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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Matthew 28

 

 

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Verse 1

The NASB translation of the Greek preposition opse as "late" is misleading. The word can also mean "after," and it makes better sense if translated as such here. [Note: Moule, p86.] The women waited until after the Sabbath to go to Jesus" tomb (cf. Mark 16:1-2). They went early Sunday morning. The "other Mary" was Mary the mother of James and Joseph ( Matthew 27:56). Mark added that Salome also accompanied them ( Mark 16:1). Salome was evidently the name of the mother of Zebedee"s sons. The "and" (Gr. kai) in Mark 16:1 is probably assensive, meaning "even." Apparently they did not know that the Sanhedrin had posted a guard at the tomb. They evidently went there to remember Jesus but also to anoint Jesus" corpse ( Mark 16:1). They must not have known that it had been sealed either.


Verses 1-7

1. The empty tomb28:1-7 (cf. Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-8; John 20:1)


Verses 2-4

A second earthquake (divine intervention) had occurred (cf. Matthew 27:51). The relationship between the earthquake, the descent of the angel, and the rolling away of the stone is indefinite in the text. All of these events have supernatural connotations. An angel had announced the Incarnation, and now an angel announced the Resurrection ( Matthew 1:20-23; cf. Matthew 18:10). [Note: Plummer, p417.] The angel rolled the stone away to admit the witnesses, not to allow Jesus to escape (cf. John 20:26). The guards experienced the earthquake and observed the angel who appeared as a young man ( Mark 16:5). It was seeing the angel that evidently terrified them so greatly that Matthew could describe them as dead men ( Matthew 28:3-4). Perhaps they fainted dead away.


Verses 5-7

The angel answered the women"s fear upon observing the scene by speaking to them (cf. Mark 16:2-7; Luke 24:1-8; John 20:1). Of all the possible reasons for the tomb being open and empty that the women could have imagined, the angel clarified the one true explanation. Jesus had risen from the dead. The angel reminded them that Jesus had predicted His resurrection (cf. Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:23; Matthew 20:18-19). He then invited them to come and see where He had lain and to go and tell the other disciples that He had risen from the dead. They should go quickly because this was the greatest news. Jesus would confirm His resurrection with a personal appearance in Galilee shortly (cf. Matthew 26:32). He would arrive in Galilee before they did and meet them there.

"Earlier in Matthew"s story, Jesus twice said to the disciples that "whoever loses his life will find it [ Matthew 10:39; Matthew 16:25]," and on the cross Jesus held fast to God in trust even as he relinquished his life ( Matthew 27:46; Matthew 27:50). In raising Jesus from the dead, God certifies the truth of Jesus" words and the efficacy of his trust, which is to say that God vindicates Jesus: God resolves Jesus" conflict with Israel by showing that Jesus is in the right." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., pp90-91.]

Who Moved the Stone? is a classic apologetic on the subject of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Frank Morison, whose real name was Albert Henry Ross, was a skeptical British journalist when he began his research, but it convinced him of the historicity of the resurrection, and he became a Christian. This book presents a careful study of the last seven days of Jesus" pre-crucifixion ministry. [Note: Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?]


Verse 8-9

Jesus" sudden appearance must have given the women the shock of their lives (cf. Mark 16:8). He gave them a customary salutation (Gr. chariete, cf. Matthew 26:49). They kneeled at His feet and worshipped Him (cf. Matthew 28:17). Grasping someone"s feet was a recognized act of supplication and homage ( Mark 5:22; Mark 7:25; Luke 17:16).


Verses 8-10

2. Jesus" appearance to the women28:8-10

All the Gospels mention the fact that women were the first people to see Jesus alive. This is a proof that the resurrection was real. In that culture the witness of women was not regarded very highly. [Note: Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew , pp698-99 , especially footnote282.] Thus, if the evangelists fabricated the resurrection, they certainly would not have written that women witnessed it first.

"The crowning events of the resurrection narrative are the appearances of the risen Jesus first to the women and then to his disciples, i.e, the eleven. The empty tomb, for all of its impressiveness and importance, is not sufficient evidence in itself for the resurrection of Jesus. What alone can be decisive is reliable eyewitness testimony that Jesus had been raised from the dead." [Note: Hagner, Matthew 14-28 , p874. Cf. p878.]


Verse 10

Jesus calmed the women"s fears as the angel had done, and He repeated the instructions that the angel had given them. Jesus" brethren were His disciples ( Matthew 12:48-50; Matthew 18:15; Matthew 23:8; Matthew 25:40; cf. Matthew 5:22-24; Matthew 7:3-5; Matthew 18:21; Matthew 18:35).

