Nov 24, 2014

The Two Commissions in Matthew

Christopher Cone

Dr. Christopher Cone
Southern California Seminary

In a soon-to-be-published thesis, [1] James Fazio draws attention to an important component of Matthew's account of Jesus' life and ministry: specifically, that Jesus commissioned His disciples on two significant occasions, and for two very different purposes. The first, which Fazio refers to as "the Germinal Commission," [2] pertains to the gospel of the kingdom, and the message that Jesus proclaimed to the people of Israel throughout His early ministry, as in Matthew 4:17: "Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand" (or near, or even here). This gospel of the kingdom was the consistent proclamation of John the Baptist (e.g., Mt 3:2), of Jesus' early ministry, and of the disciples Jesus sent out in Matthew 10:5. Note that Jesus sent the twelve explicitly to Israel with the gospel of the kingdom, and they were not even allowed to go in the way of the Gentiles or enter the cities of the Samaritans. This gospel is exclusively for Israel, because the earlier Hebrew Scripture prophecies regarding this kingdom (e.g., 2 Sam 7) were centered on Israel and demanded literal fulfillment.

Immediately following Jesus' introductory prophecy regarding the church, there is an important transition in Matthew 16:21: Jesus' message shifts from the entirely kingdom program to be presented to Israel—now to a soteriological message regarding His death and resurrection. That does not mean there is no further mention of the kingdom—there is, in fact. However, all references to the kingdom subsequent to the prophecy of the church are either in an explicitly eschatological context (speaking of the future rather than imminent aspect of the kingdom) or in parabolic eschatological context (as in Mt 24-25). In short, the discussion of the kingdom post–Matthew 16 is not "the kingdom is near," but "the kingdom is coming." Note Matthew 24:14—"This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come." The gospel of the kingdom is still a message that will be proclaimed in anticipation of the kingdom, but clearly the tone has changed from the earlier, "Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand."

Make Disciples

"Go and Make Disciples of All Nations"

In keeping with that new tone, after His resurrection, Jesus commissions His disciples a second time, this time with no reference to the kingdom and with no reference to specifically national promises. Instead, the disciples are told to, as they were going, make disciples (the only imperative in the commission), baptizing, and teaching. While this is a discipleship mandate rather than an evangelism mandate, it is evident that the proclamation of the gospel of salvation (as Paul later describes in 1 Cor 15:1-8) was happening in some way prior to the baptizing and teaching—either on the part of the disciples as they were going, or on the part of others who were, perhaps, as Paul puts it, "planting" (1 Cor 3:6).

In short, the first commission (Mt 10:5) was for a national call to soteriological response (to repent, change their minds) in anticipation of the imminent fulfillment of aspects of eschatology (the King had arrived), while the second (Mt 28:18-20) was for an international call to soteriological response specifically with respect to sanctification, i.e., becoming disciples. Fazio's apt distinguishing of these two commissions helps to underscore significant dispensational aspects of Jesus' earthly ministry, present focus, and future program.


[1] James Fazio, Two Commissions: Theological Implications of Matthew's Gospel, Masters Thesis, Southern California Seminary, April 2013.

[2] Ibid., i.