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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 28

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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Verse 1

Matthew 28:1. Now in the end of the Sabbath day, i.e., the Jewish Sabbath. The next clause shows the time of the day; so that it was really after the Sabbath had ended, according to the Jewish mode of reckoning the days.

As it began to dawn toward. Literally ‘at the dawning into.’ Mark says: ‘at the rising of the sun;’ Luke: ‘very early in the morning’ (literally ‘deep dawn’); John: ‘while it was yet dark.’ Mark also says: ‘very early in the morning.’ See Mark 16:2. The twilight in Palestine is not of very long continuance as compared with most European countries, so that all point to about the same time, namely, day-break. Mary Magdalene. John mentions her alone.

And the other Mary. See chap. Matthew 27:61, which suggests why Matthew mentions these two, omitting ‘Salome,’ whom Mark (Mark 16:1) names.

To see the sepulchre. The purpose of anointing or embalming the body is omitted by Matthew (see accounts of Mark and Luke), These two women did not bear the spices. Another motive was present, an unconscious hope of the resurrection which hurried these women, who had watched by the sepulchre, in advance of the others, mentioned by Luke. Joanna, wife of Chuzas, Herod’s steward (Luke 8:3), may have been in the advance party, or with the larger band coming with the spices which had been prepared by all the female Galilean disciples (comp. Luke 23:55 to Luke 24:10).

Verses 1-10

GENERAL REMARKS. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is distinctly asserted, by four evangelists whose testimony nowhere shows greater independence of each other; in the Acts of the Apostles; it is preached directly or assumed in all the Epistles; it has been so believed for eighteen centuries, that if it be not true the history of Christianity becomes a stream without a fountain, an effect without a cause. All theories which seek to set it aside (see below) have proven utter failures. Without it there is no gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the various narratives of this most wonderful and mysterious period of forty days, dealing with facts that transcend all ordinary Christian experience, we might expect, if anywhere, differences of statement. The difficulty in harmonizing the narratives satisfactorily in every particular, arises naturally from our want of knowledge of all the details in the precise order of their occurrence. Indeed, minor differences with substantial agreement, confirm the main facts, far more than a literal agreement would. The Gospel witnesses suggest no suspicion of a previous understanding and mutual dependence. The confusion which confessedly exists in this part of the gospel narrative, and the consequent difficulty of reducing it to one continuous account, is not the fault of the historians, but the natural effect of the events themselves, as impressed upon the senses and the memory of different witnesses. If it had pleased God to inspire a single writer as the historian of the resurrection, he would no doubt have furnished as coherent and perspicuous a narrative as any other in the sacred volume. But since it entered into the divine plan, as a necessary element, to set before us not a single but a fourfold picture of our Saviour’s life and death, we must purchase the advantage of this varied exhibition, by submitting to its incidental inconveniences, among which is the difficulty, just referred to, of combining all these views, taken from different points of observation, into one complete view to be seen at the same moment’ (J. A. Alexander).

ORDER OF APPEARANCES. we suggest the following as the most probable view; certainty is perhaps impossible.

( 1 .) To Mary Magdalene (John 20:14; Mark 16:9).

( 2 .) To the other women (Matthew 28:9). The main difficulty in harmonizing the accounts is just here. Some transpose ( 1 ) and ( 2 ). Mark 16:9 (that passage is authentic, if not genuine, see notes there) is explicit, while John’s account implies the same. The details of ( 1 ) and ( 2 ) may be thus arranged: (a.) Three women start for the sepulchre, early on Sunday morning (Mark 16:1; comp. Matthew 28:1), followed by others bearing spices (Luke 24:1).( b.)These three finding the stone rolled away are differently affected; Mary Magdalene starting back to meet the male disciples who are also coming (John 20:2); the other two remaining, approach nearer and see one angel sitting upon the stone (Matthew 28:2-7). They go back to meet the other women coming with the spices, ( c.) While all are absent Peter and John come and find the tomb empty (John 20:3-10). (d.) Mary Magdalene returns, sees two angels in the grave (John 20:12), and turning round sees Jesus ( first appearance) and takes the tidings to the disciples (John 20:14-18). (e.) The other two, surprised by the message of the angel, meet the women bringing spices; all visit the tomb and see the two angels standing (Luke 24:4-7), one of whom was sitting on the right side as they entered (Mark 16:5). ( f.) As they go back they meet the Lord (Matthew 28:9). The apparent confusion in the narratives is but an apt reflection of the tumult of doubt, fear, and joy which possessed the whole company during that day, as the different stories were repeated.

