The resurrection appearances
The Great Commission
1. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me
2. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations
3. Make disciples
a. Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
i. Eusebius and Mtw 28:19
1. Is Eusebius quoting?
2. Did Eusebius believe in the Trinity?
ii. The Didache and Mtw 28:19
b. Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you
4. Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age
This incident must have taken place a while after the events surrounding the day of the resurrection and definitely after the appearing of Jesus to the eleven on the eighth day in Jerusalem (John 20:26 - the phrase ‘were again in the house’ seems to draw a parallel with the place they were staying mentioned in John 20:19) for the disciples had little time to journey back to Galilee within that eight days and then return into the city.
I’ve already briefly discussed what we should understand by this mountain meeting in my previous web page and noted that, even though the writer of Matthew makes the reader think that this was the first appearance of the risen Jesus to the eleven remaining disciples, it’s plain that they’d already met with Him on at least two separate occasions along with a private meeting with Peter and, perhaps, the appearing on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (see the first section below for a list of the resurrection appearances).
The author begins this passage with the statement that the eleven disciples journeyed to the mountain in Galilee but, even so, this doesn’t mean that their number is to be taken as exclusive of any others who may have been with them or who were already there awaiting their arrival.
Although this appearing is clearly a special event in Matthew’s understanding, we need to try and comprehend why the angel should instruct the women to tell the disciples (Mtw 28:7)
‘...He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him’
reiterating the statement of Jesus at the celebration of the Passover a few days before (Mtw 26:32) that
‘...after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee’
when His appearing to the eleven was to take place before they ever arrived there. There’s certainly the indication that what’s being spoken about is a prearranged meeting in the record of the angel’s words in Mark 16:7 for he states clearly (my italics) that
‘...there you will see Him, as He told you’
even though the actual mountain goes without mention. I noted on the previous web page that Paul, in I Cor 15:6, writes that
‘...[Jesus] appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive though some have fallen asleep’
and that this seemed the most logical explanation of the mountain top appearance. Not only so because it’s difficult to understand why they should be directed to a place where they would see Jesus when they were going to see Him sooner than they thought, but because Jesus, reiterating the command of the angel, tells the women returning into the city (Mtw 28:10 - my italics)
‘...go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me’
where the italicised words seem to be more applicable to a large body of followers than simply to the eleven who were left. Matcar comments that the phrase means
‘...all those attached to His cause who were then in Jerusalem, most of whom had followed Him from Galilee to Jerusalem...’
and the fact, noted above, that the disciples still appear in the city some eight days later may be an indication that they were delaying returning to Galilee until they were content that everyone associated with Jesus would have had time to make it to the location when they arrived. But there’s also an indication that more than just the ‘inner core’ of disciples is meant in Mtw 28:17 (my italics) where we read that
‘...when they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted’
This italicised word comes from a Greek word (Strongs Greek number 1365) which Vines interprets to mean
‘...to stand in two ways...implying uncertainty which way to take...’
Matmor notes that
‘Many translations have “some doubted” and this may indeed be the meaning, but “hesitated” seems more likely...’
but it’s hard to see such an interpretation being applicable in its only other use in the NT in Mtw 14:31 where Jesus reaches out to catch Peter’s arm as he’s sinking in the waters and asks him (my italics)
‘O man of little faith, why did you doubt?’
The word ‘hesitate’ just doesn’t seem to fit here for Peter isn’t hesitating to commit himself to something but is turning back from his belief that he had the ability bestowed upon him by Jesus to walk on the water towards Him. It was his doubt which caused him to regard the evidence of the wind and the waves over and above the word which had been spoken to him and, in the present situation on the mountain, the idea seems to be paralleled in the evidence of their own eyes which is coming against the logic of their own minds.
It isn’t that they hesitate to believe, but that they doubt whether what they’re seeing is what they’re being told is true - that Jesus has risen from the dead.
Putting this into the context of the people present on the top of the mountain, it seems strange that the disciples at this time could have been said to have doubted when they’d already met with Him on at least two separate occasions (John 20:19-29), but it’s entirely possible that men and women who hadn’t yet seen Him but who had only heard the reports from the ‘inner circle’ should question in their own minds as to the authenticity of what they were witnessing.
Here, then, is another indication that this mountain rendezvous was meant to be much more than a private meeting with the eleven and it’s more likely that the gathering of five hundred as recorded by Paul is what’s being described. Matcar notes that, in summary of such an observation that some doubted, that
‘Jesus’ resurrection did not instantly transform men of little faith and faltering understanding into spiritual giants’
and the lack of perception which many had portrayed before the cross is also the same which is displayed afterwards (Mark 9:32). Having said that, there are many commentators who would see the uniqueness of the meeting as being the commissioning of the eleven disciples for the universal proclamation of the Gospel (and there’s no denying that it’s the more straightforward of interpretations) but Mark 16:14-18, Luke 24:47-49, John 20:23 and Acts 1:8 are different occasions when such a commission was given, albeit in different words, to the eleven, the first of which is recorded as having occurred in their first meeting with Him. Matmor also comments that Matfran ‘argues strongly’ that only the eleven were present, but he’s best to be followed when he observes that
‘...it is not easy to see how the hesitators could have been some of the eleven after the dramatic removal of Thomas’s doubts (John 20:24-29)’
It seems best, therefore, to take this command given to those present on the mountain top as a commission for all His followers and not just to the small core of disciples which Jesus had selected from all those who’d been following Him (Luke 6:13).
By concluding the Gospel with Jesus’ command, what the writer does is actually not to conclude his Gospel at all, for the final word recorded is actually the first word of the subsequent history of Jesus’ followers. As such, it’s a fitting ending which one would expect from any great Hollywood film which seems to know instinctively that the production will demand a sequel so that it mustn’t draw the story to a conclusion from which there can be no continuation.
Galilee was where Jesus’ ministry had been centred and, following His rejection in Jerusalem, the commissioning of His disciples begins in the place where He’d ministered amongst the nation and which was culturally diverse - that the Gospel might be rooted in a call upon all men to repent and to believe the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The resurrection appearances
Matthew contains just the two resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ, the first of which we’ve dealt with (Mtw 28:8-10) where the women returning from the tomb are confronted by Him when He reiterates the message which the angel has already given them to tell to the disciples. The other clearly takes place on a mountain in Galilee (Mtw 28:16-20) as a fulfilment of the instruction which had been given previously on resurrection Sunday.
Trying to follow the resurrection appearances and to put them into some sort of chronological order is difficult - if not impossible - for each of the writers seem to have their own reasons for the inclusion of some stories and the exclusion of others.
Although most modern commentators only accept that the original Gospel of Mark runs to the end of Mark 16:8 (which causes the Gospel to ‘hang’ in the air rather than to be rounded off with a neat conclusion - perhaps, because of the close association of Matthew with Mark, something like an ending of the former would have been expected), the following few verses specifically note (Mark 16:9) that Jesus
‘...appeared first to Mary Magdalene...’
recorded for the reader in John 20:11-18. But close on the heels of this must surely be the appearance previously mentioned in Matthew of His appearing to the women as they were returning from the tomb. Jesus seems to have next appeared specifically to Peter a long time before evening came when the inner band of disciples were together (Luke 24:34) for Paul notes this appearance as being the first (I Cor 15:5 - notice that Paul has ‘the twelve’ here and is using it as a title of the group rather than meaning an exact numerical figure. If he’s referring to Jesus’ first appearing to the group after the resurrection there were only ten present for Thomas was missing, and his mention of ‘all the apostles’ in I Cor 15:7 perhaps means a post-ascension appearing or, better, the day on which Jesus finally ascended into Heaven from the Mount of Olives - Acts 1:9-12).
