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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Matthew 28

 

 

Other Authors
Introduction

CHAP. XXVIII.

Christ's resurrection is declared by an angel to the women: he himself appeareth unto them. The chief priests give the soldiers money to say that he was stolen out of his sepulchre. Christ appeareth to his disciples, and sendeth them to baptize and teach all nations.

Anno Domini 33.


Verse 1

Matthew 28:1. In the end of the sabbath, &c.— Some writers close the last chapter thus, Sealing the stone, and setting a watch late on the sabbath; and begin the present, and when it began to dawn, &c. as the Jewish day began at sun-setting, the Jews distinguished the evening into two parts, which they called the first and second evening; the first being the evening with which the preceding day ended, and the second the evening with which the new day began. The first evening was the space from three in the afternoon to sun-setting; the second began at sun-setting, and lasted till nine, comprehending the whole first watch of the night. Those able and ingenious writers who have written upon our Lord's resurrection, are not agreed whether the word rendered the end, signifies the first evening or the second. I. They who imagine that the first evening was intended by the historian, suppose that the two Marys went to visit the sepulchre at the end of the Jewish sabbath, or about the setting of the sun; but that they were prevented by the earthquake, mentioned Matthew 28:2 which frighted them so that they turned back. To remove the objection which might be drawn from the expression, as it began to dawn, τη επιφωσκουση, they observe, that the Greek word, though it implies that idea in its primary signification, yet in Luke 23:54 signifies to be about to begin, or to draw on, and that the word should be used in the same sense in this passage; In the end of the sabbath, as it drew near to the first day of the week. II. They who imagine the historian is speaking of the second evening, appear to be supported by the account in St. Mark, as well as that in St. John; for whether we take the Greek word to signify to draw near, or to dawn, as both these interpretations may imply that it was yet dark, its beginning, or drawing near to the dawn, will be allowed to denote the same point of time; namely, the end of the night, and the beginning of the day. The only question arising from this interpretation is, how this can be reconciled with the time mentioned by St. Mark, namely, the rising of the sun? Mark 16:2. But this question may be solved upon the principle of the former hypothesis, that the women set out towards the end of the evening, or towards the dawn, but were prevented from coming to the sepulchre till the time determined by St. Mark. And indeed the order of St. Matthew's narration requires, that his words should be understood to signify the time of their setting out, otherwise all that is related of the earthquake, &c. must be thrown into a parenthesis, which would verymuch disturb the series of the history, and introduce much greater harshness into the construction, than any avoided by it: nay, it must be confessed that there can hardly be any harshness in the interpretation now contended for. The word ηλθε, in St. Matthew, might as well have been translated went as came; the verb, itself signifying both to go and to come, and consequently being capable of either sense, as the context may require. That in St. Matthew requires to take the original word in the former sense, for the sake of order, and for the following reason: the principal fact upon the account of which the whole history of the women's going to the sepulchre seems to have been related, is the resurrection of Christ: and this fact is absolutely without a date, if the words of St. Matthew are to be understood to denote the time of the women's arrival at the sepulchre. When we say without a date, we mean, that it does not appear from any thing in St. Matthew or the other evangelists, at what hour of that night this great event happened: all the information they give us is, that when the women came to the sepulchre, they were told by angels that he was risen. But on the contrary, by understandingSt. Matthew to speak of the time of Mary Magdalene's setting out to take a view of the sepulchre, we have the date of the resurrection settled, and know precisely that Christ rose from the dead between the dawning of the day and the sun-rising: and can any substantial reason be assigned, whySt. Matthew, having thought fit to enter into so circumstantial an account of the resurrection, should omit the date of so important a fact; or that, not intendingto mark it, by mentioning the time of the women's going to the sepulchre, he should place that fact before another, which in order of time is prior to it? All these considerations therefore seem to be powerful arguments for understanding this passage of St. Matthew in the sense aboveexpressed. About St. Mark's meaning there is no dispute: he certainly intended to express the time of the women's arrival at the sepulchre; his words cannot be taken in any other sense: those in St. John are limited to the same interpretation with those of St. Matthew, it having been allowed before, that they both speak of the same point of time. The reason of the two Marys setting out so early is here assigned. They went to take a view of the sepulchre; that is to say, in general to see if all things were in the same condition in which they had left them two days before; that ifin that interval any thing extraordinary had happened, they might report ittotheircompanions,and,inconjunctionwiththem,take their measures accordingly. Hence it is also evident why they were so few in number; they came to view the sepulchre, and came before the time appointed fortheir meeting. They knew that they themselves were not able to roll away the stone, which they had seen placed by Joseph of Arimathea at the mouth of the sepulchre, and which they knew could not be removed without a great number of hands. Accordingly, as they drew near, they said among themselves, Who shall roll away the stone for us from the door of the sepulchre? Words which intimate that one of their chief views in coming to see the sepulchre, was to survey this stone, and to consider whether they, and the other women who had appointed to meet them there, were by themselves able to remove it, or whether they must have recourse to the assistance of others; for who shall roll away the stone for us? implies a sense of their own inability, and of the necessity of calling in others; after which the only thing to be considered was whom, and how many. This therefore was the point under deliberation when they approached the sepulchre. It is plain from thesewords, that they did not expect to find any body there, and consequently that they knew nothing of the guard which the high-priests had set to watch the sepulchre; of which had they received any intelligence, theyhardly would have ventured to come at all, or would not have deliberated about rolling away the stone, as the only or greatest difficulty. See West on the Resurrection, p. 48, 4


