The Final Mandate – Luke 24:44-49
By: Northern Seminary
Preachers use their sermons more than once. That’s not news. But I managed to deliver most of the same sermon twice in succession by making it my last message in the church I was leaving as pastor, and the first message in the church where I was starting as pastor. Why that sermon twice? Because it summed up for the church from which I was going the things I most wanted them to remember, and for the church where I was arriving it summed up what I most wanted them to learn. There are times to encapsulate key truths in a few sentences.
Luke – as he nears the end of his gospel – does that with the words of Jesus to his disciples. Jesus has appeared to them. He’s risen, and finally they seem to have overcome their fear and doubts and they’re ready to listen. So Jesus speaks, and what he says is very like a final mandate before his ascension to heaven.
44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Luke doesn’t make it clear if this teaching of Jesus happened immediately after his appearing to the disciples. In Luke’s other book – Acts – he describes a period of forty days when he taught many things to his apostles about the kingdom of God. Out of all Jesus said at that time, Luke may be summarizing the key truths for the end of his gospel. If that is right, it makes these words all the more important.
What Jesus describes to his disciples can be summed up as the truth which must be told by those who are witnesses and told in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus didn’t try to cover everything he’d taught his disciples while they walked the roads together. Instead, he homed in on one key point: that the whole of God’s plan of salvation had always been centered on him, and in particular on his death and resurrection.
“Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” (v. 44)
He spoke about the three divisions of the Old Testament: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (of which the Psalms is a big part). Nothing in the Old Testament was being left out of consideration. All the Scriptures spoke of him.
In other words, everything God inspired in the Scriptures down through the centuries pointed to the Messiah. No matter whether it was the law of God, or the messages of his prophets, or the praise or prayers of the Psalms, all pointed towards Jesus, the Christ. They are like tributaries which all flow into one great river, like the thousands of rivers and streams which all join together to make the great Mississippi River and carry it on its 2,320 mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. Every part of Scripture, Jesus is saying, joins together to point to me.
And, from all of Scripture, the key truth which Jesus wanted the disciples to grasp was this:
“This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.” (v. 46)
Perhaps he was thinking of passages in Hosea or Jonah as well as words he had spoken himself. Certainly, as he had done with the travelers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:26), he wanted them to know that suffering and death were always fundamental to the work of the Messiah.
Hardly anyone in Israel believed that. Paul called the message of a crucified Messiah “a stumbling block for Jews” (1 Cor. 1:23). Their thinking was only of a victorious, triumphant Messiah, one who rescued Israel from all its enemies. How could someone who had died at the hands of their enemies be their Messiah? But, Jesus is saying, that assumption has always been wrong. Suffering and dying were exactly what God sent the Messiah to do.
Yet, in that room of followers, Jesus was speaking to Jews, and this was difficult for them. Every day of their lives they’d heard a different message. But as Jesus was speaking, their thinking changed. That wasn’t by great interpretative skill, nor by grim determination just to believe what they were being told. Their thinking changed because they sat in the presence of the risen Jesus. How do you argue with someone who has been crucified and is now alive again? And, Luke says, “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (v. 45). What they had never seen or never understood before, now they did.
One of the greatest experiences I had as a pastor was taking time with people to help them find faith. Many were true seekers. They wanted to know; they wanted to understand. But at first they couldn’t. They were like a person told that there was a marvelous view right in front of them, but for them it was night time and everything was only darkness. They could see nothing. No matter how often you told them a beautiful vista was there, it made no difference. Until the day, that is, when dawn broke and suddenly, as light flooded in, they saw what had always been there, and it was as awesome as they had been told. As he did with the very first disciples, Jesus continues to open minds to his truth.
Second, it is truth that must be told.
Jesus said to his followers:
“This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (vs. 46-47)
In these words, Jesus spoke of four things.
One was repentance. In Greek thinking repentance meant a change of thinking, while in Hebrew thought it meant a change of action. Real repentance always involves both. As a young schoolchild I was often in trouble for talking in class. Every time I would apologize to my teacher and promise I’d never do it again. I was genuinely sorry. But my sorrow wasn’t repentance. Within five minutes I’d be talking some more to those around me, but probably a little quieter hoping I wouldn’t be found out. Dropping the volume on sin doesn’t make it any less sin. A little less sin doesn’t constitute repentance. Real repentance transforms both thinking and living.
The second thing Jesus spoke of was forgiveness of sins. The death of the Messiah on the cross was not about heroism, or defiance, or standing up for your principles. Jesus was bearing the sins of a disobedient and wrongful humanity in his own body.
