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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Matthew 28



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Verse 5


‘And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.’

Matthew 28:5

There was indeed enough to cause fear to the boldest heart in what those faithful women found at the sepulchre of the Lord.

I. Natural fear.—Their first thoughts would surely be of fear. Some wonderful and mysterious thing had happened; no work of men’s hand—of that they were convinced. They found themselves standing on ground where the greatest of miracles had just been wrought, and in the presence of angels, from whose lips they heard voices of the other world. Thus the women were filled with awe.

II. Reassurance.—As the angels had said to the faithful women, so He said to His Apostles afterwards—‘Fear not.’ There were persons to whom neither Christ nor His angels could have said this. They were those who thought they had got rid of Christ.

III. Easter fear.—As it was then, so it is now. Easter is a time of gladness and rejoicing, but it is also a time of fear. There must be many who would be more comfortable if they were sure that Christ had remained in the grave, and that all He said about the necessity of being holy and about the punishment of sinners had never been so confirmed; who would prefer to remain in doubt for a while whether they are to rise again, and whether He is really to judge them. Easter must be a time of fear to those who feel that they are not improving. Christ was changed at His Resurrection: and each anniversary of it reminds us that if we are His we must be changing too. ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature’ (see also 1 Corinthians 5:7). What must they feel at Easter who are not a whit altered from the bad courses and tempers of last year!

IV. Easter gladness.—But Easter is also a time of gladness and rejoicing; Christ never meant His Resurrection to put thoughts of fear into our minds. He meant it to say to us, as the angel said to the women, ‘Fear not ye.’ The fear of the disciples soon gave place to great joy. Jesus Christ came and gave them His peace, and it took possession of their hearts. Surely that is what He means for our portion still. The joy of Easter Day is indeed a new encouragement in our pilgrimage—a fresh spring, from year to year, of blessed hope and peace; a foretaste and firstfruits of the peace which He will vouchsafe us in our hour of departure; and more—a foretaste of that joy which shall be ours in the resurrection of the just, when we shall see that Blessed One, and never more be separated from His Presence.

—Dean Church.


‘When our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the tomb, He did more than prove the possibility of a bodily resurrection. He revealed to us a great spiritual truth. He showed that innocence and purity and righteousness are beyond the reach of corruption. He taught us that the soul, which is possessed of these, has in itself the germ of immortality. It must needs live on for ever. From this you will see that Easter-tide has a voice of admonition as well as a song of gladness. It reminds us first of a conflict won; but afterwards of a conflict which is still being waged. The victory of the Saviour is complete; and for that we rejoice and sing. But then comes the recollection of our own warfare, and we remember why the Saviour conquered. Was it not that we might conquer too?’

Verse 6


‘Come, see the place where the Lord lay.’

Matthew 28:6

Such were the words of the angel to the two Marys at the sepulchre.

I. A place of sacred interest.—‘Come, see the place.’ Cemetery or village churchyard, the place of our sleeping dead must always be to us a place of sacred and surpassing interest. But as we think of those righteous who are now sleeping, let us not be slow to ask ourselves whether we have a good hope that we shall have a part and fellowship in their rising. Let us learn wisdom from the lesson-teaching graves. Two may sleep together in them; and yet, when He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth, ‘one shall be taken, and the other left.’

II. A mighty battlefield.—‘Come, see the place where the Lord lay.’ It was a mighty battlefield; the scene of a strife, unparalleled in its intensity. The strife and its issue had been foretold over and over again: ‘He shall swallow up death in victory’ (Is. Matthew 25:8; see also Hosea 13:14). But the battle is fought, and won; and now it is ours to have part in the gathered spoils. For a time, and within limits, death must reign, and the grave also. Still, if we are Christ’s, the grave receives us only as a trust. (See Is. Matthew 26:19.)

III. A sanctuary.—The place where the Lord lay represents a sanctuary; the shrine of the sleeping righteous; the robing-room of the saints, whence they may, on the great Easter Morn, mount up with wings as eagles and ‘meet their Lord in the air.’ In that intermediate state we are only ‘in joy and felicity,’ only delivered from the burden of the flesh. Centuries may elapse before we are ripe for our perfect consummation and bliss.