Verses 2-4

Matthew 28:2-4. And behold, there was a great earthquake While the women were going to the sepulchre, there was a great earthquake, namely, that which preceded the most memorable event that ever happened among men,—the resurrection of the Son of God from the dead. This earthquake probably frightened the women to such a degree, that they immediately returned back;or their return might have been rendered necessary by a storm, if this earthquake was attended with a storm; or we may espouse the opinion of Hammond and Le Clerc, who interpret the words σεισμος μεγας in this passage, of a tempest only. The word Σεισμος properly signifies any shaking, whether in earth, air, or sea. As the tempest therefore, or earthquake, which preceded our Lord's resurrection, was a great one, it could hardly fail to lay the women under a necessity of returning. The guards, it is true, remained at the sepulchre all the while; but there was a great difference between the tempers of the persons; not to mention that the men being soldiers, duty obliged them to keep their post as long aspossible.Thewholeofthisaccount is further strengthened by the following remark; that, on a supposition that our Lord's resurrection was preceded by a tempest, or earthquake, or both, which frightened the two Marys as they went to the sepulchre, and made them turn back, we can see the reason why the women did not go out with the spices till the morning, notwithstanding, according to St. Luke, they had bought and prepared at least the greatest part of them the evening on which Jesus was buried; and notwithstanding the nature of embalming required that they should make as much dispatch as possible. After the two Marys returned, they went with their companions to get ready such spices as were necessary to complete their preparation; (see Mark 16:1.) and while they were making these preparations forembalming Jesus, he arose from the dead; this resurrection being preceded, as we observe, by the descent of an angel, who assumed a very aweful and majestic form, insomuch that the keepers shook, and became as dead men, for fear of him: probably they fainted away. It is not said at what particular instant Jesus arose, whether it was before the guards fell into the swoon, or after they recovered themselves and fled. St. Mark indeed, by observing that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene, maybe 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 in respect to the disciples only. Besides, though the guards saw 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. Probably also the angel had left the stone on which he sat at first, and had entered into the sepulchre; for as we shall see immediately, when he shewed himself to the women, he invited them not to go away, but to come, and see the place where the Lord lay. Besides, when the women observed the stone rolled from the door of the sepulchre, they saw no angel sitting on the stone, as is evident from their going forward so briskly. See Mark 16:5. The purpose of this angel's descending from heaven, says Mr. West, seems to have been, not only to roll away the stone from the mouth of the sepulchre, that the women who were on their way thither might have freeentrance to it, but also to fright away the soldiers who were set to guard it; and who, had they continued there, wouldcertainly not have permitted the disciples of Jesus to have made the necessary inquiries for their conviction. Could it be supposed that either they or the women would have attempted to enter into the sepulchre, while it was surrounded by a Roman guard? For this end it is not unreasonable to suppose, that he might not only raise a tempestuous earthquake, but assume a countenance of terror, flashing with dreadful light amid the darkness of the night; which were circumstances so full of amazement, that they could not fail of producing, even in the hearts of Roman soldiers, the consternation mentioned by the Evangelists, and driving them from a post, of which the Divinity (for so, according to their way of speaking and acting, they might have stiled the angel) had now taken the possession. The reasonableness of these two purposes every body must acknowledge, and that this is a very material point towards establishing the fact: especially, ifweconsider,thatwithouttheinterpositionofheaventhesepulchre would not have beenopened, nor the guard removed, till after the expiration of the third day, the day prefixed by Christ for his resurrection from the dead: in which case, though no earthly power could have hindered Christ from coming out of the sepulchre, yet the door remaining closed, and the guard continuing there, must effectually have prevented that examination into the state of the sepulchre, which convinced St. John that Christ was risen; and which, if it did not of itself amount to a clear proof of the resurrection, was at least admirably calculated to prepare the minds, not of the Apostles only, but of all the Jews who were at that time in Jerusalem, to admit such other proofs as were afterwards offered to their consideration; for it is not to be imagined that none but the disciples of Jesus visited the sepulchre that day, See West and Macknight.