That was exactly as prophesied. In Isaiah 53, the suffering of the Messiah for the sake of others was described with agonizing clarity:
“Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)
The third part of what Jesus said here was that this message of forgiveness would be preached in his name. Eternal life won’t come because someone tries harder, or gets better at religious practices, or learns every truth ever known about spiritual things. None of that can erase or prevent the wrongs of someone’s life. Forgiveness will be a gift, and it will be given to all those who know Jesus as the Messiah and surrender their lives to him.
Later, called to account for the healing of a lame man, Peter will tell the rulers and elders of Israel:
“It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is
‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10-12)
Peter’s words were brave. He got his freedom that day but only with dire threats of what would happen unless the disciples stopped preaching about Jesus. But they could not stop because what they preached was true. Forgiveness of sins would go on being offered in Jesus’ name, for salvation would be found in no one else.
Then, the fourth part of Jesus’ words to his first disciples was that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name “to all nations.”
There were Old Testament prophecies that Gentiles would also put their trust in God. Isaiah said God’s servant would bring “justice to the nations” and be “a light for the Gentiles” (Is. 42:1, 6). Later he wrote:
“I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Is. 49:6)
Rabbis debated these words, but the verses were mainly under-rated. The understanding of most Jews was that they and they alone were loved by God.
Therefore Jesus’ words that forgiveness of sins was to be preached in his name to all nations would have at least surprised and perhaps shocked these early believers. But Jesus had spoken of it long before this (Mark 13:10) and the famous Great Commission, recorded by Matthew, was a clear command to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). Taking the news of the gospel to the world had always been the plan, and would now be their work.
The truth they had learned would be told to all people.
Third, it would be truth that must be told by those who are witnesses.
Jesus said: “You are witnesses of these things” (v. 48).
He wasn’t interested in hiring a marketing firm to get the good news out to the world. Marketing firms can do a fine job, and they can do it whether or not they believe in the business they promote. But for his gospel Jesus required far more than a dispassionate sales promotion. Those who would tell his gospel would not be just telling a truth told to them but testifying to a reality they had experienced for themselves.
Here is a superficial illustration. Which of these two people will win my support? Will it be the one who says, “A new orchestra is coming to town. They’re probably worth hearing. Others say they are very good.” Or will it be the one who says, “You must hear this new orchestra. I was there last night, and the beauty and magnificence of their playing transformed me from the inside out. Their playing will do the same for you.” The first had knowledge of the orchestra’s music. The second also had that knowledge but much more than only that – a story of a life changed by their experience with that music and the promise that mine would be changed too.
Jesus wasn’t looking for a skilled sales team. Instead, he would send those whose lives had been changed by Jesus to tell others how their lives could be changed by Jesus. They were already witnesses of all he’d said and all he’d done, and now they would be witnesses of these things to the world.
Fourth, it would be truth that must be told by those who are witnesses and told in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus had just said they would be witnesses to the world. But not just yet. They must never attempt this work in their own strength. He added:
“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (v. 49)
This verse, which is similar to words of Jesus which Luke recorded in Acts 1, was a warning that they could never do God’s work without God’s power.
But they would have that power. There was a gift the Father had promised, and Jesus would forward that gift to them. His followers would be wrapped up in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In saying that, Jesus outlined three marvelous truths.
- One – there is power to do God’s work.
- Two – that power is a gift God intends every disciple to have.
- Three – Jesus would send that power to all those who belonged to him.
In other words, everything a witness for Jesus could need would be given. The call to the work would be matched with resources for the work. Nothing would be asked that was not provided for.
So, Jesus’ final mandate was about truth which must be told by those who are witnesses and told in the power of the Holy Spirit.
These, and similar words in other gospels and the beginning of Acts, are Jesus’ final words on earth. But the mandate is still whispered very personally day by day in the hearts of believers. It can be a reminder of the truth, the core that can never be taken out of the gospel. It can be the call to bring good news to those who don’t yet know that good news, whether those who don’t know live next door or on the other side of the world. It can be the challenge to be a good witness, living rightly and speaking boldly for Jesus. It can be the reassurance that God is always there, there in power, there with strength for all he has called us to do.
Jesus still opens minds to understand the truth about him, and then opens hearts to respond to his love for each of us. Through two thousand years and more he has done that. Most things would have dimmed by then, but his love has not diminished at all. As he loved and taught those first disciples, just as strongly he loves and would teach us. His work is not yet done, and as he sent them in the power of the Spirit so he sends us. As they were faithful, so may we also be faithful in living out his call and his command on our lives.
 Hosea 6:2 and Jonah 1:17 could both be predictors of three days of suffering before salvation. The second of these was used by Jesus to speak of his own death and resurrection – Matt. 12:40; 16:4.
 For example, Luke 9:22; 17:25; 18:31-33.
 Acts 1:4-5 “On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’”