It has to be realised that none of the lists which we’re using in the NT texts is exhaustive but there are some which can help us in putting certain incidents in the order in which they were believed to have happened by the early Church. Paul’s passage is one of those.
After the appearance to Peter, Jesus appeared ‘in another form’ (Mark 16:12) to two of the disciples who weren’t part of the ‘twelve’ as they were travelling towards Emmaus on the Sunday of the resurrection (Luke 24:13-32). The time of their arrival in the village is reported as being (Luke 24:29)
‘...toward evening [when] the day is now far spent’
and, when they realised it was Jesus who was amongst them, they rushed back to Jerusalem to find the disciples and tell them what had just happened (Luke 24:33), a distance of four or five miles (if the traditional site of Emmaus is accepted) which may have taken them not much longer than half an hour. Mark 16:13 notes that those to whom they came
‘...did not believe them’
and this may be better taken as an indication that there were some amongst their number who still doubted, for they appear to have been received with some affirming voices as well (Luke 24:34). It’s quite possible that they witnessed to their experience to more than just the eleven, for Mark’s record has them speaking ‘to the rest’, implying a possibly large number.
Meeting up with the disciples, Jesus appeared to all those gathered together (Mark 16:14-18, John 20:21-23). Luke 24:36-49 is normally taken to be a record of Jesus’ first appearance in their midst, probably during the early evening of the Monday after the sundown which ended the period known as Sunday, but he ends with Jesus’ statement (Luke 24:49) that the disciples were to
‘...stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high’
before going on to speak of Jesus’ ascension into Heaven near Bethany (Luke 24:50-53). This is the same sort of format that he uses in Acts 1:4-14 where, following the instruction that they’ll receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them, Jesus ascends into Heaven on the fortieth day after the resurrection (Acts 1:3). Indeed, Luke beforehand notes specifically that
‘To [the disciples] He presented Himself alive after His passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the Kingdom of God’
so that we would do well to see Luke’s record with which he concludes his Gospel as being a foreshortened account to bring to a concise conclusion the period after which Jesus had risen from the grave, rather than to limit it to the single appearing immediately following the resurrection. Mark 16:19-20 also concludes the Gospel with the event of the ascension which rounds off the Gospel neatly.
John 20:26-29, however, notes the presence of the disciples in Jerusalem even after a further eight days and it seems right to conclude that the disciples had stayed behind in the city for whatever reason - Passover and Unleavened Bread had ended only three days prior to this appearance so their delay isn’t as unexpected as one would originally have thought and I’ve previously noted that it may have been that the instruction which they were given by Jesus (Mtw 28:16) to journey
‘...to the mountain to which [He] had directed them’
was meant to be passed on to all the believers and that the eleven were waiting for all His followers to return into Galilee - to be capable of arriving at the pre-arranged mountain at a pre-arranged time. After the absence of the pilgrims from Galilee for a couple of weeks, personal business may have needed to have been seen to immediately and it could have seemed a wise move to delay a few days to allow as many people as possible to congregate at the place specified. This, as I said previously, may have been what Paul lists in I Cor 15:6 as the appearance
‘...to more than five hundred brethren at one time...’
but this is no more than speculation based on some of the sayings in the Gospels and there’s equally good reason for taking the text at face value and seeing in them only the congregating of the eleven here.
After this, John 21:1-23 records another appearance in Galilee before the ascension and Paul notes (I Cor 15:7) two more appearances
‘...to James, then to all the apostles’
the latter of which seems best to be taken as the day of Jesus’ ascension into Heaven which I’ve already commented on above. If viewed in the context of all the appearances of Jesus to His followers over the course of that forty day period, the mountain appearance seems best to be understood as the time in which a great crowd of His followers had gathered. Otherwise, there seems little other reason for the command to leave the city and to journey back into Galilee where He would appear to them - especially when He was to appear to them while they were staying in Jerusalem.
One final note. We often think of Jesus’ resurrection appearances as short episodes within that period of forty days before His ascension but Acts 1:4 notes that Jesus spoke to them shortly before His departure and was
‘...staying with them...’
The RSV’s marginal note points out that the phrase may mean ‘eating with them’ but even such a statement as this implies extended periods of fellowship between them all. We should, perhaps, think of Jesus’ time among them not as short bursts of time but as lengthy stretches in which He continued to instruct them in preparation for the day of His departure.
The Great Commission
We now come to the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel with three verses which have gone quite some way to providing a lot of controversy within the present day Church - none more so than Mtw 28:19 which is taken by many to be a Trinitarian baptismal formula and refuted - just as vehemently - by others as being a scribal addition to the text (even though the evidence for such an assertion seems to be wholly lacking from the manuscript evidence) possibly dating to the time of the writing of the Didache which includes this formula in verse 7.
We’ll look at this verse below under the appropriate section but we shouldn’t be rushed into an interpretation before we carefully consider what precedes it that we might see it within its own context.
Probably the most important thing we can do by way of an introduction to these instructions is to remove the label ‘the Great Commission’ that we all too often put upon them - not that we shouldn’t see in them a command for each new generation of believers (and, by my previous interpretation of the incident as being possibly paralleled by Paul’s record of Jesus’ appearing to five hundred brethren at one time, it can be seen that I don’t believe it was solely the responsibility of the eleven to fulfil it but the responsibility of each and every believer - I Cor 15:6), but that we should remember what’s preceded them.
The disciples, then, haven’t suddenly become ‘believers’ and are immediately given the task which they must strive to fulfil - their relationship with Jesus is something which has been developing over at least the last three years and, though some of them may get the revelation of who Jesus is (Mtw 16:16-17) and even be commissioned to join with Jesus in His ministry to the nation of Israel in one specific location (Mtw 10:1-5), their original call is to ‘follow’ not ‘go’. So, in Matthew, we read of Peter and Andrew being told by Jesus (Mtw 4:19)
‘Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men’
where there’s a promise to be made something which they weren’t, but which they aren’t being urged to go out and fulfil with immediate effect. This is made even more plain by the RSV’s translation of Mark 1:17 which speaks of Jesus ‘making’ the disciples to become fishers of men. To a would-be disciple who wanted to first go and bury his father and to Matthew the tax collector, Jesus again says (Mtw 8:22, 9:9)
while, to the rich young ruler, a hindrance is highlighted which needs removing so that he can (Mtw 19:21)
‘...come, follow Me’
Following Jesus, therefore, is primary. A development of an experience of the One who a believer is called to follow is always primary to a walk with God. Only when that is developed and secure can a disciple of Jesus be in a position to be able to represent Him ‘throughout the earth’ and to fulfil the calling which He places on their life.
It seems to me that, if a new believer wishes to ‘do something’ they should be encouraged to do just that with the active support of the local church - but, if that believer is pressured into moving out into ‘ministry’ by words which lay upon each believer the fulfilment of Mtw 28:18-20 immediately, then the church is doing more harm than good in its dealings with the newly saved.
