24:37.

It may well be that when Matthew recorded that “some doubted” he was referring to various occasions during the forty days of appearances of the risen Savior, including the one in Luke 24 as well as this time in Galilee. It is not necessary to know just when this doubt occurred. It is important to know that all the doubt was eventually removed: “The very fact that the disciples were not in the least credulous and quick to believe, but had to have all doubts completely and thoroughly removed, is proof of the most convincing kind that Jesus did rise and that He did appear to his disciples as recorded in the inspired record.” (Lenski, Matthew, p. 1140).

The three final verses present the re-commissioning of the Eleven; the Twelve were commissioned in Matthew 10:1-9, but the scope of it is now enlarged. In 28:18 the thought of 28:17 is continued with the connective kai, “and,” indicating that Jesus still had more to say to the Eleven when: “Jesus came and spoke unto them.”

The first of three things was His Claim: “All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (28:18), proving His Person. Christ not only proved His deity by the resurrection; here was a claim to universal authority given to Him by His Father. He had claimed such authority in John 10:18: “I have power (exousia, “authority”) to lay it down and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.” He has all authority given to Him and He is now seated at the right hand of the Father, until God the Father makes the enemies of Christ His footstool (Matt. 23:44). Then He will return to earth and exercise His authority as the Messiah/King over all the earth.

The second of three things is His Command: “Go therefore and teach all nations” (28:19-20a), presenting His Program. On the basis of His authority Christ now expands His outreach to include all nations. In Matthew 10:1-8 when Christ sent the Twelve on their first mission, it was limited to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6). But then, because His own people received Him not, He is now ready to command that the message be given to all nations.

This command includes going, discipling, baptizing and teaching. Even though the word “going” is a participle, it nevertheless is a command, as John 20:21 affirms: “As my Father hath sent me, so send I you.” Acts 13:1-4 indicates that the Holy Spirit calls specific people and sends them to specific places: “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work unto which I have called them.” The words “teach all nations” (mathete usate panta ta ethne, “Making disciples of all nations”) involves presenting the Gospel, baptizing those who receive the Gospel, and teaching those converts to observe all things given to the disciples by Jesus. Every observance of water baptism in the book of Acts was carried out immediately after the individual accepted Christ as Savior; there was never a waiting period to “prove” that the new believer was going to persevere. All such restrictions on the basis of “culture” or “proven testimony” are foreign to Scripture!

The final concept is His Comfort: “I am with you always” (pasas tas hemeras; “all the days”) (28:20b), the promise of His Presence. Two factors are included in this final statement from Christ; the first is His abiding presence. This is simply a fact of the Christian’s position: “Ye in me and I in you” (John 14:20), and “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). It is surprising how few real believers take advantage of this knowledge in a practical way. How often, sad to say, do such expressions come from the lips of sincere Christians, as, “God, be with us today,” or, “Lord, be with the missionaries.”

The same fourteenth chapter of John gives assurance that all three Persons of the godhead indwell each believer: “And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever, Even the Spirit of truth… ye know him, for he dwelleth with you and shall be in you” (John 14:16-17); and this promise: “If a man love me , he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23). These and many other verses of Scripture make clear the abiding presence of the Lord. So, to ask Him to be with you is a form of unbelief; either you believe what He has said: “Lo, I am with you always,” or you are ignorantly continuing to plead for something which has already been given you as part of your salvation!

A second factor is that this promise is: “even unto the end of the age.” In the book of Matthew, when Christ speaks of “the age” He refers to the period in which He ministered by sowing the wheat among the tares until the end of the age when He sends forth His angels to separate the wheat from the tares, as discussed in chapter thirteen. This means, therefore, that the responsibility for preaching the Gospel cannot possibly end with the Eleven, but that it will continue to the end of the age. Matthew 28 is not the only admonition to preach; Paul, writing to the Corinthian church, said: “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given unto us the ministry of reconciliation… and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17-20).

The forty days of Christ’s resurrection appearances ended with His ascension to heaven. His last words to the disciples were: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power (exousia, authority), But ye shall receive power (dunamis) after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).

May we who love Him hold fast His claim of “All authority;” may we obey His command to go to “All nations;” and may we revel in His comfort of being with us “All the days” until He comes again, “In the fulness of time!”

The last words of Christ in the Bible are: “He who testifieth these things saith, Surely, I come quickly. Amen. Even so come. Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).

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