28:20 The Great Commission (vv. 19–20) is preceded by a reference to Jesus’s authority and followed by the promise of Jesus’s spiritual presence among us. Both are necessary if we are to fulfill our God-given mission.
28:20 teaching them to observe. Disciples are not just taught what to believe, but how to obey. Jesus taught practical holiness.
I am with you always. Jesus was named Immanuel (“God with us”) at His birth (1:23), and now He promises to be with His disciples to the end of the age. He is with them specifically in the responsibility of teaching His will to the world. See “The Mission of the Church in the World” at John 20:21.
28:20 Teaching is a means by which disciples of Jesus are continually transformed in order to become more like Christ (cf. 10:24–25; Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18). observe. Obey. I am with you always. Jesus concludes the commission, and Matthew his Gospel, with the crucial element of discipleship: the presence of the Master, who is “God with us” (cf. Matt. 1:23).
28:20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you. The kind of evangelism called for in this commission does not end with the conversion of the unbeliever. I am with you. There’s a touching echo of the beginning of Matthew’s gospel here. Immanuel, which is translated, “God with us” (1:23), remains “with” us “even to the end of the age”—i.e., until He returns bodily to judge the world and establish His earthly kingdom.
Ver. 20.—Teaching (διδάσκοντες) them (i.e. all the nations) to observe all things, etc. The word for “teaching” is quite different from that used in ver. 19, and there wrongly translated. Instruction is the second necessary condition for discipleship. In the case of adults, as was said above, some teaching must precede the initiation; but this has to be supplemented subsequently in order to build up the convert in the faith and make him perfect; while infants must be taught “as soon as they are able to learn, what a solemn vow, promise, and profession they have here made.” All must be taught the Christian faith and duty, and how to obtain God’s help to enable them to please him, and to continue in the way of salvation, so that they may “die from sin, and rise again unto righteousness; continually mortifying all their evil and corrupt affections, and daily proceeding in all virtue and godliness of living” (‘Public Baptism of Infants’). “He gives,” says St. Chrysostom, “the one charge with a view to doctrine [i.e. the form of baptism], the other concerning commandments” (‘Hom.,’ xc.). All that Christ commanded, both in doctrine and morals, all that he had taught and enjoined during the three past years, they were henceforward to take as their text-book, and enforce on all who were admitted into the Church by baptism. As the Greek is, “I commanded,” being aorist and not perfect, it may be rightly opined that Christ here alludes also to various details which he set forth and enjoined during these great forty days, between his resurrection and ascension, when he gave commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen, and spake to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God (Acts 1:2, 3). And, lo. “After that, because he had enjoined on them great things, to raise their courage, he says, Lo!” etc. (Chrysostom). I am with you alway (ἐγὼ μεθ᾽ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας). Every word is emphatic. The Ascension was at hand; this implied an absence of his visible presence, to be replaced by a spiritual presence, more perfect, potent, effectual, infinite. It is I myself, I, God and Man, who am (not “will be”) henceforward ever present among you, with you as Companion, Friend, Guide, Saviour, God. I am with you in all your ministrations, prayers public and private, baptisms, communions, exhortations, doctrine, discipline And this, not now and then, not at certain times only, but “all the days” of your pilgrimage, all the dark days of trial and persecution and affliction; all the days when you, my apostles, are gathered to your rest, and have committed your work to other hands; my presence shall never be withdrawn for a single moment. Often had God made an analogous promise to his servants under the old dispensation—to Moses (Exod. 3:12), to Joshua (Deut. 31:23), to Jeremiah (Jer. 1:8); but this spiritual presence of Christ is something unknown to previous history, a nearness unspeakable, in the Church at large and in the Christian’s heart. Even unto the end of the world; the consummation of the age, as ch. 24:3 (where see note). When the new era is ushered in, evangelizing work will cease; God shall be all in all; all shall know him from the least unto the greatest. And they shall ever be with the Lord; “wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18). Amen. The word is here an interpolation, but it expresses what every pious reader must say in his heart, “So be it, O Lord; be with us unto the end; guide and strengthen us in life, and bring us safely through the valley of the shadow of death, to thy blessed presence, where is the fulness of joy for evermore!”
20. Teaching them—This is teaching in the more usual sense of the term; or instructing the converted and baptized disciples.
to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I—The “I” here is emphatic. It is enough that I
am with you alway—“all the days”; that is, till making converts, baptizing, and building them up by Christian instruction, shall be no more.
even unto the end of the world. Amen—This glorious Commission embraces two primary departments, the Missionary and the Pastoral, with two sublime and comprehensive Encouragements to undertake and go through with them.