Verses 5-7

Matthew 28:5-7. And the angel answered This paragraph is not so connected with the preceding, as if nothing had intervened; since it will be found, upon a closer examination of it, and comparing it with its parallel, Mark 16:2-8 that between the soldiers becoming like dead men, and the angel's speaking to the women, Salome had joined the two Marys in their way to the sepulchre; and that before they arrived there, the keepers were fled, and the angel was removed from off the stone, and seated within the sepulchre; for which reason the particle δε, instead of being rendered by the copulative and, should rather be expressed by the disjunctive but, or now, as denoting an interruption in the narration, and the beginning of a new paragraph. See West, p. 23.


Verse 8

Matthew 28:8. And they departed quickly, &c.— And they instantly left the sepulchre:—Version of 1729. And they hastily went out of the sepulchre. Heylin. This verse contains a beautiful description of the mingled passions.


Verse 9-10

Matthew 28:9-10. And as they went—Jesus met them In the general scheme of the resurrection which I propose giving at the end of St. John's Gospel, when we have had the whole narrative before us, the precise time and circumstances of this meeting of our Lord's with the women will be shewn.


Verses 11-15

Matthew 28:11-15. Now when they were going, &c.— The chief priests, having received the report of the guard, called the whole senate together, and consulted among themselves what they were to do. The deliberations, however, of the meeting were not kept secret. They were reported to the disciples, perhaps by Joseph and Nicodemus, two members of the council, who were our Lord's friends. The priests were reduced to a most absurd story, though certainly the best colour which they could put on the affair; a story, which they endeavoured by bribery and every other mean method to propagate as much as they could; and accordingly St. Matthew tells us, Matthew 28:15 that this idle tale was commonly reported among the Jews, even so long after the ascension of our Lord as when he wrote his Gospel. Justin Martyr informs us, that the Jews sent a rescript or embassy to their brethren of the dispersion, and theirconverts all over the globe, affirming this very thing; and Tertullian likewise says as much. To furnish the Jewish converts with an answer to this absurd story so industriously propagated among their unbelieving brethren, and supported by the authority of the chief priests and elders, this Evangelist relates at large the history of the guarding the sepulchre, the earthquake, the descent of the angel, his rolling away the stone, and the fright of the soldiers at his appearance: and indeed, by comparing this relation with the report given out by the soldiers, it will easily appear on which side the truth lay. For as there is nothing in the miraculous resurrection of our Lord, so repugnant to reason and probability, as that the disciples should be able to roll awaythe stone which closed the mouth of the sepulchre, and carry away the body of Jesus unperceived by the soldiers, who were set there on purpose to guard against such an attempt; so it is also evident, that the particulars of the soldiers' report were founded upon the circumstances of this history. In this report three things are asserted; viz. that the disciples stole the body,—that they stole it in the night,—and that they stole it while the guards were asleep.