( 3 .) To Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5).

( 4 .) To the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, toward evening on Sunday (Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-32).

( 5 .) To the Apostles (except Thomas), on Sunday evening (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36; John 20:19; John 20:24). These five occurred on the day of the resurrection.

( 6 .) To the Apostles, including Thomas; a week after (John 20:24-29), in Jerusalem, where they had waited throughout the Passover. That ended on Friday, on Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath) they would not start for Galilee; perhaps they waited over Sunday because they already regarded it as holy.

( 7 .) In Galilee, at the Lake of Gennesaret to seven disciples (John 21:0), the third time to the assembled Apostles (John 21:14).

( 8 .) To the multitude of disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20; comp. Mark 16:15-18; 1 Corinthians 15:6). Possibly the passage in 1 Cor. refers to still another appearance.

( 9 .) To James (1 Corinthians 15:7). It is doubtful which James this was; and equally so whether it was in Galilee or Jerusalem.

( 10 .) The final appearance, closing with the Ascension (Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-10). Probably referred to in the last clause of 1 Corinthians 15:7. Others make that a distinct appearance, and so reckon (see under 8 ) twelve instead of ten.

Why did not Christ show Himself to His enemies? John 14:19 fairly implies that our Lord would not thus do. If we look for reasons why He would not, they may readily be found. As regards His enemies His holiness forbade such an honor to those who had wickedly crucified Him; His wisdom forbade His constraining them to a belief, not of the heart, which would only rouse anew false expectations; His love forbade it; for those who could be reached by the gospel would be far more ready to receive it, if there had not intervened such an appearance to them. Without the Spirit’s influence it would only have hardened them. As regards His disciples, such appearances would have interfered with the progress of their strengthening conviction of His resurrection, by depriving them of the assuring intercourse and quiet contemplations of the forty days. As regards the proof of the fact: those who will not accept the testimony which comes from the disciples whose unbelief gradually gave way to settled faith, would not be influenced by any evidence that might have come from the Sanhedrin.

Matthew mentions only the appearance to the women on the day of the resurrection, and to the eleven on the mountain in Galilee, inserting the bribery of the guards as the sequel of chap. Matthew 27:62-66. Matthew 28:18 is also peculiar to this Gospel. The command to go into Galilee is found in Mark’s account, and John tells in greatest detail what occurred there, so that both the command and its fulfilment are well established. Luke 24:49 is not in conflict with this; judging from the context there that command was given after the return from Galilee. The disciples would naturally linger at Jerusalem; hence the first command was needed, to bring them to the most fitting place for the appearance to the whole Church (in Galilee where it was safer, and where the new Church would be most separated from the Old Economy).

Verse 2

Matthew 28:2. A great earthquake. Probably witnessed by the women. They first questioned how the stone should be rolled away, so that they could embalm the body (Mark 16:3). The earthquake is connected with the sudden rolling away of the great stone by the angel.

For an angel of the Lord. The resurrection itself was not a matter of actual bodily vision, and seems to have taken place before the stone was rolled away (Matthew 28:6). The tomb was opened for the sake of the women and the disciples, not to allow the Lord to pass out. The stone could not have been a hindrance to Him (comp. John 20:19; John 20:26).

And sat upon it. This is to be distinguished from all the other angelic appearances. Mary Magdalene probably started back about this time, and left the other Mary and Salome to see and hear the angel. Some think the occurrences of this verse preceded the coming of the women and were witnessed by the soldiers only, and that the message of Matthew 28:5-7 was spoken by the angel inside the tomb, but this is grammatically less probable.