"Why, then, Matthew"s record of a resurrection appearance in Galilee? The answer surely lies in the combination of two themes that have permeated the entire Gospel. First, the Messiah emerges from a despised area...and first sheds his light on a despised people...;for the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit ( Matthew 5:3). For this reason, too, the risen Jesus first appears to women whose value as witnesses among Jews is worthless... Second, "Galilee of the Gentiles" ( Matthew 4:15) is compatible with the growing theme of Gentile mission in this Gospel...and prepares for the Great Commission ( Matthew 28:18-20)." [Note: Carson, " Matthew ," p590. See Zane C. Hodges, "Form-Criticism and the Resurrection Accounts," Bibliotheca Sacra124:496 (October-December1967):339-48.]


Verse 11

Some of the guards left the others at the tomb and reported the earthquake, the angel, and the empty tomb to the chief priests. That they reported to the priests strongly suggests that they were Jewish temple guards rather than Roman guards (cf. Matthew 27:65). If they had been Roman guards and had reported to their Roman superiors, they probably would have lost their lives for falling asleep on duty (cf. Acts 12:19; Acts 16:27-28).


Verses 11-15

3. The attempted cover-up28:11-15

This brief account finishes off Matthew"s story of the guard in Matthew 27:62-66.


Verses 12-14

The action of these Sanhedrin members proves that their promise to believe in Jesus if He would come down from the cross was hypocritical (cf. Matthew 27:42; Luke 24:13-32). They continued to show more concern for their own reputations and what was expedient than for the truth.

Their devised story was a weak one that a critic might easily discredit. If the guards had been asleep, they could not have known of the theft. If one of them was awake, why did he not sound an alarm? It was also incredible that the disciples who had abandoned Jesus out of fear would have summoned enough courage to risk opening the guarded tomb. Moreover, if the Sanhedrin had any evidence against the disciples, they surely would have prosecuted them, but they did not.

Molesting graves was sometimes punishable with death in the ancient Near East. [Note: Cf. Bruce M. Metzger, "The Nazareth Inscription Once Again," in Jesus und Paulus, pp221-38.] Consequently Jesus" enemies resorted to bribery to shut the mouths of the soldiers, and later Pilate, if necessary. Previously they had been willing to pay Judas money to protect their interests ( Matthew 26:15).


Verse 15

Matthew explained that this was the origin of the Jewish explanation of the empty tomb that persisted to the time of his writing, whenever that may have been.

"Justin, Dial[logus]. 108 , tells us that this charge was still being actively propagated in the middle of the second century; it was an obvious countermove to Christian claims of Jesus" resurrection." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p1093.]

Justin was an early Christian writer.

"The reason for Matthew"s diligence in approaching the resurrection in such an apologetic manner is evident since so much is dependent upon the resurrection of the Messiah. It authenticated His person. To the nation of Israel, His resurrection was the sign of the prophet Jonah ( Matthew 12:38-39) attesting the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. The reason Matthew says nothing about the ascension is bound up in this point. If Jesus is the Messiah, then an account of the ascension is both unnecessary and self-evident to the Israelite. He would yet come in clouds of glory. What mattered to Matthew was that Jesus was Israel"s Messiah and the resurrection proved that fact; therefore he goes no further. Second, the resurrection validated Christ"s prophecies concerning His rising from the dead ( Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22-23; Matthew 20:17-19). Finally, the message of the King involving the character of the kingdom, the offer of the kingdom, and the offer"s withdrawal are all involved in the resurrection, for the resurrection verifies the truthfulness of all that Christ ever spoke." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., pp316-17.]


Verse 16

"But" (NASB) is too strong a contrast for the Greek word de that occurs here and means "then" (NIV). However the action of the Eleven contrasts with the action of the guards ( Matthew 28:15). We do not know the mountain to which Jesus had directed them and to which they went (cf. Matthew 26:32; Matthew 28:7; Matthew 28:10). Galilee, of course, was where Jesus began His ministry, and it had Gentile connotations because of the presence and proximity of many Gentiles. What Jesus would tell His disciples in Galilee would continue His ministry and teaching that they had already experienced.


Verses 16-20

4. The King"s final instructions to His disciples28:16-20 (cf. Mark 16:15-18; 1 Corinthians 15:6)

Whereas the chief priests used bribe money to commission the soldiers to spread lies, the resurrected Jesus used the promise of His power and presence to commission His disciples to spread the gospel. [Note: Carson, " Matthew ," p590.] This is the final address that Matthew recorded Jesus giving. As usual, he used a narrative to lead up to the address. In this case the narrative consisted of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore this address is the climax of these events in Matthew"s structure of his Gospel. It is also climactic because of its position at the very end of the Gospel and because of its content. It recapitulates many of Matthew"s themes, and it ends the story of Jesus where it began: in Galilee. [Note: See France, The Gospel . . ., pp2-5 , for further explanation of the geographical plan of Matthew"s Gospel.]