That Jesus came out of the sepulchre before the rising of the sun St. Matthew informs us: who says, that the earthquake, &c. happened at the time when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary set out to take a view of the sepulchre, which was just as the day began to break. This fact was undoubtedly too notorious for the chief priests to venture at falsifying it, and was besides favourable to the two other articles: this therefore they admitted; and, taking the hint from what the soldiers told them, of their having been cast into a swoon or trance, and becoming like dead men at the appearance of the angel, and consequently, not having seen our Saviour come out of the sepulchre, they took the hint, we say, of framing these two last-mentioned articles from that circumstance related by St. Matthew, of the keepers shaking and becoming like dead menupon the sight of the angel;for throughout this whole history there was no other besides this, upon which they could prevaricate and dispute. The stone was rolled away from the sepulchre, and the body was gone; this the chief priests were to account for, without allowing that Jesus was risen from the dead. The disciples, they said, stoleit away. What! while the guards were there? Yes; the guards were asleep. With this answer they knew many would be satisfied, without inquiring any farther into the matter: but they could not expect that every body would be contented; especially as they had reason to apprehend, that although the soldiers, who had taken their money, might be faithful to them,keep their secret, and attest the story which they had framed for them, yet the truth might come out by means of those whom they had not bribed; for St. Matthew says, Matthew 28:11. "Some of the watch went into the city, and shewed" &c. Some therefore remained behind, who probably had no share of the money which the chief priests gave to the soldiers; or, if they had, in all likelihood it came too late: they had already divulged the truth, as well from the eagerness which all men naturally have to tell any thing wonderful, as from a desire of justifying themselves for having quitted their post. The chief priests therefore were to guard against this event also; in order to which nothing could be more effectual than to counter-work the evidence of one part of the soldiers, by putting into the mouths of others of them a story, which, without directly contradicting the facts, might yet tend to overthrow the only conclusion which the disciples of Jesus would endeavour to draw from them, and which they were so much concerned to discredit; viz. That Jesus was risen from the dead. For if the disciples and partizans of Jesus, informed by some of the soldiers of the several circumstances related in St. Matthew, should urge these miraculous events as so many proofs of the resurrection of their Master, the unbelieving Jews were, by the testimony of those suborned witnesses, instructed to answer that the earthquake and angel were illusions and dreams,—that the soldiers had honestly confessed that they were asleep, though some of them, to screen themselves from the shame or punishment that such a breach of duty deserved, pretended they were frightened into a swoon or trance by an extraordinary appearance, which they never saw, or saw only in a dream;—that, while they slept, the disciples came and stole the body; for none of the soldiers, not even those who saw most, pretend to have seen Jesus come out of the sepulchre;—they were all equallyignorant by what means the body was removed;—when they awaked, it was missing;—and it was more likely that the disciples should have stolen it away, than that an impostor should rise from the dead. This story is founded entirely upon the circumstance of the soldiers not having seen Jesus come out of the sepulchre; a circumstance, that even those who told the real truth could not contradict, though they accounted for it in a different manner, by saying that they were frightened into a swoon or trance at the sight of a terrible apparition, which came and rolled away the stone, and sat upon it. But this fact the chief priests thought not prudent to allow, as favouring too muchthe opinion of Christ's being risen from the dead; neither did they reject it intirely, because they intended to turn it to their own advantage; and therefore, denying every thing that was miraculous, they construed this swoon or trance into a sleep, and, with a large sum of money and promises of impunity, hired the soldiers to confess a crime, and, by taking shame to themselves, to cover them from confusion. The guards say, that they were asleep, and that the disciples in the mean time stole away the body: but how came they to be so punctual in relating what had happened when they were asleep? What induced them to believe that the body was stolenat all? What, that it was stolen by the disciples, since, by their own confession, they were asleep, and saw nothing,—saw nobody? as this story has no evidence to support it, so neither has it any probability. The disciples were ignorant men, full of the popular prejudices and superstitions of their country; and is it likely that such men should engage in so desperate a design as to steal away the body in opposition to the combined power of the Jews and Romans? What could tempt them to do it? What good could the dead body do to them? Or if it could have done them any, what hope had they to succeed in the attempt? A dead body requires many hands to move it; the great stone at the mouth of the sepulchre was to be removed, which could not be done silently, or by men walking on tiptoes to prevent discovery; so that if the guards had really been asleep, yet there was no encouragement to go on in this enterprize; for it is hardly possible to suppose, but that rolling away the stone, moving the body, and the hurry and confusion in carrying it off, must have awakened them. But supposing the thing practicable, yet the attempt was such as thedisciples, consistently with their national prejudices, could not undertake. They continued all their Master's life-time to expect to see him a temporal prince, and they had the same expectations after his death. Consider now their case; their Master was dead, and they are to contrive to steal away his body; for what? Did they expect to make a king of the dead body, if they could get it? or, did they think, if they had it, they could raise it again? This is in all views absurd. It is not to be imagined that none but the disciples of Jesus visited the sepulchre that day. The story told by the soldiers undoubtedly soon spread all over Jerusalem; and bare curiosity,without any other motive, was surely sufficient to carry numbers to survey the scene of so astonishing an event:—a sepulchre hewn out of a rock, closed with a vast stone, committed to a guard of Roman soldiers, notwithstanding all these precautions, opened, as one part of the soldiers reported, by an angel; as others said, by the disciples of Jesus; who stole away the body, which in effect was missing. There two different and irreconcileable reports must have likewise induced others to go and consider upon the spot, by examining into the nature and situation of the sepulchre, and the probability of that report which charged the disciples with having stolen away the body: for as, upon that supposition, none but human means are said to be employed, to know whether those means were proportioned to the effects ascribed to them, it was necessary to compare what was done with the manner in which it was to be performed. And upon such an examination, it must have appeared to every considerate man, if not impossible, at least improbable in the highest degree, for the disciples of Jesus to have stolen his body away, while the guards were at their posts. For supposing the disciples to be the reverse of what they were,—bold, enterprizing, cunning impostors, and capable of making so hazardous an attempt; can it also be supposed, that a company of Roman soldiers, trained up under the strictest discipline, and placed there but the evening before, should be all asleep at the same time, and all sleep to soundly and so long as not to be awakened, either by the rolling away of thestone, which must certainly have been very large, or by the carrying off of the body? the former of which required a great number of hands, and the latter must have appeared to have been done with some deliberation, since the linen cloths in which the body was wrapped, and the napkin that wasabout the head, were found folded up and laid in different parts of the sepulchre? The sepulchre was hewed or hollowed out of the solid rock, and consequently must have been entered by that only passage which was closed up by a large stone and guarded by a band of Roman soldiers. These several circumstances, duly attended to, were of themselves sufficient to invalidate the testimony of those soldiers who pretended that the disciples stole away the body. But they were, on the other hand, very strong arguments for the credibility of that account in which all the rest at first agreed. For in this relation a cause is assigned proportionable to all the effects; effects, which, as they were visible and notorious as well as extraordinary, could not fail of exciting the natural curiosity of mankind, to inquire by what means they were brought about. The solution is easy and full;—for the angel descended, &c. Matthew 28:2. This accounts for the terror of the soldiers, their deserting their post, and their precipitate flight into the city; for the stone's being rolled away from the mouth of the sepulchre, even while it was surrounded by a Roman guard; for the sepulchral linen being left in the grave folded up, and lying in different places; and for the body's being missing. See West on the Resurrect. p. 16, &c. Sherlock's Trial of the Witnesses, p. 43, &c. and Ditton on the Resurrection. Instead of large money, Matthew 28:12 some read, a large sum of money.