But we must also note Luke’s record here in both his Gospel and Acts for, when he goes on to speak of the commissioning of the disciples (Luke 24:46-48), he concludes his recollection of Jesus’ words (Luke 24:49 - my italics) with the instruction
‘...I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high’
and, in Acts 1:8, the commissioning of the disciples to be His witnesses comes as the natural consequence of the reception of the power of the Holy Spirit. It must be realised, therefore, that the instructions given to His followers on the Galilean mountain in Matthew’s Gospel mustn’t be thought of as being independent of the empowering of God upon their lives, but is tied up with such an anointing and filling - that is, when the reader approaches these words, he may feel compelled to immediately get up out of his chair, run into the street and start fulfilling the commission. But such a fulfilment can only come if it’s done after having received ‘power from on high’.
We should note at the outset the unusual statement of Matthew that Jesus ‘came’ (Mtw 28:18) which may imply that He ‘came forward’ to be nearer to where they were gathered. Matmor notes, however, that the meaning could be that
‘...He took up a position from which He could easily address the whole group’
so that a slightly elevated piece of ground may be meant here from which everyone could have been able to both hear and see Him.
1. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me
Everything which follows these words are totally dependent upon them and they can’t be stripped of their meaning or of their relationship to the relevancy of the commission which follows. Mtw 28:19’s statement opens with the words (my italics)
showing that such a command can only be fully appreciated and received if the first statement about Jesus having authority over all things is accepted and believed. However, this marks a new chapter in Jesus’ life and we must be careful to note the change from one of submission to that of supremacy and rule. As Matmor comments
‘...the limitations that applied throughout the incarnation no longer apply to Him. He has supreme authority throughout the universe’
There’s been a similar declaration by Jesus that all things have been committed into His hands long before the cross in Mtw 11:27, but I noted on the web page that the context of the phrase needs to be determined in each and every usage and that it more likely means that ‘all the revelation that is needed’ has been given. Jesus was quick to point out to the Jews during His time on earth (John 5:30) that He could
‘...do nothing on My own authority’
and that (John 6:38) He had
‘...come down from Heaven not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me’
even claiming that His dependence upon the Father meant that (John 5:19) He could
‘...do nothing of His own accord but only what He sees the Father doing’
Jesus’ life, therefore, was given over to doing what the Father told Him to do. He didn’t operate in His own authority or with His own power, but relied upon the provision of the Father to accomplish all the works. Yet, through Jesus’ obedience ‘to death’, the Father has now elevated Him to the highest place where the writer to the Hebrews (Heb 2:9) notes that
‘...for a little while [He] was made lower than the angels [but is now] crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death’
while Paul describes it (Phil 2:8-10) by noting that, when Jesus was in human form
‘...He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow - in heaven and on earth and under the earth’
Far from being a minor theological note - or, even an apologetic for the continuing mission to the world - the NT writers saw in it a central truth that went hand in hand with the Gospel to the nations, repeatedly mentioning Jesus as being over all things - whether over individuals, nations or the sum total of Creation (I Cor 11:3, 15:27-28, Eph 1:20-22, Col 1:18, 2:10, I Peter 3:22).
Jesus, then, to the early Church was the ‘son of man’ in Daniel’s vision in Dan 7:13-14 who’s presented before the Ancient of Days and who receives
‘...dominion and glory and kingdom that all peoples, nations and languages should serve Him...’
the NT writers picking up upon this motif in Eph 1:21 (my italics) where Paul writes that Jesus has been placed
‘...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 that which is to come’
showing that His rule isn’t to be thought of as something transient which will either pass away or that it was only given to Him for a short period of time. In Mtw 28:18, we have Jesus’ first post-resurrection declaration of His supremacy as recorded by the writer of Matthew’s Gospel over the entire Creation. It must be realised that, if we view Jesus from the aspect of God incarnate, we may object that Jesus already had total rule over the created order by His right of already having brought it into being, but God’s will was clearly that mankind would receive back His original commission (Gen 1:26) to rule in righteousness over everything that had been created.
Jesus’ declaration is not an implication that, somewhere along the line of history, God had lost control over the universe but that man had now regained his sovereign claim to rule in the person of Jesus Christ through His perfect obedience in the cross and exemplified in the resurrection from the grave - I’ve developed this theme and explained why the obedience of Jesus accomplished a restoration of sovereignty on my web page dealing with the ‘Restoration of Creation’ (part 2 section 3). God Himself is declared still to be over Jesus (I Cor 15:27) so that man might still be seen to be subject to the will of the Father, but Jesus is now the One through whom and by whom the will of God is made known and declared, and who has been given charge of ‘running the planet’, so to speak, to bring about the final outworking of God’s will and purpose in time and space.
The ‘great commission’ (Mtw 28:19-20 - see above for the inappropriateness of this label) that follows this declaration must be understood as being dependent upon this first proclamation of Jesus’ sovereignty. Only when believers readily receive the revelation directly from God that Jesus has all power and all authority will they be able to successfully carry out the second part of His declaration.
I’ve heard it said by many people that followers of Jesus sometimes have to ‘earn the right’ to preach the Gospel amongst either the society in which they find themselves or to the people to whom they’re sent, but this misrepresents the clear implication behind Jesus’ words of authority here.
The only ‘right’ that’s actually needed is permission from Jesus and, if everything is subject to Him throughout the earth and the follower has received a specific call to deliver the message of the Gospel to whoever, there can be no greater authority which needs to be bestowed upon the person before they actively fulfil the calling.
The disciples ‘went’ (eventually - see my notes on Matthew chapter 24 - part 2 section 5) because Jesus is sovereign over all and they were thus enforcing the will of the King wherever they went - they healed the sick, raised the dead, cleansed lepers, cast out demons and preached the Gospel because this was what carried with it the King’s authority. Part of the commissioning of believers, therefore, is the necessity of living in this reality where such an experience isn’t a head knowledge but a life which reflects a personal demonstration of His Kingship.
This, then, is the third of the conditions for fulfilling the ‘great commission’ - a personal developing relationship with Jesus (Mtw 4:19 - see above), the empowering of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49 - see above) and the experiential acknowledgement of Jesus’ sovereignty demonstrated in His victory over death through perfect obedience.
The commission which follows has conditions which are foundational to its fulfilment. If a believer neglects these, what will happen in the pursuit of the command will often be devoid of any real life and empowering of God and will be achieved in the disciple’s own strength.
2. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations
For a discussion of what it means to ‘make disciples’, see the next section
Jesus’ command here to
‘Go...[to] all the nations’
comes across the same in other independent places that record His words between the time of the resurrection and ascension. Mark 16:15 (regarded by many commentators as not part of the original text - but its contents are certainly not contradictory to the other records) notes Jesus’ command as
‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation’
Luke 24:47 notes that the outworking of the mission of Jesus was that
‘...repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations’
and Acts 1:8 records Jesus as announcing to the disciples that
‘...you shall be My witnesses...to the end of the earth’
So much was it upon the heart of Jesus that the good news of the cross should be preached worldwide that He mentioned it on different occasions to the apostles. It was for this reason that God called Saul of Tarsus, explaining to Ananias who was to go and lay hands on him that he might recover his sight (Acts 9:15) that
‘...he is a chosen instrument of Mine to carry My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel’
Even when Jesus speaks of the conclusion of all things and of His return to establish a visible Kingdom throughout the earth in Matthew chapter 24, He can only perceive of the end as occurring (Mtw 24:14) when
‘...this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations...’
