Category Archives: Gifts of the Spirit

Wait, Paul! Do You Want Us to Speak in Tongues or Not?

Acts 2:1-4. When the day of Pentecost came. Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012.

by Scott

The tongue – Scripture tells us it can be a great blessing and a grave problem (James 3:1-12). And don’t we, especially I, know this truth.

But still, the tongue can be used for blessing. And I believe one way it can be used is not just through kind words of encouragement and comfort, but also through the oft-misunderstood gift of tongues.

We don’t really have much detailed instruction by way of Scripture of how this gift works. We have a some directives in 1 Cor 14, as well as examples throughout the book of Acts. But there definitely isn’t a guide that says: this is exactly how you do it!

And, again, I wouldn’t expect Scripture to give exhaustive commands about this gift, since it is not some kind of guidebook listing detailed instructions on the how to’s for everything it touches upon.

But here is where things get a bit sticky with the gift of tongues: In reading 1 Cor 14, it seems Paul tells us this gift is a beneficial gift to be utilised amongst God’s people. But on the other hand, it seems we’re told almost the opposite. It’s going to cause problems for non-Christians, so don’t use it.

Which is it? Continue reading

Advertisements

Report from the Street

By Marv

” The meat is in the street,” John Wimber used to say.

His aphorism goes back to Jesus’ words in John 4:32 and 34

 “I have food to eat that you do not know about.  My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”

Jesus had just prophesied open the heart of a fallen, theologically-confused woman and brought salvation to a village. Though He was tired and thirsty (vv. 6-7) and doubtless also hungry, seeing God glorified in the goodness mediated through His own words and actions was more deeply satisfying than the choicest meat and drink.

I recall being cautioned, in Seminary, against Wimber’s contention that the kind of empowered ministry Jesus engaged in here was just the kind of thing we as disciples should do, following in His footsteps. This, despite His explicit instructions immediately afterward to see the “harvest” as He did as well as His reminder that they are commissioned to be “reapers.” The works He did in the Father’s name, everyone who believes in Him will… may… should… do in His name (John 14:12). Let’s get it and let’s do it.

I have a sweet story from some who are learning to “do the stuff” or rather who are going out and doing it. A team of students from a training program at a Dallas church step out each week to lift up their eyes to the Spirit’s leading and do the works in His power which have been prepared for them. Here’s what happened two weeks ago today.

In the morning team leader “C” found himself driving to the church out of his usual route, for some reason. Passing a coffeehouse he had seen but not visited, he sensed his attention being drawn to it and figured this might the spot the Spirit was sending his team to that day.

So there they went, and when C stepped in and saw a familiar face, he knew one of the reasons they were there. The man was a minister–an evangelist–and C had known him slightly, as a customer in a different coffeehouse where C had once been an employee. So C and another team member, “M” (both men, as it happens) sat down and began to chat with him.

Meanwhile, students “F” and “S” (women, as it happens) took a look around, looking and listening for what the Spirit might be saying to them. An adjoining room where patrons sat sipping Java had artwork displayed along the walls. One odd painting caught F’s eye, because it had a small inscription in French, her native language. It read “Pour le corps,” that is “For the body.” Across the top of it a row of human figures stood holding their hands on their bellies. Below them a vicious-looking blob with bared fangs turned menacingly toward a pair of vaguely tear-shaped objects. Weird picture.

“Looks like a liver to me,” F told S, about the lopsided teardrops, and they decided to go for it. The painting hung on the wall over a lady, like a sign, and after introducing themselves to her, they casually asked her if perhaps she had had issues with her liver.

In fact she had, for not a week earlier she had been diagnosed with liver cancer. She declined their offer to pray for her healing, however, first since she was a Muslim and second because she had confidence in the treatment she had been prescribed. She was interested in talking to the ladies however. As it happens the lady was Turkish, while F is French and S Lebanese. And they talked about Jesus, who the lady, being Moslem, said did not die on the cross. Our two ladies explained not only how He did, but why. In short, they preached her the gospel.