First, The Missionary department (Mt 28:18): “Go, make disciples of all nations.” In the corresponding passage of Mark (Mk 16:15) it is, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.” The only difference is, that in this passage the sphere, in its world-wide compass and its universality of objects, is more fully and definitely expressed; while in the former the great aim and certain result is delightfully expressed in the command to “make disciples of all nations.” “Go, conquer the world for Me; carry the glad tidings into all lands and to every ear, and deem not this work at an end till all nations shall have embraced the Gospel and enrolled themselves My disciples.” Now, Was all this meant to be done by the Eleven men nearest to Him of the multitude then crowding around the risen Redeemer? Impossible. Was it to be done even in their lifetime? Surely not. In that little band Jesus virtually addressed Himself to all who, in every age, should take up from them the same work. Before the eyes of the Church’s risen Head were spread out, in those Eleven men, all His servants of every age; and one and all of them received His commission at that moment. Well, what next? Set the seal of visible discipleship upon the converts, by “baptizing them into the name,” that is, into the whole fulness of the grace “of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” as belonging to them who believe. (See on 2 Co 13:14). This done, the Missionary department of your work, which in its own nature is temporary, must merge in another, which is permanent. This is
Second, The Pastoral department (Mt 28:20): “Teach them”—teach these baptized members of the Church visible—“to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you,” My apostles, during the three years ye have been with Me. What must have been the feelings which such a Commission awakened? “We who have scarce conquered our own misgivings—we, fishermen of Galilee, with no letters, no means, no influence over the humblest creature, conquer the world for Thee, Lord? Nay, Lord, do not mock us.” “I mock you not, nor send you a warfare on your own charges. For”—Here we are brought to
Third, The Encouragements to undertake and go through with this work. These are two; one in the van, the other in the rear of the Commission itself.
First Encouragement: “All power in heaven”—the whole power of Heaven’s love and wisdom and strength, “and all power in earth”—power over all persons, all passions, all principles, all movements—to bend them to this one high object, the evangelization of the world: All this “is given unto Me.” as the risen Lord of all, to be by Me placed at your command—“Go ye therefore.” But there remains a
Second Encouragement: “And lo! I am with you all the days”—not only to perpetuity, but without one day’s interruption, “even to the end of the world,” The “Amen” is of doubtful genuineness in this place. If, however, it belongs to the text, it is the Evangelist’s own closing word.
20 Hitherto in Matthew’s narrative it has been Jesus who has been the “teacher.” But now the verb “teach” is used with the disciples as subject, marking the decisive change which follows Jesus’ death and resurrection. But even so their duty of teaching derives from the authority of the risen Lord (v. 18). So they are to teach not their own ideas, but what Jesus has “commanded,” entellomai, a term which hitherto has been especially associated with the “commandments” (the cognate noun entolē, cf. 5:19; 15:3; 19:17; 22:36–40) given by God through Moses. The basis of living as the people of God will henceforth be the new “commandments” given by Jesus.46 Not that these are necessarily opposed to the commandments of the OT, but as we have seen in 5:17–48 Jesus’ teaching has given a new interpretation to the old law, and it is by obedience to his words that salvation is henceforth to be found (7:24–27). To be a disciple is to obey Jesus’ teaching.
But the presence of Jesus himself among his people (cf. 18:20) ensures that it is not simply a relationship of formal obedience. In context this assurance is focused not on the personal comfort of the individual disciple but on the successful completion of the mission entrusted to the community as a whole. 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 (Exod 3:12; 4:12; Josh 1:5, 9; Judg 6:16; Jer 1:8; cf. also the angel sent with the Israelites in Exod 23:20–23). So here it is to the commissioned disciples as they set about their daunting task that the divine presence is promised, without which they cannot be expected to succeed. But the difference now is that it is not God himself who promises to be “with” them, still less an angel sent by him, but the risen Jesus, who has just been declared to stand alongside the Father and the Holy Spirit in heavenly sovereignty. In the Fourth Gospel Jesus promises the continuing presence of the Spirit with his disciples after he has left them (John 14:16–17, 25–26; 16:7), but in Matthew the presence is that of Jesus himself. And this is not simply for a short-term objective, for the mission they have been given will keep them (and their successors) busy to “the end of the age.” Jesus’ physical presence with his disciples was limited to the period of his earthly life-span, but the spiritual presence of the risen Jesus has no such limitation: it is as an eternal, divine being that Jesus will be among his obedient people, “God with us.”
20 Those who are discipled must be not only baptized but also taught. The content of this instruction (see comments at 3:1 for kērygma [“preaching,” GK 3060] and didachē [“teaching,” GK 1439]) is everything Jesus commanded the first disciples. Five things stand out.
- The focus is on Jesus’ commands, not OT law. Jesus’ words, like the words of Scripture, are more enduring than heaven and earth (24:35); and the peculiar expression “everything I have commanded you” is, as Trilling (Das wahre Israel, 37) has pointed out, reminiscent of the authority of Yahweh (Ex 29:35; Dt 1:3, 41; 7:11; 12:11, 14). This confirms our exegesis of 5:17–20. The revelation of Jesus Messiah at this late stage in salvation history brings the fulfillment of everything to which the OT Scriptures pointed and constitutes their valid continuity; but this means that the focus is necessarily on Jesus.