It is, therefore, rather surprising that the apostles and disciples seem to have remained in Jerusalem for a number of years, before the persecution which arose on account of Stephen’s murder finally compelled them to reach wherever they found themselves scattered (Acts 8:1ff) - and that Jesus’ use of the term ‘to all the nations’ didn’t find a fulfilment in a mission to the Gentiles until at least Acts chapters 10-11 through the conversion of the centurion Cornelius and his household.
But even this first of the Gentile converts wasn’t accepted as being the universal will of God by the Church until Acts chapter 15, many years after Jesus’ original command. However we’d like to think of Jesus’ words to His followers, His intentions are clear - the message of the Kingdom was intended from the start to have been brought to every person in every nation and not limited either to the ethnic groups in which a believer lived or to the nation in which that group found itself. It was to transcend all borders and barriers and deliver God’s one message of eternal salvation to all men.
The ‘therefore’ which follows the command to ‘Go’ refers us back to Jesus’ former statement before the command (I once heard a preacher say that, whenever you see the word ‘therefore’, you have to ask yourself what it’s there for) that all authority belongs to Him. This statement doesn’t mean
‘Because I have sovereign rule over all things, you must obey the command that I’m about to give you’
‘I have sovereign rule, therefore you are in a position to be able to go’
The Church can only effectively reach the nations when they are abiding in the revelation of the total supremacy of Jesus. As Eph 1:22 notes
‘...He has put all things under His feet and has made Him the head over all things for the Church’
not simply because Jesus is seen to be the One who must be obeyed in everything but because He’s the One who rules over everything that His Church might find resources sufficient to meet every need that comes their way.
As I’ve previously noted earlier, this command of Jesus to ‘Go’ is qualified by Luke in both His Gospel and the Book of Acts (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4) that the power of the Holy Spirit in the disciples’ lives must be a necessity if the world is to be reached effectively, Jesus actually forbidding His followers from leaving the safety of the city until the power of the Spirit comes upon them.
Through the history of the Church, many have ‘gone’ not in the power of the Spirit and yet have known some degree of success in the work in which they toiled. But, to know the impact of the early Church in evangelism, the believer must make sure that they’re moving in the same power as that first generation of believers were. As the apostle Paul wrote in Rom 15:18-19 (my italics)
‘...I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Holy Spirit...’
Although both word and deed are mentioned here, they’re inextricably bound together with both the power of signs and wonders and the power of the Holy Spirit.
3. Make disciples
A ‘disciple’ (Strongs Greek number 3101 - the associated verb ‘to make a disciple’ is used in Mtw 28:19) is a ‘learner’ or ‘pupil’ in the strictest meaning of the word who learns in a similar relationship to that which can be found in present day schools and colleges throughout the world.
The teacher passes on information and instruction in a set time, while the disciple takes the data from his instructor, learning the principles for greater knowledge in a wide range of subjects. So is the Greek word translated ‘disciple’ understood in its strictest sense, but this doesn’t appear to be the limiting concept which we should understand as coming across in its use in the NT between Jesus and His followers, because it implies only the bestowal of mind knowledge to the disciple from one recognised as being a superior.
If we’re to better understand the type of relationship meant, we must turn to the philosophical schools of the Greek world to witness the concept of the ‘master’ and his ‘disciples’. Kittels notes that
‘We first meet the master/disciple relation in the philosophical sphere where Socrates fosters it to replace the teacher/pupil relation of the Sophists...In contrast to Pythagoras who imparts information for a fee, Socrates refuses payment and offers himself rather than his knowledge’
Zondervan also comments that
‘...its usage described...the necessity of the disciple adopting the philosophy, practices and way of life of his teacher...Physical proximity of the student to his teacher was also implied in the meaning of discipleship...’
The Greek philosophers, therefore, shared their lives with their disciples and not just their teaching - their disciples saw how their master lived, acted and reacted in every area of their life and were therefore in a position to become like their teacher in all his traits, not merely learning his teaching but being recipients of his life. Matmor notes that
‘...In the first century, a disciple did not enrol with such-and-such a school but with such-and-such a teacher’
where a clear distinction is made between devotion to the institution and commitment to a person. It’s this latter concept which must bleed over into the life of the believer.
A disciple of Jesus Christ, therefore, is one who lives continually with Him, watching Him and what He does in situations so that he’ll do likewise. A disciple will grow to be like Jesus in character and action as he fellowships continually with Him in the supermarket as well as the bathroom.
We see this close relationship in the Gospels as well, where the disciples follow Jesus wherever He leads them, especially in His journeying to the Gentile areas of control in Mtw 15:21-17:21 - but we also see Jesus arriving at the disciples’ houses with them for a meal (Mtw 8:14-15) and, perhaps, of having many of His disciples round to His own house to be taught (Mtw 9:1-8).
Jesus’ command in John 15:12 that the disciples were to
‘...love one another, as I have loved you’
has often been interpreted as referring to the cross and His death on their behalf. But Jesus is here speaking of a way in which He’d loved them in the past when the cross still lay in the future. An interpretation of such a passage must look back, therefore, to what Jesus had already done for them rather than to point forward to what was shortly to take place. And Jesus’ following statement in John 15:13 that
‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’
may again be interpreted in the light of the cross even though the context is clearly what has already transpired, given this context by the verse which immediately precedes it. Laying down one’s life for one’s friends is more than physical (or spiritual) death but it’s the self-sacrifice of one’s own will and desires for the benefit of others.
This is what Jesus’ life exemplified even before the cross and it’s this concept of losing one’s own freedom for the sake of the disciples who will learn and assimilate more of what it means to follow after the Father that lies at the heart of Jesus’ command here to ‘make disciples’.
The actions which spring out of this sacrificial relationship are further outlined in the following two phrases which encompass the latter part of verse 19 and the first part of verse 20 - that is ‘baptizing them’ and ‘teaching them’. These three instructions aren’t independent commands but, rather, the latter two are expressions or further details of how the followers are to make disciples.
The following sections must therefore go some way to showing the way in which disciples are made. Matfran notes that
‘“Baptizing” and “teaching” are participles dependent upon the main verb “make disciples”; they further specify what is involved in discipleship’
So both baptizing and teaching are the means whereby disciples are made in that close teacher/student relationship that’s the basis of Jesus’ command. Matcar, however, sees the two following instructions as not being
‘...the means of making disciples’
but, his conclusion (my italics) that
‘...baptizing and teaching are not the means of making disciples, but they characterise it’
seems, to me, to say very nearly the same thing. If the two principles are an intrinsic characteristic of how one is to make disciples, they’re surely an integral part of how one makes disciples. Perhaps Matcar is making the point that they aren’t the be-all-and-end-all of how disciples are made?
One must remember that, in the New Covenant, each believer has direct access to God Himself (Heb 10:19-22 - see my notes on the rent veil) and the prophetic pronouncement is true (Jer 31:34) which states of the times in which a believer now lives that
‘...no longer shall each man teach his neighbour and each his brother saying “Know the Lord” for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest...’
