What Makes the Great Commission So Great: The Assistance Christ Gives

Posted by R. Fowler White

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)

According to Matthew 28, the third of the truths that makes the Great Commission so great is the assistance Christ gives, the presence He provides. Look again at 28:20b, And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew tells us that Christ the King, as He executes His office and pursues His agenda, is God with us. He is our Immanuel. He is the ever-present help of His followers. Our King is also our Priest.

Knowing Christ as Immanuel is evidently vital to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. In Matthew 24-25 Jesus had taught that the spread of the gospel to the nations will bring the spread of tribulation and persecution to the nations. From His first coming to His second coming, there will be intensifying pressure on His church to apostatize as “the days of Noah” and “the days of Lot” return to the earth. Tribulation and persecution will bear the fruit of apostasy and betrayal. False prophecy will multiply in deception. Lawlessness will increase. Culture will suffer corruption. All of these developments are enough to instill fear in those to whom Christ has entrusted the fulfillment of the Great Commission. But He tells us, “Don’t be afraid. I am with you always, to the end of the age.

These words remind us of God’s words to Joshua before the conquest of the nations in the Promised Land. You remember the story. Moses was now dead. It was understandable that Joshua and the people would tremble, be afraid, be dismayed. But what were the Lord’s words to Joshua? Arise, go over this Jordan … No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. … Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Josh 1:2, 5, 9). Notice what the Lord does here. As He commands Joshua and the nation to obey His commission to take possession of the Promised Land, He recognizes that they may tremble, be afraid, be dismayed. But they are to recognize that He who had given them His commission is He who makes them a promise: He promises them His presence and His assistance to fulfill His commission. They could recall how, at the end of his life, a dying Moses had communicated this same commission to go into the land of foreign nations, to bring those nations under dominion of their God, and to observe all the commandments in the Law, with the promise of His presence and assistance. Even so, as we reflect on the end of His earthly ministry, we find that the living and resurrected Jesus, the one who is greater than Moses and Joshua, gave His commission to His apostles and His church to go into all the earth to bring all nations under His lordship, and to teach them to observe all His commandments, with the promise of His presence.

Jesus, the new Joshua, who commands our obedience to His Great Commission is at the same time the ever-gracious God who provides us His presence and assistance to fulfill it. He is the Commander of the hosts of heaven who defends us and restrains all of His and our enemies. He is the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls who preserves and supports us under all our temptations and sufferings. And at the end of this age He is the Judge who will deal with those who refuse to yield to Him and to obey His gospel.

What is it that makes the Great Commission so great? Not only the authority Christ exercises and the agenda Christ has set, but also the assistance Christ gives us. As we spread the gospel to the nations and tribulation and persecution spread with it, the Lord Jesus who has given us His commission has promised us His presence and His assistance to fulfill His commission. Echoing the gist of God’s words to Joshua and Israel, He says to us, Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

What Makes the Great Commission So Great: The Agenda Christ Has Set

Posted by R. Fowler White

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)

According to Matthew 28, the second of three truths that make the Great Commission so great is the agenda Christ has set, the program He has undertaken. Notice 28:19-20a, Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you. The point here is to tell us that Christ the King, as He executes His office, has a mission of outreach for ingathering. He is going to build His church. He is going to call out a people from the world to Himself. He will give them His laws, by which He will govern them, reward their obedience, and correct them for their sins. This mission, set by Christ our King, is a disciple-making agenda for all nations, and it has two parts.

The first part of Christ’s agenda is to make disciples by baptizing. Through baptism, those among the nations who repent and believe the gospel are admitted into Christ’s visible church, together with their children. Uniting us with His church under the name of the triune God, baptism marks the end of our life outside His assembly of disciples and the beginning of our life inside of it. The second part of Christ’s agenda is to make disciples by teaching. Every congregation of Christ’s church is supposed to be an extension campus of His ministry of education. Assembled as His disciples, we learn and teach all that Jesus taught about His own person and work and about the privileges and duties of discipleship. In the ministry of His word, we hear His gospel of grace and His law of love, His promises of salvation and His warnings of judgment. All this because Christ is not only the King on the mountain of the Great Commission; He is also the true Prophet who brings the word of the Lord from the mountain of God above.

