Matt 28:16-20 Forty Days before the Ascension CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO
Following the appearances on the first day, Jesus appeared to his disciples several more times over the period of forty days before the ascension (Acts 1:3). Each time the Bible records something different that happened.
In Matt 28:16-20, Jesus appeared to the disciples in Galilee in a mountain where he had appointed them to meet him [this had to be around the same time as the third appearance recorded by John in Jn 21]. They worshiped him, though some doubted. Then Jesus spoke to them stating that all power had been given to him in heaven and in earth. Then he gave them a commandment which we call the great commission. It is basically a commandment to teach all nations what the Lord commanded them and to baptize them. He gave them a promise that he would be with them to the end of the world.
In Mk 16:14-18, Jesus appeared unto the eleven as they were eating [this took place in the evening on the day of his resurrection and continued into the night]. He scolded them for not believing the reports of those who had seen him after his resurrection. Then he gave them a commission to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Unlike the “great commission,” this is a command to preach while that is a command to teach. Like the “great commission,” there was a mention of baptism. Furthermore, there were some signs that would be seen accompanying believers.
Salvation’s close connection to baptism in this passage coupled with the mention of signs that follow believers needs some explanation. We know that, in the church age, water baptism doesn’t save. It follows salvation (Acts 8:36-38; 10:44-48; 11:15-17). However, in this passage, water baptism seems to be essential to salvation and the signs appear to be tests or gifts of a true believer. How can that be? Without going into a lot of detail, we are looking at something that is particularly Jewish.
Early in the church age, before the gospel was preached to Gentiles, salvation was connected to water baptism as you see it in Acts 2:38. Likewise, because Jews require a sign (1 Cor 1:22), signs were in great demonstration where Jewish disciples were preaching the gospel (Mk 16:20). After the Jews stoned Stephen at the end of Acts 7, the gospel began to spread to the Gentiles. And when it did, the sign gifts waned until they were no longer evident (2 Tim 4:20; 4:11; 1 Tim 5:23). Once the church age is over and the tribulation begins, evidently baptism will once again be connected to salvation and signs will be prevalent since God will be dealing with the Jews again.
Lk 24:36-48 is the same appearance as Mk 16:14-18. In addition to the things he said in Mark, Jesus showed the disciples his hands and feet and ate a piece of broiled fish and honeycomb with them. He also opened their understanding of the scripture that Christ had to die and rise again and reminded them that they were witnesses of these things.
Jn 20:19-23 is still the same appearance and John adds further detail. Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” It was by the Holy Ghost that Jesus had given commandments to them during the forty days before his ascension (Acts 1:2).
One of the commands that he gave them had to do with the remitting and retaining of sins (Jn 20:23). This command has often been used to justify Catholic confession to a priest. There are several problems with that. In 1 Cor. 5:1-5, Paul urged the Corinthians to kick a fornicator out of their congregation. They would not forgive his sin. The congregation turned him over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh. However, during his punishment from the church (2 Cor. 2:6), he got right with the Lord and Paul and the church forgave him (2 Cor. 2:7-10). Thus his sin was remitted.
The basis for our authority to forgive anyone is the forgiveness that God gave us for the sake of Jesus Christ (Eph 4:30-32, Lk. 17:3-4). Christians don’t need a priest in a confessional to forgive sins since we are all “priests” once we are saved (1 Pet. 2:9).
When we preach the gospel to sinners, we have the privilege of telling them that all their sins will be forgiven once they trust Christ. Like Acts 13:38 says, “… through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.”
A sinner without Christ, on the other hand, cannot be forgiven by God, no matter who on earth forgives him. A priest cannot remit or absolve sin. Only God can forgive sins (Mk. 2:5-7). And He will only forgive your sins when you “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Like Jesus said in John 8:24, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.”
The second time that Jesus appeared to the disciples he showed himself to Thomas, who did not believe until he saw Jesus personally (Jn 20:24-31). The third time he appeared to them was in Jn 21:1-25, when Jesus told Peter, among other things, “Feed my sheep.”
The last time that Jesus appeared to his disciples, was on the day of his ascension. He told them to wait in Jerusalem until they received power from on high (Lk 24:49). Then he took then out to Bethany and blessed them (Lk 24:50). While he blessed them, he ascended (Lk 24:51) and they returned to Jerusalem with joy praising and blessing God in the temple (Lk 24:52-53). Mark shows us that after they received power from on high, they preached every where and their word was confirmed with signs, as Jesus had promised (Mk 16:19-20)