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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 28

 

 

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Verse 1

‘Now after (or ‘late on’) the sabbath day, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.’

The women disciples had to wait until the Sabbath was over, because by Jewish Law they could not anoint the body of Jesus on the Sabbath. And while the other women were finalising their preparations the two Marys were sent on towards dawn in order to survey the situation and to consider the possibility of the removal of the great stone blocking the entrance to the tomb. The others would follow on more slowly. Matthew as usual abbreviates what happens, and opens with the arrival of the two women at the tomb.

The word translated ‘after’ can signify either that or ‘late on’. Here it must mean ‘after’, as the Sabbath had ended on the previous evening.


Verses 1-6

The Women Disciples Come To The Tomb And Find It Empty Apart From An Angel. They Learn That Jesus Has Risen (28:1-6).

Late on the same day as the Chief Priests sealed the tomb, two of the women disciples go to survey the tomb and assess the situation. We learn from the other Gospels that it was in order to see whether there might be any opportunity of anointing the body of Jesus. Their main problem is how they will remove the large stone guarding the entrance. They are unaware of what others have done, the one in anointing the body of Jesus, the other in setting a guard and sealing the tomb.

But when they arrive at the tomb they discover that the great stone has been removed from the mouth of the tomb, and that a glistening figure is sat on it. This glorious figure then reveals to them that Jesus has risen.

Analysis.

* Now late on the sabbath day, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre (Matthew 28:1).

* And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled away the stone, and sat on it (Matthew 28:2).

* His appearance was as lightning, and his raiment white as snow, and for fear of him the watchers quaked, and became as dead men (Matthew 28:3-4).

* And the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus, who has been crucified. He is not here, for He is risen, even as He said.”(Matthew 28:5-6 a).

* “Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matthew 28:6 b).

Note that in ‘a’ they come to see the tomb, and in the parallel the angel invites them to see the place where the Lord lay. In ‘b’ an angel descended and opened up the tomb for them, and in the parallel the angel tells them not to be afraid because he knows that they are seeking Jesus who had been crucified, but that He is risen. Centrally in ‘c’ we have the glorious description of the angel.


Verse 2

‘And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled away the stone, and sat on it.

They were probably somewhat apprehensive. There had been a great earthquake, following closely on the earthquake that had caused such damage on the day of crucifixion (Palestine was a land of earthquakes. Josephus and others refer to a number of earthquakes connected with Jerusalem, compare Amos 1:1; Zechariah 14:4-5), so that they may well have wondered what they were going to find. But nothing had prepared them for what they did find. For they discovered that the earthquake had opened up the tomb, and that an angel of the Lord had descended from Heaven and was seated on the stone. There had been ‘an angel of the Lord’ connected with His birth in Matthew 1:20. Now we find one connected with His ‘rebirth’. His resurrection. In both cases this angel explains what God is doing. He has sent Jesus to save us from our sins, He has vindicated Him by raising Him from the dead.

The rolling away of the stone was like the rising of the curtain in a theatre. It was in order to reveal the scene that lay behind it.


Verse 3-4

‘His appearance was as lightning, and his raiment white as snow, and for fear of him the watchers quaked, and became as dead men.’

The appearance of the angel was as lightning in its splendour, and his raiment was pure white. They would be reminded of Daniel’s vision when he too had seen an angel fitting this description (Daniel 10:5-6). ‘White as snow’ indicates a certain God-likeness (Daniel 7:9). So glorious was the figure that the guards at the tomb, ‘the watchers’ (compare Matthew 27:36), themselves quaked (the word is used of the earthquake in Matthew 27:51) and swooned, becoming as dead men. Thus when the women approached there was nothing to fear, apart from the angel.

The description of the guards as ‘the watchers’ is probably ironic. Men had set them to watch, and now they could watch no longer.


Verse 5

‘And the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus, who has been crucified.” ’

But the angel soon put their minds at rest. He informed them that he was aware that they had come seeking Jesus Who had been crucified, or more literally, ‘was and is crucified’ (perfect participle). But He is not there. The Lamb Who has been slain is risen (Revelation 5:6).

We learn from the other Gospels that by now there were more women present (see Matthew 27:55-56) who had by this time caught up with the two who had gone before them in order to consider how to get into the tomb, and that when they arrived the angel was inside the tomb (Mark 16:1; Mark 16:5). But both accounts are summaries of a far more complicated situation. To have explained the full details of all their movements would have taken away from the main message that had to be got over, that Jesus was risen from the dead


Verse 6

‘He is not here, for he has been raised, even as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.’

Then he informed them that Jesus was no longer there. He had been raised by God, just as He had promised. And he invited them to see the place where the Lord had lain. He wanted them to glory in the emptiness of the tomb. Note the use of ‘the Lord’. Jesus was now a figure of great authority and power. He was ‘the Lord’ of the ‘angel of the Lord’.

(Textual note. Aleph, B, Theta omit ‘Lord. But it is found in A, D, W, f1, f13, 565, 700. It may have been omitted over uneasiness about the thought of ‘the Lord’ (YHWH) having been in a tomb).