Though she declined prayer for healing, she was happy to let them give her a blessing as she was leaving. So bless her they did, with a request for Jesus to reveal Himself to her–even in her dreams, as is reportedly not uncommon among Muslims. Saying goodbye, she kissed them on the cheek, one cultural feature all three had in common. Would she be healed? Would she come to faith in Jesus? This we likely will now know. But did she hear God’s word and sense His love from God’s people? Without question.

Meanwhile C and M were still talking with the coffee-loving minister, and by this time speaking words of encouragement over him, for he was sorely in need of encouragement it seems. F and S joined them, as their lady had left, and a mental image of a little girl flashed through F’s mind. She thought “daughter.” At the same time a cloud-like shape in the mottled floor pattern seemed to jump out at her, reminding her of a “thought balloon” you see in the comics. Had the man been thinking about his daughter?

A second before she could ask, M “stole her thunder.” “Do you have a daughter?” he asked the man. In fact he did, though he had lost contact with her for years. She was grown and living in New York. But she had been on his mind, a great deal, as he was hoping and praying to be able to restore their relationship, which had long since become estranged. So they prayed for this, of course.

Now as for what happened as they were finishing up, you have to understand that this was July in Texas and it was a typical sultry Dallas day, under a clear sky, the hot, humid air lay motionless on us all day. I can testify to that.

C’s prayer for the man had been, among other likely phrases, that God’s Spirit would blow afresh over his ministry–which refreshment he needed. They had stepped out the front door, accompanying him toward his car, when a sudden gust of wind came along, nearly knocking the table umbrellas over, and picking up fallen leaves and pedals from the bushes and swirling them in a vortex.

The man and our team stared in amazement. The event was so striking, several patrons inside the shop ran out to see what was happening. The moment then stepped off the curb, however, the wind stopped.

One man who had stepped out was impressed. “Would you mind praying for me too?” he asked. And so they did.

What do we make of this kind of thing? Acts quality? Not quite, but frankly, I think it’s getting there. Not momentous, not earth-shattering. No thousands were saved. Perhaps not one person was saved through this outing. But people were loved in Jesus name. People heard the good news. People were encouraged. People were prayed for and blessed. And for those with eyes to see, God showed Himself alive and well.

Is it easy enough to toss off every one of these details as imagination, coincidence, simple natural occurrence. Absolutely. And please do so if that is what you wish.

But I think it is a little, sweet example of how the Holy Spirit testifies to Jesus through His people and brings glory to the Father. And it is useful for illustrating a few of the ways the Lord speaks to us, as Jesus promised He would, and leads us into the works prepared beforehand that we should walk in.

It’s a remarkable report, or I guess I wouldn’t be writing about it. But really, if we believe our Lord, this is simply normal Christian life.

 

Terms of Empowerment

by Marv

What is the general subject of 1 Corinthians 12-14?

Spiritual gifts“? That seems to be the received rubric for the aspect of Christian life and ministry that Paul discusses there. I offer a mild objection. This is the phrase and concept people tend to use, but I wonder if it is quite adequate, and not a bit misdirecting.

Why do I say this? Well, for one reason, the phrase “spiritual gift(s)” occurs nowhere in 1 Corinthians 12-14. It occurs nowhere in 1 Corinthians at all.

Sure it does, you say: 1 Cor. 12:1 and 1 Cor. 14:1. All right, sure, but what I am referring to really is the underlying Greek phrase χάρισμα πνευματικὸν (charisma pneumatikon), “spiritual gifts.” It’s not there in 1 Corinthians. We do have “spiritual” and we do have “gift,” but not together as a phrase.

In fact that phrase only occurs one time in Scripture: Romans 1:11, and there I think it has a rather different meaning than we usually associate with “spiritual gift”:

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—

Perhaps it does correlate closer than I am thinking, but that’s not my point today. I want to look at the terminology that does actually occur in 1 Cor. 12-14, and see what this can tell us.