So there’s no reason to deny the opportunity for individuals to be discipled directly by Jesus Himself as outlined above but, within the Church, there’s also the need for believers to be discipled - not bullied and harried - by others. What has often passed for discipleship has been no more than a concern of leadership to replicate their own brand of christianity within a person’s life that an individual fellowship might grow, rather than to both ‘baptize’ and ‘teach’ and then allow God to freely express Himself through them.
As has been seen at the beginning of this section, a disciple is one who has a relationship/union with Jesus (as outlined in the following phrase concerning baptism - see below) and who, out of that relationship, becomes like Jesus in all His ways (as outlined in the following phrase concerning being taught - see below).
To answer the question as to what it means to make disciples, therefore, the two phrases which follow the original command must be considered, speaking as they do of relationship and obedience. Before we go on to look at these two concepts, we must take some time to consider the label ‘christian’ which occurs only three times in the NT in Acts 11:26, 26:28 and I Peter 4:16 (Strongs Greek number 5546).
Our English word is simply a transliteration of a Roman title that seems to have been applied to the disciples as can be seen by the ending which is given to the Greek word translated ‘Christ’. Therefore, Acts 11:26 notes that
‘...in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called christians’
where it’s clearly a label which is placed upon believers rather than a name which they eagerly take up and apply to themselves. In this case, ‘Christ’ will have been understood as a proper name, even though it’s simply the word used in the Greek for ‘Messiah’ or ‘Anointed One’. It’s more likely, then, to have been a derogatory term used to label the group by the Roman citizens and authorities.
Further, in the three NT occurrences of the word, it’s not used in a favourable sense as a title for the disciples. Acts 11:26 previously quoted is simply a record of when it was first used and that it was placed upon believers by someone or some people outside their own ranks while Acts 26:28 has it on the lips of King Agrippa when he says to Paul
‘In a short time you think to make me a christian!’
Finally, in I Peter 4:16 - the first time it’s used by a believer - the author writes that
‘...if one suffers as a christian, let him not be ashamed...’
and he’s here clearly encouraging the believers not to be ashamed if, after having done what is righteous and good, the unbelievers put the label of ‘christians’ upon them and turn to persecute them.
Paul, throughout his letters, is much more concerned to speak of the ‘brethren’ or the ‘saints’ or ‘believers’ or ‘chosen’ just as the other authors are. The word ‘disciple’ doesn’t occur again after the Book of Acts but that doesn’t mean that it was dropped and forgotten by the early Church - it just would appear that there were more personally significant words which the believers used to describe themselves - but ‘christian’ wasn’t one of them.
a. Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
This latter part of Mtw 28:19 has been the subject of a great deal of very heated controversy within the Church and, judging by my experiences with both sides of the argument, neither side is willing to give any ground to the other.
The two camps can be generally divided into those who believe that this text is a clear command that believers who are baptized into water must be immersed with the Trinitarian baptismal formula here recorded, where the word ‘baptizing’ is taken to refer to water baptism, generally accepted in the present day Church as meaning this.
The other side point out that the testimony of the Book of Acts and beyond is that the verbal formula used was actually only ‘in the name of Jesus Christ’. Mtw 28:19 is variously argued against, but the most common explanation given that I’ve heard is that the present day text is an addition of a later scribe who inserted it here because the Trinitarian formula was their own era’s experience and that they needed some justification for practising it.
However, the manuscript evidence for the inclusion of these words is very good - so reference is then made to both the Didache (a late first century document which has the Trinitarian formula as being the one which should be used for water immersion) or to Eusebius who appears to quote this verse in his history of the Church but who omits any reference to the need to baptize.
I’ll deal with some of these issues as we consider the passage below - and I’ve devoted two short sections to the testimony of both Eusebius and the Didache to avoid needing to present them here to the reader as almost parentheses to the overall flow of the discussion. Although I wonder from the outset whether anything which I write will be acceptable to either of the two main camps I will, nevertheless, give it a go (my own position on the baptismal formula can be found in my notes on ‘Baptism’ including the explanation of the term which is simply summarised in the following notes).
The main problem with both sides of the argument is the acceptance that the word used from which the RSV translates ‘baptizing’ is taken as a reference to the immersion of a believer in water for this is the concept which we ourselves have placed upon the word group variously translated ‘baptism’, ‘baptize’ and ‘Baptist’. It’s ourselves in the present day who’ve interpreted the word to mean
‘immersion in water’
instead of simply
which is what it appears to have always been used to mean in the first century. It’s quite true that, in the present day Church, if you mention the word ‘baptism’ without any other defining context, the believer is more than likely going to think either of infant sprinkling (see my notes on ‘Baptism’ for a defence of the word as meaning total immersion) or the submerging of a new believer into either a stream, a swimming pool or a baptistery. It would be a rare believer who would ask the question
‘What substance are you referring to?’
Just because the word group has come to mean ‘immersion in water’, it doesn’t follow that this is the way in which it was used when the authors began putting together the Gospel accounts and, later, when they wrote to the fellowships in letter form.
So, very simply, the action could be spoken of in the context of an immersion into the Holy Spirit and fire (Mtw 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:5, 11:16) where there are clearly words which are used in the context to show that water baptism cannot be what’s meant.
But this isn’t always the case for the word group can be used with no explanation but, in the context in which it’s used, it’s difficult to see how water baptism can be meant. In Mark 10:38-39, Jesus asks John and James
‘Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’
and, in Luke 12:50, Jesus speaks of this baptism in the future, probably referring to His suffering and death when He exclaims
‘I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!’
Similarly, Paul can speak of the nation of Israel (I Cor 10:2) as all being
‘...baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea’
where no record in the Book of Exodus of a literal immersion in water can be found (notice that the nation didn’t get wet when they passed through the waters of the Red Sea) and, in I Cor 12:13, that believers
‘...by one Spirit...were all baptized into one body...and all were made to drink of one Spirit’
While it’s quite true that references to ‘immersions’ other than that which takes place in water are in the minority (I counted no more than twenty in around ninety occurrences of the English word), what we need to ask ourselves first in the case of Mtw 28:19 is not whether the Trinitarian formula is what Jesus intended His followers to use when they immersed believers in water but whether the word ‘baptizing’ should be given an interpretation which insists upon a water ceremony rather than for it to be employed here as it originally meant in the first century - that is, that we should read ‘immersing them’ rather than ‘immersing them in water’.
Therefore the phrase, I believe, should be understood in the context in which it appears in Mtw 28:16-20 and as has already been written in the previous section - that is, that ‘baptizing’ is an action (along with the following phrase ‘teaching’) that details what it means to ‘make disciples’. I’ll explain this in a moment, but we first need to observe another unusual turn of phrase here which it’s very easy to overlook.
