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Monday, June 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 28

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-15

The Resurrection (28:1-20)

The Empty Tomb

(Matthew 28:1-15; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-10; John 20:1-18)

The women have respected the Sabbath rest But at dawn they set out. Matthew does not say, as do Mark and Luke, that they come to embalm the body. They know indeed that they cannot do it (Matthew 27:66). And has Jesus not been embalmed beforehand? (Matthew 26:12). They come just to be there, as we also go to the tomb of a beloved person. Then, too, do they perhaps hope for the miracle which the chief priests fear? Had not Jesus foretold his resurrection?

"And behold, there was a great earthquake" (vs. 2; see Matthew 27:51-54) . To the darkness of judgment succeeds the resplendent light of the Resurrection, the descent of an angel. The guards become "like dead men," terrified by the heavenly vision. But to the women who have believed, the angel says, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus." God turns his face of mercy toward those who seek him (see Luke 1:30; Luke 5:10; Revelation 1:17-18).

Jesus grants to these humble women whom he has healed and saved, and who love him with a great love, the grace of being messengers of the Resurrection. The angel commands them to go find the disciples. Jesus will meet them in Galilee. The women run toward the city, full of fear and of joy. How could they not fear a God so powerful? How could they not tremble for joy? Their Master, the crucified of yesterday, is living! And behold, a new favor. Jesus himself comes to meet them and salutes them, doubtless with the classic Hebrew salutation of "Peace" (see Luke 24:36, margin). Then "they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him" (vs. 9; see 28:17). This term "worshiped" points to the supervening change the Master they venerate is become "the Lord," the One whom they adore as God himself, the One before whom they prostrate themselves.

Ah, certainly, the stories of the Resurrection are full of mystery. None of the Gospels tells us "how" it happened. The story of the angelic appearances, the record of the appearances of Jesus himself, the place of these appearances (Galilee, Jerusalem), differ from one Gospel to another. Three elements, nevertheless, are common to all four Gospels the empty tomb, the announcement of the Resurrection to the women, and the meeting of the disciples with the Risen One. The tradition preserved by Matthew accentuates, as it has already done in connection with the death of Jesus, the objective character of the event the earthquake, the testimony of the guards, their fright. What he wishes to emphasize is that we are not dealing here with "visions," which could be purely subjective, but rather with a sovereign intervention of God.

But the intervention of God is ever recognized as such solely by faith. Matthew sets over against the humble and adoring faith of the women the unbelief of the chief priests (vss. 11-15). To the very end they remain closed against all evidence. They bribe the guards to circulate the report that the body of Jesus had been carried off by Jesus’ own disciples (vss. 11-15). The evangelist concludes: "This story has been spread among the Jews to this day." We certainly have here the echo of a very ancient controversy between Jews and Christians on the subject of the empty tomb. This controversy explains why Matthew believed it necessary to recount (he alone does it) the two episodes in Matthew 27:62-66 and Matthew 28:11-15.

Verses 16-20

The Commission Given to the Disciples (28:16-20)

We have seen that a "mountain" is, in the Old Testament, one of the privileged places of divine revelation (Exodus 19:3; 1 Kings 19:8). It was "on the mountain" that Jesus promulgated the law of the Kingdom (Matthew 5:1), it was on "a high mountain" that he was transfigured before his disciples (Matthew 17:1). And it is once more on "the mountain" that the Risen One meets the Apostles (vs. 16). "And when they saw him they worshiped him" (vs. 17; see Matthew 28:9). That is to say, they recognized him as the Son of God, Nevertheless, the Gospel tells us, some had doubts. We see once more in this feature the mystery of the appearances of the Risen One. They did not recognize him at first but only when he made himself known. The evidence is in the category of faith (see Luke 24:11; Luke 24:25; Luke 24:37; John 20:15-16; John 20:24-29). Doubt remains possible. Unbelief is not the monopoly of the Jewish authorities who crucified the Lord; it has spread even to the disciples. Let us be thankful for the apostolic tradition which did not hesitate to confess the human weakness of the disciples to whom Jesus is about to give a commission to evangelize the world! It is indeed by his power alone that they will go everywhere he will command them to go.

And it is this power which the Risen One declares. He speaks as sovereign Lord of heaven and earth. To the freely accepted humiliation of the Servant succeeds his elevation to royalty (see Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53:12). He is no longer only the "King of the Jews" (see Matthew 2:2; Matthew 21:4-5; Matthew 27:37) but is the King of the nations (see Isaiah 49:5-6; Matthew 25:31-32). His words recall the prophecy of Daniel about the enthronement of the Son of Man:

And to him was given dominion

and glory and kingdom,

that all peoples, nations, and languages

should serve him;

his dominion is an everlasting dominion,

which shall not pass away,

and his kingdom one

that shall not be destroyed

(Daniel 7:14; see Philippians 2:8-11).

The evangelization of the nations (that is to say, of the Gentiles) in the last times was an idea found in Jewish eschatological writings as well as in the Old Testament. We have seen that according to Matthew the priority granted to Israel was a priority in time only. The faith of the centurion (Matthew 8:10-11; see also another centurion in Matthew 27:54) and that of the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:22) had already forecast the day when the good news would be proclaimed to the Gentiles. Jesus testified that he had done everything possible to bring the people of the Covenant back to God (Matthew 23:37-39). With the Resurrection and the Ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit we enter into "the last times." The hour of the nations has struck. It is to them that the good news must now be proclaimed (Matthew 24:14).

Jesus confronts his disciples, and through them the Church in every age, with a mission which extends to the ends of the earth. It is the Mighty One who speaks, the One who has conquered sin and death. As he has taught his disciples and the Gospel by Matthew never ceases to lay stress on this teaching so they, in their turn, are commissioned to teach. Baptism will be the seal of God put on this teaching. Here again stress is laid on putting into practice the word which has been heard. We have seen how the necessity of doing the will of God runs like a scarlet thread through all the instructions of Jesus.

The trinitarian baptismal formula, "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," is found only this once in the entire New Testament. It is affirmed in all the great Christian confessions. The baptism of John introduced at the beginning of the Gospel, which Jesus received (Matthew 3:6; Matthew 3:13), was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In the Acts we see the Apostles baptizing "in the name of Jesus Christ," and this baptism is "for the forgiveness of your sins" (Acts 2:38-39) What is the significance of the formula "in the name of Jesus Christ"? It is into his death that we Christians are baptized. This means that we die to our old life and are born into a new life in communion with the Risen One (see Romans 6:3-4). It is this union of Jesus with us and of us with Jesus which constitutes the radical newness of Christian baptism. But the change of heart which Jesus works in us is accompanied by the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38; Acts 10:44-48). And all that is the work of the Father who has raised Jesus and given the Holy Spirit, the Father who calls us to believe in his Son (see Acts 2:32-33; Acts 2:36) . Thus, in this new birth which baptism signifies, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all three present and active. The preaching of the Apostles will be the joyous news of the love of God manifested in Jesus Christ. And those who believe this news will receive the seal of baptism, the sign of their passing from death to life.

Jesus concludes the commission given to his Church with a promise. And what a promise! "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."

To these men who in a cowardly manner had abandoned him in the supreme trial, to these men who still perhaps doubt, Jesus makes no reproach. He charges them to pursue his work, to proclaim his salvation. He assures them of his fidelity to them.

He will be present in their midst (Matthew 18:20) through the Word and the sacraments, and through the Holy Spirit invisibly present everywhere and always to the close of the age; that is to say, to that day when the Lord of glory will reveal himself to all eyes as the victorious King of a new creation.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 28". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/matthew-28.html.
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