1. Pneumatika

Here are the two verses I referred to above, as they read in the ESV:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. (1 Corinthians 12:1)

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1)

As I observe above, the underlying Greek here for “spiritual gifts” is not the phrase charisma pneumatikon, but a single word, the adjective pneumatikon, used substantively in the plural: pneumatika. This is the rendering of the ESV, NIV, NASB, and KJV, though this has “gifts” in italics.

The supposition behind this rendering, I take it, is that the bare neuter plural adjective modifies an elided neuter plural noun, which being resupplied by the translators, turns out to be charismata, “gifts.” Maybe–I guess–if we do assume that “spiritual gifts” was the ready phrase in Paul’s day that it is in ours. I’m not so sure of it, however.

One note: in 12:1 this word appears in the genitive plural, the form being penumatikōn. Ostensibly this could be any of the three genders, though feminine being difficult to account for (sorry, ladies) that generally masculine and neuter are in the running. Paul does use the term in the masculine for “spiritual people” (of either sex). He even uses both masculine and neuter forms in the same sentence earlier in the epistle:

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths (pneumatika, clearly neuter) to those who are spiritual (pneumatikois, clearly masculine). (1 Corinthians 2:13)

However, the 14:1 reference is unambiguously neuter: pneumatika.

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts (ta pneumatika), especially that you may prophesy. (1 Corinthians)

In the context, I think it is reasonable to take these two instances, when he introduces the topic in 12:1 and reintroduces it in 14:1 as the same usage. Thus the latter informs us that the former is indeed neuter plural. That’s what the translation “spritual gifts” understands anyway.

But if the plural adjective pneumatika modifies an understood charismata, and so “spiritual gifts,” can we say that in the singular, a single spiritual gift would be a *pneumatikon? The asterisk is a linguistic convention to indicate a hypothetical form never actually found in the data. Of course, the adjective in that form does occur as we saw in Rom. 1:11, and elsewhere, but as a lone substantive, meaning a “spiritual gift” it occurs nowhere. In other words we have no evidence in the text of a “pneumatikon” being used to refer to prophecy or tongues or such.

Now not having an example does not disprove anything, but it also doesn’t confirm that we are on the right track with the rendering “spiritual gifts” for pneumatika.

Let me suggest something else. In both 12:1 and 14:1 the word is reasonably understood as a general category term. Greek has a well established usage which resembles these forms exactly. That is, frequently an adjective (especially formed with -ik-) in the neuter plural has an abstract sense which indicates a general subject or field of inquiry.

This is the origin of several of our English subject terms as well, those ending in -ics:

“Physics” from ta phusika. Not because of of some thing called a “phusikon,” but because it concerns things of phusis “nature.”

“Ethics” from ta ēthika, concerning things of ēthos “custom.”

“Politics” from ta politika, concerning things of the polis, “the state.”

Following in this line, ta pneumatika would simply be a general cover term for things concerning pneuma, “the Spirit,” rather than referring to a set of abilities or the instances of their use. I don’t know if “Pneumatics” has a future as a rubric here, especially as it is already used as a term for physical effects and related technology. But this would be consistent with similar terms.

2. Charisma, Diakonia, Energēma, Phanerōsis.

These four occur as rough synonyms in a sequence of four verses: 12:4-7, translated as follows:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

a. Charisma means “gift,” as in an object that someone gives you. Our sense of “gift” as a talent, as in a “gifted musician” presumably derives from the use here. I’m not sure it had that sense in Greek prior to this concept. It can also be an untangeable gift, a favor, as in “do me a favor.”

It is frequently tied to charis, grace, and indeed this is true, but it is more parallel to charis than derived from it, I think. Let me explain the derivation:

Both are derived from the verb charizomai, which has a variety of uses meaning to grant to give freely or generously, most especially to forgive. The etymology of this verb is also pretty clear, with the –iz– suffix (our –ize, Brit. –ise), suffixed to the root chara “joy.” To “joy-ize” someone is to perform an act which will immensely please or gratify them for its generosity. Thus charizomai (some kind of deponent middle voice).

