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“Does Matthew 28:16-20 Apply Today?”

December 19th, 2004

(Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15,16; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:3-9)

 

Does the Great Commission, as found at the end of the gospels, have legitimate application to members of the Lord’s church today? We were asked this question most recently. What follows is an attempt to demonstrate why we think the Great Commission does have legitimate application to the church today, beyond “the eleven” of Matthew 28:16.

1. The Great Commission is different from the Limited Commission. The Limited Commission is not to “all nations” (Matthew 28:19), but only to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5). So, to begin with, any legitimate application of the Great Commission must concede this essential point of difference.

2. Second, biblical context and biblical content should harmonize. Does Matthew 28:16, with its reference to “the eleven,” negate any other applications beyond the eleven? While careful exegesis cannot allow all specifics to apply indiscriminately (for example, the miraculous element of the Great Commission, Mark 16:17-20, does not have continuity with the church in all ages), nevertheless, when the content of the message exceeds the immediate recipients of the message, there is then a warrant for a broader application [antecedent and application should agree]. Even the Limited Commission had extended applications beyond “the twelve” of Matthew 10:5 (See Luke 10:1 regarding the “seventy”). On harmonizing context and content, take the example of Genesis 12:1-3. Here, Abraham is the only proper grammatical recipient of the message. Nevertheless, it would be improper to suggest that Genesis 12 had no legitimate application to Israel. Why? Simply because the context and content of Genesis 12 extends beyond Abraham.
3. Third, Matthew 28:20 is a mandate to perpetuate apostolic doctrine; and, the most immediate application of 28:20 is 28:19. To say that 28:20 refers to most everything except 28:19 appears problematic. Matthias, for example, was not one of “the eleven” of Matthew 28:16; still, the Great Commission, as stated in Matthew
28:18-20 would compose the very substance of Matthias’ apostolic ministry. And, if we admit a twelfth, what of those whom Matthias taught (see 2 Tim. 2:2; 2 Thess. 2:15)?

We conclude that the Great Commission applies to the church today.

– Robert M. Housby