As we said, this two-part program that Christ has undertaken is for all nations. His universal kingship means worldwide mission. Through Jesus the Son of Abraham, blessing goes to all the families of the earth from the Lord God. Through Jesus the Son of David, obedience comes from all the peoples of the earth to the Lord God. It was this transnational, transgeographical, transgenerational agenda that united and motivated the apostles of Christ in the years immediately after His resurrection and ascension. His Commission was an agenda so grand that the apostles could pursue it only by the power of His Spirit and according to His Word through prayer and preaching. So it is now, until the end of the age.

What is it that makes the Great Commission so great? In addition to the authority Christ exercises, it’s the agenda Christ has set for His church. There are no substitutes, no alternatives. The apostles, from Peter to Paul, took the agenda that He had set, the program that He had understaken, as their own. Those who would be His church today will do the same.

What Makes the Great Commission So Great: The Authority Christ Exercises

Posted by R. Fowler White

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)

In what follows, take a look at the first of three truths that make the Great Commission so great. The first truth before us is the authority Christ exercises, the position He fills. Look at 28:18, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Jesus tells His disciples that He now occupies and executes the office of king. As a reward for His obedience to the Father’s will, Jesus is now King of kings and Lord of lords. He is in control of all things in heaven and on earth, including—notice—Satan, the world, sin, and death. He is Lord of all. He now has and now wields all authority over the entire order of creation, both heaven and earth. All creatures, visible and invisible, be they nature, angels, and man, are at His disposal. He is King of kings and Lord of lords.

Other writers in the NT testify to the great truth of the authority that Christ now exercises. In Ephesians 1 Paul speaks of how in Christ God exerted the immeasurable greatness of His power and the working of His great might when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. The apostle John refers to the same truth in Revelation 1 where he speaks of Jesus Christ as the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Still further in Hebrews 1-2 we hear that Jesus is the Son of God, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. Jesus, says Hebrews 1, after making purification for sins, has taken His seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high. As a result, according to Hebrew 2, we do see Jesus, because of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor.

Too many in the church today believe and teach that Christ does not here and now occupy and execute the office of king. At best, this false view gives us a Great Commission without a King to issue it, while it deprives us of the motivating vision of the present glory and majesty of Christ. We dare not forget that Jesus is truly now His Royal Highness from whom we have the edict to lead others to a saving knowledge of Him. In fact, let’s recall that Christ’s present kingship is one of the truths that caused doubters on the mountain of commissioning (Matt 28:17) to become witnesses of mighty faith.

Through Matthew the Evangelist, God would teach us and have us believe that Christ now occupies and executes the office of king. As such, He restrains and conquers all His and our enemies and powerfully orders all things for His own glory and our good. This truth is the first of three in Matthew 28 that make the Great Commission so great. Confessing the authority Christ now exercises, the position He now fills, let’s go and make disciples.

Amazing Thoughts on Prayer

Witsius knocks this one out of the park. He is commenting on the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer (“Hallowed be thy name”).

It is a very extraordinary and almost incredible familiarity of intercourse which a man is permitted to maintain with God in holy prayer. That a base wretch,—a sinner under sentence of condemnation, a worm that deserves to be trampled under foot,—should be admitted to intercourse with the Divine Being, whose majesty the brightest inhabitants of heaven approach with lively praise, and yet with the lowliest adoration, is certainly a high privilege. To be conducted to the throne of grace by the only begotten Son of God,—to have the words and the very groans supplied by the influence of the Spirit of prayer,—to be permitted to express, with the utmost boldness and freedom, every desire and wish which is not inconsistent with the honour of God, or the true interests of the worshipper,—is a privilege higher still. But the most wonderful of all, and one which almost exceeds belief, is that a man should be allowed to plead, not only for himself and for his neighbour, but for God,—that the kingdom of God and the glory of God should be the subject of his prayer,—as if God were unwilling to be glorious, or to exercise dominion except in answer to the prayers of believers…The honour of praying for God, which is thus granted to a human being, ought to be so highly prized by a believing soul that, loving God above all things, even above itself, it should overlook for a time its own concerns, until the matters which relate to the glory and kingdom of God have been carefully settled (from The Lord’s Prayer (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, facsimile of 1839 edition), 185-6).