The act of charizomai or quality of one doing it, is thus charis, “grace” as we ususally render it.

The ending -ma signifies a result or object of an action. So take –omai off chariz-omai and you get charis-ma (mutatis mutandis): thing given: gift.

b. Diakonia is a very general word for service, and a diakonos is a servant. This has become transliterated and technicalized in our word deacon. In the NT we do see it used for this office (Phil. 1:1 ESV), but probably never really dissociated mentally from the menial sense of “servant.” Deacon has nothing of this feel. Much less does minister, also a frequent translation of diakonos (e.g. Col. 1:25 ESV). Our word minister, meaning either a professional clergyman or a state official has moved far afield from what the Greek would convey.

c. Energēma has at its base ergon “work” (an actual cognate, originally wergon). With the prefix en– “in” it is obviously the source of our word energy. The verb energeo means “to be operative, at work, active.” Therefore, with the suffix –ma, it signifies and effect, operation, or activity.

d. Phanerosis indicates that which is normally invisible becoming seen or otherwise perceptible to the senses, i.e. becoming manifest, a manifestation.

3. Pneuma

You will recognize here the common word for “spirit,” which has a range of uses, such as:

a. God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit.

b. the human spirit

c. another spiritual being, i.e. an angel

d. an evil spirit, a demon

I submit there is an (e) sense of pneuma which refers to an instance of one of these gifts, services, effects, or manifestations, not so much the potential or ability (as we tend to think of a gift) but its actual use. We can see this in comparing two similar statements from ch. 14:

1. Pursue love, and earnestly desire (zēloute) the spiritual gifts (pneumatika), especially that you may prophesy. (v. 1)

2. So with yourselves, since you are eager (zēlōteai) for manifestations of the Spirit (pneumatōn), strive to excel in building up the church. (v. 12)

Note that the Greek underlying the ESV’s “manifestations of the Spirit” is not phanerōsis as in v. 7, but simpy the single word pneuma (in the genitive plural). Now this is translated “spiritual gifts” by such versions as NIV and NASB and KJV, just as pneumatika is, but with rather less justification. This is particularly true if we conceive of “gift” as an ability rather than an act or perceptible phenomenon.

Based on what follows then, examples of a “spirit” in this sense would be an utternce in tongues or a spoken prophecy. Or v. 26 may be a list of such:

…a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.

Now based on this usage of pneuma, I’d like to look at a couple of exegetical applications.

1 Cor. 12:10 makes the following reference: “to another the ability to distinguish between spirits.” Frequently this has been understood in terms of demonology. In other words, the ability to have supernatural insight into evil spirits that may be afflicting someone.

The underlying Greek is diakriseis pneumatōn, often rendered “discernment of spirits” and the word for “distinguishing” or “discernment” here corresponds exactly with the verb in 14:29:

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh (diakrinetōsan) what is said.

“Discernment of spirits” then would not be so much identification of demons as it would be evaluating prophetic utterances. As such “distinguishing of spirits” in 12:10 would be the same as the “weighing” of prophecy is in 14:29.

This also impacts on our understanding of 1 John 4:1-3:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

(1 John 4:1-3 ESV)

I think this makes sense out of something that has bothered me. John says not to believe every spirit? We ought to believe the Holy Spirit, of course. What, are there a few others we should believe? Surely he doesn’t mean we might encounter an occasional demon who might be trustworthy.

But if “spirit” (pneuma) here be understood, for example as a prophecy, I think it makes rather more sense. And it explains why he mentions false prophets. So he’s not telling his readers to believe some demons and not others, but not just to accept every utterance of prophecy that someone speaks.

