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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Matthew 28



Other Authors
Verse 1

Matthew 28:1. In the end of the sabbath — Or rather, After the sabbath, as οψε σαββατων may be properly translated. Thus, in Philostratus, οψε των τρωικων signifies, after the Trojan war; οψε μυστηριων, after the mysteries were ended. And in other authors, οψε τουτων is, after these things; οψε νυκτος, after night; see many examples of this in Stephanus. And so this perfectly agrees with the other evangelists, who say what is here related was done when the sabbath was ended, Mark 16:1; or the first day of the week, Luke 24:1; John 20:1. And perhaps Matthew here mentions σαββατων, sabbaths, in the plural, because there were two sabbaths in that week, the paschal sabbath on Friday, and the ordinary sabbath on Saturday. As it began to dawn toward, &c. — τη επιφωσκουση εις μιαν σαββατων, when it began to dawn into the first day of the week, that is, Sunday, or the Lord’s day; for μια των σαββατων always signifies the first day of the week, or the Lord’s day, or the day of his resurrection from the dead: and thus the word μια usually signifies in the Septuagint, when it is joined with days, weeks, or months; as Genesis 1:5, The evening and morning were, ημερα μια, the first day: Exodus 40:2; Ezra 3:6; Ezra 10:17, ημερα μια του μηνος, is the first day of the month. See note on 1 Corinthians 16:2. On this day, in the evening, Christ appeared to the eleven, John 20:19; and again, John 20:26; and to the two disciples, Luke 24:13.

Came Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, (see on chap. Matthew 27:61,) to see the sepulchre — To see if all things were as they had left them the preceding evening. It appears from Mark 16:1, that they were accompanied by Salome: and from Luke 24:10, that they were soon joined by Joanna, and other female friends, who were to meet them there. These women had bought, and now brought with them, spices, which they had prepared to embalm the body of Jesus, to do which, it seems, was their principal reason for visiting the sepulchre so early this morning: from which it is evident, that notwithstanding Christ had repeatedly and explicitly foretold that he should rise from the dead the third day, they had no faith in his predictions. And yet they were truly pious women, and certainly genuine and very faithful followers of Jesus, evidently more attached to him than even the apostles themselves, and more bold and courageous in his cause. So slow of heart are the best disposed of mankind to believe what the Lord hath spoken.

Verse 2

Matthew 28:2. And behold, there was a great earthquake — While the women were making these preparations for embalming the body of Jesus, he arose from the dead; his resurrection being preceded by the descent of an angel, whose appearance at the sepulchre was ushered in with a great earthquake and probably also a storm, the word σεισμος, here rendered earthquake, signifying any shaking, whether in the earth, air, or sea. Thus, chap. Matthew 8:24, σεισμος μεγας εν τη θαλλασση, is rightly rendered, a great tempest in the sea. And Ezekiel 3:12, LXX., φωνην σεισμου μεγακου, is, the voice of a great rushing wind; and συσσεισμος, is the word by which the LXX. denote a whirlwind, such as that wherein Elijah was caught up, 2 Kings 2:1. Hammond and Le Clerc interpret the words σεισμος μεγας, in this passage, of a tempest only. For the angel of the Lord descended from heaven — Probably in sight of the guards; and came and rolled back the stone, &c. — “Jesus, by his miraculous power, could easily have rolled the stone from the door of the sepulchre, and therefore the descent of an angel was not necessary in order to that; but it was necessary, among other things, to throw the guards into a consternation before Jesus came forth, lest they should have been guilty of the impiety of offering to lay violent hands on him, as was done in the garden of Gethsemane, even after he had cast the whole party down on the ground. It is true, the divine wisdom and power could have intimidated the soldiers by a variety of methods, but the one pitched upon was certainly as proper as any.” — Macknight. And sat upon it — Luke and John speak of two angels that appeared; but it seems as if one only of them had appeared sitting on the stone without the sepulchre, and then, going into it, was seen with another angel, sitting, one where the head, the other where the feet of the body had lain.

Verse 3-4

Matthew 28:3-4. His countenance was like lightning — Coruscations of light darting from his face; and his raiment white as snow — Glittering with an extraordinary lustre, beyond what any human eyes could bear; and for fear of him the keepers — Though Romans and soldiers; did shake, and became as dead men — Falling down on their faces in a most helpless condition; for they were effectually frightened by the majestic appearance of the angel, and especially by the lightning which flashed from his countenance. Quickly after, it appears, being recovered from their swoon, and finding the stone rolled away, and the sepulchre open, they fled to some distant place, to consult their own safety in so surprising an occurrence. This we have great reason to believe was the case, as nothing is said of any interview between them and the friends of Christ. It is not said at what particular instant Jesus arose, whether it was before the guards fell into this swoon, or after they recovered themselves and fled. Mark, indeed, by observing that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene, may be thought to insinuate that the guards did not see him when he arose; yet the evangelist’s words do not necessarily imply this, for his meaning may be, that he appeared to Mary Magdalene first of all the disciples only. Besides, if the guards even did see him arise, it was, properly speaking, no appearance of Christ to them. However, be this as it may, it is certain that Jesus was arisen and gone before any of the women arrived at the sepulchre.