Witsius goes on to note that we do not pray for God as if He needed anything. We pray in order that God’s glory may be declared.

A Chronology of Jesus

(Posted by Paige)

In a bid to enhance biblical literacy in our congregation, I’ve dabbed many a brushstroke onto the walls of one room in our building to provide our Bible teachers with enormous maps and timelines to illustrate their lessons. I’ve just embarked on the most complex of the timelines, an attempt to sort out the events of Jesus’ ministry years into more-or-less chronological order; but I’m finding that I need to do some homework here before I commit myself in acrylics. Maybe some of you redemptive-history buffs can help.

First off, where do we get the idea that Jesus’ ministry was three years long? Is this simply implied in his parable about the barren fig tree in Luke 13:7 – “Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none”?

Second, have any of you ever seen a decent attempt to harmonize the events in the Synoptics with Jesus’ several visits to Jerusalem as described in John? I’m thinking of grouping the events from the Synoptics above the timeline, and adding the punctuation of the holiday visits to Jerusalem from John’s account below it.

Not to mention the Lazarus event – am I correct to read this as the unnamed catalyst that turned Jesus southward from Galilee towards Jerusalem late in the Synoptic accounts? (Though John maybe implies that Jesus was in Perea just prior to that cataclysmic miracle – “He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained,” Jn. 10:40. So was he in Galilee or Perea when the message reached him [Jn. 11:6,“he stayed in the place where he was”]?)

I realize that the best we can do here is make educated guesses, so I’m hoping that some of your education in this area exceeds mine. Thanks in advance for your expertise!

If you’d like to see some of the murals from our Chart Room, check out the wall of my biblical literacy site. I have yet to figure out how to photograph the 20-foot timeline of redemptive history, but you can at least take a look at the maps. (The full-map JPEGs work great as Power Point slides, by the way – so I take my walls with me when I teach elsewhere! You’re welcome to borrow them too, if you’d like.)

A Friendly Intro to Biblical Theology, Take Three

(Posted by Paige)

Here is a link to a 30-minute talk that I gave at a Bible study conference this October. It’s another introduction to redemptive history, this time tracing the theme of God’s inclusion of the Gentiles through the Old and New Testaments. I also play around with a connection between the Syrophoenician woman and Paul’s words about the “mystery” of Gentile inclusion in Ephesians 3. It’s on YouTube this time NOT because it’s a video of me speaking, but because I made slides to illustrate the audio. Please listen if you like, and pass the link on to others who might benefit, especially those who are just getting to know the Word.

Soli Deo Gloria!

The Literary Connection of Matthew 24 to Matthew 25

Jesus’ discourse on the last times in Matthew 24-25 is tightly connected and parallel in construction. This has important theological and pastoral ramifications. Let me demonstrate.

Two mini parables end chapter 24: the parable about the thief and the master of the house, and the parable about the faithful and wise servant who is doing what his master commanded when the master returns. What follows in chapter 25 is three large sections, two of them definitely parables, and the last section possibly a parable, or perhaps an extended metaphor. The first parable of chapter 25 is the parable of the ten virgins (five were wise in being prepared, five were foolish in being completely unprepared). The second parable is of the talents, again having wise servants (with the 5 and the 2 talents) and the foolish servant (with the 1 talent). The chapter ends up with the separation of all people into sheep and goats. For our purposes here, I want to point out the parallel order: the ultimate once-for-all preparedness of faith in Christ precedes and grounds the subsidiary preparedness of obedience. Faith is the foundation for obedience. The master of the house who is wise in watching for the intruder is the faithful servant doing what his master commanded when the master comes back, who is in turn the wise virgin who prepared by bringing extra oil, who in turn is the faithful servant multiplying his talents, and is the sheep at the end. The (implied) foolish master of the house who did not watch is the foolish servant who beat his fellow servants, who is the foolish virgin caught without oil, who in turn is the foolish servant who hid the talent in the ground, and is the goat at the end. There are two parallel threads here marking out (ultimately) the sheep and the goats.