Verse 16-17

Matthew 28:16-17. Then the eleven disciples went away, &c.— The time now approached when Jesus was to shew himself publicly in Galilee, after having frequently shewn himself in a more private manner to his disciples and the women. This was in many respects the most remarkable of all his appearances. He promised it to his apostles before his death, ch. Matthew 26:32. The angels who attended at his resurrection, spoke of it to the women who came to his sepulchre, and represented it as promised to them also, Mark 16:7. Nay, Jesus himself, after his resurrection, desired the company of women to tell his brethren to go into Galilee, where they should see him, as if the appearance whichhe was to make that day, and on the eighth day thereafter, were of small importance in comparison. Moreover, the place where he was to appear in Galilee was mentioned by him, as St. Matthew here informs us. Whether there were more present at this appearance than the eleven, the Evangelist does not say:nevertheless the circumstances of the case direct us to believe that it had many witnesses. This appearance was known before-hand. The place where it was to happen was pointed out by Jesus himself. The report, therefore, of his being to appear, 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 St. Paul says expressly, that Jesus after his resurrection was seen of above five hundred at once, 1 Corinthians 15:6. For the number of the witnesses mentioned by St. Paul, agrees better with the appearance on the mountain in Galilee, described by St. Matthew, than with any other. Galilee having been the principal scene of Christ's ministry, the greater 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,—the appearance to which a general meeting of all hisdisciples was summoned, not only by the angels who attended his resurrection, but by our Lordhimself, the very day on which he rose. The greatest part of those present were so fully convinced that the person they saw was their Master, that they worshipped him:—and when they saw him, they worshipped him;—but some doubted: with respect to a few, their joy at seeing their Lord put them into a kind of perturbation; and their desire that it might be he, made them doubtful, and afraid that it was not. This reason is assigned by St. Luke for the unbelief of some on an occasion previous to this, (see Luke 24:41.)—They believed not for joy and wonder, and therefore it may be fitly offered to account for the unbelief of others on this occasion. Besides, the thing is agreeable to nature, men being commonly afraid to believe what they vehemently wish, lest they should indulge themselves in false joys, 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 surprize on hearing a Roman herald declare them all free, and at liberty to use their own laws, had a similar effect on them, as you will find the circumstance beautifully related in Livy, lib. xxxiii, ch. 35. The Prussian editors, however, who are followed by some others, render the clause thus.—even those who had doubted. It is probable, that 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; Mark 16:20 and Luke 24:44; Luke 24:53 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 shewed himself again, which indeed is not impossible, as it is evident from 1 Corinthians 15:7 that he shewed 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. In the college of 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; and his being to suffer martyrdom so early, might make this special favour necessary. See Macknight and West.


Verse 18

Matthew 28:18. All power is given unto me, &c.— Our Saviour here declares all power and authority to be given to him as Mediator at his resurrection: in consequence of which power, he commissions his disciples to convert, baptize, and instruct the world. There is no doubt but this power is part of the exaltation spoken of by St. Paul, to which God raised the human nature of Christ, in his mediatorial capacity, for his sufferings. See Phillip. Matthew 2:6, &c.