Verse 5-6

Matthew 28:5-6. And the angel said to the women, Fear not ye — The resurrection of Christ, which is the terror and confusion of his enemies, is the joy and consolation of his friends; the ground of their confidence and hope, and the source of their comfort and felicity, for time and eternity. For I know that ye seek Jesus that was crucified — I know you are friends to the cause of your late great Master, and I do not come to frighten, but to encourage you. The angel mentions his being crucified, the more to commend their love to him. As if he had said, You seek him still, though he was crucified; you retain your regard and affection for him, notwithstanding that instance of his humiliation. Observe, reader, that true believers love and seek Jesus not only though he was crucified, but because he was so treated. He is not here, for he is risen — To be told, He is not here, would have been no welcome news to those who sought him, if it had not been added, he is risen. Observe, it is matter of comfort to those who seek Christ, and miss of finding him where they expected, that he is risen, and that by his resurrection a firm foundation is laid for their faith, a foundation on which they are invited to build, however unworthy, however guilty; and to whom, as to a living stone, though disallowed of men, all must come that would build for eternity, for other foundation than this can no man lay. As he said — He said he would rise, and you know he is truth itself, and therefore had reason to expect that he would rise: why then should you be backward to believe that which he told you would take place? Reader, let us never be surprised at that, or think that strange, of which the word of Christ has raised our expectation, whether it has respect to the sufferings of this present time, or the glory that shall be revealed. If we remember what Christ hath said to us, we shall the less wonder at what he doth with us. This angel, when he said, He is not here, he is risen, makes it appear, that he preaches no other gospel than what they had already received; for he refers to the word of Christ as his authority for what he affirms; he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay — Probably, in speaking that he rose up, and, going before the women into the sepulchre, said, Come, see the place. This clearly reconciles what St. John relates, (John 20:12,) this being one of the two angels there mentioned.

Verse 7

Matthew 28:7. Go quickly, and tell his disciples — Mark says, and Peter — Communicate these glad tidings to his mourning disciples, and particularly to Peter, who is so much overwhelmed with sorrow on account of his late fall; and assure them further, that he is going before them into Galilee; and that there they shall see him — In his appearance to them all together. But their gracious Lord would not be absent so long from the eleven and several others; he appeared to them several times before then. Lo, I have told you — A solemn confirmation of what he had said. This message, as well as that from Jesus himself, Matthew 28:9-10, was sent to all the disciples, and not to the apostles in particular. The reason may have been this: our Lord intending to visit his apostles that very evening, there was no occasion to order them into Galilee to see him. But as most of his disciples were now in Jerusalem, celebrating the passover, it may easily be imagined, that on receiving the news of their Master’s resurrection, many of them would resolve to tarry in expectation of meeting with him; a thing which must have been very inconvenient for them at that time of the year, when the harvest was about to begin, the sheaf of first-fruits being always offered on the second day of the passover-week. Wherefore, to prevent their being so long from home, the message mentioned was sent, directing them to return into Galilee, well assured that they should have the pleasure of seeing their Lord there, and by that means be happily relieved from the suspicion of his being an impostor, which no doubt had arisen in their minds when they saw him expire upon the cross. And they departed quickly, (Mark says, They went out quickly, and fled,) from the sepulchre — That is, after going into the tomb, as the angel desired them to do, that they might have full satisfaction respecting their Lord’s resurrection: with fear and great joy — Fear, caused by the appearance of the heavenly messenger, and the extraordinary nature of the things which they had seen; and great joy, at the happy news which they had received, and were thus commissioned to communicate. Mark mentions only their fear, which he paints in strong colours, saying, They trembled, were amazed, and sore afraid. It is probable, however, from what Matthew says, and from the nature of the events which had caused this strange mixture of contrary passions, that their joy predominated: And did run to bring his disciples word — With all the speed possible, rejoicing to be the messengers of such glad tidings.