‘In Christ’ or ‘out of Christ’ every hope turns upon this alternative. If we would have one unshaken and never-failing ground of confidence, let us think of the Resurrection. As an enemy death is not; as a prison-chamber the grave is not. ‘Come, see the place where the Lord lay.’

—Prebendary D. Moore.


(1) ‘A dead Christ might have been a Teacher and a Wonder-worker, and remembered and loved as such. But only a Risen and Loving Christ could be the Saviour, the Life, and the Life-giver, and as such preached to all men. And of this most blessed truth we have the fullest and most unquestionable evidence.’

(2) ‘The Resurrection Body, which was recognised as the same Body, had yet undergone some marvellous change, of which we can gain a faint idea by what is directly recorded of its manifestation. It was not directly recognised, nor bound by material laws. The life which is revealed to us is not the continuation of the present life, but a life which takes up into itself all the elements of our present life, and transfigures them by a glorious change, which we can regard at present only under signs and figures.… The whole complex nature is raised and glorified. It is not that the soul only lives; nor yet that the body, such as it was before, is restored to its former vigour. The Saviour, so far as we regard His Manhood, is not unclothed, to use St. Paul’s image, but clothed upon. Nothing is taken away, but something is added by which all that was before present is transfigured. The corruptible puts on incorruption: the mortal puts on immortality.’

Verse 18-19


‘All power … go ye … all nations.’

Matthew 28:18-19

Here we have (1) The Command and (2) The Reason for it. Let the command be obeyed in remembrance of—

I. The sender.

II. The promised power.

III. All that the missionary commission means to the heathen.

IV. What that commission means to the organised Church.

V. The Great Day of Account.


‘The Rev. W. Carey, of Dacca City, writes: “And Jesus went about all the cities, and the villages, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom.” And the villages—that was the word that rang in our ears. How many villages would there be in this one district of Dacca? We looked at the map, unrolled it, and spread it on the table. It was just a black mass of names, and every name a village. Had these villages been visited with the Gospel?… We put the map in the pulpit, and there were great searchings of heart under the sermons it preached. The Church took up the matter, and prayed and planned, and planned and prayed, till something definite was done. A letter was written, and printed, and addressed to the principal men in all the villages of a certain section of the district. It was a call to repentance and the fear of God, and it was followed by a band of preachers who spent a month going from village to village with the life-giving message of the Cross. They were well received. They sent in glowing reports as they went along, and the Church sustained them with prayer. It was a new experience and a new joy. They went in the faith that God had prepared hearts in every place, and so it fell out. They visited twenty-two villages, and preached to 2900 people, most of whom had never heard the way of salvation before. But if they continue the tour, spending one day only in each village, and working all through the year, it will take them fourteen years to complete the task,”’



The Christian man, anxious to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in him, ought not to overlook the evidential value of foreign missions.

I. Consider the commission given by Christ to His Church as impossible on the theories that (a) the Apostles were fraudulent persons; or (b) were the victims of hallucination. Persons consciously engaged in a fraud would surely devise some commission which was within the range of obvious possibility, perhaps attainable within their own lives. Their plans would be comparatively modest. There would be nothing to alarm the timid or invite criticism. Persons who were the subjects of hallucination would certainly be affected by the nature of the commission given to them. They would speedily be restored to their senses by the conflict with what seemed the impossible. Their hallucination would hardly survive torture or other experiences which fell to the lot of the Christians in apostolic times.

II. Observe the nature of Christ’s commission.

(a) It is a message to the whole world, to Jew and Gentile, to the keenest intellects, the proudest philosophy, and the highest civilisation then known, and to the deepest ignorance, the cruellest barbarism. What a task for the exponents of fraud or the victims of hallucination!

(b) It was a message contemplating a universal brotherhood: All its members to be received by the same symbol, all to accept the same creed, all to obey the same moral law, all—Jew and Gentile, learned and simple, master and slave—to be brothers. How absurd as the project of fraud or hallucination! No, the task to which the infant Church set itself is in its nature one which witnesses for the truth of the message it has to set before the world.