- Remarkably, Jesus does not foresee a time when any part of his teaching will be rightly judged needless, outmoded, superseded, or untrue. Everything he has commanded must be passed on “to the very end of the age.”
- What the disciples teach is not mere dogma steeped in abstract theorizing but content to be obeyed.
- It then follows that by carefully passing on everything Jesus taught, the first disciples—themselves eyewitnesses—call into being new generations of “ear-witnesses” (O’Brien, “Great Commission,” 264–65). These in turn pass on the truth they received. So a means is provided for successive generations to remain in contact with Jesus’ teachings (cf. 2 Ti 2:2).
- Christianity must spread by an internal necessity or it has already decayed, for one of Jesus’ commands is to teach all he commands. Failure to disciple, baptize, and teach the peoples of the world is already itself one of the failures of our own discipleship.
But the gospel ends, not with command, but with the promise of Jesus’ comforting presence, which, if not made explicitly conditional on the disciples’ obedience to the Great Commission, is at least closely tied to it. “Surely” captures the force of idou here (see comments at 1:20). He who is introduced to us in the prologue as Immanuel, “God with us” (1:23; cf. 18:20), is still God with us, “to the very end of the age.” The English adverb “always” renders an expression found in the NT only here—namely, pasas tēs hēmeras, strictly “the whole of every day” (Moule, Idiom Book, 34). Not just the horizon is in view, but each day as we live it. This continues to the end of the age (for this expression, see comments at 13:39–40, 49; 24:3; cf. Heb 9:26)—the end of history as we know it, when the kingdom will be consummated. Perhaps there is a small hint of judgment. The church dare not drift, because it, too, rushes to the consummation. The period between the commission and the consummation is of indefinite length; but whatever its duration, it is the time of the church’s mission and of preliminary enjoyment of her Lord’s presence.
Matthew’s gospel ends with the expectation of continued mission and teaching. The five preceding sections always conclude with a block of Jesus’ teaching (3:1–26:5); but the passion and resurrection of Jesus end with a commission to his disciples to carry on that same ministry (see Introduction, section 14) in the light of the cross, the empty tomb, and the triumphant vindication and exaltation of the risen Lord. In this sense, the gospel of Matthew is not a closed book until the consummation. The final chapter is being written in the mission and teaching of Jesus’ disciples.
Matthew 28:20. Teaching them to observe all things. By these words, as I have formerly suggested, Christ shows that, in sending the apostles, he does not entirely resign his office, as if he ceased to be the Teacher of his Church; for he sends away the apostles with this reservation, that they shall not bring forward their own inventions, but shall purely and faithfully deliver from hand to hand (as we say) what he has intrusted to them. Would to God that the Pope would subject to this rule the power which he claims for himself; for we would easily permit him to be the successor of Peter or of Paul, provided that he did not usurp a tyrannical dominion over our souls. But as he has set aside the authority of Christ, and infects the Church with his childish fooleries, this shows plainly enough how widely he has departed from the apostolic office. In short, let us hold that by these words teachers are appointed over the Church, not to put forward whatever they may think proper, but that they, as well as others, may depend on the mouth of the Master alone, so as to gain disciples for him, and not for themselves.
And, lo, I am with you always. As Christ gave to the apostles a commission which they were unable to discharge by reliance on merely human power, he encourages them by the assurance of his heavenly protection. For before promising that he would be with them, he began with declaring that he is the King of heaven and earth, who governs all things by his power and authority.
The pronoun I must be viewed as emphatic; as if he had said that the apostles, if they wished zealously to perform their duty, must not consider what they are able to do, but must rely on the invincible power of those under whose banner they fight. The nature of that presence which the Lord promises to his followers ought to be understood spiritually; for it is not necessary that he should descend from heaven in order to assist us, since he can assist us by the grace of his Spirit, as if he stretched out his hand from heaven. For he who, in respect of his body, is at a great distance from us, not only diffuses the efficacy of his Spirit through the whole world, but even actually dwells in us.
Even to the end of the world. It ought likewise to be remarked, that this was not spoken to the apostles alone; for the Lord promises his assistance not for a single age only, but even to the end of the world. It is as if he had said, that though the ministers of the gospel be weak and suffer the want of all things, he will be their guardian, so that they will rise victorious over all the opposition of the world. In like manner, experience clearly shows in the present day, that the operations of Christ are carried on wonderfully in a secret manner, so that the gospel surmounts innumerable obstacles.
So much the more intolerable is the wickedness of the Popish clergy, when they take this as a pretext for their sacrilege and tyranny. They affirm that the Church cannot err, because it is governed by Christ; as if Christ, like some private soldier, hired himself for wages to other captains, and as if he had not, on the contrary, reserved the entire authority for himself, and declared that he would defend his doctrine, so that his ministers may confidently expect to be victorious over the whole world.
 Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1411). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Mt 28:20). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, pp. 63–64). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 3, pp. 390–391). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.