Verse 19

Matthew 28:19. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, &c.— And disciple all nations. This commission of our Lord marks out the difference between the Mosaic and the Christian dispensation: the one was confined to the Jews; the other was extended to all the sons and daughters of Adam. The whole tenor of the succeeding books of the New Testament shews, that Christ's design by this commission was, that the Gospel should be preached to all mankind without exception, not only to the Jews, but to all the idolatrous Gentiles: but the prejudices of the apostles led them at first to mistake the sense, 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. The word ΄αθητευσατε, is very properly rendered proselyte, or make disciples of, to distinguish it duly from διδασκοντες, teaching, in the next verse. The former seems to import instruction in the essentials of religion, which it was necessary that adult persons should know and submit to, before they could be admitted to baptism: the latter may relate to those more particular admonitions in regard to Christian faith and practice, which were to be built upon that foundation. Because proselyting is here enjoined as previous to baptism, it has been inferred by some that infants are not to be baptized: but if this argument were good, it would follow from Mark 16:16 that infants cannot be saved; nay, it is there declared, that he who believeth not, shall be damned. The truth is, both passages must be interpreted according to the subjects treated of in them, which are plainly adult persons; and therefore no argument can be drawn from them concerning either the baptism or the salvation of infants. In or into the name, is a Hebraism, which signifies to devote one's self to any particular person, and to be desirous of being called after his name,—to profess one's self his disciple. Thus St. Paul says, 1 Corinthians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 1:31 that he had baptized no one in his name, that is to say, that he had made no one a convert to himself as the founder of a new religion: see also 1 Corinthians 10:2. Though perhaps we should not positively affect, that the use of these very words is essential to Christian baptism, yet surely 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 safe and wise part in retaining these words; and they contain so strong an intimation, that each of these Persons is properly GOD, and that worship is to be paid, and glory ascribed to each, that we cannot doubt but they will be a means of maintaining the belief of the one, and the practice of the other, to the end of the world. See Doddridge, Grotius, and Waterland's Sermons on the Trinity, p. 286.


Verse 20

Matthew 28:20. Teaching them, &c.— Christ commands that nothing should be taught which he himself had not taught: whence it is evident thatevery thing fundamental may be found in the Gospel; and that even the apostles themselves could not teach any thing as necessary to salvation, which Christ himself had not asserted to be so. The ascension of our blessed Lord seems to have been a fact so well known to all the Christians in Palestine, that there was no necessity for St. Matthew to mention it. It seems to be implied, and to have been declared to his disciples, from this passage, which is intended to obviate the objection which would arise from considering that circumstance; and our Lord may be represented as saying, "I am indeed going to heaven, and shall not appear visibly among you; but I shall always be virtually present with you." St. Mark and St. Luke, writing to those who lived out of Judea, very properly mention the ascension, and were under a necessity of doing so. Our Saviour adds, I am with you always even to the end of the world; that is, to the final dissolution of this temporary system. "I am with you: I the eternal Son of God; I, who have the angels at my beck, and make the devils to tremble with my looks; 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,—in the present tense;—minding them thereby of his divine essence and power, to which all things are present; and therefore, as he elsewhere says, Before Abraham was, I am; so here, I am with you, at all times, to the end of the world, as really as at this present: it follows, I am with you, my apostles, who now receive commission to go and convert all nations to the Christian faith, to baptize and teach mankind my commands. I am with you πασας τας ημερας, every day. Wherever you are, whenever you do any thing in my Spirittowards the executing 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 to say, so long as I have a church upon earth, which will 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," See Bishop Beveridge's first Sermon, vol. 1: on Christ's Presence with his Ministers. Though the word Amen, with which each of the Gospels ends, seems chiefly to have been intended as an intimation of the conclusion of the book, and as an asseveration of the certain truth of the things contained in it; yet, 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 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 in the ministry, to the remotest ages in its full extent." St. John uses the like turn in more express language, in the last verse but one of the Revelation; surely I come quickly; Amen, Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Inferences.—The grave is an unusual stage for the display of glory; the best that Job could say of it, when in the anguish of his soul he most desired it, was, "There the wicked cease from troubling; there the weary are at rest." And some others, distressed like him, may think death eligible, and long for the grave as a refuge from misery. Generally speaking, however, the grave is an object of horror too loathsome to be described. There lie the ruins of man sinking into corruption and putrefaction. So offensive, ignominious, and loathsome is the grave, in the ordinary course of nature. But it was the peculiar privilege of our Lord, that his rest, his sepulchre, should be glorious, Isaiah 11:10. For it was the theatre of his resurrection. To methodize our thoughts upon this subject, it may be proper to consider the glory of our Lord's resurrection in two views; first, as it illustrates him; and, secondly, as it influences us; for it is of the essence of glory to be diffusive, and to stream forth from its subject upon all objects within its sphere; which occasions these distinct considerations of the glory of this his resurrection, in its source, and in its influence.

1. We shall discover somewhat of the personal glory of Christ, in the circumstances of his resurrection related by the Evangelists: and here it is material to observe, that not only the prophets, but he himself had often foretold it; a circumstance which was particularly remarked by the angel who first brought the glad tidings to the two Marys, at their early visit to his sepulchre, He is not here, he is risen, as he said, Matthew 28:6 that is, "according to his own prediction;" a circumstance of great moment for establishing our faith in this mystery, and preventing or answering the cavils of infidelity.

