New Series: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21)
Towards the end of John’s Gospel Jesus commissions His disciples to go into the world on mission. The incident the aged John chooses to recount is different from those recorded by Matthew and Luke. Matthew, whose record of Jesus’ commissioning words is the most famous, describes Jesus’ words on a mountain top in Galilee. He sends the disciples out, confident in His universal authority and enduring presence, to make disciples from all nations through teaching and baptising (Matthew 28:18-20). Luke, meanwhile, tells of an occasion in Jerusalem when Jesus opens the disciples’ minds to see how his life and death fulfilled the Old Testament and then commissions them to be His witnesses. To fulfil their task of preaching forgiveness of sins in His name, they must wait for the power that will soon be given from heaven, a reference to the coming Holy Spirit (Luke 24:44-49). There is also a version of the ‘Great Commission’ in the so-called long ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20), which combines Luke’s emphasis on preaching and Matthew’s emphasis on all nations and baptism, but those verses are not original to Mark and so should not be treated as fully authoritative.
John recounts another occasion in Jerusalem when Jesus appeared to the disciples and said (John 20:21-23):
Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’
Here, as in Luke, the Holy Spirit is mentioned, but there is also an emphasis on the authority the disciples, or apostles, have as Jesus’ representatives. This fits with Jesus’ teaching in John 13-16, in which He emphasises their foundational authority as teachers of the Church who will be led into all truth by the Holy Spirit. The key phrase in this commissioning, however, is “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”. This series of posts will explore the significance of what it means for Christians (or the Church) to be sent by Jesus in the same way as He was sent by His Father.
The fact that three Gospel writers present three different accounts of a commissioning of Jesus’ disciples into mission after His resurrection should not concern us. There are not three different ‘versions’ of a single ‘Great Commission’, but three records of different incidents among many that occurred during the 40 day period between His resurrection and ascension when Jesus met repeatedly with the disciples (see Acts 1:3). These episodes complement each other:
Matthew shows that mission’s goal is making disciples from all nations through teaching and baptism.
Luke focuses on mission’s task, proclamation of the gospel on the basis of Scripture.
John’s emphasis is on the approach to mission, which is following in the example of Jesus.
All three remind us that the power of mission is in the enduring presence of Christ through the Spirit.
In this series I will explore what it means to be sent as Jesus was sent. I will draw out seven principles from the many occasions in John’s Gospel when Jesus refers to having been sent by His Father. The outline of the series is as follows:
1. Sent to complete God’s work (John 4:34-38) – a mission of sowing and reaping.
2. Sent to please the Father (John 5:25-30) – a mission of judgement.
3. Sent to do God’s will (John 6:38-40) – a mission of salvation.
4. Sent to seek God’s glory (John 7:14-18) – a mission of truth.
5. Sent with the sender’s presence (John 8:25-30) – a mission of partnership.
6. Sent by the Master (John 13:12-20) – a mission of servanthood.
7. Sent in holiness and unity (John 17:16-23) – a mission of distinctiveness.