III. The enormous difficulty of the task must not, however, be accepted as an excuse for indifference to it or for slackness in carrying it out. There must be no saying—‘Well, the task is so overwhelming that we may be forgiven if we take it slowly.’ Rather must the Church of to-day mark the example of the Apostolic Church—the promptness, the simplicity, of its obedience to Christ’s command; the immensity of its sacrifices in proportion to ours; the sternness of the conditions under which it worked compared with ours.

Reflecting on these, the Church of to-day should address itself with new energy to the task of carrying out its Master’s command. Its zeal in so doing supplies one measure of its belief in Him as its own Saviour.



The apostles are sent with (1) authority, (2) a complete commission, (3) the assurance of Divine support.

I. The authority ends all doubt as to whether missionary work should be undertaken.

II. The commission fits out the worker with a clear conception of his duty—(a) to preach Christ, (b) to offer a covenant, (c) to unfold a code of conduct.

III. The assurance of Divine support meets the necessities both of sorely tried evangelists and pastors in the mission-field, and of the waiting Church at home, also tried, though in other ways, in regard to this work.


‘Of another man, Khaleel, and his wife, the Rev. W. H. T. Gairdner, of the Egypt and London Mission of the C.M.S., says:—“He had been to the Azhar as a youth. Six years he learned the Koran by heart, and six years more he studied in the Azhar. Yet when he left, at the age of about eighteen, he found that he had no satisfaction, no satisfying idea or knowledge of God. He tried complete agnosticism for four years; that did not satisfy either. Then, and not till then, did it occur to him to try the utterly despised Nazarene religion: a desperate resort! He got hold of the Bible, and, Egyptian-like, began at the first page. At the end of Genesis 1 he said to himself, ‘Very good!’ Then slowly, but apparently very surely, he went solemnly through the whole Old Testament. It took him years! The end of that stage was that he developed into a sort of Unitarian, but with a great love for all manner of Christian fellowship. Finally, fuller reflection convinced him of the full Apostolic faith, and I have not yet met an Egyptian with a clearer grip of that faith. He has a perfectly Ignatian desire for martyrdom, which he quite believes will fall to him, and I once heard him earnestly addressing his wife (squatting in front of him) in these terms: ‘Now then, woman, when I am gone you just remember one thing—Jesus is alive and Mohammed dead. What have you to do with a dead man?’ The ‘woman’ nods sagely, and for the hundredth time gets her mind round the fact that ‘Jesus is alive and Mohammed dead.’ I have heard quite independently that when the Mohammedan women came around, having heard that she was going to be baptized, and heckled her as to her reasons, she replied with but the one statement, ‘Jesus is alive and Mohammed dead; how can a dead man save?’ When they came for baptism they made their answers in a loud voice, first Khaleel, then the wife, then the godparents for the children—in succession answering each question. Then Khaleel entered the water and was baptized with great joy. Then Rifka (Rebekah), with prodigious self-possession, entered the water. So keen was she that she gasped out, ‘And of the Holy Ghost,’ as she emerged and heard the last words of the solemn sentence. So she also went up out of the water. Then came the children.”’

Verse 20


‘Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.’

Matthew 28:20

I. The presence of Christ as our priest.—Christ is present with us as our Priest. In dark and troublesome days, when persecution and disaster threatened the infant Church, St. John saw Him in vision at Patmos. Clothed in the vesture of the priest of old He was seen moving amongst the lamps of the sanctuary to light, to feed, and to trim their flame. Christ is still with His Church as its Priest, to light human souls, to feed them with His grace, to cleanse them from all that hinders their clear and bright shining as His light-bearers. Our Risen Lord is ever present with us to keep the lamp of His Church and of its members bright and clear even in the days when the thickest mists threatened to hide it and the angry gusts of stormy winds seemed likely to put it out.

II. The presence of Christ as our prophet.—Christ is present as our Prophet. The Risen Christ appeared to the disciples on the way to Emmaus, and went with them. Our Lord Himself is the interpreter to His Church. He will show us in His own way and in His own time that all the teachings of science, and all the discoveries of research, and all the changing lights of the twentieth century will only in the long run illuminate and verify that wonderful Book, the older part of which was His Bible and His final court of appeal.