Verse 9-10

Matthew 28:9-10. And as they went — Or, as they were going, on their way, Jesus met them — These zealous, good women not only heard the first tidings of their Lord, but had the first sight of him after his resurrection. The angel directed those that would see him to go to Galilee; and gave none any hopes of seeing him till they came thither. But Jesus is often better to his people than his word; but never worse; he often anticipates, but never frustrates their believing expectations: saying, All hail! — The old English form of salutation is here used, wishing all health, as the expression signifies. The Greek word here used, χαιρετε, is literally, Rejoice; and answers to the form used by the Hebrews, Peace be unto you. They came and held him by the feet — As soon as they saw that it was Jesus, beginning to recover from their fear, they drew near to him, and in the most respectful manner, and with the greatest reverence, prostrated themselves before him, and embraced his feet, thus manifesting as well the affection they had to him as the greatness of the joy with which they were transported. This favour of embracing his knees Jesus granted to these women, because the angel’s words having strongly impressed their minds with the notion of his resurrection, they might have taken his appearing for an illusion of their own imagination, had he not permitted them to handle him, and convince themselves by the united report of their senses. Then said Jesus, Be not afraid — Fear not being imposed upon by these repeated notices of my resurrection; nor fear any hurt, either by the appearance of a messenger from heaven, or of one coming from the dead; for the news brought you, though strange, is both true and replete with comfort. Go tell my brethren — For I still own them as such, though they so lately disowned and forsook me. John (John 20:17) records our Lord’s using similar language to Mary Magdalene alone, when he sent her to them with the same message. Doubtless these affectionate friends of Christ were exact in reporting this circumstance, that their injured Lord called them his brethren still: and both Matthew and John, to whom the glad tidings were immediately brought, felt it strike so powerfully on their hearts, that they could not but record it. He, no doubt, saw it needful to give it them now to encourage them, knowing how much ashamed and distressed they were for having deserted him in his sufferings. And the appellation was now peculiarly consolatory, not only in that it assured them that they were freely forgiven for their past cowardice, but also in that it opened before them a prospect of such glory and felicity as, it appears, they had before no conception of. For as Jesus was now, by his resurrection, declared with power to be the Son of God and heir of all things, by styling his disciples his brethren, he assures them that they were children of God too, and joint heirs with him of all his joys and glories. By this appellation he also pointed out their duty to each other; for, being all his brethren, they were, of consequence, brethren one to another, and must love as brethren. And as his owning them for his brethren put a great honour upon them, so it also gave them an example of humility in the midst of that honour.

Verse 11

Matthew 28:11. Now when, or while they were going — While these extraordinary things were transacting, and the women were going to tell the disciples what they had heard and seen: behold, some of the watch — Some of the guards, who had fled from the sepulchre in great consternation, beginning a little to recollect themselves as to the excuse they should make for its being broken open, and the body being gone, as it would soon be known that it was; came into the city, and showed unto the chief priests all that was done — That is, gave them an account of the earthquake, the vision, the rolling away of the stone: and moreover assured them that Jesus was actually risen from the dead. And they doubtless urged, at the same time, how impossible it was for them to make any opposition in the presence of the angel, who shook the very earth with the terror of his appearance, and therefore might be easily supposed to take away all power of resistance from them. Thus these ignorant and stupid heathen became, in effect, the first preachers of Christ’s resurrection, and were witnesses of the truth of it to the most inveterate of his enemies. It is justly observed here, by Dr. Doddridge, that “such news, coming from such persons, must undoubtedly throw the priests into inexpressible confusion; but it is remarkable, that neither the soldiers nor the priests were converted, by what the one saw or the other heard. Perhaps the soldiers might think that Jesus was, like some of their fabulous heroes, the son of some deity, who brought him to life again; but instead of imagining themselves concerned in the purposes of his resurrection, they might perhaps abuse their knowledge of it, to confirm their belief of some superstitious tales of their own priests, which bore some little resemblance to it; as those of Alcestis, Hippolytus, Hercules, and many others did. See Valer. Max., lib. 1. cap. 8. § 12; and Plin., Nat. Hist., lib. 7. cap. 52.

Verses 12-14

Matthew 28:12-14. And when they were assembled, &c. — The chief priests, having received this report, called the whole senate together, and they consulted among themselves what they should do in this perplexing emergency: and in particular, as may be reasonably supposed, whether they should dismiss the guards with a charge to conceal the story they had told them, or should accuse them to the governor, and attempt to get them punished for neglect of duty. But, considering the manner in which the governor had appeared to be affected toward Jesus, and the many prodigies which had attended his death, and also knowing they had no positive proof of any negligence or treachery in the soldiers; they resolved to decline commencing a prosecution against them, and even to pass the affair over without any complaint; but, apprehending that the most effectual method they could take would be to endeavour to pervert the evidence of these soldiers, they gave them large money, saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night and stole him away while we slept — To prevail with them to propagate this lie, they would doubtless urge, that in whatever way this strange occurrence which they reported might be accounted for, whether by supposing some diabolical operation in the case, or an illusion of their senses, it was necessary for the public safety that it should be concealed, because that otherwise the whole nation would be deluded and undone. The priests certainly could not but foresee what judgment any reasonable persons would form of such a report. At best, it could only be considered as the conjecture of the soldiers, who, by their own confession, being asleep when the supposed fact was said to take place, could tell no more of it than other people; or, if they pretended to say more, it was absurd, for how could they know what was doing, and by whom, while they were asleep? or, knowing it, why did they not prevent it? But this lie implies divers other absurdities: 1st, It was not probable that a Roman guard should be off their watch at all, much less that they should be asleep, since for such a neglect of duty, according to the Roman military laws, if discovered, they would have been liable to be punished with death. 2d, If even some of them had slept, it was not credible that they all should, especially in the open air, and at one time. 3d, If so improbable a thing as that had happened, it was still more incredible that they should all fall into such a sound sleep that not one of them should be awaked by the noise which must necessarily have been made by removing so large a stone, and carrying away the body; neither of which things could possibly have been done silently, or by men walking on tiptoes, to prevent discovery. 4th, It was equally incredible that our Lord’s disciples, or any persons, should have had time to come to the sepulchre to do all this, and return, carrying away the body, without being perceived by any one, and that during the time of the passover, when it was full moon, and when Jerusalem was very full of people, great numbers of whom would doubtless be walking in the suburbs and environs of the city, at all hours of the night.