And first, He had frequently told it to his disciples, as appears from many passages in the Gospel, wherein he commonly foretels his death and resurrection together, perhaps to mitigate a little the scandal of the cross, by the glories which were to ensue; and at the same time to prepare their faith by the one for the other. At first his sufferings could not but appear highly improbable to his disciples; for they could not conceive how a person like him, vested with omnipotence, should suffer by Jew or Gentile, much less that he should die under their hands: yet they saw this verified within five days after his triumphant entry into Jerusalem; and this in reason should have confirmed their faith in the remaining part of the prophesy which concerned his resurrection; for so our Lord intended it should, as he declared upon a like occasion; I have told you before it come to pass, that when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am He. John 14:29.

But had the disciples alone been acquainted with these predictions, sceptical men might have had some pretences against their testimony; at least we should have lost many substantial proofs of the resurrection, which the vigilant malice of the Jews has furnished; and therefore our Lord took proper occasions to inform them of it. Indeed the Jews in general understood sufficiently that he appealed to such a resurrection for the final confirmation of his divine mission, as appears particularly from their address to Pilate for a guard to watch his sepulchre; wherein they mention his foretelling his resurrection as a thing that was notorious: Pilate, readily consenting to their request, left the guards to their disposal; for, if he had given them directions himself, they might still have had some room to pretend that right measures were not taken for securing the sepulchre; and therefore by the especial appointment of Providence, to remove all the subterfuges of infidelity, they had the ordering of the guard themselves.

Thus authorised by the governor, and animated by the passion which transported them, they neglect nothing. The tomb is closed with a great stone; that stone is sealed, and the whole sepulchre invested, and, as it were, besieged by soldiers. No precaution was omitted. There was no want of care to reproach themselves with, that there might be no want of evidence wherewith to reproach the truth: a needless provision this, against a few poor fishermen, who were naturally timorous; who had abandoned their Master at the first appearance of danger; who were since sunk into consternation and despair at his death; and whose hopes were all buried in the tomb with him; who were so far from an inclination, as well as capacity, for so hazardous an enterprize, that they were strangely backward even to believe the miracle itself, when it was accomplished; and Thomas in particular was so obstinate in his unbelief, that he would not be persuaded of his Master's revival, till he had the testimony of all his senses.

It was reasonable to expect, that our Lord's persecutors should have first heard of his resurrection from his disciples; but as they had contrived matters, they received the news of it from their own watch flying in dismay from the angelic vision. Thus God, who in the order of his providence converts the evil purposes of men to his own glory, made the Jewish malice contribute to establish the certainty of our Lord's resurrection by such proofs, as could not have happened but by their opposition. And this was needful, that his glory should at last break forth with a lustre sufficient to dissipate any reasonable doubt and surmise. For all his foregoing transactions from the manger to the tomb, although infinitely excellent, were comparatively little glorious; because their merit was in a considerable measure veiled by his humility. Now glory is merit displayed; it is a manifestation of excellence; and the resurrection is therefore, by way of eminence, the glorious mystery, because it was the manifestation of the excellency of Christ; it was a demonstration of his Divinity, which emerged, as it were, from the abyss of humiliation into which it was sunk. Here he shewed, that what he had done and suffered was truly meritorious, because it was voluntary, We know that he had willingly laid down his life, when we see him by his own power take it up again; and we learn to value his death as a free-will offering for our redemption, when we contemplate his resurrection. Expiring on the cross, he seemed to go the way of all flesh, and fall like the rest of Adam's sons, by a common and unavoidable fate: but we cannot longer doubt that he sought death as a conqueror, when we see him return in triumph from the grave. St. Paul speaks of this as a fundamental of Christianity, that the resurrection of Christ certifies us of his Divinity. He was declared, says he, to be the Son of God with power, by his resurrection from the dead; and indeed there can be no doubt of this, while we believe that he raised himself from the dead. Now, what a splendor and glory does this cast upon all the parts of his precedent life, which, if we consider him only as what he often stiles himself, the Son of man, is indeed exceedingly pious, holy, and virtuous, to a degree never before attained: but when his resurrection shews him to be the Son of God, it is all amazing. That the Son of God should be born in a stable, that the Son of God should live in poverty, and die in pain;—what instruction! what an example! what encouragement! but above all, how glorious is that Son of God, amid such miracles of goodness, such prodigies of divine love and condescension, for which the angels can never sufficiently admire him; for which all his saints shall eternally adore him!

