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In Matthew twenty-eight, before Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of God the Father, He gives very clear and concise instructions to His disciples who are in Galilee worshiping the risen Savior. Jesus states, “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.” This was a peculiar command to Christ’s followers at the time.
Professor of New Testament at Palmer Seminary, Craig Keener reminds us, “Making disciples was the sort of thing rabbis would do, but Jesus’s followers are to make disciples for Jesus, not for themselves.” These instructions were Jesus’ parting words; His big picture plan for His church. This was such a big picture plan that the disciples needed the Holy Spirit (Acts 2) in order to be obedient to a task of this magnitude. Although these words of Christ are clear, Christians throughout every generation are prone to complicate this simple, but a profound command.
God through Christ has made the process of making disciples a reality and His commission to the Twelve to evangelize His elect from every tribe, tongue and nation is still relevant for disciples today. Even though many Christians seek to evangelize today, we often do this timidly or in a defeated posture. I believe this is because we often overlook the fact that we are ambassadors. We are to deliver the good news in the authority of Christ. Let’s briefly consider why Christ’s authority matters.
Why Authority Matters
One cannot think rightly about evangelism apart from understanding the authority of the resurrected Christ. Before Christ gives His commission to the disciples, He qualifies the command by claiming, “μοι πᾶσα ἐξουσία ἐν οὐρανῷ” or “all authority has been given.” The word ἐξουσία or authority means “power or right” and is used by the Apostle Paul in Romans 9:21 when he likens “God’s authority to that of a potter over his clay (Romans 9:21).” Jesus commissions the disciples and sends them in His authority. This is not to say that Jesus did not have authority before, but this passage indicates the totality of Christ’s authority. The Greek word, πᾶς or all, demonstrates for us the totality of Christ’s authority. Theologian D.A. Carson states:
all dominates vv.18-20 and ties these verses together: all authority, all nations, all things, all the days… It is not Jesus’ authority per se that becomes more absolute. Rather, the spheres in which he now exercises absolute authority are enlarged to include all heaven and earth. The Son becomes the one through whom all God’s authority is mediated. It marks a turning point in redemptive history, for Messiah’s kingdom has dawned in new power.
The implications for this cannot be overstated. The old cliché, “consider the source” finds itself at home in Christ’s authority. A messenger only has as much credibility as the one who sends him. The message of the Gospel is powerless apart from the authority of Christ. Jesus sends Christians out with His sovereign authority.
[bctt tweet=”Christians bring good news in the name of their King.” username=”servantsofgrace”] They are heralds on behalf of the Ruler of heaven and earth. This should drastically affect the way Christians engage in the delightful task of making disciples. The authority of Christ should produce a confidence that the message being heralded has power and will be applied to the lives of God’s elect. Therefore, Christians have no reason to be timid or ashamed in the message of the Gospel.
An appropriate illustration of making disciples in the authority of Christ would be one of running through the streets in the warmth of the sun after a major storm has dissipated, throwing open cellar doors inviting people to come out and enjoy the warmth of the sun. We are inviting orphans to become sons and daughters of the Most-High King.
God the Father has given Christ “complete freedom over all.” This means; all freedom to impose His authority in heaven and earth, all freedom to impose His authority on every disciple and all freedom to impose His authority over every person and nation. On the basis of His authority, believers are to go and follow His instructions completely.
Whether counseling the Gospel to a believer or evangelizing a non-believer, the Christian must remember that he/she comes in the authority of Christ and rest in God’s sovereign work of accomplishing His plan and purpose for the nations.
Two more passages regarding Christ’s active authority are Psalm 110:1 which states, “The LORD says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” and Ephesians 1:20-22, “…that he worked in Christ 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. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church…”
According to the Apostle Paul in the Ephesians passage, Christ alone is the fulfillment of Psalm 110:1 and is therefore actively reigning now. The Baptist Catechism communicates Christ’s authority in a question and answer format: “Wherein consisteth Christ’s exaltation? Christ’s exaltation consisteth in His rising again from the dead on the third day, in ascending up into heaven, in sitting at the right hand of God the Father and in coming to judge the world at the last day.”
After Christ ascended the Scripture teaches that He sat at the right hand of God the Father. According to Psalm 110:1, Christ will not stand again until all His enemies are made His footstool. This is significant in a study on the task of making disciples.
The God who has declared “the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done” (Isaiah 46:10a) is the same God who is sovereign over the means of making enemies Christ’s footstool. The question is; “How does God make enemies Christ’s footstool?” The answer to this question is none other than the Body of Christ; His church.
God, through the person and work of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, is using His church to confront enemies and change their position to that of allies (Romans 5:10). God does this through faithful Gospel proclamation. God, the Father has the day of Christ’s return fixed (Matthew 24:36), but He will not return until this Gospel work of making disciples is sovereignly complete.
With this context, Christ’s commission in Matthew twenty-eight becomes even clearer: the process of faithfully making disciples has eschatological implications. Christ will not return until all of His elect are converted through the successful process of making disciples. Understanding Christ’s authority and the sovereign design of His commissioning is a critical foundation for the disciple maker as he seeks to faithfully steward and herald the Gospel to those in his sphere of influence.
 Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary New Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 130.
 William D. Mounce, ed. Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 47.
 D.A. Carson, Matthew, Mark, Luke, in vol. 8 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 133.),terVarsity tPress409ounseling.ries Worldwide, 1998),Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2013).
 Leadership Ministries Worldwide, Practical Word Studies in the New Testament (Chattanooga: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 1998),131.
 Solid Ground Christian Books and Reformed Baptist Publications of the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America, The Baptist Confession of Faith & The Baptist Catechism (Vestavia Hills and Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books and Reformed Baptist Publications of the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America, 2010), 100.
Joey Tomlinson (DMin, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a husband, father, and pastor at a local church in Newport News, Virginia. He blogs regularly on broadoakpiety.org and hosts a weekly podcast called The Broad Oak Piety Podcast with another local pastor in the community.