The absurdity of the tale, that the disciples took away the body, will still further and more clearly appear if we attend to their temper, and some other circumstances of the case. “Far from entertaining any expectation of their Master’s rising again from the dead, they understood none of the predictions which he uttered concerning it. And when they were informed of it by the women, their words appeared to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. Nay, when Jesus himself came and stood in the midst of them, they were terrified, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. In this temper, is it probable that they would form the design of imposing upon the world the belief of their Master’s resurrection; an event which they had not the least expectation of themselves? Further, when Jesus was apprehended, his disciples were so full of fears for their own safety, that they all forsook him and fled. One of the most courageous of them, who followed him into the high-priest’s house, being asked if he was one of his disciples, was so terrified, that he denied three times, and with oaths, his having any knowledge of him. The rest, during his punishment, skulked among the crowd, except John, who ventured to appear among the women at his cross. In the whole, they were only eleven; a handful of men who had not been trained to arms. To suppose that a company of this sort either formed or executed the project of stealing away their Master’s body, from a sepulchre hewn out of a rock, to which there was only one entry, and that guarded by a numerous band of armed soldiers, is altogether improbable. Again, the stealing away of the body by the disciples is absurd for this reason likewise, that though they had, contrary to all probability, been successful in their design, it would have answered no purpose in the world. The disciples had all along considered the Messiah as a great temporal prince; and they had followed their Master in hopes that he would become this great prince, and raise them to the first posts in his kingdom. Accordingly, when they saw him expire on the cross, their hopes were all blasted at once. This they themselves honestly confessed; We trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel. Wherefore, to have stolen away the dead body of their Master, could have served none of the views by which they were now actuated, even though thereby they could have imposed the belief of his resurrection upon the world. It did not raise him to universal dominion; it did not put them in possession of riches or power. And with respect to the use which they made afterward of their Master’s resurrection, in converting the world, they had not the most distant conception of it at the time they fixed for his resurrection. Upon the whole, the stealing away of the body by the disciples while the guards slept, is, in all the lights wherein it can be viewed, the most idle, inconsistent, and improbable story imaginable.” — Macknight.

Verse 15

Matthew 28:15. So they took the money — They did not, either on the score of conscience, or on account of the palpable falsehood of the story they were to propagate, refuse the bribe that was offered them by the chief priests. Their love of money, as is common with wicked men, pushed them on headlong, so that they did not mind the many improbabilities implied in the lie, nor the horrid iniquity of it. And, though they had been greatly confounded with the vision of the angels, and the earthquake, the panic was by this time worn off. Besides, they did not consider the vision as connected with morality; or, if they did, the priests would endeavour to persuade them that it was nothing real, but the mere effect of their own imagination, terrified by seeing one rise from the dead. The only objection, therefore, made by the soldiers, to their complying with the desire of the priests, was, that by publishing such a story, they would acknowledge such a gross neglect of duty as would expose them to severe punishment, if the governor should hear of it. But to make them easy on this head, the priests promised to give such a representation of the matter to Pilate, that no harm should befall them. This only obstacle, therefore, being removed, the soldiers did as they were desired. They told everywhere the lie which the priests had put into their mouths: a lie the most impudent and barefaced that could be contrived, but which the priests and other members of the council were anxious to have propagated, because they hoped it would be swallowed by many without examination. Nor were they deceived in their expectation; for, improbable as the story was, it gained general credit among the enemies of Jesus, and was currently reported, as Matthew here tells us, at the time he wrote his gospel. Unluckily, however, for the cause of infidelity, it was only some of the watch who came to the chief priests; the rest had gone to their garrison, where no doubt they told their comrades what had happened. And even those who came to the chief priests would not be backward to speak of the extraordinary event as they passed along the streets, if they chanced to meet with any of their acquaintance. Far less would they conceal the matter in the high-priest’s palace, while they waited to be called in. None can doubt this who attend to the nature and operation of human passions, and the eagerness which all men naturally have to tell a wonderful story, not to mention the desire which these soldiers must have felt to justify themselves for quitting their posts. The truth, therefore, that Jesus was actually risen, in spite of all the endeavours of the chief priests to suppress it, came abroad, and doubtless became a subject of consideration and inquiry with many, who had not been Christ’s disciples; and the more they considered the evidences of it, and compared it with the false story which the priests had prevailed on some of the guard to propagate, the more such as were unprejudiced must be inclined to believe the former and reject the latter, which latter it was evident the priests themselves did not believe. For if they had believed it, doubtless, with a view to prove it, and justify themselves in their hostility to Christ and his cause, they would have narrowly examined where the apostles had been all that night, and would have made search for Christ’s body, which, if found, would at once have confuted the testimony of the apostles respecting his resurrection, and have proved their great guilt in endeavouring, by its removal, to palm a lie upon mankind, and establish an imposture of a most heinous nature and pernicious tendency. It is probable, therefore, that an impression in favour of the truth was made on the minds of many persons, and gained ground daily, and that this had considerable influence in preparing them for the reception of the gospel: which circumstance may, partly at least, account for the wonderful success of the ministry of Peter and the other apostles at and after the day of pentecost. To counteract, however, every impression of this kind, and confirm the Jews, whether in Jerusalem or elsewhere, in their prejudices against Christianity, the chief priests and elders were unwearied in their endeavours. “They even” (says Justin Martyr, Dialog. cum Tryph., p. 368) “sent chosen men of considerable rank over all the world, not only in the general to represent the Christians as an impious sect, but to assert that the body of Jesus was torn out of his tomb by night, and the persons who thus fraudulently conveyed it away, took occasion from thence to report that he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.” Which message is spoken of as having been sent before the destruction of Jerusalem.

