Jesus' Last Words
It has been reported that as Alfred Hitchcock lay on his death bed, he said, “One never knows the ending.” This striking statement causes my thoughts to quickly turn to the final chapter of Matthew. The seeming catastrophe of Jesus’ crucifixion on Golgotha’s hill in the previous chapter (27:45-61) gives way to his ultimate triumph in Galilee (28:16-20). What Jesus had predicted before his death (26:32) was now taking place, “just as he said” (28:6). However, for Matthew, Jesus’ resurrection is not the end of the story; rather, this belongs to his divine commission. Jesus’ words to his handpicked disciples are expressions of triumph and hope, not despair and uncertainty. Let’s review three encouraging ideas from Jesus’ last words recorded in Matthew.
First, Jesus dispelled personal doubt and pronounced his universal Lordship (v.16-18). As a participant in the Galilean reunion, Matthew records that there was a mixture of uncertainty and worship among the disciples as they initially met with the risen Lord. Yet the first conversation that Matthew recorded included Jesus’ emphatic statement: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me!” His words were a reflection of the OT prophet Daniel who prophesied that the Son of Man would receive “dominion and glory” and that “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (7:14). As one commentator properly noted, the glory of Jesus seen on the Mount of Transfiguration (17:1-3) “has become the permanent mode of Jesus’ life as the exalted Son of Man” (Turner, 689). Now, as Lord of the universe, the disciples’ doubts vanished, and they were prepared to embrace his personal commission for their lives.
Second, Jesus directed his universal mission to make disciples of all nations (v. 19-20a). In direct contrast to his earlier Mission Sermon (10:5-7), he commands his Eleven to “make disciples of all nations.” Because of these words, “Christianity essentially [became] a missionary religion” (Broadus, 593). At the core of Jesus’ command is discipleship. When Matthew penned these final words, he probably had his own experience in mind when Jesus surprisingly called him to discipleship (9:9). Matthew understood Jesus’ meaning, and according to Luke’s description, “leaving everything, he rose and followed him” (5:28). This is exactly Jesus’ expectation for all disciples who will follow him. In other words, Matthew’s call was not unique and something only for the zealots. The command for everyone who follows Jesus is to “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me” (16:24). When one is ready to exclusively follow Jesus, he or she is ready to be publicly marked by baptism, and fully embrace the discipleship duties which Jesus expressed. Jesus’ directive is penetrating, for it calls people of all nations to forsake everything for him.
Third, Jesus concludes with a promise of his universal presence (v. 20b). Matthew ends his Gospel with what Israel’s leaders feared most – the continued presence of Jesus in this world. “In OT commissioning scenes the assurance of God’s presence was to empower his often inadequate servants to fulfill the task he had called them to” (France, 1119). Here Jesus promises, “I will be with you,” which echoes the opening words of Matthew’s Gospel: Jesus is “Immanuel, which means, God with us” (1:23). In John’s Gospel he said, “I will not leave you orphans” (14:18). Though Jesus will not be seen with the human eye, his presence will be manifest through his disciples, and felt around the world until “the end of the age.” This is why Jesus’ last words are expressions of triumph, not despair.
I began this short essay with the fearful words of a dying man, “One never knows the ending.” Sadly, these words reflect a life invested in shallow, temporal things. What a stark contrast with those who are disciples of the risen Christ! We who follow Jesus have his presence within us, and are motivated by his final instructions to us. His words carefully chart our life’s purpose - from beginning to end! So, are we following Jesus - exclusively?
This article is from the "Truth from the Agora" section of the Exposition, VBTS's monthly e-bulletin authored by President Daniel Davey. Click HERE to sign-up to receive the Exposition each month.