"And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20b, NLT)
You are likely quite familiar with those words. They were said by Jesus at the moment when he left his eleven disciples and ascended to the right hand of his Father in heaven. They are words that bring comfort every single day for thousands of Christians all over the world. And rightfully so, for they are a powerful promise.
But I wonder if they are also misunderstood every day by thousands of Christians all over the world.
One of my favorite quotes and lessons, when it comes to understanding, interpreting, and applying Biblical texts is from D.A. Carson:
"A text without a context is a pre-text for a proof-text."
In our desire to comfort ourselves and receive comfort from God, I wonder if we have misunderstood and misused this verse because we have done exactly that. We have forgotten the context, and therefore, have missed what I believe is a conditional promise from Jesus.
16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. (Matthew 28:16-20a, NLT)
Then, after that context, comes our Christian coffee-cup verse:
"And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Query: Is Jesus' promise to stand with us contingent on what he has just commanded us to do?
In other words, Jesus has commanded his disciples then, and all of us as his disciples now, to make disciples. To go and find people who are lost and make them disciples. To teach them all he has commanded. To baptize them into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And, as we are doing that - making disciples - he stands with us. He has our backs. He is shoulder-to-shoulder in the work, right to the very end of time.
Therefore, if we are not making disciples, it is likely we will not experience his comforting presence and power. And doesn't that make sense? If we are not about the difficult, glorious, challenging work of making disciples, we don't really need the empowering presence of Jesus in our lives. If we are not living God-power-dependent lives on mission for Jesus, what would we need his presence for?
In that case, we'd merely be living like all those people who don't follow King Jesus.