In order for the verse to be taken as a baptismal formula, the Greek preposition (transliterated ‘eis’) which precedes ‘the name’ needs to be understood as holding the meaning of another Greek word (transliterated ‘en’) to change it’s meaning from ‘into’ to ‘in’. This may seem a minor change but, in fact, it alters the entire context of the command and makes the reader understand that a Trinitarian baptismal formula is being laid upon believers. As Matfran notes, the verse should run
‘...literally “into the name”...’
and Matmor, in a footnote, comments that
‘Turner insists that eis has its proper sense and is not to be taken as equivalent to en; it refers to “baptism into the name - that is, a relationship as the goal of baptism”’
Using the meaning ‘in’ hides the intention of Matthew - that he was meaning the reader to understand an action whereby believers were brought into the name rather than being submerged in water with a recognised series of words. This preposition also occurs in most of the other observations and commands regarding baptism in the NT (Acts 8:16, 19:5, Rom 6:3, Gal 3:27 - all referring to Jesus. I Cor 1:13, 1:15, 10:2, 12:13 - all referring to an immersion either paralleled by christian baptism or where ‘baptism’ is better taken to mean ‘immersed’) so that we’re more likely to be thinking of what baptism in water achieves rather than the formula which is used. Therefore Mattask observes correctly that Jesus
‘...was not giving instructions about the actual words to be used in the service of baptism...’
though he goes on to accept the word ‘baptism’ as meaning immersion in water (see above for my comments on the dangers of doing this). Matcar notes the usage of eis and comments that
‘...the preposition...strongly suggests a coming-into-relationship-with or a coming-under-the-Lordship-of...’
which obviously pulls away from any literal interpretation of them being a verbal formula to be employed - let alone a baptismal one.
There are two exceptions to this usage, however (Acts 2:38, Acts 10:48), the most significant of which is Acts 10:48 where the preposition ‘en’ is used and where we read Peter’s words that
‘...he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ’
If I understand these prepositions correctly, this is the only place in the NT where we can be fairly certain that we’re reading a baptismal formula rather than a description of the action which it achieves.
I must note Acts 2:38 here where the preposition en is used in the translation ‘in the name’. Actsmar comments that it should be taken as
‘...a phrase which may represent a commercial usage “to the account of Jesus” or a Jewish idiom “with reference to Jesus”’
It’s unlikely that it was meant to be taken as a baptismal formula.
Mtw 28:19 is also interesting in its use of the singular word ‘name’ rather than the more expected ‘names’. The author records Jesus’ words, then, not as saying that to make disciples they should baptize them (my italics)
‘...into the names of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’
‘...into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’
where the singular nature of the word implies a unity of the three rather than a division which separates each of those mentioned into independent entities. Cormor (on I Cor 1:15) notes that
‘The name in antiquity meant far more than it does with us. It stood for the whole personality; it summed up the whole person. The preposition eis is literally “into” and “into the name” implies entrance into fellowship and allegiance such as exists between the Redeemer and the redeemed’
This immersion into the Godhead, then, means more than simply allegiance as Cormor observes. It implies a unity in the work and Person of God - that is, a unity with Him in everything He is, just as an immersion into the name of Jesus through water baptism means a total harmony with Jesus in His death and burial, rising to the new life in Him and walking in step with Him from that time forward. Matfran summarises Jesus’ meaning by writing that
‘The experience of God in these three Persons [sic] is the essential basis of discipleship’
If we were to simply think of a religious rite, we might have expected the NT writers to consistently speak of being baptized in the name of Jesus but their use of the Greek word which better means into implies a dynamic action which begins something rather than a verbal formula which is pronounced over an individual.
Therefore, to make disciples of the nations, individuals must be brought into an active relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a result of individual repentance and the reception of forgiveness and the new birth. From this place, an eternal and constant relationship is assured through Jesus’ work of the cross - but, if there’s no relationship, there’s no disciple.
Far from being a baptismal formula, therefore, Mtw 28:19 speaks of the need to make opportunity for men and women to enter into the work of Jesus Christ and to come into a dynamic and life-imparting relationship with God, an entering into His presence. Yet, further, it means that the disciples are to constantly encourage believers to deepen their relationship in every aspect of their lives.
Though many of the commentators referred to take the use of the word ‘baptism’ to refer to immersion into water, I’ve opted for a much different approach in seeing in the use of the word not a technical religious term as it came to be in later centuries.
The reader may prefer to accept that the words of Jesus here were meant to explain what baptism in water did rather than follow my complete interpretation of the verse. However, it’s difficult to fully reconcile such a position with other NT passages which explain what baptism achieves as being solely with reference to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (Rom 6:3-5).
i. Eusebius and Mtw 28:19
The church historian Eusebius (260-340AD) is very often referred to by those who assert that the Trinitarian formula in Mtw 28:19 is a purely late addition by a scribe and that the original author wrote something which was more simple and straightforward. In his ‘History of the Church’, he seems to quote Mtw 28:19 in Book 3.5 where the Penguin Classic translation by G A Williamson renders it
‘Go and make disciples of all the nations in My name’
whereas the manuscript evidence unanimously bears witness to the translation (taken here from the RSV)
‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[to] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’
To give just a little context (for Eusebius nowhere cites chapter and verse so that the reader is left to postulate the Scripture being referred to), the preceding passage in Eusebius 3.5 runs
‘But the rest of the apostles, who had been incessantly plotted against with a view to their destruction, and had been driven out of the land of Judea, went unto all nations to preach the Gospel, relying upon the power of Christ, who had said to them “Go ye and make disciples of all the nations in My name”’
Eusebius’ alternative ending of this verse isn’t just a removal of the action of baptism but it also confines the concept of teaching - which continues into Mtw 28:20 - to the scrap heap.
There are two main questions which arise that need answering here. Firstly
‘Is Eusebius quoting from a manuscript which he considered to be more accurate?’
‘Is there an inference by his rendering of this verse in this manner that he disbelieved the generally well-established Church doctrine of the Trinity?’
We’ll deal with these individually under précised headers.
1. Is Eusebius quoting?
If Eusebius was in the habit of directly quoting from the manuscripts (both Old and New Testaments) which were available to him, then we should be able to perceive almost a perfect rendering of the verses which he cites in his work. The implication if the texts recorded differ in a major way is that either he’s paraphrasing, using his own remembrance of what the Scripture said or, perhaps more alarmingly, that all the manuscripts which have now come down to us have, over the course of the centuries, been altered beyond their original form.
With the discovery of first century OT manuscripts in and around the Dead Sea (the Dead Sea Scrolls), this last possibility is extremely unlikely, however.
I’ve confined my consideration to just a few pages of his writing in his Book 1.2 to give the reader a couple of examples, but those interested might satisfy themselves more fully if they look up numerous other places where quotations seem to be word for word.
Firstly, Eusebius quotes Is 53:8 as
‘His generation, who shall endure?...’
where the RSV has
‘...as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off?...’
The Masoretic text of the DSS (which I’ve noted above) give us a good indication of the accepted text amongst the Jews in the times of Jesus Christ concerning the Books now considered as being part of the Bible. This quotation from Eusebius is somewhat different, therefore, if we assume that there was a source book from which he was drawing a word for word quote.
Secondly, Eusebius records John 1:1-3 as reading
‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things came into being through Him and apart from Him came into being not one thing’
where the RSV’s translation reads
‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made’
John 1:1 is identical here in the English (I don’t have resources to the Greek text of Eusebius!) but 1:2 is entirely missing and 1:3 is similar though not identical. The question arises here, therefore - as it does in Mtw 28:19 - as to whether John 1:2 has any right in Scripture. Is it a later addition, inserted for the sake of doctrine and so not in an assumed more reliable manuscript that Eusebius is here using?
Again, Eusebius cites a Scripture which he says is written
‘...by another of the prophets, who in hymns [psalms] deifies [Jesus]...’
and then proceeds to record
‘He spoke and they were begotten: He commanded and they were created’
The problem here is that this verse of Scripture simply doesn’t exist as it stands and it appears as if Eusebius is amalgamating two Scriptures from the Psalms (Ps 33:9, 148:5) as if they were written as a joined up thought.