This may mean that the phrase which the ESV renders as “the Spirit of God” is not here actually a reference to the Holy Spirit. The phrase is to pneuma tou theou, and certainly does look as if it refers to the Holy Spirit, I grant. But John goes on to explain, referring to “every spirit” (pan pneuma), which certainly sounds like he means a plurality of spirits. And if this spirit confesses Jesus it is–now John doesn’t say THE Spirit of God, but “from God” (ek tou theou). By the flow of argument it seems to me he is rather saying:

By this you know a spirit (prophetic utterance) coming from God: every spirit (prophetic utterance) which agrees that Jesus has come in the flesh is from God. Every spirit (prophetic utterance) which does not confess Jesus is not from God. It’s a spirit (prophetic utterance) from antichrist which (neuter!!! i.e. antecedent is “spirit”!) you have heard was coming and is in the world already.

Understand, this is by no means my discovery (granted there’s even any truth to it), but I don’t think it is a well-known option.

I suspect though this is what lies behind the use of “private spirits” in the Westminster Confession. There is some controversy with this term. Some suggest it simply means “opinions.” Others do take it to refer to individual revelations, either accepted, tolerated, or else simply recognized as a claim by the Confession.

The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture. (I.X.)

…with which I heartily concur.

Discerning of Spirits

Quite a while back, I had taken up the task of posting articles on the 9 giftings found in 1 Cor 12:8-10. I have looked at prophecy, tongues, message of wisdom and message of knowledge. But I wanted to follow up with some thoughts on a gift that connects quite well with the prophetic-revelatory gifts. It’s that of discerning of spirits, or as some translations call it distinguishing between spirits.

As I mentioned with other gifts listed in 1 Cor 12:8-10, this one also comes to us with the plural. It should literally be translated as distinguishings between spirits. This probably points to the fact that the gift has a variety of functions. Continue reading

Pneumatica according to Matthew

By Marv

Note: “Pneumatica” is a term taken from 1 Cor. 12:1 and 14:1, intended in this series as a general term for Spirit-empowered ministry and its particular manifestations. This series aims to examine how different New Testament writers present this aspect of the Lord’s plan for His Church.
 

Kingdom authority

The gospel according to Matthew presents Jesus as the anointed King. It begins by recounting His royal heritage (1:1-17) and continues with Herod’s jealousy toward the One  “who has been born king of the Jews” (2:2).  When He begins His public ministry, He proclaims “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (4:17).

Not surprisingly then the people see that He “was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:29).  Authority (exousia) is a key term in Matthew to characterize Jesus’ standing, His teaching, and in most evident way His power over nature, disease, death and demons. Leave it to a member of the occupying force to get it with crystal clarity, when most of Israel missed it:

But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. (Matthew 8:8-10)

Another kind of occupying force understood Christ’s authority all too well, as the demons themselves had to beg to be commanded by Him (8:31).

Jesus Himself explicitly linked His authority over sin to His exercise of acts of divine power:

 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” (Matthew 9:6)

Note how Matthew expresses the reaction of the crowds:

 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:8)

“To men” he writes, not for a moment minimizing that Jesus Christ is Himself God, but pointing out that as the anointed King expressing the kingdom of heaven on earth, He was Man–the epitome of man: the Son of Man–under the authority of God. He exercised authority because He was a man under authority given to Him.

Disciples as Deputies

“Men,” plural, also because in the Father’s plan, Jesus not only received authority, He deputized others with His authority:

 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. (Matthew 10:1)

He taught His disciples not only to understand and pass on His teaching, but to do the works of power that He was given authority to do (as He would later make explicit in John 14:12). This was essential to what it meant to be a disciple:

 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. (Matthew 10:25)

He assured them in acting as men under His authority, they would resemble Him in power, but also would face the same opposition from hostile elements. Why would they also be called “Beelzebul”? Because Jesus’ disciples exercise overt spiritual power, as He did. His enemies could not deny the power, but attributed it to Satan (9:34), not to the authority of God, not to the kingdom of heaven.