Verse 16

Matthew 28:16. Then — Not immediately after what is related in the preceding verses, but after several appearances of Christ, and events connected therewith, recorded in the last chapter of Luke and Mark, and in the last two chapters of John; where see the notes: the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, &c. — That Christ promised after his resurrection to go before them into Galilee, we read Matthew 26:32; thither the angel here, Matthew 28:7, and Christ himself Matthew 28:10, direct them to go to see him; but there is not the least mention of any mountain in Galilee to which he bade them go to meet him; and therefore the following words, where Christ had appointed them, must refer, not to the mountain, but to Galilee; but there being a mountain which Christ had frequented, and on which he had been before transfigured, this, it seems, moved the disciples to go to that mountain. Moreover, it is observable that they did not go into Galilee till above eight days after Christ’s resurrection, for Christ appeared to them at Jerusalem eight days after, John 20:19; and when they went, doubtless, they went not alone, but the curiosity of those that were with them, Luke 24:9; Luke 24:33, would probably move them to go to the place where he had appointed to be seen. It is true, the evangelist does not say that there were more present at this appearance than the eleven; nevertheless, the circumstances of the case direct us to believe that it had many witnesses. “This appearance was known beforehand; the place where it was to happen was pointed out by Jesus himself; and it was represented in such a light as if the appearances which were to take place before it were of small importance in comparison of it. The report, therefore, of his being to appear in Galilee, must have spread abroad, and brought many to the place at the appointed time. In short, it is reasonable to think that most of the disciples now enjoyed the happiness of beholding personally their Master raised from the dead. What confirms this supposition is, that Paul says expressly, Jesus, after his resurrection, was seen of above five hundred brethren at once, 1 Corinthians 16:6, for that number of witnesses mentioned by Paul agrees better to the appearance on the mountain in Galilee described by Matthew than to any other. Galilee having been the principal scene of Christ’s ministry, the greatest part of his followers lived there; for which reason he chose to make what may be called his most solemn and public appearance after his resurrection on a mountain in that country; an appearance to which, as we have seen, a general meeting of all his disciples was summoned, not only by the angels who attended his resurrection, but by our Lord himself, the very day on which he arose.”

Verse 17

Matthew 28:17. When they saw him, they worshipped — The greatest part were so fully convinced that the person they saw was their Master, that they worshipped him; but some doubted — But with respect to a few, their joy, on seeing the Lord, put them into a kind of perturbation, and their desire that it might be him. made them afraid it was not. This reason is assigned by Luke for the unbelief of some on a former occasion, Matthew 24:41. They believed not for joy and wonder; and therefore it may fitly be offered to account for the unbelief of others on this. “Besides, the thing is agreeable to nature, men being commonly afraid to believe what they vehemently wish, lest they should indulge themselves in a false joy, which they must soon lose. Hence the saying in Terence, Misera mens incredula est: quo plus cupio, minus credo. ‘My anxious mind is incredulous: the more I wish, the less I believe.’ The case of the disciples, whose desire and joy made them doubt the truth of what they saw, may be illustrated by the instance of the states of Greece and Asia, whose joy and surprise on hearing a Roman herald declare them all free, and at liberty to use their own laws, had a similar effect upon them, as the story is beautifully told by Livy, lib. 33. cap. 35.” The Prussian editors, however, who are followed by some others, render the clause thus, — even those who had doubted. “Probably at this appearance the apostles received orders to return to Jerusalem; for from Acts 1:3-12, compared with Luke 24:50, it is plain that our Lord’s discourses, before his ascension, related Mark 16:15, and Luke 24:44, were delivered in or near to the city. Besides, he ascended from the mount of Olives, as we shall see in the subsequent evangelists. Wherefore, if the orders for the apostles to repair to Jerusalem were not given at this appearance, Jesus must have showed himself again, which indeed is not impossible, as it is evident from 1 Corinthians 15:7 that he showed himself somewhere, after his appearance to the five hundred brethren, to the Apostle James alone, though none of the evangelists have given the least hint of this appearance. Among the apostles there were two persons of that name: one the brother of John, who was killed by Herod, another the brother or cousin of Jesus. Perhaps it was to James the brother of John that our Lord appeared after his resurrection. His being to suffer martyrdom so early, might make this special favour necessary.”