Verse 3

Matthew 28:3. His appearance , rather than his form.

As lightning . In its exceeding brightness. Comp. the other descriptions of the angels within the sepulchre (Mark 15:5; Luke 24:4; John 20:12). These angelic appearances cannot be regarded as visions. The accounts are too explicit.

Verse 4

Matthew 28:4. For fear of him , i.e., of the angel. As the angel was there when the women came, and the guard did not go back to the city until after the women departed (Matthew 28:11), it seems most probable that all these occurrences took place, just as the women came.

The watchers did quake . In their terror they did not prevent the women from going into the sepulchre.

Verse 5

Matthew 28:5. Fear not ye . Let the soldiers fear, but not ye. This indicates that all were still outside the tomb.

For I know. He came to help them in this hour of perplexity, not to frighten them.

Who hath been crucified. The form used is common in the New Testament, pointing to what has happened, but with present results.

Verse 6

Matthew 28:6. He is not here, for he is risen . Hilary: ‘Through woman death was first introduced into the world; to woman the first announcement was made of the resurrection.’

Even as he said. Comp, the expansion of this thought in Luke 24:6-7, to all the women afterwards, in the sepulchre.

The Lord . So an angel speaks of ‘Jesus who hath been crucified.’

Verse 7

Matthew 28:7. Tell his disciples. This is a message to the disciples, as a body. Women bore the first glad tidings from beyond the grave.

He goeth before you into Galilee; as had been foretold in chap. Matthew 26:32. Comp. John 10:4. The gathering of the flock in Galilee was a measure of prudence, to prevent persecution, and to dissociate them from the old temple.

There shall ye see him . Still part of the message, and yet indirectly applicable to the hearers also.

Lo, I have told you. These words, adding solemnity to the important announcement, are peculiar to Matthew, and a mark of accuracy.

Verse 8

Matthew 28:8. And they departed quickly from the tomb . As we suppose, the visits of Peter and John, and of Mary Magdalene, occurred next; then these two women met the others, and returning with them, all entered the tomb, where the message was repeated (Luke 24:3-8). The word ‘quickly’ is not against this, for the events must have taken place in rapid succession.

With fear and great joy. A natural state of mingled feeling, in view of what they had seen and heard. Fear at what they had seen, joy at what they had heard, and both mingled because the latter seemed too good to be true. The same state of mind is indicated in all the accounts.

Verse 9

Matthew 28:9. The first clause is to be omitted, but the sense is not affected.

Behold, Jesus met them. This (the second) appearance is mentioned by Matthew only. Luke 24:24: ‘but Him they saw not,’ is a report of what the two disciples had heard before they left Jerusalem.

All hail. A joyous salutation.

Took hold of his feet. In mingled fear and joy. The action was very natural in such circumstances, and was allowed to strengthen the evidence of His resurrection (comp. on the other hand, John 20:17). In Mary’s case this was not necessary.

And worshipped him . Before the resurrection, ‘worship’ had been rendered to Jesus by strangers, not by the disciples. We therefore think that religious worship is here meant, not mere reverence, though the word often has the latter sense. ‘The intercourse and companionship of the Lord, after His resurrection, with His disciples, during the forty days of joy, bore manifestly a different character from what they did before His death. Through His death and resurrection, the glorification of His body had begun’ (Lisco).

Verse 10

Matthew 28:10. Fear not. This injunction was called for by the mingled emotions of those addressed. The language has also the vivacious form of joyous feeling.

Go, tell my brethren. A touching term coming from the Risen One, and applied to those who had forsaken Him. It indicates His continued affection and their fellowship with. Him in His glory.

That they depart into Galilee. In the excited, half doubting, half rejoicing mood which characterized all the believers, male and female, there was a necessity for a repetition of this command (see Matthew 28:7). Frequent appearances, repeated commands were called for; the first to convince them, the second to direct them. (According to our view of the harmony, this message had been given twice already by the angels: once without and again within the sepulchre.) Our own experience shows the same need. Hence we are prepared to expect that there were other appearances than those recorded here. Matthew passes over most of them, mentioning, probably, only those which impressed his own mind most, or seemed best adapted for his purpose.