This first mission was practical training for them, an arrangement of  limited duration–and of limited scope. It foreshadowed and prepared them for a more vast and ongoing mission later, but for the moment, His instructions were:

Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. (Matthew 10:5-8)

How they knew how to do all this, Matthew does not tell us. But they were disciples (mathetai), learners. In addition to learning from Jesus, and seeing His example, He was now having them learn by doing. The trip was not an end in itself, but preparation for what they would be doing after He would leave. Though His instructions were, then and there, to remain within Israel, it would not always be so limited, as He made clear they would eventually “be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:18). Thus the plan was not for the twelve alone, but for all the other disciples after them–until the time of His return:

 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:21-23)

They were told–and since we too are disciples, we are told–to rely on the Spirit of God–to communicate both to us and through us. Pentecost would enable what He says here. Note that “extrabiblical revelation” is not merely allowed–it is commanded:

 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:19-20)

Faith as an expression of authority

John would later tell us “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6). No one can claim to have done this more literally than Peter, who is the only human apart from Jesus we know to have walked on the water. He did it poorly, to be sure, but he did it. And he understood enough that this was possible–but only possible–as a man under authority:

 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. (Matthew 14:28-29)

Authority. Remember? “I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

Authority is a key to Spirit-empowered ministry. Power is a function of authority, and authority a function of Jesus specific command through the Holy Spirit. A man under authority, even He did only and all He was commanded and authorized to do (John 5:19; 14:10). He was always listening. He means for us to be always listening, as the Spirit has given so that Jesus would speak to us, command us, through Him (John 16:14-15).

And this is foundational to faith as Jesus means it, obedience to a specific command, and confidence in that command to empower obedience where He has commanded it, because the authority is God’s. He showed us this with an extreme example, followed by an even more extreme teaching–which He means His disciples to take seriously:

In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.
 When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:18-22)

Understand, He means we can remove a mountain not if we simply feel like it and somehow “have faith” in the power of prayer, but when acting as “one under authority.” He expects us to believe that even a mountain goes if we say go, if He has commanded us to do this–and we have confidence in the power of His authority. Remember again, this clear understanding of authority is the “faith” he saw in the centurion.

Lest we miss it here, Matthew brings us back to understanding authority in the next verse. Jesus’ authority is from heaven–the kingdom of heaven–thought the leaders of the Nation missed it:

 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. (Matthew 21:23-27)

The irony, and also the mystery of God’s plan is that the Nation–whose legitimate King was Jesus–did not recognized His authority, for the most part. Their rejection, however, was an effective cause of the kingdom of heaven spreading to the nations, the gentiles.

Authority and the nations

So whereas He sent his twelve disciples out on a limited mission to “only the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” the ongoing mission given to His disciples has no such limitation. Like that first mission, however, Jesus sends out His disciples as people under authority:

And Jesus came and said to them, “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. (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

Those words, the great commission, are so familiar, that we might miss how they fit into Matthew’s gospel and its themes.

  • Jesus, the Son of Man, under authority, sends out his disciples under authority. He thus wants them to have full confidence in the power of His authority, preaching the good news and doing the works He trained them to do, such as healing the sick, casting out demons. This is just what the first disciples did, as we see in the book of Acts.
  • He wants them to continue the work among the nations, which He began within Israel. This is what the first disciples did, as we see in the book of Acts.
  • He wants his disciples to make more disciples, who will then following His instructions, make yet more disciples. As disciples, they will also do His work, under His authority, in His power.
  • This is a mission well beyond the lives of the first disciples, the apostles, not in any way dependent on their lifespans, as disciples are self-replicating. All of them, all of us, are people under authority, and He wants us to understand, believe, and act on that authority, as the apostles did.
  • He assures them–and us–that He is with us, not meant as some kind of  sentimental reassurance–but as an assurance of His active presence, ongoing communication through the Holy Spirit, His continuing to do His works through us, in the power of His authority. And this, Jesus says, continues “to the end of the age.