And, finally, He quotes Gen 19:24 as reading
‘The Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord’
whereas the RSV renders it
‘...the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of Heaven’
This is very similar to the problem in Mtw 28:19 for Eusebius removes a phrase at the end, seemingly to make the verse more concise - but the question remains whether ‘out of Heaven’ isn’t in the manuscript that the author is using.
From just these few quotations I’ve listed here from four pages of the Penguin Classic version on which there are ten such quotes (the other six aren’t in harmony with the Scriptures as we have them today, either), it can be seen that, if his rendering of Mtw 28:19 is accepted as being a direct quotation, it throws into serious doubt the accuracy of the text which we now accept as being the foundation for translations of the Bible.
It must be realised, therefore, that Eusebius wasn’t quoting word for word from any source available to him but was using the Scriptures as he remembered them with his own interpretations placed upon them. This is nothing less that what the NT writers did for they don’t appear to have followed any particular text (whether the LXX or the Masoretic), it being accepted by evangelical christians that they relied upon the Holy Spirit to interpret OT Scripture as they quoted it - often leaving commentators with a problem of interpretation!
For instance, what of the quote in John 7:38 where interpretation is added to OT Scripture to produce a quote - or, perhaps, it represents an amalgamation of numerous texts. Whatever the exact reason for Jesus quoting this text, it’s certain that there’s no intention of it being a word for word rendering.
A similar solution lies behind the quote in Mtw 27:9-10 which seems to have been taken from Zechariah chapter 11 even though the author of Matthew has written that it came from ‘the prophet Jeremiah’. No such quote exists in Jeremiah but, by harmonising Jeremiah chapter 19 with the passage in Zechariah, Matthew’s quote begins to make sense (see my notes).
It also has to be noted that Eusebius quotes some dubious stories concerning the Christ (see, for instance, Book 1.13 and the story about the prince of Edessa) and, if we were to accept his testimony concerning the accurate rendering of Scripture, we should be persuaded to treat them as similarly inspired.
Alternatively, but less likely, is the possibility that Eusebius really was quoting what he thought to be a more accurate compilation of manuscripts. But it seems ‘less likely’ because no such manuscript evidence exists to make the believer suppose that Mtw 28:19 was a later insertion. An argument from silence - that the manuscripts were all destroyed that omitted the Trinitarian formula - is not valid. After all, where would it all end if we took this viewpoint with the rest of the Bible?
Finally, we should also note the generally accepted timetable of both Eusebius’ work and the most ancient of manuscripts which contain the Trinitarian formula in Mtw 28:19:
c.320AD - Eusebius’ compilation of the ‘History of the Church’
c.325AD - The Council of Nicaea
c.300-325AD - Codex Vaticanus was written
c.350+AD - Codex Sinaiticus was written
c.400-425AD - Codex Alexandrinus was written
As the ancient manuscript evidence is generally contemporary with Eusebius’ work, there’s more doubt thrown onto the assumption that the author is directly quoting a manuscript which was at major variance with what’s come down to the present day.
2. Did Eusebius believe in the Trinity?
I noted the full question which needs to be answered in my introduction as
‘Is there an inference by his rendering of [Mtw 28:19 without the ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ formula] that he disbelieved the generally well-established Church doctrine of the Trinity?’
for this could be a solution to the problem. This has been proposed in my hearing by adherents of the ‘Jesus Only’ movement along with other assertions concerning ‘Trinitarian’ passages in the NT which seem to undermine their position. While I don’t mean this section to be a rebuttal of such a doctrine, it’s placed here simply because, if Eusebius was a ‘Jesus Only’ believer - as the early Church is asserted to be in this scheme of things - it gives us a clear indication as to why the manuscripts might have been universally altered and the older manuscripts destroyed.
We’re talking about a major conspiracy theory, I hasten to add, if this is the case. But the proof of the theory should be found in Eusebius’ writings if he was hesitant in accepting the generally established doctrine of the Trinity. Just what the author believed isn’t too important to construct as we approach his work, but we should note some of his references to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Firstly, we’ll look at the relationship which Eusebius sees between the Father and the Son. In Book 1.2 (my italics throughout), he writes
‘...the Fashioner [referring to Jesus Christ], with the Father, of all things...’
‘...the Marshall and Fashioner of the universe gave up to Christ Himself - and to no one, it is plain, but the Divine Word, His first begotten - the making of subordinate beings and discussed with Him the creation of man: For God said “Let us make man in Our image and likeness”’
His citing of John 1:1 here, also, makes it plain that Eusebius thought of Jesus as distinct from God the Father yet, at the same time, was God Himself. The relationship between these two is expressed later on in the same place where he writes
‘The Father and Maker, [the psalmist] introduces as giving commands like a supreme ruler by an imperial fiat; the Divine Word, who holds second place to Him - none other than the One whom we proclaim - as subserving the Father’s behests’
going on to speak of the Son
‘...who assisted the Father and God of the universe in the fashioning of all created things...’
Clearly, therefore, not only did Eusebius believe Jesus to be God but that He also existed in relationship to the Father rather than being one and the same. He consistently uses this concept throughout his ‘History of the Church’ so that we can be in no doubt that, although he asserts their unity, he also upholds their individuality.
But the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Son is the more difficult to be certain about. The Spirit’s equality with the Father and Son as Divine was nowhere clearly stated that I could find and the only place I could find that even hints at a relationship was in Book 1.2 where he writes that
‘The Holy Spirit says in prophecy “His [Jesus’] generation, who shall declare?’
This is only useful because he doesn’t state that the Holy Spirit says of Himself such a thing but that He says it of Jesus - clearly, then, the Spirit and Jesus are to be considered as distinct in his scheme of things.
Eusebius seems to be more concerned to detail the relationship between the Father and the Son than to speak of the place of the Holy Spirit, yet the above quote shows the personality of the Spirit for if He was simply a power source, it’s difficult to see how he could refer to Him as having speech.
The most that can be said from the quotes above is that he definitely believed in a ‘binary’ concept within the Godhead of the Father and Son. To speak of him believing in a ‘Trinity’ is to go slightly beyond the evidence I found in his ‘History of the Church’.
Even with such a belief, it’s certainly not plausible to say that he disagreed with Mtw 28:19 as it’s been received in the present day and that he opted for a manuscript which more represented his own personal belief.
ii. The Didache and Mtw 28:19
In the discussions which centre in and around the authenticity of the Trinitarian baptismal formula recorded in Mtw 28:19, Mattask notes that
‘It is argued...that the early Church did not in fact use [the words] as a baptismal formula till the second century...’
but this is to deny the relevancy of the Didache, a work normally dated to c.90AD and which reads as if it’s a christian liturgical handbook. Amongst other subjects and rites, the author deals with the liturgy surrounding water baptism and notes in chapter 7 (there’s no context as far as I can see either before or after this passage) that
‘The procedure for baptising is as follows. After repeating all that has been said, immerse in running water “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”. If no running water is available, immerse in ordinary water. This should be cold if possible; other wise warm. If neither is practical, then pour water three times on the head “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”. Both baptizer and baptized ought to fast before the baptism, as well as any others who can do so; but the candidate himself should be told to keep a fast for a day or two beforehand’
Clearly, the addition of the compulsory fast of the baptismal ‘candidate’ is without warrant in the Scriptures and so is the indication in the last phrase that immersion in water wasn’t expected to take place immediately upon conversion as is clearly the case as recorded in the Book of Acts.
