While reading the very familiar final verses of Matthew’s Gospel this morning, I was startled afresh by a phrase that seemed to jump right off the page. Matthew leads into what we sometimes call the Great Commission like this: “The eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. And when they saw Him, they worshiped; but some were doubtful” (Matt. 28:16-17).
Who was doubtful? Some of these 11 men, hand-picked by Jesus to be his student-apprentices (“disciples”). These men who had lived with Jesus for three years, who had seen his wonder-inducing works of power that signified his divine identity and mission. These men whom, in the next breath, Jesus will commission as his personal emissaries and ambassadors to the world (“apostles”). After all that they had experienced, some of the apostles doubted.
What did they doubt at this moment? That Jesus was God’s Son? That he was truly risen back from among the dead? Matthew, himself one of these 11 disciples, doesn’t say. Was he one who doubted? Mark’s original Gospel probably ends with verse 8 of chapter 16 but early additions might shed some light. Mary Magdalene tells the 11 that she has seen the Lord and “they refused to believe it” (Mark 16:11). Two others encounter Jesus and report it to the 11 “but they did not believe them either” (v. 13). Jesus then appears to the 11 in person, reproaches them “for their unbelief” and gives them the Great Commission (v. 14-16), followed by a promise of signs that will accompany “those who have believed” (v. 17-18). Not their future converts, I think, but the preachers themselves.
Within weeks, the apostles will be among those who receive the Holy Spirit in a special way at Pentecost and their doubt will give way to new and holy boldness (Acts 2). But for now some of them doubt. Jesus commissions them anyway. Jesus understands our frailties. In our weakness also, there is hope for us. Even with our doubts, we are called. The same Spirit will also empower us to obey Jesus if we but ask and receive (read more here). The risen Jesus will be with us also, every new day until the very consummation of the age (Matt. 28:20).