III. The presence of Christ as our king.—Christ is present as our King. On the shore of the Sea of Galilee the Risen Lord had fed and revived the seven fishermen. He had restored St. Peter to the apostleship. He was slowly climbing the rough and narrow path that led from the shore to the top of the cliff. His disciples were following. And, pointing to St. John as they go, St. Peter asks: ‘Lord, and what shall this man do?’ And He replied: ‘If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me.’ ‘If I will.’ He tells us that He controls the future, that nothing happens but what He wills. He directs alike the course of nations, the destinies of His Church, the steps of His servants. Without His Will nothing can happen to them or to us. ‘In His Will is our peace.’ In such a transition age as ours we may be looking with anxiety into the future of (a) our Church, (b) our country, and (c) ourselves. He would have us take no anxious thought for the morrow. The Lord sitteth upon the water-floods. Christ is with us, as well as for us and in us, and His Presence is our birthright and the secret of our strength, our hope, and our peace.

—Bishop F. J. Chavasse.


‘I have to do with its personal application; and from this point of view let me ask you to notice that it adds to the simplicity, and therefore the beauty of the power of Christ’s undertaking, that He will always be with us (if we translate that word as it is, more literally) “all the days.” “Lo, I am with you all the days to the end of the world.” All the dark “days,” and all the bright “days.” Joys come by “days,” and sorrows come by “days.” Life is only so many “days,” till eternity come, in which there will be no “days.” But just as the needs come “day by day,” so the sympathies come, and the voices come, and the hand comes, and the cheer comes,—the little destined time, “all the days.” “Lo, I am with you all the days to the end of the age. Amen.” And I know nothing which can make life so good and pleasant, and death so little a thing to die as this. And when those short days of life and health are past, it will be only as the scattering of a mist or the lifting of a veil—The Presence of faith will be the Presence of sight, and that Presence will be Heaven!’



Archbishop Magee said of this text that the whole life, history, and character of the Church are summed up in it. To the eleven apostles these words brought the comfort of the hope of the Lord’s abiding Presence. They were a final and conclusive attestation of His Divinity. We know, from nineteen centuries’ experience, how in the power of His risen life, Christ lives and works—Emmanuel, God with us.

I. The full extension of the promise.—It is a stream which runs unbroken to futurity, and it is an effective presence now making for our great nation’s righteousness. May we seek to draw the bonds of Church and nation closer still, seeking that the promised Christ may more and more shine through the Church into the nation’s life.

II. Let us look onward.—We make to-day what with His presence in her still the Church shall be. It is easy to look back—so hard to prophesy, but the true guarantee of prayers is the promise of Christ. With whatever change the future comes, let us cling to these principles:—

(1) The Church must first of all be spiritual.

(2) The Church must ever be the keeper of Holy Writ, which is the only standard of true righteousness.

(3) We must reverence His Day.

III. May each of us go forth to his work assured that Christ is in the midst of us, the Head, the King, the Ruler of His Church, and that His Presence may be in every one of us.

Bishop Creighton.



To none whom we have known was it ever given to say, ‘I am with you alway.’ The contrasts of this world are essential to the setting forth of the eternity of the resurrection-life of Christ and the value of His abiding Presence.

I. ‘I am with you.’—He spake these words after He had Himself passed through Death, after He had proved and tasted the bitterness of separation. But some will say, ‘Oh! that that Presence were but visible!’ It requires strong exercise of faith; that other sense added to the natural faculties—a gift of God—to be prayed for and cherished. But that invisible Presence once apprehended, it is more real, more precious than a visible. For a visible must come and go, as Christ did in the flesh. But now, always and everywhere, we carry it along with us. After our Lord’s resurrection He never once showed Himself, or uttered a single word, to unbelievers; all that He said and did was for believers only.