Verse 18

Matthew 28:18. And Jesus came and spake unto them — Even unto those mentioned in the last clause, who at first doubted, but whose doubts were afterward fully removed, and probably by his drawing near, and speaking familiarly with them. “It tended much to the honour of Christ,” says Henry, “that [some of] the disciples doubted before they believed, for, in consequence of this, it cannot be said that they were credulous, and willing to be imposed upon, inasmuch as they first questioned and proved all things, and then embraced and held fast that which they found to be true.” Christ, however, on this occasion, came and spake, not only to them that had doubted, but to all the disciples then assembled, and particularly to the apostles, whom it especially concerned to be fully satisfied of his resurrection, of which they were to be witnesses to mankind, and their knowledge of the truth of which they were to seal with their blood, and to whom the following commission was chiefly given. He therefore did not stand at a distance, but came near and gave them all such convincing proofs of his resurrection, as both turned the wavering scale of such as were slow of heart to believe, making their faith to triumph over their doubts, and gave perfect and lasting confirmation to the faith of the rest, particularly of his chosen witnesses, who certainly from this time never called in question in any degree, either the resurrection of their Lord, or the nature and importance of the commission he now gave them. Saying, All power is given unto me — Gr. πασα εξουσια, all authority. It is manifest, as Beza observes, that “authority and power differ from each other; for many are not able to perform those things which they have a right to do; and, on the contrary, many have power to do those things which they have no right to do.” Our Lord’s authority, however, implies power also. It is the exaltation of our Lord’s human nature that is here chiefly intended, in union, however, with the divine. His meaning is fully explained in the following words: Because he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross: therefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name; that at his name every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and in earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess him Lord, to the glory of God the Father, Philippians 2:7-11. God hath raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come, and put all things under his feet, and given him to be the head over all things to (that is, for the benefit of) the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all, Ephesians 1:20-23. See the notes on these passages, and also on John 5:26-27; and Romans 14:9. The authority and power intended is that which Christ exercises as Son of man and Mediator; but it is evident, if he did not possess all divine perfections, he could not exercise it. Thus Dr. Whitby, “He to whom any office is duly committed, must have sufficient power and wisdom to discharge that office. Now to govern all things in heaven and earth belongs only to him who is the Lord and Maker of them, and therefore is known by this title, both in Scripture and by the heathen. To have power over death, and to be able to raise the dead, is to have that power which is proper to God alone: and to have power over the souls of men, and the knowledge of all hearts, belongs to God alone.” Our Lord, therefore, is invested with, and exercises this authority and power, although as the Son of man, yet not as a mere man, for as such it would have been impossible for him to exercise it, but as a man in whom dwelleth the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

Now Christ being about to send out his apostles as his ambassadors to the nations, with authority to propose to them terms of peace and reconciliation; being about to deliver to them the great charter of his kingdom in the world, and commission them to go forth and gather subjects to him everywhere, and to give laws to and govern those subjects; or to feed and rule his flock; and being about to do these things as Son of man; he first, with great propriety, shows them by what authority he acts, and who gave him that authority. He had indeed said, in effect, more than once before, all he now says, (see Matthew 11:27; John 5:20-29,) namely, that all things were delivered unto him of his Father; that the Father had given him authority to execute judgment; yea, had committed all judgment unto him, that all men should honour him, the Son, even as they honour the Father. But though he had a right to, and was invested with, this power before, even during the whole time of his personal ministry; yet, he was not in a condition to exercise it, nor could he have exercised it with propriety, while he was in his state of humiliation, and bore the form of a servant; as he was to exercise it now, being raised from the dead, clothed with immortality and glory, and immediately to be exalted to the right hand of the throne of the divine Majesty in the heavens, Hebrews 8:1.