Verse 7

“And go quickly, and tell his disciples, ‘He is risen from the dead, and lo, he goes before you into Galilee. There will you see him.’ Lo, I have told you.”

The angel than tells the women that they are to go with all speed and inform the disciples that Jesus is risen from the dead and that He will go before them into Galilee where they will see Him. He wants His appearances to them to be free from the trammels of the old Jerusalem. They must speed joyously on their way (as the Magi speeded joyously to Bethlehem) knowing that He will be there before them. ‘Goes before’ indicates, not that He will lead them, but that He will go ahead, like a shepherd might leave his flocks with under-shepherds and go before them in order to ensure that the way ahead is catered for. And there, He assures them, He will see them.

‘Lo, I have told you.” In other words, ‘I have now passed on the message that I was sent to give, and my responsibility is now at an end.’

In the light of Luke’s and John’s narratives this whole verse contains a remarkable statement, for we all know that Jesus actually first appeared to His disciples in Jerusalem, although John does then speak of an appearance in Galilee (John 21). Matthew on the other hand only and quite deliberately details Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in Galilee. Furthermore there would be no purpose in the words we find here if Jesus had not wanted them to see that as His intention.

The first idea that we can quickly dismiss is that Matthew did not know about the other resurrection appearances. Those were so well known that Paul could delineate them in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 in a way which showed that he expected a general knowledge of them, and that as far away as Corinth. They would necessarily be meat and drink to the early church. Matthew was far too close to Jerusalem, and too much in the hub of things, not to be aware of what had happened there. He would after all have been rubbing shoulders day by day with people who remembered it vividly from the earliest days. He was not an unknown, living in a remote backwater far from Jerusalem.

The only possible genuine explanation, apart from that of an unseemly parochialism which fits ill with the remainder of the Gospel, is that he firmly believed that the appearance in Galilee which he describes, was the crucial one originally intended by Jesus, and that the others were only preliminary, and were actually the result of the disobedience and unresponsiveness of the disciples because of their lack of belief. In other words that Jesus’ original intention was that He would appear to them in Galilee, and that that was only thwarted by their remaining in Jerusalem. Unless the angel was mistaken this must have been so. This view also appears to have been held by Mark 16:7 (and therefore by Peter). Had they believed they would immediately have set out for Galilee on hearing the news from the women. It was because they did not do so that Jesus appeared to them in Jerusalem. Once again the disciples had let Him down.

(It is true, of course, that this raises the old question of sovereignty and foreknowledge, but we cannot work on that basis. From that point of view everything that happens is ‘within God’s will’. But that does not exclude the fact of man’s responsibility for his constant disobedience. The truth is that the same disciples who failed Him in the Garden, also failed Him initially in their response to His resurrection. It is a further indication of how grace in the end triumphed over weakness).

The great importance of this, and the reason why Matthew insists on sticking to what was anticipated in the original plan, is that it indicates (and indicated to his Jewish Christian readers) that Jerusalem was not intended by God to be seen as the source of the new Israel, and the centre to which all should look. That source (if there was to be a source, see John 4:21-22, and note that no indication is given in Matthew of the exact whereabouts of the mountain) was rather to be seen as Galilee where Jesus had walked and preached, and where the great light had first shone (Matthew 4:16). The new Israel was to be free from the ties of old Jerusalem and rather be connected with the heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4:22-31; Hebrews 12:22). It was to be remembered that Jesus was a Galilean, a Nazarene. He was not to be seen as an extension of Jerusalem, and what Jerusalem now stood for, but as One Who was meek and lowly in heart with a message freed from Jerusalem’s ties. Compare how after His birth and exile He returned not to Jerusalem but to Galilee (Matthew 2:22-23). That Galilee was to be seen as the source of light had been long planned (Matthew 4:16; compare Isaiah 9:2).

It is true that Jerusalem was indeed to be the place from which God’s instruction would flow out (Isaiah 2:2-4), but once that had been accomplished Jerusalem was to be put aside. Luke brings out the same message, in a different way, in Acts. For Jerusalem finally rejects the Apostles (Acts 12) and Paul (Acts 21:30), even though for a while they would still meet in Jerusalem (Acts 15). And God finally seals it by the openly declared destruction of Jerusalem.

Even today many Christians cannot get away from the clutches of Jerusalem and they thus make it central in their prophetic schemes. It is, however, time that we consigned the earthly Jerusalem religiously speaking to where God consigned it, to the dust, while the idea of it as found in prophecy should be consigned, again where God consigned it, to Heaven (Galatians 4:22-31; Hebrews 12:22). But those who cling on to the old Jerusalem are a reminder to us of how God carries on His work despite our stumbling and our failing which often bring such harm on the work of God. We all cling on to cherished ideas which misinterpret Scripture. It is true that out of the new chaos He produces the new creation. But the suffering often resulting from such disobedience continues.


Verses 7-10

The Women Are Given The Twice Repeated Message That the Disciples Are To Go To Galilee Where They Will See Jesus. They See Jesus And Worship Him (28:7-10).