II. All the days.—But observe the full meaning of the words more literally rendered. ‘Lo, I am with you all the days, unto the consummation of the age.’ What force and beauty there is in those words, ‘all the days.’ They convey that before the mind of the Speaker ‘all the days’ lay ranged in order, to the end of time. He saw The Changeless Presence in the midst of the changeable and changing—that constant, lasting Presence. We are always stepping out into an unknown future; but the foot cannot fall outside the Presence of Jesus.

III. The promise.—The Promise as a twofold application.

(a) It applies to us when we are assembled together (as His people, in His appointed Place) on the Lord’s Day. How should you and I be encouraged, at this very moment, to pray or praise, to preach or hear, if we realised that Jesus was actually in our midst! And yet this is God’s own truth, and everything that questions it a lie (St. Matthew 18:20).

(b) The undertaking is not for one day (nor for a congregation only): it is for ‘all the days’ (and for each individual). Now, conceive that you carry about with you every day the actual sense of the nearness, the compassion, the co-operation of Christ. What a perfected existence would you be leading from that moment! What a path of life would stretch on before you up to the realms of glory! Where, then, would be solitude? Where suffering, weakness, fear, or death? Did ever living thing suffer or die, when He was not near?

If you have not the feeling of His Presence, then, whatever else you may have, life is still a failure and a blank. Let it be a fixed axiom of life, ‘Christ is with me everywhere.’

The Rev. J. Vaughan.


‘Of all the common mistakes upon this subject of Christ’s Presence with His Church, the greatest is that of thinking it is something quite different from His Presence with His Disciples of old, and with His Redeemed hereafter. The only difference is in the manner of the Presence. When you come to meet your Lord in Holy Communion you come to meet the self-same Christ who taught those two Disciples on the road to Emmaus, Who discoursed to the Apostles on the night before He suffered. Who raised up Lazarus from the dead. When you come to meet your Lord at His Altar, you come to meet the same Christ who is now the joy of Saints at rest, and who will be the eternal joy of the Saints in Glory. The only difference is in the manner of the Presence. But the Person is the same, and exactly as Christ’s heavenly Presence will be all in all to Saints in Glory, so from out of His Sacramental Presence to us now there flows a complete supply of everything needful to illuminate our path while militant on earth. I do not say that Christ’s Sacramental Presence gives to us now all that it will give to the members of the Church Triumphant. But it gives us all that we are capable of receiving. It gives us all that our present state and condition admit of our receiving. It gives all that our present circumstances require.’



No empty grave? No universal Comforter? If the story of the empty tomb and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a fable, then we are of all men most miserable: but if it be true, then it has been a wondrous gain to the whole world.

I. An incentive to Christian work.—The words which the risen Christ left with those few helpless disciples of His, ‘Lo, I am with you alway,’ have become the grand incentive for all great Christian work. How comes it that poor men, and weak men, and helpless women have had some mysterious power given to them whereby they were able to stand fearless and courageous while the lions met them in the open arena, and that they could stand and smile while the fires were lit about their burning feet? The secret of this matter is told us in our text. The risen Saviour has promised to go with His disciples where’er they might find themselves, and be with them.

II. Christianity centres in a person.—The genius of Christianity which has turned the world upside down is a Personality, a presence, a very real presence, unseen to the eye of the world, but blessedly real and eternally beautiful. There is no excuse for us when we give way to temptation, because He says that with every temptation He has provided the way to escape, and we have to look to Him, and not to ourselves, to help us. We are all of us blind by nature. Are we ready to be led by the Great Guide? He is not going to drive us: He is going to lead us. ‘Lo, I am with you alway.’ The Eternal Son of God is going to be our Friend. How can we know what Christ commands? Only by reading His Word and praying to Him to make it come true in our experience.

III. Christianity builds character.—Character is better than knowledge. The Christian religion makes for principles, and principles are better than traditions. We shall be judged by our character, by our principles, we shall be judged here and there too more by what we are than what we profess, more by what we do than what we say, just as the world is our jury now and sums us up more by our actions than our profession. So Christianity teaches us that He comes hour by hour to put things right, and to square our character with the commands of His Word, to bring us up to that high standard of perfection without which we can never hope to see God.

The Rev. A. J. Poynder.


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Matthew 28:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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Saturday, May 30th, 2020
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