". . . to demonstrate that Jesus, in enduring the humiliation of the cross, did not die as a false messiah but as the Son who did his Father"s will ( Matthew 21:37-39), God vindicates Jesus by raising him from the dead ( Matthew 28:5-6). Consequently, when Jesus appears to the disciples on the mountain in Galilee ( Matthew 28:16-17), it is as the crucified Son of God whom God has vindicated through resurrection ( Matthew 28:5-6). Although some disciples show, in doubting, that they are yet weak of faith ( Matthew 28:17; Matthew 14:32), they all see on the person of Jesus that crucifixion, or suffering sonship, was the essence of his ministry ( Matthew 21:42). Correlatively, they also grasp at last that servanthood is the essence of discipleship ( Matthew 16:24; Matthew 20:25-28). As ones, therefore, who comprehend, in line with God"s evaluative point of view ( Matthew 17:5), not only who Jesus is but also what he was about and what it means to be his followers, the disciples receive from Jesus the Great Commission and embark on a mission to all the nations ( Matthew 28:18-20; chaps24-25)." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., pp162-63.]


Verse 17

When the Eleven finally saw Jesus, they worshipped Him. Yet some of them still had unresolved questions about how they should respond to Him. The word "doubted" (Gr. edistasan) means "hesitated" (cf. Matthew 14:31). [Note: I. P. Ellis, ""But some doubted,"" New Testament Studies14 (1967-68):574-80.] Apparently Jesus" resurrection did not immediately dispel all the questions that remained in the minds of His disciples. Perhaps, also, some of them still felt embarrassed about deserting Him and wondered how He would deal with them.


Verse 18

Jesus proceeded to address the Eleven. Matthew did not record them saying anything, which focuses our attention fully on Jesus" words. Notice the repetition of "all" in Matthew 28:18-20 : all authority, all nations, all things, and all the days. Matthew stressed the authority of Jesus throughout his Gospel ( Matthew 7:29; Matthew 10:1; Matthew 10:7-8; Matthew 11:27; Matthew 22:43-44; Matthew 24:35).

"Not merely power or might (dunamis), such as a great conqueror might claim, but "authority" (exousia), as something which is His by right, conferred upon Him by One who has the right to bestow it (Rev. ii27)." [Note: Plummer, p428.]

God restricted Jesus" authority before His resurrection because of His role as the Suffering Servant. Following His resurrection God broadened the sphere in which Jesus exercised authority (cf. Matthew 4:8-10). He became the One through whom God now mediates all authority (cf. Daniel 7:14; Philippians 2:5-11). This was Jesus" great claim.

"By raising Jesus from the dead and investing him with all authority, God vindicates Jesus and thus decides the conflict in his favor ( Matthew 28:5-6; Matthew 28:18)." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p8.]


Verse 19

Jesus" disciples should go and make disciples because Jesus now has universal authority. He gave them a new universal mission in keeping with His new universal authority. Previously He had limited their work to Israel ( Matthew 10:1-8; cf. Matthew 15:24). Now He sent them into all the world. They could go confidently knowing that Jesus has sovereign control over everything in heaven and on earth (cf. Romans 8:28). Note the similarity between the original cultural mandate to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth ( Genesis 1:28; Genesis 9:1) and this new mandate for believers.

In the Greek text there is one imperative verb, "make disciples" (Gr. matheteusate), modified by three participles, "going," "baptizing," and "teaching." [Note: See Robert D. Culver, "What Is the Church"s Commission? Some Exegetical Issues In Matthew 28:16-20," Bibliotheca Sacra125:499 (July-September1968):239-53.] This does not mean that we should make disciples wherever we may happen to go. The participle "going" is not just circumstantial, but it has some imperatival force. [Note: Cleon Rogers, "The Great Commission," Bibliotheca Sacra130:519 (July-September1973):258-67.] In other words, Jesus commanded His disciple to reach out to unreached people to make disciples, not just to make disciples among those with whom they happened to come in contact.

Making disciples involves bringing people into relationship with Jesus as pupils to teacher. It involves getting them to take His yoke of instruction upon themselves as authoritative ( Matthew 11:29), accepting His words as true, and submitting to His will as what is right. A good disciple is one who listens, understands, and obeys Jesus" instructions ( Matthew 12:46-50). Disciples of Jesus must duplicate themselves in others. [Note: See James G. Samra, "A Biblical View of Discipleship," Bibliotheca Sacra160:638 (April-June2003):219-34.]

The "all nations" (Gr. panta ta ethne) in view are all tribes, nations, and peoples, including Israel (cf. Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:18). [Note: John P. Meier, "Nations or Gentiles in Matthew 28:19," Catholic Biblical Quarterly39 (1977):94-102.] The phrase does not mean Gentiles exclusive of Jews. Matthew hinted at the Gentiles" inclusion in God"s plan to bless humanity throughout his Gospel ( Matthew 1:1; Matthew 2:1-12; Matthew 4:15-16; Matthew 8:5-13; Matthew 10:18; Matthew 13:38; Matthew 24:14; et al.). Jesus" disciples should make disciples among all people without distinction.