That Jesus’ resurrection is made known first to the women comes out in all the Gospels. This is a sign of the truthfulness of the narratives. In Jesus’ day no one would have invented such an idea. Little account was then taken of the testimony of women. Anyone inventing such a story would have ensured that the initial appearances were to good, stolid, reliable men. But the women, because of their faithfulness to the memory of Jesus, were privileged first to see the angel, and then to see Jesus Himself in an initial encounter.

Analysis.

a “And go quickly, and tell His disciples, ‘He is risen from the dead, and lo, He goes before you into Galilee. There will you see Him.’ Lo, I have told you” (Matthew 28:7).

b And they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word (Matthew 28:8).

c And behold, Jesus met them, saying, “All hail” (Matthew 28:9 a).

b And they came and took hold of His feet, and worshipped Him.’

a Then says Jesus to them, Do not be afraid. Go, tell my brethren that they depart into Galilee, and there will they see me” (Matthew 28:10).

Note that in ‘a’ the angel tells them to inform the disciples that He is risen from the dead and that they are to go to Galilee where they will see Him, and in the parallel Jesus Himself tells them the same. In ‘b’ they leave the tomb in awe and great joy, and in the parallel they see Jesus with an awe and great joy which is expressed in worship. Centrally in ‘c’ Jesus Himself meets them and greets them.


Verses 7-20

The Final Triumph (28:7-20).

Following this remarkable experience of the women, we now come to the climax of the Gospel, the resurrection appearances and the giving of the Great Commission. The subsection commences with an appearance to the women disciples, (a reminder of God’s interest in the seemingly unimportant who are faithful in worship and service), goes on to deal with men’s vain attempts to deny the resurrection by falsehoods, and finalises in the appearance of Jesus to His disciples in Galilee where He explains that He has taken His rightful place as Lord over Heaven and earth, and sends them out to proclaim His words throughout the world, and call all men under His Kingly Rule, with the assurance that His presence will be continually with them.

The subsection splits into three passages:

* Through the women both the angel and Jesus tell His disciples to go to Galilee (Matthew 28:7-10).

* The Chief Priests try to cover up the fact that the tomb which they had sealed has been found to be empty (Matthew 27:11-15).

* The disciples go to Galilee and see the risen Jesus, learn of His coronation, and receive their great commission, with the promise of His continual presence with them as they go to all the world (Matthew 27:16-20).


Verse 8

‘And they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring his disciples word.’

Overjoyed at this sudden change in circumstances which turned their gloom and mourning into rejoicing, but very much awed at the presence of the angel and even more by the thought of all that this involved, the women hurried from the tomb to bring their good news to the disciples.


Verse 9

‘And behold, Jesus met them, saying, “All hail.” And they came and took hold of his feet, and worshipped him.’

And as they sped on their way Jesus Himself appeared to them and greeted them. And the result was that they fell down and worshipped Him. The taking hold of His feet may have been as an indication of allegiance, or it may have been in order to show their affection in a worshipful way. What it did, however, reveal was that Jesus appeared in a genuine body. He was not just a spirit.

‘All hail.’ This was a typical courteous greeting of the period. Compare the greeting to Mary in Luke 1:28. It is clear that Jesus did not mind appearing to the women in Jerusalem. No one would take that as an official event.


Verse 10

‘Then says Jesus to them, Do not be afraid. Go, tell my brethren that they depart into Galilee, and there will they see me.”

Jesus then repeats the message of the angel. They are to tell the disciples and all who are believers (my brethren, compare Matthew 12:48) to leave Jerusalem and go to Galilee, where they too will see Him. At this stage Jesus is still looking to the disciples to obey Him. It is difficult to believe that at this point (from a human point of view) He is intending to appear to His Apostles that very night. The alteration in plan took place because of their steadfast unbelief. That is not, of course, to deny that in His sovereignty He knew what was going to happen, simply to indicate that that was how He wanted it to be seen.

‘Do not be afraid.’ What the women were experiencing was undoubtedly awesome in the fullest sense of the word. First a glorious angel and an empty tomb, then a message that Jesus would soon appear to all His disciples, and now the actual appearance of the One Whom they had watched die on a cross. No wonder that there was a kind of fear and awe gripping them in the midst of their joyfulness.

‘Depart into Galilee, there will they see Me.’ Men must no longer look to Jerusalem but to Him, and He is not bound up in Jerusalem. The importance of Galilee came out from the start. It was in Galilee that Jesus took refuge on His return from exile (Matthew 2:22). It was in Galilee that the people who sat in darkness would see a great light (Matthew 4:16). It was in Galilee that He carried out His main ministry (Matthew 4:23) and established a large band of disciples. At the crisis point of His life Jesus was declared to be a Galilean (Matthew 26:69). Thus Matthew saw Galilee, ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’, as the starting point of the future. And he did it on Jesus’ authority. That was where Jesus was really to be seen.


Verse 11

‘Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city, and told the chief priests all the things that had happened.’

