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. – Matthew 28:18-20
The passage above is not generally considered an “Easter text.” But if we look carefully, I think we might find that it has more to do with Easter than is first apparent.
The famous “Great Commission” of Matthew 18:18-20 is almost always studied in isolation from the rest of the chapter. We can only understand it fully when we remember that this charge to the church is from the risen Christ. One way to do this is to look earlier in the chapter at the angel’s claim—He is not here! And in response ask—“All right, then where is the risen Christ?” Matthew 28:18-20 is answer. Where is the Christ, now that he is risen?
First, he is at the right hand of God. “All authority is given me” (v.18). He is not merely ‘in heaven looking down.’ Rather, he is now in a position to exercise power in the world and history. He is spreading his kingdom-authority in the world through the ministry of the church.
Second, he is in the ministry of the gospel. “Go and make disciples” (v.19). As the gospel is preached, it changes men and women into disciples. This life-changing ministry is intimately connected to the risen Christ. (All authority is given me, therefore go…) In Ephesians 2:17 Paul goes so far as to say to the Ephesians that “Christ came and preached...to you” though the physical incarnate Christ never went to Asia Minor. Paul means that in the preaching of the gospel, Jesus comes to us.
Third, he is in the community of his people. “Surely I am with you.” (v.20). When the risen Christ says, “I am with you” he uses a second-person plural. The risen Christ is with ‘you-all.’ This is not promise to the individual Christian, but to the community of believers. In Luke 24, the disciples on the road to Emmaus only discerned Christ ‘in the breaking of the bread.’ Luke is probably drawing a reference to the Lord’s Supper. In the corporate worship of the church, Christ comes into focus. In the ministry of Christians to one another, loving, serving, confronting, comforting one another, using the spiritual gifts from the hand of the risen Christ—we experience his presence.
Lastly, he is waiting for us at the end of history. “I am with you...to the very end of the age” (v.20). The old KJV translation says, “I am with you unto the end of the world.” To the English reader that may seem to have a spatial reference; (i.e. “I’ll be with you no matter where you go in the world,”) but actually the word has to do with time. Jesus is thus promising to be the ‘happy ending’ of the world’s history and our personal history. Christians move out into a violent world as agents of peace, into a broken world as agents of reconciliation, into a needy world as servants of the poor. We do so knowing that it is God’s will to eventually end all war and division, all poverty and injustice. The resurrection of Christ assures us that God will redeem not just souls but bodies, and will bring about a new heavens and new earth. As the risen Christ, he stands not just with us in our present time, but he waits at the end of history to heal and renew everything. That is his promise. Therefore, we will not fear.