And there shall they see me. This seems to refer, as in Matthew 28:7. to the whole body of the disciples, who under the leadership of the eleven returned to Galilee about nine days afterwards, many of whom came to Jerusalem again before the Ascension (Acts 1:13-15). Matthew is silent about the subsequent appearances to the Apostles in Jerusalem (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36; John 20:19; John 20:26), though present on these occasions. As he wrote for Jewish Christians he may have wished to emphasize the appearances in Galilee, in order to lead their minds away from Jerusalem, to which their education would still make them cling. All theories of different traditions (Judean and Galilean) about the resurrection, are unsupported by the contents of the several Gospels.

All attempts to deny the historical character of the resurrection and the subsequent manifestations of Christ have failed. To suppose that the Apostles lied, as did the Sanhedrin (chap. Matthew 28:13), is a moral impossibility; that the resurrection was a mere reviving from apparent death is a physical impossibility; that the appearances were mere visions, ecstasies, having no reality outside the minds of the persons, is psychologically impossible; such visions are not so often repeated nor to so many persons. Phantoms, visions, the result of too lively imaginations (!) do not revolutionize the world. Consistency requires that those who deny the reality of the resurrection, deny the Apostolic history also; and what is then left to account for Christianity, a fact which must be accounted for?

Verse 11

Matthew 28:11. While they were going. The fact that the soldiers did not go first, indicates that all the occurrences at the sepulchre occupied but a short time.

Some of the guard, etc. They told the truth, possibly hoping for a bribe.

Chief priests, under whose directions they had been, and to whom they ought to report.

Verses 11-20

The two incidents of this section seem to have been placed together, to mark a contrast Judaism reaches its lowest point, when it must bribe heathen soldiers to lie for it. Matthew would thus lead the minds of the Jewish Christians, for whom he wrote, away from the desecrated mount in Jerusalem, to the mount in Galilee, where our Lord proclaims His glory and power. The Gospel closes with a command and a promise (Matthew 28:20) to those who should go forth as despised Nazarenes (Galileans), the fulfilment of which not only proves the falsity of the rulers’ story, but left Judaism forever impotent. It is a fitting close for all time. For on the fulfilment of the promise, always connected with obedience to the command, rests the proof of the whole simple narrative.

Verse 12

Matthew 28:12. Taken counsel. This was a meeting of the Sanhedrin. Whether public or secret, regular or specially called to meet this emergency, is unknown.

They, i.e., the chief priests and elders.

Gave large money. More than they gave Judas. This is the lowest depth of their malice; and a humiliating position.

Verse 13

Matthew 28:13. Stole him away while we slept. The story carries its refutation on its face. If all the soldiers were asleep, they could not discover the thieves, nor would they have proclaimed their negligence, the punishment for which was death; if even a few of them were awake, they might and would have prevented the theft. A few timid disciples would not have made such an attempt. But men in the infatuation of unbelief, will believe any story however improbable.

Verse 14

Matthew 28:14. And if this (i.e., the reported sleeping on guard) come to the governor’s ears. There is no evidence that Pilate took any notice of the matter, but the soldiers ran a risk, against which they are now insured.

We will persuade him. A hint at further and costly bribery; for Pilate was avaricious and corrupt. But he may never have heard the story.

Make you secure. They were ready to promise this, though to gain their end they would not scruple to sacrifice their tools.

Verse 15

Matthew 28:15. This saying. This report of the soldiers; not the entire account here given.

Was spread abroad. This points to the time when the falsehood gained currency.

Until this day, i.e., when the Gospel was written, possibly thirty or forty years after the resurrection. It was current among the Jews in the second and third centuries, and has been believed in later times. In view of this currency of the story, it follows that either the Sanhedrin or the early Christians invented a lie. There is no middle ground. The testimony we possess, the proper inquiry after motives on either side, as well as the history of both for eighteen centuries, show conclusively that it was the early Christians who invented the falsehood.