At the same time as the women were going to tell the Apostles and their fellow-believers that the tomb was empty, the guards were going to the Chief Priests for the same reason. But while the women went with joy in their hearts the soldiers were very unhappy, and they came to the Chief Priests and explained what had happened.

Came into the city.’ There is a parallel and contrast here with coming into the city of the ‘saints’ as witnesses to the resurrection (Matthew 27:53). The saints came to ‘many’. The women came to the disciples. And the soldiers came to the Chief Priests. All in their own way testified to wonderful happenings. It was only the Chief Priests who refused to hear and believe.

‘All the things that had happened.’ That is, everything of which they were aware. They had not witnessed the resurrection, nor possibly could they remember much about the angel, for the former had taken place before the grave was opened, (unless we take Matthew 27:51-52 as indicating that it resulted at the same time as the earthquake), and they were traumatised by the latter


Verses 11-15

The Chief Priests Bribe The Guards So That They Will Say That Jesus’ Body Was Stolen (28:11-15).

This whole Section from Matthew 26:1 onwards commenced with the Chief Priests bribing Judas so that He would betray Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16), prior to which was the anointing of Jesus (Matthew 26:6-13), now it ends here with the Chief Priests bribing the guards so as to lie about His body being stolen, after which we learn of Jesus’ heavenly anointing as He is invested with all authority in Heaven and earth.

Note how this episode is placed specifically in between two appearances of Jesus in His body, in one of which He was actually seized by His legs (Matthew 28:9). People would have to believe whether they received the testimony of men who were asleep, or of those, both men and women, who were wide awake.

Analysis.

a Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city, and told the Chief Priests all the things that had happened (Matthew 28:11).

b And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave much money to the soldiers (Matthew 28:12).

c Saying, “Say you, ‘His disciples came by night, and stole Him away while we slept.’ And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and rid you of care (Matthew 28:13-14).

b So they took the money, and did as they were taught (Matthew 28:15 a).

a And this saying was spread abroad among the Jews, and continues until this day (Matthew 28:15 b).

Note that in ‘a’ the guard came and told the Chief Priests what had happened, and in the parallel they went to the Jews and told them what they had been told to say. In ‘b’ they were given much money, and in the parallel they took the money and did as they were taught. Centrally in ‘c’ we have details of what they were to tell the people, and a guarantee of safety from the governor’s wrath.


Verse 12

‘And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave much money to the soldiers.’

As a result the Chief Priests called an emergency meeting of some of the Sanhedrin in order to discuss what they should do. The conclusion that they came to was that they should bribe the soldiers to lie on their behalf, and to this end they gave them much money. They were not to be bought cheaply.

There is disagreement about whether these soldiers were Roman soldiers or Temple servants. There are a number of things in favour of their being Temple servants.

* Firstly they had reported back to the Chief Priests and not to Pilate. That could also have been true of Roman soldiers who had been allocated to act on the Chief Priests behalf, but it is suggestive. Indeed there is a good case for suggesting that had Roman soldiers been involved they would simply have sealed up the tomb and pretended that nothing had happened, hoping that no one else knew (they would have nothing to lose by doing so, and everything to gain). They would be in a dreadful fix and would consider it quite probable that no one would look in it again for a long time, by which time no one would know when it had happened. And they would not have considered the possibility of a resurrection. It was only Jews who would have an interest in what the empty tomb might mean, and would probably want to report back what had happened, who would behave in the way described here. (Compare how continuing interest was also restricted to Jews - Matthew 28:13).

* Secondly they were prepared to admit to neglect of duty in return for a bribe. It is doubtful if a Roman soldier would ever have dared to do such a thing. His punishment would have been too severe. To suggest that such a crime would be overlooked by the military is unlikely indeed. Nor would any such soldier have wanted to spread a rumour around pointing to his misdemeanour. It would be asking for trouble, for it would certainly get back to their commanders. However, for supporters of the Chief Priests, the spreading of such rumours at their request would have been considered a good thing, although they would have wanted well paying for their trouble.

* Thirdly, if they had been Roman soldiers who were considered to have failed in their duty by falling asleep it is questionable whether the Chief Priests could have spoken with such confidence about getting them excused, for it would be a military matter, and such behaviour was looked on very seriously and was usually punishable by death. But it is quite conceivable that they would have confidence that they could obtain pardon for their own men who had failed, even though they were temporarily acting on Pilate’s behalf. They could do so on the grounds that they were not used to doing such guard duty and were exhausted after the events of the previous days and nights of being involved in monitoring the pilgrims over the feast days.

* Fourthly, only ‘some’ of the soldiers reported back. This suggests that the whole contingent consisted of at least six or seven, if not more. It is quite frankly doubtful if six or seven Roman soldiers would be allocated to such an unimportant task. It was not the Romans who were fearful of what would happen, it was the Chief Priests.

Against this idea of their being Temple guards is that they are called ‘soldiers’. But it would seem probable that armed guards in the Temple would often popularly be called soldiers by people like Matthew, just as Herod would have his own soldiers. Soldiers were not limited to the Roman army. The other point that may be raised is as to why if they were the High Priest’s soldiers they were accountable to Pilate. But we have to recognise that the Chief Priests had made a commitment to guard the tomb. If it ever came to his attention that they had failed they would therefore be accountable to Pilate however little he might in fact have cared about the matter, for he was the one on whom any blame would finally fall.