Verse 19

Matthew 28:19. Go ye therefore, and teach — Greek, μαθητευσατε, disciple, or make disciples of, or, as Dr. Doddridge renders it, proselyte all nations. This includes the whole design of Christ’s commission. Baptizing and teaching are the two great branches of that general design: and these were to be determined by the circumstances of things; which made it necessary, in baptizing adult Jews or heathen, to teach them before they were baptized; in disciplining their children, to baptize them before they were taught, as the Jewish children in all ages were first circumcised, and after taught to do all God had commanded them. It must be observed, that the word rendered teaching, in the next verse, (namely, διδασκοντες,) though in our translation confounded with the word used in this verse, yet is a word of a very different sense: and properly implies instructing, which the word used in this verse does not necessarily imply, but, as has been observed, merely to proselyte, or make disciples. The argument, therefore, that some draw from this verse, as if our Lord enjoined all to be taught before they were to be baptized, is without foundation. Our Lord’s words, taken together, in both verses, distinctly enjoin three things, and that in the following order, μαθητευειν, βαρτιζειν, διδασκειν, that is, to proselyte men to Christ, to baptize, and to teach them. It is true, however, that adult persons, before they can be made Christ’s disciples, or be proselyted, must be instructed and brought to believe the great essential truths of Christianity, and even to profess their faith in them. But the case is different with infants, who may be admitted to baptism, as the children of the Jews were to the rite of circumcision, and be instructed afterward. And, as Dr. Doddridge justly observes, if Christ had sent out these missionaries to propagate Judaism in the world, he might have used the same, or similar language: “Go and proselyte all nations, circumcising them in the name of the God of Israel, and teaching them to observe all that Moses commanded.” The whole tenor of the succeeding books of the New Testament shows, that Christ designed, by this commission, that the gospel should be preached to all mankind without exception; not only to the Jews, but to the idolatrous Gentiles: but the prejudices of the apostles led them, at first, to mistake the sense of it, and to imagine that it referred only to their going to preach the gospel to the Jews among all nations, or to those who should be willing to become Jews.

Baptizing them in the name of the Father, &c. — Concerning the general nature of baptism, see note on Matthew 3:6. But we are here instructed respecting the appropriation of this institution to the Christian dispensation, in its most complete form. The apostles, and their successors in the ministry of the word, are ordered to baptize those whom they made Christ’s disciples, εις το ονομα, into the name, (not names,) of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost — Words which have been considered, in all ages of the Christian Church, as a most decisive proof of the doctrine of the Trinity; implying not only the proper personality and Deity of the Father, but also those of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. For it would be absurd to suppose that either a mere creature, or a mere quality, or mode of existence of the Deity, should be joined with the Father in the one name into which all Christians are baptized. “To be baptized into the name of any one implies a professed dependance on him, and devoted subjection to him; to be baptized, therefore, into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, implies a professed dependance on these three divine persons, jointly and equally, and a devoting of ourselves to them as worshippers and servants. This is proper and obvious, upon the supposition of the mysterious unity of three coequal persons in the unity of the Godhead; but not to be accounted for upon any other principles.” — Scott. “Our Lord,” says Mr. Fletcher, “enjoining us to be equally baptized in the name (equally consecrated to the service) of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaches us to honour the Son as we honour the Father, and to honour the Holy Ghost as we do the Son; and when the Socinians assert that the Son is a mere man, they indirectly tell us, that he is as improperly joined with the Father to be the great object of our faith in baptism, as a taper would improperly be joined with the sun to enlighten the universe. And when they represent the Holy Ghost as a mere power, and a power whereby we must not now hope to be influenced, they might as well tell us, that he is as unfit to have a place among the — Three who bear record in heaven; as their power of motion, or the energy of their minds, would be absurdly mentioned as parties in a contract, where their names and persons are particularly specified. — Thus, they take from us the two Comforters, with whom we are particularly blessed under the gospel. If we believe them, the one is a mere man, who cannot hear us; and the other is a mere property, or an unconscious energy, by which we shall be no way benefited, and as insensible to our faith as to our unbelief: and when our Lord bids all nations to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, (if the word Son do not mean the proper Son of God; if it mean only, the son of the carpenter, Joseph, and if the Holy Ghost be only the Father’s energy, and an energy whereby we can neither be quickened nor comforted,) this gospel charter is far more extraordinary than would be the royal patents by which gentlemen are created lords, if they all began thus: Be it enacted, in the name, or by the supreme authority, of King George the Third, of Josiah the carpenter’s son, and of the royal power or energy, that A.B., Esq., be numbered among the peers of the realm. Such is the wisdom displayed by philosophers, who call the divinity of the Son the leading corruption of Christianity, and who pretend to reform all the Reformed Churches!” See his Works, vol. 9. p. 26, octavo edit. Though perhaps, we ought not to assert that the use of these very words is essential to Christian baptism, yet surely, as Dr. Doddridge observes, “the expression must intimate the necessity of some distinct regard to each of the Sacred Three, which is always to be maintained in the administration of this ordinance; and consequently it must imply, that more was said to those of whose baptism we read in the Acts than is there recorded, before they were admitted to it. The Christian Church, in succeeding ages, has acted a wise and safe part in retaining these words; and they contain so strong an intimation that each of these persons is properly called God, and that worship is to be paid, and glory ascribed to each, that I cannot but hope they will be a means of maintaining the belief of the one, and the practice of the other, among the generality of Christians, to the end of the world.”