Verse 16

Matthew 28:16. But the eleven disciples. As this meeting was appointed before our Lord’s death (chap. Matthew 26:32) as the message of the angel (Matthew 28:7), repeated by our Lord Himself (Matthew 28:10 was probably addressed to the whole body of disciples, and as the language of Matthew 28:17 (‘some doubted’) could scarcely apply to the eleven, we infer that all the disciples who could be brought together were assembled on this occasion, identifying it with the appearance mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:6 (‘five hundred brethren at once’). It was probably the eighth appearance, preceded by that at the Sea of Galilee (John 21:0). ‘The eleven disciples’ are mentioned as representatives of the entire band.

Went into Galilee . Probably on the Monday after the Pass-over feast had closed, nine days after the resurrection.

Unto the mountain where Jesus had appointed them. Evidently a definite place of meeting, but exactly when and where is unknown. An apocryphal tradition of a late date ( 13 th century) says that the mountain was the northern peak of the Mount of Olives, which it is asserted, was called Galilea. But this is a useless attempt at harmonizing the accounts. There was a good reason for the withdrawal into the district of Galilee, remote from Jerusalem. Some conjecture that it was Mount Tabor. Were a knowledge of the locality important, it would have been pointed out to us as definitely as it was appointed to believers then.

Verse 17

Matthew 28:17. They worshipped him . The word might mean something less than religious worship, but it does mean that in many cases; the matter could scarcely be mentioned, if it meant less here.

But some doubted. A few, probably of the five hundred, not of the ‘eleven.’ Some say the doubt was respecting the identity of our Lord, and find in it an evidence of their caution in examining the evidence, which gives their subsequent conviction and testimony the greater weight. But they came there because they thought He was risen, and the sight of the Lord had in all other cases produced conviction. The doubt was probably whether it was proper to worship Him, especially as the following words of our Lord apply so directly to such a doubt. So now ‘some,’ attached to our Lord, have a speculative doubt as to the propriety of according Him Divine honors. When it becomes a positive denial of the power He claims in the next verse, genuine faith in Him is scarcely possible.

Verse 18

Matthew 28:18. And Jesus came to them . He may have been seen first at a distance, or He may now have approached those who doubted.

All authority was given to me in heaven and on earth. An expression of His glorification and victory. The primary reference is to His authority as Mediator, extending over all in heaven and on earth, for His Church. It ‘was given’ by the Father, to Him as the God-man, though as the Eternal Word, He had such glory before the foundation of the world. Before the resurrection the disciples were not ready for this revelation, nor had the victory of the God-man been won. Hence to exalt the truths spoken by our Lord before His death above those which He uttered after His resurrection, or taught His disciples through this power, is to lose the full glory of the gospel. Our Lord now announces the fact, but this victory was won at the Resurrection. He lingers on earth to assure His chosen ones, and at the ascension enters into his Inheritance.

Verse 19

Matthew 28:19. Therefore. The glorification of Christ is the ground of His sending them, and the blessed reason why in their weakness and insufficiency they can go. Evidently addressed to all the brethren, not to the Apostles only, and so understood in the early Church (comp. Acts 8:1; Acts 8:4).

Make disciples of. More than ‘teach.’ It includes the two means which follow: ‘baptizing’ ‘teaching’ (Matthew 28:20), probably referring to the whole process of Christianizing, from beginning to end. Because Christ rules (Matthew 28:18), go, not to conquer men by force, but to work on their hearts make them disciples, docile pupils in the school of Christ.

All the nations. The limitation of chap. Matthew 10:5 is now removed. Then the disciples needed time to learn; now their commission is made universal. Yet the Jewish prejudice could not be overcome at once, and the Apostles themselves, until further revelation came (Acts 10:0), were in doubt whether circumcision were not first necessary. This fact shows that we could never have had the gospel, if the Gospel history had not been explained by the further revelation, which some now seek to underrate.