Verse 13

‘Saying, “Say you, ‘His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.’

The story that the soldiers had to spread around was that ‘His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.’ Compare Matthew 27:64 where this was actually what the High Priests had feared. This rumour was to be spread in order to convince the people that He had not risen. And no doubt they themselves believed that it must be so. What other explanation could there be? Paradoxically, for some who heard the rumour it might well have had the opposite effect. Knowing the Chief Priests they might have said to themselves, ‘It is clear that the tomb must be empty otherwise they would not talk like this. Perhaps then He did rise from the dead’. However, it would give a good excuse to those who were determined not to believe.

‘While we were asleep.’ This would be in order to avoid questions. Too much might be revealed if they once admitted that they were awake and were then as a result questioned further. Of course the question that should then arise is, ‘If they were asleep how did they know what had happened to the body? And if they woke up and saw it, why did they do nothing about it?’ Either way their story does not hold water. It is clearly grasping at straws.

But to be asleep on duty would make them look foolish (which was why they had to be heavily bribed). Why did they not then rather claim that they were overpowered by a large band of armed men? The answer is clearly because they knew that no one would believe it. They knew that the facts could be looked into, and probably would be if they told that story. And none of Jesus’ opponents wanted the facts looking into. Their only hope lay in admitting that no one knew anything about what had happened, but that it had happened anyway (a truly solid basis for being a reliable witness! No wonder only the Jews who wanted to believe it did so).

Besides, the story of a tomb robbing by a bunch of amateurs, while the guards lay asleep without being disturbed, is hardly credible. Imagine the ribaldry the guards would have had to face. Consider the scene. A dark tomb, a large rock to be moved requiring two or three men to do it, and a number of guards lying round the tomb. Then a band of intrepid disciples arrive, admittedly by the light of a nearly full moon, and without making a sound, they avoid the guards without disturbing them, move the large stone without making any noise at all, locate the body in the dark tomb with no difficulty, carry it out, again avoiding the soldiers, and then disappear, and meanwhile no one wakes up or spots them in the process. It would hardly have sounded credible to any who heard it. It was not credible.

It should also be noted that in the Roman Empire the molesting of graves was a serious offence. Among other things the well known Nazarene inscription makes this fact abundantly clear. Had it genuinely been believed that the disciples had stolen a body which was government property and had hidden it away, they would undoubtedly have been sought out and probably executed.


Verse 14

‘And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and rid you of care.

The problem with such a story for the soldiers was that it might reach the governor’s ears, which would not please him very much. And they knew that they had been acting under his instructions. But they were assured by their employers that they would then see that everything was all right for them. They promised that they would use their influence, and probably more money, in order to ensure that there were no repercussions. Had these been Roman soldiers we might in fact have expected their fear to be that their Commanders found out (Pilate would have returned to Caesarea, or would be on the point of doing so). It was they who would be directly responsible for disciplining such a failure. It is very unlikely that they would have believed that their commanders could be bribed. Thus again we have the impression that these were the Chief Priests’ soldiers.


Verse 15

‘And this saying was spread abroad among Jews, and continues until this day.’

The result was that this story became popular among Jews as an explanation of the empty tomb and continued to be so until the time of writing. The impression that this verse gives is that Matthew’s main purpose in giving the explanation is in order to explain where such a story came from, rather to be seen as an attempt to provide specific evidence of why people could believe that a guarded tomb was definitely empty. It would appear that this latter was something that every Jew knew. It is clear that Jews were seen as the only ones interested in the matter. Gentiles probably did not believe Jews anyway, and certainly did not believe this mad story.

‘Continues until this day.’ This tells us only that the rumours continued for a certain period. It tells us nothing about when ‘this day’ is, only that it was some years after the events described. This was an expression common in the Old Testament. In Jeremiah 25:3 it indicates either a period of ten years, or one of twenty three years. See also Jeremiah 36:2; and especially Numbers 22:30 where the period is quite short (an asses lifetime).


Verse 16

‘But the eleven disciples went into Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had appointed them.’

In accordance with Jesus instructions the eleven Apostles finally went into Galilee to find new truth, in total contrast with the soldiers who had gone to the Chief Priests to be taught lies. And there they went to the mountain that Jesus ‘had appointed them’. This would suggest that prior to His death He had already tried to make arrangements for them to go to Galilee as soon as He was dead, and had given them details about where they would see Him once they did so (although the arrangement might have been made during His resurrection appearances in Jerusalem). Compare Matthew 26:32. But until they had heard what the women had to say it is clear that this had slipped into the background of their memories. But now that they knew that Jesus was indeed risen they obeyed His words. This appearance in Galilee, and the giving of Jesus’ commission there, were important. They indicate that Jesus’ work in Galilee and the surrounding area must go on, and that what is to go forward is based on that. Was this the mountain on which He proclaimed the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, or the mountain on which He fed the five thousand? (Matthew 5:1; Matthew 15:29). Or did He have in mind the elders who had gone into the mountain with Moses and Aaron, to enjoy the presence of God? (Exodus 24:1-2). We just do not know. But we do know that He was fond of teaching in mountains because it meant getting away from the general crowds.


