“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 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; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’” Matthew 28:18-20
Apart from Christ’s claim to deity, the above declaration is possibly the most remarkable that He ever made, for in it He claims absolute authority over everything in the realm of creation without limitation or restriction. There is absolutely nothing beyond or above His sovereign rule.
The authority of Christ is the foundation and source of the Church’s authority to carry out the Great Commission among the nations. For this reason, it is imperative that the church grasps both the extent of Christ’s authority and its far-reaching implications for the missionary endeavor.
The Extent of Christ's Authority
It is simply impossible to overestimate the limitless nature of Christ’s present authority. Regardless of the abundance of terms employed and the surplus of poignant emphases made, the extent of His reign cannot be exaggerated. Even the Apostle Paul’s glorious description of Christ’s exaltation does not exaggerate the reality it seeks to communicate:
“God seated Him at His right hand in the heaven places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet.”- Ephesians 2:20-22
The absolute sovereignty of Christ over heaven and earth is confirmed not only by the New Testament, but also by the Old Testament prophesies that predicted His coming. More than five hundred years before the incarnation, the prophet Daniel spoke of a “Son of Man” who would receive unimpeded dominion over all the nations and peoples of the earth:
“I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.” - Daniel 7:13-14
A wonderful illustration of this text is found in the life of Joseph, who was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, and unjustly confined to prison for a crime he did not commit. However, at the time appointed by God, he was brought before the most powerful ruler in the world and exalted to his right hand:
“Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Though I am Pharaoh, yet without your permission no one shall raise his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.’”- Genesis 41:44
This exaltation of Joseph over all the land of Egypt was only a small type or shadow of the exaltation of Christ over the entire universe. As Joseph was taken from prison and exalted to the right hand of Pharaoh, so Christ was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God. As Joseph was given authority over all of Egypt, so Christ was given authority over all creation so that without His permission no one would raise his hand or foot in all the cosmos!
Going Out In Christ's Authority
The truth of Christ’s claim to absolute authority has great significance for the church’s completion of the Great Commission. This becomes especially apparent in light of two undeniable facts – the colossal nature of the task and the weakness of the individuals who have been called to undertake it. In the verses immediately preceding Christ’s declaration of authority, we read the following:
“But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.”- Matthew 28:16-17
Our text reveals a group of men who appear the least likely to change the world. They were not great men of faith or valor. Like us, they were a mixture of belief and doubt, obedience and hesitation, willingness and fear. They were not the stuff of legends! Nevertheless, Jesus discerns their weakness and goes out to meet them. He counters their doubts and fears with a declaration of His absolute authority over everything without exception, limitation, or restriction. In the following observations, David Brown and John Trapp brilliantly portray this interaction:
“What must have been the feelings which such a Commission awakened! ‘We conquer the world for Thee, Lord, who have scarce conquered our own misgivings – we, fishermen of Galilee, with no letters, no means, no influence over the humblest creature? Nay, Lord, do not mock us.’ ‘I mock you not, nor send you to warfare on your own charges: All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore. Lo, I am with you all the days. Go ye therefore’” (The Four Gospels, p.134).
“Go! In this My strength, as Gideon did against the Midianites (Judges 7:13), and though but a barley cake, coarse and contemptible, yet shall ye overthrow the world’s tents, yea, the strongholds of Satan; though you have but lamps and pitchers in your hands, yet shall ye achieve great matters”(John Trapp, Commentary on the New Testament, Matthew 28:18).
In the end, Christ’s declaration of supreme authority had its desired effect. By His authority, the disciples and their courage and faith soon did become the stuff of legends! In one generation, they conquered kingdoms and “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6 KJV).
This same authority, which has aided the Church against insurmountable odds for the last two millennia, continues today with undiminished strength. If the Church in this present generation is to accomplish the task of taking the Gospel to every creature under heaven, she must once again rely unreservedly upon the scepter of Christ. If the present-day missionary is to truly be an instrument for the global advancement of Christ’s kingdom, he must lay aside all confidence in the flesh and find his strength and boldness in the absolute authority and inexhaustible power of the One who sends him. When we compare the malevolent strength of this fallen age to our own frailties, the Great Commission appears to be an utterly futile goal. But when we look to the exalted Christ, who has conquered and goes forth conquering, we are able to believe that what is impossible for men is possible with God!
What then does it mean that all authority has been given to Christ in heaven and on earth? It means that “he who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:6). It means that at our Lord’s return, there will be “a great multitude which no one can count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, [with] palm branches...in their hands, [crying] out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9-10).
Going Out Under Christ's Authority
Most who are involved in missions would heartily agree with everything that has been said thus far about Christ’s authority and its implications for world missions. However, we often fail to recognize that in order to go out “in” Christ’s authority, we must also go out “under” His authority. In other words, both the content of our teaching and our methodology of missions must be taken from our careful and painstaking study of the Scriptures. We have no right or warrant to carry out the Great Commission according to what seems right in our own eyes (Judges 17:6; 21:25). Our doctrine must be thoroughly biblical and not the product of our culture or its so-called wisdom. Our methodology or mission strategy must be drawn from the same Scriptures and with the same care and exactitude as our doctrine. We must not employ unbiblical means to propagate biblical truth or carry out a biblical endeavor.
When Moses was about to erect the tabernacle, God gave him this solemn warning: “See that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:5; Exodus 25:40). Now we know that “whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction” (Romans 15:4); therefore, we can conclude that at least the same care to follow God’s pattern should be taken with regard to God’s greatest endeavor – the building of His Church through the Great Commission. Like Moses, we have no right to alter God’s design or to replace it with one of our own. To reject or even ignore the biblical pattern for advancing the Great Commission will ultimately result in failure. We must never give into pragmatism, nor can we ever accept a certain methodology of missions simply because it seems to have some apparent success. In both our doctrine and our strategy, we must lash ourselves down to the Word of God!
God has given the Church and her ministers the Scriptures so that they “may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17). It is only through the Word of God that we may know how “one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (I Timothy 3:15). In all our missionary endeavors, it will matter very little that we hold to the inerrancy of Scripture if we do not also hold to its sufficiency. We must tenaciously hold onto the truth that we have everything we need in the written Word of God to instruct the nations and to order our steps (Psalm 119:105; I Thessalonians 4:1).
We must decide from what source we will draw both our teaching and methodology. Like Moses we must take care to do all things according to the pattern that is shown us in the Scriptures. We must renounce the works and strategies of the flesh and search the Scriptures to discover both the content and methodology of missions. The more we trust in the arm of the flesh, the less we will see God (Jeremiah 17:5-8). We must throw off Saul’s armor and pick up the smooth stones of the Gospel that have been neglected far too long (I Samuel 17:38-40). It is the only way to slay the giants that oppose us and to win this war of world missions.