PMT 2016-074 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
In my last article I began a three-part study considering the implications of sovereignty in the Great Commission. Without the sovereignty of God involved, postmillennialism would be an empty hope and the Great Commission would be simply a Warm Feeling. But God is sovereign. And Christ’s Great Commission exudes sovereignty. In this article I will consider sovereignty based on:
Its Temporal Context
The Commission was granted by the resurrected Savior Who had “finished” (John 19:30) the work of redemption, which His Father gave Him to do (John 17:4). Having conquered sin (Rom. 3:23-26), Satan (Col. 2:15), and death (Acts 2:24, 31), Christ arose victoriously from the tomb as a conquering king to commission His disciples with sovereign authority to take this message to “all nations.” In the complex of events connecting the resurrection and the Great Commission, we witness the investiture of Christ as sovereign.
It was particularly at the resurrection that Christ was “declared to be the Son of God with power,” according to Paul in Romans 1:4. That verse reads: He was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” Actually the word translated “declared” in most translations of Romans 1:4 is never translated thus elsewhere. The word is generally understood to mean: “determine, appoint, ordain.” As Murray notes: “There is neither need nor warrant to resort to any other rendering than that provided by the other New Testament instances, namely, that Christ was ‘appointed’ or ‘constituted’ Son of God with power and points therefore to an investiture which had an historical beginning parallel to the historical beginning mentioned in” Romans 1:3.
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Of course, Christ was not “appointed” the Son of God. But on this recommended reading, Romans 1:4 does not suggest that; it says He was “appointed the Son of God with power.” The very point of Romans 1 is that Christ came in history as the “seed of David” (Rom. 1:3), not that He dwelled in eternity as the Son of God. Thus, at the resurrection, Christ “was instated in a position of sovereignty and invested with power, an event which in respect of investiture with power surpassed everything that could previously be ascribed to him in his incarnate state.”
Returning to Matthew 28:18, we should note that a literal rendering of the verse reads: “And having come near, Jesus spake to them, saying, ‘Given to me was all authority . . . .'” Both the position and the tense of the word “given” should be noted. In Greek, words thrown to the front of a sentence are generally emphasized — as “given” is here in Christ’s statement. Not only is “given” emphasized as being particularly significant, but according to the Greek verb tense, His being “given” authority was at some point in past time.
The point at which this grant of authority occurred was obviously at the resurrection, according not only to the clear implication of the text before us, but also to the confirmation in Romans 1:4: “Who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.” The resurrection, followed shortly by the ascension, established Christ as King and enthroned Him as such. We should note that Philippians 2:8,9 also uses the same tense to point to the resurrection as that time when Christ was “bestowed” authority: “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.”
For this reason, J. P. Lange has designated the Great Commission a “second transfiguration.” As Calvin wrote of the Lord’s statement in Matthew 28:18: “We must note, His Authority was not openly displayed until He rose from the dead. Only then did He advance aloft, wearing the insignia of supreme King.” From this time forth, we cease to hear His familiar “I can do nothing of Myself,” for now “all authority” is rightfully His.
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Furthermore, this grant of kingly authority was prophesied in Psalm 2:6-7:
I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord;
He said to Me, ‘Thou art My Son,
Today I have begotten Thee.
Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession.’
In Acts this passage from Psalm 2 is clearly applied to the resurrection of Christ. Acts 13:33-34 reads: “God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘Thou art My Son; Today I have begotten Thee.’ And as for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no more to return to decay . . . .”
Though not referring to Psalm 2, Acts 2:30-31 agrees that the resurrection of Christ was to kingly authority: “And so, because [David] was a prophet, and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants upon his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ . . . .” Then Peter, making reference to Psalm 110, adds: “For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘The Lord said to My Lord, Sit at My right hand, Until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet'” (Acts 2:34b-35).
Turning back to Matthew 28:18, we should note that Christ’s statement indicates something new has occurred as the result of the completion of His redemptive work at His resurrection from the grave. He has now been given “all authority.” The wondrous significance of this will be demonstrated below.
Christ is our prophet, priest, and king, and His Great Commission exhibits His manifold ministry to His people. Thus, in this and the following chapter, we will see that He speaks as the Great King, who rules over His vast kingdom, in that He has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18b). He is “the King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16). In Chapter Five we will see how the Great Commission is also a prophetic Commission. As the Great Prophet, Christ declares the will of God for all the world, by teaching men “to observe all that I commanded” (Matt. 28:20a). In Chapter Six, the priestly aspect of the Commission will become evident. As the Great High Priest, He secures the worshipful oaths of those over whom it holds sway, in His command to “baptize” the nations (Matt. 28:19b).