Verses 16-20

Jesus Appears To His Disciples In Bodily Form And Reveals That He Has Been Crowned As Lord Of All. He Sends His Disciples Out To Proclaim The Good News To All Nations And To Call On Them To Observe All His Commandments (28:16-20).

Jesus now appears and reveals His new heavenly Kingship, and calls on His disciples to go out in His name in order to make disciples of people from all nations, giving them the assurance that He will go with them and be with them wherever they go, and however long it takes. Note the deliberate contrast with the previous passage. While the soldiers were declaring that the body had been stolen Jesus, in His transformed body, was appearing to His disciples.

a But the eleven disciples went into Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him. But some doubted (Matthew 28:16-17).

b And Jesus came to them and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).

c “Go you therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

b “Teaching them to observe all things whatever I commanded you” (Matthew 28:20 a).

a “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world (or ‘age’)” (Matthew 28:20 b)

Note that in ‘a’ they come to the mountain and see the risen Jesus, and in the parallel He promises that He will from now on continue to be with them as they go out and fulfil His command. In ‘b’ they learn of His coronation in Heaven where He has been given all authority in Heaven and on earth, and in the parallel they are to teach men to observe all His commandments as King (first on earth and then in Heaven). Central in ‘c’ is their great commission to go to all nations taking to them the triune God, and drenching them with the Holy Spirit in His Name.


Verse 17

‘And when they saw him, they worshipped him. But some doubted.’

It is not likely that the eleven went alone. They could hardly have disappeared from among the other brethren and the sisters without giving a hint of what was happening. And furthermore the angel is said to have declared that the women disciples will be present (Matthew 28:7). Thus ‘they’ here probably has a wider connotation than just the eleven. However Matthew’s main concern is with the eleven to whom the commission will especially be given, as it had been in chapter 10.

When Jesus made His appearance on the mountain they all ‘worshipped Him’. This was probably not worship with a full understanding, but it was fairly close. And yet there were still those among them who found it hard to believe, which is not really surprising. No doubt they all had to keep pinching themselves to make sure that they really were awake, and that it was not all a dream. It should perhaps be pointed out here that people do not have mass ‘hallucinations’ which tally with each other. Thus such a shared experience of Jesus could not have been an hallucination. And the fact that some were still struggling with incredulity confirms this even further. We receive hallucinations of what we expect to see, not of the things we doubt. Even the doubts therefore confirm the genuineness of the experience, even though they bring out the obduracy of some of the Apostles. This latter fault was certainly not the kind of thing that people who respected the Apostles would have invented. Indeed the whole account from Matthew 26:1 onwards has been so uncomplimentary to the Apostles that it must be genuine.

‘Some doubted.’ This can only mean that they were at first unbelieving of what they saw. It was not easy for them to grasp the fact that Jesus was risen. Compare ‘disbelieved for joy’ in Luke 24:41, where it was clearly momentary. There are a number of possibilities as to what this means:

1). They saw Him at a distance before He ‘came to them’ (in the next verse) and were thus questioning as to whether it was really Him (compare Matthew 14:31-32 where Peter’s ‘doubt’ is also followed by ‘worship’ because he doubts no longer).

2). Those who doubted were in fact some outside the eleven who were taking time to adjust.

3). The statement is a general one as indicating the whole post-resurrection situation, and confirming the doubt that constantly initially arose among all who heard about it, until all was made clear (thus an honest recognition in an abbreviated storyline that not all believed immediately. If so it might be put in paranthesis). See also Luke 24:11; Luke 24:25; Luke 24:37; John 20:25; Mark 16:13.

Note that the doubts are there before ‘He comes to them’ and speaks with them. It is an honest recognition of the perplexity that Jesus’ appearances at first produced in men before they became convinced, and accepted the idea. But they are not the indication of a continuing experience after He had spoken with them. Indeed truly doubting men do not worship (Matthew 28:17) so that the doubts were limited to a few. We may well be better to translate the verb as ‘were perplexed’. It is not credible to suggest that Matthew is talking about long term doubts. He is proclaiming a positive message, not considering things sceptically or with disinterest. He is thus talking about a situation which was resolved by what follows. But what he does want us to know is that they did not just swallow everything thoughtlessly. None of these men were easily convinced, even though conviction came to some more quickly than to others.


