Immediately before Jesus gives his final words to his disciples, perhaps his most famous address, often called The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), the text includes a curious phrase.
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
I was speaking on The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) at a church retreat over this past weekend. As I was studying the text, I kept reflecting on the phrase: “but some doubted.”
It seems so out-of-place right before Jesus’ final commission.
What can we say about these doubters?
1) Doubters were Jesus’ disciples. The context suggests that these doubters were part of the eleven (Judas is now dead). They were people who have seen Jesus teach, perform miracles, cast out demons, and come back from the dead. Even disciples doubt.
Just because you struggle with doubt, doesn’t mean you aren’t a follower of Jesus.
2) Doubters may have worshiped. Notice the text here doesn’t say, some worshiped, others doubted. It appears that the doubters were a subset of the worshipers. People can worship and doubt.
If you doubt, keep worshiping.
3) Doubters obeyed. A few verses earlier, Jesus had told Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to tell the disciples to come to Galilee. After denying and abandoning Jesus at his moment of crisis the disciples this time, including the doubters, obey the command to go to Galilee.
If you doubt, keep obeying.
4) Doubters doubted publicly. Somehow people knew what these doubters were thinking. We don’t know how, but presumably they let it be known that they were doubting.
If you doubt, let other people know so they can pray for you.
Personally, I’ve struggled with doubt more in the past few years than I ever have in my life. I think one of the factors contributing to my doubts is that I’ve been focusing so much of my time and energy on some of the nastiest bits of the Bible, texts like the Canaanite Genocide (Josh. 10-11) and the rape of the Levite’s concubine (Judg. 19). I think most Christians need to stop ignoring these troubling texts, but perhaps most people don’t need to spend as much time reflecting on them as I do (maybe my next book should be on Psalm 23?).
I went a long time without telling anyone about my doubts, but that didn’t help them go away. Finally, I started talking about them with my family and a few close friends, and God began to strengthen my faith. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m confident, as I keep worshiping, obeying, and talking about it, my faith will continue to grow.