Even further, however, notice that in both chapter 24 and chapter 25 the ultimate preparedness comes before and grounds the subsidiary preparedness of obedience. You have to be the wise master of the house in order to be expecting the master’s return and behaving accordingly. Similarly, in the parallel chapter 25, you have to be the wise virgin in order to be the wise servant multiplying talents. Faith always leads to obedience. It is the source of obedience. The indicative grounds the imperative, as it does in all of Paul’s letters, and as it does in the Ten Commandments.

Going back a bit further into chapter 24, we notice that Jesus is setting up these two threads by talking about preparedness: some will expect Jesus to come back any day, while others will treat it the same way as those sinners in Noah’s day. Going back even further, Jesus gives us signs of the times, some of which signs apply to the destruction of Jerusalem, while others apply to the end of the world (see the programmatic question of the disciples in verse 3). It all hangs together: prepare for the Lord’s coming by believing in Christ, and obeying Christ, and obeying Christ because you believe in Him.

“Commandments” in Matthew 5:17-20?

(Posted by Paige)

While puzzling this week over the referent for “these commandments” in Matt. 5:19, I came across two distinct explanations in two of D. A. Carson’s older commentaries. I think they end up in the same place, but they begin quite differently. What do you think?

Here is the familiar passage, from the ESV:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Carson writes this in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World (Baker, 1978; but I have the 1987 edition):

The expression ‘these commands’ does not, I think, refer to the commands of the OT law. It refers, rather, to the commands of the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom mentioned three times in verse 19f. They are the command already given, and the commands still to come, in the Sermon on the Mount…It is worth noting that Jesus’ closing words in Matthew’s Gospel again emphasize obedience: the believers are to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded (28:18-20). Jesus’ commands are highlighted, much as in 5:19.” (40, 41; bold added, italics in original.)

And he writes this in his article on Matthew in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (ed. Gaebelein; Zondervan, 1984):

“But what are ‘these commandments’? It is hard to justify restriction of these words to Jesus’ teachings…, even though the verb cognate to ‘commands’ (entolon) is used of Jesus’ teachings in 28:20 (entellomai); for the noun in Matthew never refers to Jesus’ words, and the context argues against it. Restriction to the Ten Commandments…is equally alien to the concerns of the context. Nor can we say ‘these commandments’ refers to the antitheses that follow, for in Matthew houtos (‘this,’ pl. ‘these’) never points forward. It appears, then, that the expression must refer to the commandments of the OT Scriptures. The entire Law and the Prophets are not scrapped by Jesus’ coming but fulfilled. Therefore the commandments of these Scriptures – even the least of them… — must be practiced. But the nature of the practicing has already been affected by vv.17-18. The law pointed forward to Jesus and his teaching; so it is properly obeyed by conforming to his word. As it points to him, so he, in fulfilling it, establishes what continuity it has, the true direction to which it points and the way it is to be obeyed. Thus ranking in the kingdom turns on the degree of conformity to Jesus’ teaching as that teaching fulfills OT revelation. His teaching, toward which the OT pointed, must be obeyed.” (146; bold added)

So…which is it, Dr. Carson? (Anybody have his new edition of the Expositor’s commentary?)

A Banner Year for Matthew Studies

This year has seen an astonishing array of outstanding studies in the Gospel of Matthew. If pastors could only have access to commentaries on Matthew published in this year, they would not be seriously lacking in content. First off the block is a republication of this commentary, originally published in 1893, just after the author’s death. It shows the author at full maturity. The commentary is not lengthy (only 442 pages), but it does have that quality that Calvin prized so highly of “lucid brevity.” Spurgeon always preaches. This is a newly type-set edition, published in a well-bound hardback. I don’t really need to press people to get this. Pastors will know that they should own it.