Verse 18

‘And Jesus came to them and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” ’

‘Jesus came to them.’ They had seen Him at a distance, but now He approached them and their doubts vanished. We are not told where Jesus had been meanwhile, apart from the fact that what He now says confirms that He had been in His Father’s presence. For He spoke to them and said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” Here He is expanding on the authority that He has constantly revealed throughout His life so that this is a powerful and strong statement. It is declaring that He has been openly proclaimed as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16), that nothing now remains outside His control (Ephesians 1:19-23), that He is Lord of Heaven and earth (compare Matthew 11:25; and see Acts 17:24) and that He has received again the glory which was His before the world was (John 17:5). Paul thus tells us that He rose above all the powers of the heavens and that all principalities and powers in heavenly places were made subject to Him (Ephesians 1:21-23). As regards earth His Kingly Rule, which had been revealed especially in His power over evil spirits (Matthew 12:28), has been established and confirmed. The picture is thus of the Son of Man who as Israel’s king has come out of suffering to the throne of God to receive His worldwide and eternal Kingly Rule and glory and dominion (Daniel 7:14). The child Who was born and the Son Who was given has had the government put on His shoulders so that He might reign over the whole sphere of His Kingly Rule (Isaiah 9:6-7). God has highly exalted Him and given Him the Name which is above every Name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, with the result that He has been declared to be ‘Lord’ (YHWH) (Philippians 2:9-11). Men had refused Him that authority, but God has confirmed it and it is now to be manifested so that all men will be shortly made aware of it (compare Matthew 26:64), and never more so than when the wind and fire descended on His disciples in the Temple area (Acts 2). For Kingly Rule belongs to the Lord, and He rules over the nations (Psalms 22:28), and YHWH has set His king upon His holy hill (Psalms 2:6). Thus the world will never be the same again, for Jesus is King and is at work among men. He Who refused Satan’s offer of all the kingdoms of the world if He would rule them in his way (Matthew 4:8) has received something greater than even Satan could have imagined. He is King of both Heaven and earth.


Verse 19

“Go you therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

And it is because this authority is to be seen as over the whole earth that His disciples are to go out, not spreading lies like the soldiers did, but in order to make disciples of all nations, baptising them into the Name of the Triune God. ‘Making disciples’ involves bringing men and women into long term commitment. There is no room here for ‘being saved’ and then just drifting along. All are to be committed to Christ as Teacher, Master and Lord.

‘Make disciples of all nations.’ This is the primary command. The baptising and teaching then follow. First we have the bringing to discipleship (repent for the Kingly Rule of Heaven is drawn near), and then the baptising and teaching must follow. There is no point in baptising or teaching those who are not committed to discipleship for they will not benefit by it. Such people rather need to have the Gospel proclaimed to them. (Unlike a participle preceding an imperative, a participle following an imperative, as here, rarely in the New Testament indicates imperative force. It is rather consequential). But once a person has become a disciple, he is then to be baptised and taught.

The idea of going out to ‘all nations’ confirms Matthew 24:14 and Matthew 12:18; Matthew 12:21. See also Matthew 8:11. It is the fulfilment of the fact that He is the son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1) through Whom ‘all the nations of the earth are to be blessed’ (Genesis 12:3). They are to go to both Jews and Gentiles (in the same way as they will be hated by both Jews and Gentiles - Matthew 24:9; compare Matthew 10:17-18; Matthew 10:22). And in going they are to baptise them into ‘the Name’, that is, the Name above every Name, the Name of YHWH (or ‘LORD’) (Philippians 2:9-11). This is the first mention of baptism in Matthew since the time of John the Baptist. Then it symbolised the drenching with the Holy Spirit that was coming through the Coming One. Now it is an indication that all who receive Him by repenting and believing, will be deluged with the Holy Spirit. Thus they will have responded to the call of the Father, they will have come under the Kingly Rule of the Son, and they will have been drenched with the Holy Spirit. That is why they will be baptised into the Name of all three. It is the indication of a new beginning, a new Spirit endowed Israel responsive to the Father through the Son. We can compare here Matthew 3:16-17 where the ideas of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are also combined at Jesus’ baptism. But the fact that all three have the same Name is an indication of their oneness. We should note that this is not a baptismal formula (the very early church mainly baptised in the Name of Jesus) but simply a statement of what this baptism is to signify in the terms already expressed in Matthew. It sums up the whole message of Matthew and of Jesus Himself, God as ‘My Father’ and ‘your Father’, and thus taking a personal interest in their lives, Jesus as ‘the Son, the Beloved’ (Matthew 3:17; Matthew 11:27; Matthew 17:5; Matthew 21:37; Matthew 22:2) Who has come to save (Matthew 1:21; Matthew 8:17; Matthew 12:17-21; Matthew 20:28), and promises that He will be with them always (Matthew 28:20), and the Holy Spirit as the Empowerer Who will be bestowed on men by Him Who drenches men with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Matthew 12:18; Matthew 12:28). All three are clearly closely involved whan a person is baptised.

