“But some doubted” (Matthew 28:17)

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.

4 comments

  1. Thank you so much for this. And I’d love your prayers too. I feel like my relationship with the Bible has been fractured and splintered by various things over the past few years. It’s hard. And it’s hard to talk about.

    Date: Mon, 10 Aug 2015 21:20:36 +0000 To: tanyamarlow@hotmail.com

  2. Acts 1:6 So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; ( the doubt concerning the restoration of the kingdom to Israel )

  3. David, thank for the work you do. I was looking up some things on this verse this morning to share with my Bible class for the morning devo and came accross your thoughts. Your final reflection of the danger of delving to long into some of those sticky questions drew to mind a passage that I read from Bernard of Clarivaux’s Sermon 8 on Song of Songs. I thought I would share it with you as the Spirit prompts. God bless you brother!

    8.6 You too, if you would make prudent progress in your studies of the mysteries of the faith, would do well to remember the Wise Man’s advice: “Do not try to understand things that are too difficult for you, or try to discover what is beyond your powers.” These are occasions when you must walk by the Spirit and not according to your personal opinions, for the Spirit teaches not by sharpening curiosity but by inspiring charity. And hence the bride, when seeking him whom her heart loves, quite properly does not put her trust in mere human prudence, nor yield to the inane conceits of human curiosity. She asks rather for a kiss, that is she calls upon the Holy Spirit by whom she is simultaneously awarded with the choice repast of knowledge and the seasoning of grace. How true it is that the knowledge imparted in the kiss is lovingly received, since the kiss is love’s own token. But knowledge which leads to self-importance, since it is devoid of love, cannot be the fruit of the kiss. Even those who have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge, may not for any reason lay claim to that kiss. For the favor of the kiss bears with it a twofold gift, the light of knowledge and the fervor of devotion. He is in truth the Spirit of wisdom and insight, who, like the bee carrying its burden of wax and honey, is fully equipped with the power both of kindling the light of knowledge and infusing the delicious nurture of grace. Two kinds of people therefore may not consider themselves to have been gifted with the kiss, those who know the truth without loving it, and those who love it without understanding it; from which we conclude that this kiss leaves room neither for ignorance nor for lukewarmness.

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