The Didache can be used to assert that the traditions of the early Church were still in operation and that, therefore, the instruction to use the Trinitarian formula was a bleed over from those years. As has been seen, however, the addition of the necessity of fasting and the removal of the need for immediacy seriously undermine such a position for, if aspects are added, how can the reader be even remotely sure that the formula hasn’t also been added?
Although the Didache may be beneficial for the christian to see how the practices of the early Church had already become much changed even in the space of sixty years from the ascension of Jesus Christ, it does very little to either justify or undermine the position of a Trinitarian formula.
b. Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you
I’ve taken probably too much space to deal with the meaning behind Jesus’ words in the latter half of the previous verse but, hopefully, the point will have been understood that both ‘baptizing’ and ‘teaching’ are integral parts of what it means to ‘make disciples’.
We should notice from the outset that Jesus didn’t say that the disciples were to
‘...teach them all that I have commanded you’
though, from listening to an array of ministers, one could be forgiven for thinking so. Mere knowledge of what Jesus said is insufficient if there’s no harmony of a life with the teaching. Therefore Jesus actually said (my italics) that they were to
‘...teach them to observe all that I have commanded you’
The listeners are instructed, then, to make disciples of the nations by teaching them to be active doers of what Jesus commanded. This is the fundamental trait of a disciple - he does what Jesus both said and is saying. This is no new concept to the Gospels or to Jesus’ teaching for, in Luke 11:27-28, He says plainly
‘Blessed...are those who hear the word of God and keep it’
and, in John 13:17 (my italics)
‘If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them’
Friendship with Jesus is also dependent upon obeying that which He says (John 15:14) while Jesus saved one of the most frightening of denunciations in Mtw 7:21 where it’s recorded that
‘Not every one who says to Me “Lord, Lord” shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven [that is, knowledge that Jesus is Sovereign], but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven [that is, living out the reality of that sovereignty in their lives]’
Theological seminaries, Bible Colleges and the like can suffer from this same basic flaw - namely, that they become places of academic instruction, of the exercise of scholarly proficiency rather than being places where the disciple is taught to do what Jesus says. Matmor speaks of the danger of reading Jesus’ words as a command
‘...about education for education’s sake’
which they were never meant to convey. The true disciple needs no theological doctrine fed into him and is usually better without such intensive training in my experience. What the disciple does need to know, however, is what Jesus is saying and to have the resolve to carry it through to completion. As Matfran writes
‘To “make disciples” is not complete unless it leads them to a life of observing Jesus’ commandments’
not in a legalistic sense but from a living relationship with God. From this, life will spring and accomplish all that God wills be done. An exposition of God’s teaching should never be mere information, but must contain the encouragement to deepen one’s relationship with God (‘baptizing...’) and instruction in what He requires to be done at that moment in time (‘teaching...’).
Both these aspects of declaring the Gospel are necessary if a believer is to fulfil the ‘Great Commission’ of ‘making disciples’ in the NT sense of the command.
4. Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age
The Gospel of Matthew ends not with a command as one would have supposed from the beginning of Jesus’ words to His disciples on this mountain in Galilee but with a promise which encourages them to continue in the way that He’s made for them. Just what the disciples understood by the words at that time is not certain for they wouldn’t, perhaps, have realised that the dawning of the Church age with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2) was to have such a dramatic effect on the ministry of Jesus throughout the following years.
But neither should we lessen the force of Jesus’ meaning here for what He promises them will soon become apparent as they witness Jesus Himself performing signs and wonders through them as they actively proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom.
The text, although straightforward, needs to be carefully considered. For example, Jesus doesn’t say here
‘I will be with you’
referring to a future time that would shortly come but
‘I am with you’
implying a presence that is continuing even as they meet with Him on the mountainside. We may reason that what Jesus must mean is the abiding of His Spirit within believers from the Day of Pentecost onwards (Acts chapter 2), but the text seems to indicate that the constancy of His being with His disciples has already begun.
The Greek phrase translated ‘always’ is an unusual one here meaning ‘all the days’ rather than the RSV’s ‘always’ or, even, ‘forever’, both of which contradict the following phrase concerning the close of the age. Matcar notes that the phrase means
‘...the whole of everyday...Not just the horizon is in view but each day as we live it’
Literally, the statement that Jesus will be with the disciples
‘...all the days until the completion of the age’
implies a change in the way He’ll be with them when the age has been fulfilled but that, until that time, He’ll be with a believer in the same way as He is with any other. This can only realistically be considered from the standpoint of the presence of God’s Spirit with believers but that, in the coming age, this will change to an experience which is face to face (Rev 22:4).
As I’ve already hinted at above, the RSV’s rendering ‘close’ (Strongs Greek number 4930), would be better interpreted as ‘completion’ or ‘fulfilment’. Vines comments on this Greek word that it
‘...signifies a bringing to completion together, marking the completion or consummation of the various parts of a scheme. In Mtw...28:20, the rendering “the end of the world” [AV]...is misleading. The word does not denote a termination but the heading up of events to the appointed climax. [The word translated as] “the world” [means] a period or epoch or era in which events take place’
The better translation, therefore, is as already noted above which implies a completion when all things will have been accomplished and not a fixed time in the future regardless of what has taken place as ‘close/end of the age’ can imply.
Mtw 18:20 must also be explained with reference to this verse. It records Jesus’ words as
‘For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them’
In the context of this verse, therefore, this earlier Matthean verse can’t mean that Jesus comes to be with believers when they meet together in His name for it clearly says in Mtw 28:20 that He’s with them ‘all the days’. He doesn’t leave a believer’s life when the Church no longer meets together.
Rather, because a believer is continually in the Presence of Jesus, when the Church comes together, the individuals bring His presence with them so that He’s in their midst through their own lives.
A believer, therefore, can only come to a meeting place to ‘meet with God’ if they’re not fellowshipping with Him in their own lives - that is, if His presence isn’t with them - but this can only ultimately mean that the person isn’t in a right relationship with God (Rom 8:9).
It’s because Jesus is with the disciples that they can expect to see the same things happen as they did when Jesus was with them in body. His ministry doesn’t change because it’s now brought to mankind through believers - on the contrary, now that there are ever-increasing numbers of channels for the flow of His power, there becomes a multiplication of His ministry to the world.
The fundamental vision of the Father was to break free from the limitations of having one Man minister into a geographical location and, through the resurrection, has now caused multitudes of followers to bring Jesus into everyday situations to see Him change them to be subject to His will.
Such an intention cannot be limited to just the eleven for the qualifying clause is that such a set up will continue ‘until the completion of the age’ and it therefore must include all followers and disciples regardless of the time in which they live and the area which they inhabit.
Matthew’s conclusion, therefore, is actually a beginning - instead of bringing to an end Jesus’ ministry, it expands its influence and prepares the way for the Church to rise up to its calling and to multiply the presence and purpose of God throughout the earth. Clearly, as we saw in Mtw 24:14, the end will only come when the Church heeds its calling and fulfils its destiny - but the provision of the Father is such that they won’t be left alone to achieve it.
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