So, that Jesus should speak of ‘the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’ in this way is in fact merely the culmination of all that His teaching has been pointing to. He has constantly spoken of the Father as ‘My Father’ in a very distinctive way, especially in the second part of the Gospel (Matthew 7:21; Matthew 10:32-33; Matthew 11:27; Matthew 12:50; Matthew 16:17; Matthew 18:10; Matthew 18:19; Matthew 20:23; Matthew 24:36; Matthew 25:34; Matthew 26:29; Matthew 26:39; Matthew 26:42; Matthew 26:53), and sometimes in apposition to Himself as ‘the Son’ (Matthew 11:27; Matthew 24:36), and as ‘your Father’ when intimating that God takes a detailed interest in their lives. He has spoken of Himself in terms of sonship in Matthew 11:27; Matthew 21:37; Matthew 22:2, and He has in His hearing had witness borne to Him as the Son by the Father in Matthew 3:17 and Matthew 17:5. Furthermore He presses that claim further in Matthew 17:26. Now therefore that His Sonship has been confirmed by His restoration to heavenly glory this was only the natural way for Him to speak. And as the One Who acted continually through the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:28) and is now to drench men throughout the world in the Holy Spirit (which is the significance of the idea of baptism and promised in Matthew 3:11), how could He not mention the Holy Spirit? The work of the Holy Spirit is above all what baptism pictured. Having been united with His Father in Heaven therefore the idea of Father, Son and Holy Spirit arises naturally here as expressing the tripartite working of Those Who in Jesus’ eyes were active in bringing about salvation.

Some would suggest that the singular ‘name’ is to be seen as signifying ‘each of their names’. But, even if that were so, the fact that the Name of Jesus is paralleled with the Names of Father and Holy Spirit in His designation as the Son, and what is more is placed between them, is to indicate quite clearly that He enjoys an equal divine status. He is the equivalent of the Angel of the Lord in Genesis.

Some have suggested that the thought is too advanced, but as we have shown the idea is intrinsic throughout the Gospel which has made clear that activity of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit which is bringing about salvation (Matthew 1:21). If we deny that Jesus ever rose again, that He ever appeared to His disciples, and that He ever ascended to glory, we might take that view. But then it would hardly matter anyway. But if we acknowledge that having risen to His Father Jesus now appeared among men as the One anointed at His ‘right hand’ we will expect something special. He has been in the very centre of Truth with the One Who is Truth Himself and where the most advanced thinking that is conceivable (and inconceivable) takes place. The wonder of it is not that He produced wonderful truth, but that it had been so well prepared for beforehand while He was on earth. That is the miracle. And the idea is constantly found throughout the New Testament from the earliest times (Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Galatians 4:6 : Ephesians 4:4-6; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 2:2). It must have come from somewhere.

Some would ask why, if Jesus taught them this about the whole world, the Apostles did not immediately go to the Gentiles. But the answer lies in their insular thinking. At first their idea of ‘all nations’ was Jews in ‘all nations under Heaven’ (Acts 2:5). It was only later, with some prompting, that they remembered all that Jesus had taught and therefore expanded their mission to Gentiles, eventually welcoming all who would come to Him. It is simply another example of the slowness of the disciples’ thinking. (As Acts demonstrates, had they in fact been left to themselves they would probably never have left their successful mission in Jerusalem).

‘Baptising them.’ This is an unexpected introduction of the idea only found elsewhere in chapter 3. What began there is now coming to greater fulfilment. The time of drenching in the Holy Spirit is now here in the person of the One Who drenches with Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11). What began as a local movement must now move worldwide. All limits have now been removed. The Holy Spirit must be poured out like rain on all kinds of people (Acts 2:17). And this will be evidenced by their being baptised. That Jesus must have said something like this comes out in the fact that from the earliest record of post-resurrection preaching those who responded were called on to be baptised (Acts 2:38; Acts 2:41). And it was assumed ever after. There is no hesitation anywhere.

‘Into the Name.’ The idea is that now they are seen as belonging to Him (Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9) and are sealed by His Spirit (Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30).


Verse 20

“Teaching them to observe all things whatever I commanded you.”

Their mission is also to be one of teaching. They are now to fulfil their role as Scribes of the Kingly Rule of Heaven bringing forth what is new (what Jesus has brought) and what is old (the Scriptures) (Matthew 13:52). The Messianic movement into the world is not to be by warfare or force of arms. That is how false religions spread. It is to be by proclamation of the truth, by the sword of the word. Men must be won by truth and love, not be forced to respond at the point of the sword of men. Only the former can produce true men of God. The latter produces religious robots, and even terrorists. And they must be taught to observe all that Jesus has commanded them, especially as revealed in Matthew’s Gospel. Just as Jesus taught these men as His disciples (Matthew 5:1-2), so must they teach those who become disciples of Jesus through them. The Sermon on the Mount is thus an essential part of the Good News as they go out to bring men to submit to Him, not only that they might be blessed (Matthew 5:3-9), but also that they might call Him ‘Lord, Lord’, and do what He says (Matthew 7:13-29). For their constant prayer is to be, ‘May your Kingly Rule come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven’ (Matthew 6:10). From now on men are to seek first the Kingly Rule of God and His saving righteousness (Matthew 6:33). For Kingly Rule belongs to the Lord, and He rules over the nations (Psalms 22:28).

‘All that I have commanded you.’ This applies to this day as well as His day. It is all-inclusive. Anyone whose teaching excludes obedience to all the commands that Jesus Himself taught is clearly on the wrong track.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 28:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/matthew-28.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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