Baptizing and teaching are to characterize making disciples. Baptizing is to be into the name of the triune God (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 4:4-6; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 1 Peter 1:2; Revelation 1:4-6). The "into" (Gr. eis) suggests coming into relationship with God as a disciple. Baptism indicates both coming into covenant relationship with God and pledging submission to His lordship. [Note: G. R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament, pp90-92.] Obviously water baptism rather than Spirit baptism is in view (cf. Matthew 3:6; Matthew 3:11; Matthew 3:13-17).

This baptism differs from John the Baptist"s baptism. This one is universal whereas John"s baptism was for Israelites. This baptism rests on the finished work of Jesus Christ, but John"s baptism prepared people for Jesus" person and work. [Note: Lenski, p1178.]

Jesus placed Himself on a level with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

"It is one thing for Jesus to speak about his relationship with God as Son with Father (notably Matthew 11:27; Matthew 24:36; Matthew 26:63-64) and to draw attention to the close links between himself and the Holy Spirit ( Matthew 12:28; Matthew 12:31-32), but for "the Son" to take his place as the middle member, between the Father and the Holy Spirit, in a threefold depiction of the object of the disciple"s allegiance is extraordinary." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p1118.]

"The Trinity of God is confessedly a great mystery, something wholly beyond the possibility of complete explanation. But we can guard against error by holding fast to the facts of divine revelation: that (1) with respect to His Being or essence, God is one; (2) with respect to His Personality, God is three; and (3) we must neither divide the essence, nor confuse the Persons." [Note: The New Scofield ..., p1046.]

The early Christians evidently did not understand the words "in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" as a baptismal formula that they needed to use whenever they baptized someone (cf. Acts 2:38; Acts 8:16; Acts 10:48; Acts 19:5; Romans 6:3). Jesus apparently meant that His disciples were to connect others with the triune God of the Bible in baptism. Jesus did not specify a mode of baptism, though immersion was common in Judaism and is consistent with the meaning of the Greek word baptizo, "to immerse or submerge." His command to baptize disciples seems to rule out baptism for infants and others who cannot consciously understand and agree with what baptism signifies.


Verse 20

Discipling also involves teaching followers everything Jesus commanded His disciples. Notice that the content is not the Old Testament law but Jesus" commands. This does not mean that the Old Testament is unimportant. Jesus validated the whole Old Testament during His ministry ( Matthew 5:17-20). However the focus now becomes Jesus as the source of revelation rather than secondary sources such as the Old Testament prophets (cf. Hebrews 1:1-4). Likewise the revelation of the rest of the New Testament came through Jesus and is therefore also authoritative ( Acts 1:1-2). All of this teaching remains authoritative forever ( Matthew 24:35).

Disciples must not just understand what Jesus has commanded, as foundational as that is. They must also obey it.

". . . Matthew uses this command to weave the final thread of his argument. The purpose of his Gospel was to prove to Israel that Jesus is the Messiah. The inquiring Jew would ask, "If Jesus is our King, where is our kingdom?" Matthew has indicated that the kingdom was offered to Israel, rejected by them, and postponed by God. At the present time and until the end of the tribulation the kingdom is being offered to the Gentiles ( Romans 11). Therefore, the disciples are to disciple all nations. At the end of the age the kingdom of Israel will be inaugurated by the return of Israel"s King." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p319.]

This Gospel ends not with a command but with a promise, or rather a fact. Jesus will be with His disciples as they carry out His will. This is His great commitment. Immanuel is still God with us ( Matthew 1:23; cf. Matthew 18:20). The expression "to the end of the age" (Gr. pasas tes hemeras) literally means "the whole of every day." [Note: Moule, p34.] Jesus promised to be with us every day forever. It does not mean He will cease being with us when the present age ends and the messianic kingdom begins. Throughout the present age (Gr. sunteleias tou aiovos) Jesus" disciples are to carry out His Great Commission. [Note: See D. Edmond Hiebert, "An Expository Study of Matthew 28:16-20," Bibliotheca Sacra149:595 (July-September1992):338-54; and L. Legrand, "The Missionary Command of the Risen Lord Matthew 28:16-20," Indian Theological Studies24:1 (March1987):5-28.]

Jesus began each of the preceding major sections of Matthew"s Gospel with ministry and concluded each with teaching. However in this one He concluded with a command that His disciples continue His ministry and teaching. Thus the book closes with the sense that the ministry and teaching of Jesus are ongoing.

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Matthew 28:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/matthew-28.html. 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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