Verse 20

Matthew 28:20. Teaching them to observe all things, &c. — Here we have, 1st, The duty of the apostles and ministers of Christ, which is, to teach his disciples to observe all things that he has commanded; that is, they must instruct them in all the doctrines and precepts taught by Christ, and inculcate upon them the necessity of understanding and believing the former, and obeying the latter; and must assist them in applying Christ’s general commands to particular cases. They must teach them, not their own or any man’s fancies and inventions, but the truths and institutions of Christ; to them they must religiously adhere, and in the knowledge of them must train up his followers. As Christ does not here command any thing to be taught which he himself had not taught, we may infer that every thing fundamental and essential to salvation may be found in the gospels, and that even the apostles themselves had not a right to teach any thing as necessary to salvation which Christ himself had not asserted to be Song of Solomon 2 d, The duty of Christ’s disciples, of all that are dedicated to him in baptism; they must observe all things whatsoever that he has commanded, and in order thereto, must submit to the teaching of those whom he sends. Our admission into the visible church is in order to something further; namely, our being prepared for and employed in his service. By our baptism we are obliged, 1st, To make the doctrines of Christ the rule of our faith, and his commands the directory of our practice. We are under the law to Christ, and must obey, and in all our obedience must have an eye to the command, and do what we do as unto the Lord. 2d, To observe all things that he hath commanded without exception; all the moral duties, and all the instituted ordinances. Our obedience to the laws of Christ is not sincere if it be not universal; we must stand complete in his whole will. And, lo, I am with you alway — Here our Lord gives his apostles, and all the ministers of his gospel, truly sent by him, an assurance of his spiritual presence with them in the execution of this commission unto the end of time; and this exceeding great and precious promise he ushers in with ιδου, Lo! or behold! to strengthen their faith and engage their regard to it. As if he had said, Take notice of this; it is what you may assure yourselves of and rely upon. “I am with you; I, the eternal Son of God; I, who have the angels at my command, and make the devils tremble by my frown; I, who in your sight have caused the storms to cease, the blind to see, the lame to walk, the dead to rise, only with the word of my mouth; I, who have all power in heaven and earth committed to me — am with you; not, I will be with you, but, I am with you, and that alway, Gr. πασας τας ημερας, all the days, or every day: Wheresoever you are, and whensoever you do any thing toward the executing of the commission which I have given you, I am with you in the doing of it, and that too to the very end of the world: that is, so long as I have a church upon earth, which shall be till my coming again to judge the world, all this while I promise to be with you, and consequently as long as the world shall last.” — Bishop Beveridge, On Christ’s Presence with his Ministers. Some would translate εως της σοντελειας του αιωνος, until the conclusion of the age; understanding by the expression the dissolution of the Jewish state. But as Christ’s presence with his surviving apostles and other ministers was as necessary after the destruction of Jerusalem, and the overthrow of the Jewish commonwealth, as before these events, nothing can be more unreasonable than to limit these words by such an interpretation. Nor indeed can they with any propriety be interpreted in any other than the most extensive sense; the influence of Christ’s Spirit being essentially necessary to the success of the gospel in every age and nation; and our Lord, in the last discourse which he delivered to his disciples before his passion, having graciously promised it, saying, I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter to abide with you; εος τον αιωνα, for ever. Our Lord could not mean that this other Comforter should abide merely with the persons to whom he then spoke, they being to die quickly: but that he should abide with them during their lives, and with their successors afterward; or with them and all the ministers of the gospel in the several ages of the church; with all to whom this commission extends; with all, that, being duly called and sent, thus baptize and thus teach. When the end of the world is come, and the kingdom is delivered up to God even the Father, there will then be no further need of ministers and their ministration; but till then they shall continue, and the great intentions of the institution shall be answered. This is a most encouraging word to all the faithful ministers of Christ; that what was said to the apostles was, and is, said to them all. I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. May this gracious promise cause us to gird up the loins of our minds, and increase our zeal, fervour, and diligence; inducing us to account no labour too great, no service too much, no suffering too severe, so that we may but finish our course with joy, and fulfil the ministry we are engaged in!

Two solemn farewells we find our Lord Jesus giving to his church; and his parting word at both of them is very encouraging; one was here, when he closed up his personal converse with them, and then his parting word was, Lo, I am with you alway; I leave you, yet still I am with you. The other was, when he closed up the canon of the Scripture by the pen of his beloved disciple, and then his parting word was, Surely I come quickly. I leave you for awhile, but I will be with you again shortly, Revelation 22:20. By this it appears that his love to his church continues the same, though she is deprived of his visible and bodily presence; and that it is his will we should maintain both our communion with him, and our expectation of him. The word amen, with which this gospel concludes, is wanting in four MSS., and in the Vulgate, Coptic, and Armenian versions. It is probable, however, that it was inserted by the evangelist, not only as an intimation of the conclusion of his book, but as an asseveration of the certain truth of the things contained in it. And, considering the connection of the word with the preceding promise, which was undoubtedly the greatest strength and joy of St. Matthew’s heart: “it is very natural,” says Dr. Doddridge, “to suppose that it has some such reference as this to that promise: ‘Amen! blessed Jesus, — so may it indeed be; and may this important promise be fulfilled to us and to our successors to the remotest ages, in its full extent!’ St. John uses the like term in more express language, in the last verse but one of the Revelation: Surely I come quickly, Amen! Even so come, Lord Jesus.”


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 28:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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