Baptizing them. The ‘discipling’ consists of two parts: baptism, the rite of admission, and the subsequent instruction. This is the ordinary process in the Christian Church. And it has been usually understood as referring to admission into the covenant in infancy; then a growing up in Christian instruction. Too often, parents have clung to the former with superstitious scrupulousness, and neglected the latter. This method can apply only to Christian churches already established. As the Jewish religion began with the promise of God, and the faith and circumcision of adult Abraham (see Romans 4:11), so the Christian Church was founded in the beginning, and is now propagated in all heathen countries by the preaching of the Gospel to, and by the baptism of, adults. But even in the case of adult converts, a full instruction in the Christian religion does not, as a rule, precede, but succeed baptism, which is an initiatory rite, the sacramental sign and seal of regeneration, i.e. , of the beginning of the new life, not of sanctification or growth in holiness.

Into the name, etc. This includes the idea of ‘by the authority of,’ also ‘dedicated into communion and fellowship with.’ It implies, not only a confession on the part of the one baptized, but an admission to privilege: the rite, the sign and seal of both. It is into one name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. It is impossible that this means, the one name of God, of a mere man, and of an attribute of God. It is the one name of One God, existing (as well as manifested), as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Comp, the baptism of Jesus, where all three persons of the Godhead revealed themselves. The doctrine of the Trinity receives powerful support from passages like this, but it rests even more on facts, on the whole Scripture revelation of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the three great works of creation, redemption, and sanctification. All of which are signified and sealed in this formula of baptism. Since God reveals Himself as He is: this Trinity of revelation (oeconomical Trinity) involves the Trinity of essence (ontological Trinity).

Verse 20

Matthew 28:20. Teaching them. This teaching is a continued process, which partly precedes and partly follows baptism. As the eleven Apostles and their companions could not do all this, we find here the institution of a continuous baptizing and teaching. That this involved an office, arises not only from the necessity of the case, but from the fact that the Apostles are addressed primarily, though not exclusively.

All things whatsoever I commanded you. The doctrines and precepts of Christ, nothing less and nothing more, are the proper subjects of Christian faith and practice. In these, however, are included the Old Testament which He repeatedly confirms, and the further revelations He made to those personally ‘commanded’ by Him, including the Apostle Paul.

And, lo. To encourage them.

I am with you. A proof of Christ’s Divinity. By His Providence, His Spirit, His life; for the idea of vital union with Him had already been declared (John 14:20; John 15:5; John 16:22). The simple language of the passage, as well as the facts of Christian history, forbid our limiting this promise to one set of men, claiming to be successors of the Apostles. There is, of course, involved a special promise to those engaged in the fulfilling of the previous command. The Apostles, the organizers of the Church, arranged about the appointment of those who should perform this service. But in their peculiar office they could have no successors, and in the organization of the Church they were governed not so much by formal rules as by the exigencies of the case. The promise of Christ’s abiding presence is to His people as individuals constituting a whole, those in responsible stations receiving special grace only as they have special needs which they present on the plea of this promise.

Alway. Literally: ‘all the days.’ Never absent a single day, however dark, until the last when He shall come again.

Unto the end of the world. This does not set a term to Christ’s presence, but to His invisible and temporal presence, which will be exchanged for His visible and eternal presence at His coming. Now Christ is with us; then, when He shall appear in glory, we shall be with Him where He is (1 John 3:2). The fact of the Ascension is clearly implied here, as well as in other passages of this Gospel, as chap. Matthew 22:44; Matthew 24:30; Matthew 25:14; Matthew 25:31; Matthew 26:64. The word ‘Amen’ was added afterwards. The Gospel does not end abruptly, but appropriately; simply and yet majestically. Evidently this interview is recorded by the Evangelist, as implying the institution of the Christian Church, distinct from Judaism, an important point for readers of Jewish origin. If men now seek for the Apostolic Church, let them remember Christ’s words as recorded by an Apostle: and they will find it where Christ is. This glorious fact of the unbroken succession of Christ’s life through all ages of Christendom is the true doctrine of the Apostolic succession, and is not only an irresistible evidence of Christianity, but an unfailing source of strength and encouragement to the believer.

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Matthew 28". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/matthew-28.html. 1879-90.
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