Next we have this excellent addition to the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series. I have reviewed the other volume currently published here. I direct readers there for my initial thoughts about the series. The potential of this series for helping people to get a solid grasp of the flow of the text is enormous. I can only hope that they will start an Old Testament series along the same lines. This is a major series, and with forthcoming volumes on Ephesians and Galatians, it looks like they will be publishing steadily. Edit: they just became available at WTS today! Osborne teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and is a colleague of D.A. Carson. This volume is a heavy-hitter, weighing in at 1154 large-sized pages. He is a conservative when it comes to the text, and recognizes well the interdependency of history and theology. He denies neither in the text. This volume is full of insights, and is well worth the investment.

Speaking of Carson, he has revised his volume in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary for inclusion in the Revised Edition. Carson’s commentary has long been a standard in the field, and this revision brings it up to date. Carson’s work is by far the most bibliographically thorough of the four works discussed here. He even had the opportunity to interact with Turner’s volume (only published 2 years ago!). The value of Carson’s commentaries can hardly be overestimated. Obviously Osborne and Carson were not able to integrate fully the findings each of the other, although as colleagues at the same school who both wrote on Matthew, I’m sure they shared many thoughts together on Matthew over a cup of coffee. If pastors don’t purchase this volume, they are insane.

Last, but certainly not least, is the perfectionistic work by Knox Chamblin (volume 1 and volume 2). This is a simply massive commentary (almost 1600 pages in the two volumes!). The care that Chamblin took over this commentary is reflected in the amount of time it took to get these volumes to press. While as thorough as he could be (he spent more time in the books than in the articles), his bibliography is inevitably a tad behind (he could not even interact with France’s commentary, which was published 5 years ago). One should not view this as anything close to a substantial weakness, however, for the depth of treatment is unsurpassed. The only commentary that rivals this one for depth of treatment is Davies and Allison in the ICC. The advantage this commentary has over Davies and Allison is that Chamblin is a Reformed confessional author (he taught at RTS Jackson, where he is now emeritus). I need not spend any more time doing injustice to these magisterial volumes. Instead, I will quote Derek Thomas’s thoughts on these volumes: “If I were to be limited to only one commentary on Matthew, this would be the one.” As I said before, a banner year for Matthew studies. When one adds these four volumes to the ones recently published by France, Nolland, Turner, Wilkins, Bruner, Davies/Allison (1, 2, 3), Hagner (1 and 2), Blomberg, Doriani, Garland, and Keener, one will find all the modern help one could wish to have (one must not neglect older studies like Plummer and Meyer, of course).

Does God practice temporary forgiveness?

Posted by Bob Mattes

I read Dr. Rob Rayburn’s letter to the PCA Standing Judicial Committee with some interest. I was curious to see how a church officer defends someone who holds virtually identical views to a man who was a hair’s breath from indictment a short time ago before fleeing the denomination. I found the read, though, greatly disappointing and even disturbing. I found the theological arguments to be more like blind assertions, and support was entirely lacking when Rayburn seemed to be making assertions about particular Scriptural texts.

I found the assertion that God forgives temporarily particularly disturbing, and that will be the subject of this post. Rayburn:

Justification – whatever else it is – is the forgiveness of sins. It is perfectly obvious that there is such a thing as temporary forgiveness because the Bible says there is (cf. Num. 14:20 with 1 Cor. 10:5; Ezekiel 16:1-14; Matthew 18:32-34; etc.). Whether we are entirely satisfied with Dr. Leithart’s effort to incorporate this biblical material into the larger picture of the way of divine grace, the fact is, temporary forgiveness is a biblical datum.

I’ll deal with his view of justification in another post. The assertion above, made without support, is that temporary forgiveness is perfectly obvious in the Bible – a given. Really? I’ve never seen it, and neither did Calvin, the Westminster Divines, or any other orthodox Reformed scholar I can find.

Let’s look at the Scriptures cited, starting with the most challenging. Matthew 18:32-34 (ESV) says: Read the rest of this entry »

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