So glorious, and infinitely more than words can express, is the resurrection of our Lord, with regard to himself, as it asserts his Divinity, and puts the seal to all his revelations. But glory, as we observed, is of a diffusive nature, issuing forth in bright influences upon all objects within its sphere; and therefore we are next to consider our Lord's resurrection with regard to ourselves, and shew the certain consequence of it, which is our own resurrection from the dead. The world had now lasted four thousand years, at the time of Christ's death; and all generations hitherto had sunk into the grave, unknowing in general what would become of them. We must except here the patriarchs and saints of the Jewish church, who, by an anticipated revelation of a Redeemer, had their hopes full of immortality. But the bulk of mankind were in the dark concerning a future state. Good men might wish, and wise men expect, a life to come; but these wishes, and these expectations, were perplexed with much doubt and misgiving. Death was as a gulf, whereof they saw only the entrance, and could discern nothing beyond. But the glories of our Lord's resurrection have enlightened the grave, and so dissipated the shades of death, as to shew that to be only a passage or thoroughfare, which before seemed a gulf and an abyss. For life and immortality were brought to light by the Gospel of Christ, who declared not only that there was a resurrection, but that he himself was the resurrection, or that power whereby men shall be raised from the dead,—and the life, John 11:25. As the sun is light in itself, and the great source of day to all the worlds around it, so Christ is resurrection to himself, and the great cause and author of resurrection to all mankind; who, after they have undergone the common sentence of death passed upon them in Adam, the first head of our race, are by this second representative of the human species restored to immortality; for since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead; for as by Adam all died, even so by Christ shall all be made alive. And indeed it is a very natural prerogative of Christ, as Judge of the world, that he should by his own power summon all men to his tribunal: of which he himself gives a most particular account, John 5:21-26., &c.

The resurrection and a future judgment are fundamental principles of morality, and they are in the Gospel not only taught but demonstrated. The Divinity raised Christ's human body out of the grave, to convince us that he will also raise us at the last day. This is a miracle in kind, involving the thing in question, most pertinent, cogent, and irrefragable; so that we cannot but conclude with St. Paul, That God has appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that Man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead, Acts 17:31.

Seeing then that we have this assurance, do we hope or do we fear a resurrection? for we must expect it. If upon just grounds we hope for it, happy are we; but if we fear it, may we be warned in time to remove those fears, by such faith in this great Redeemer, and such holiness of life, as may give comfort and joy to the soul in the prospect of futurity! It is my duty here to persuade every reader to this, and to advise and direct him in the performance of it: but I can only persuade and advise; he himself must work out his own salvation, for it is God that worketh in him.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The resurrection of Jesus being the grand hinge on which our hope of salvation turns, it must afford the most singular satisfaction to observe the amazing force of evidence wherewith this glorious event is attested. Had he still lain in the grave, and had death maintained his dominion over him, our faith had been vain, and we must have perished in our sins: but, glory be to God, he hath raised up Jesus from the dead, and hath thereby begotten us to a new and lively hope. Some testimonies of this fact are here produced: many more will be found in the other Evangelists. We have,

1. The visit made to the sepulchre by those holy women who had attended Jesus to the cross and to the grave, even Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James; and they came now to see the sepulchre, if it was as they left it, bringing spices to embalm the body; this was in the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week. Christ had lain in the grave part of our Friday, all Saturday, which was the Jewish sabbath; and on the Sunday morning, the third day, very early, probably about four o'clock, he arose, after dwelling among the dead about six and thirty hours; long enough to shew his death real, yet not so long as that his body should see corruption. Psalms 16:10. See the Annotations.

2. As they went, and talked about the difficulty of removing the stone at the mouth of the sepulchre, which seems to have been more ponderous than they could roll away, behold! to their astonishment, there was a great earthquake, which, had the guards indeed slept, must needs have roused them; for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, as the officer of the Most High. He accordingly came, and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it, defying all the powers of earth or hell to roll it on again; waiting there to welcome the poor women who were on their way, and striking terror and dismay into the stout-hearted soldiers. His countenance was bright as the lightning, and his raiment white as snow, the emblem of purity and victory. Trembling in every limb, the guards shook like the earth which rocked under their feet, and, pale as death, with haste fled from the tremendous presence of this angelic minister.

The other Evangelists mention two angels: one sat on the stone without, and invited and led the women into the sepulchre, where they found another; the one of which stood at the feet, and the other at the head of the grave, where the body had lain.

3. The women, being come to the sepulchre, were at first affrighted at the sight (Mark 16:5.); but the angel, kindly accosting them, endeavoured to silence their fears. Fear not ye; whatever terrors seize the sinners in Zion, the lovers of the Lord Jesus need not tremble; for I know that ye seek Jesus which was crucified, and they who seek a crucified Jesus, have nothing to fear; have every thing to hope: none ever sought his face in vain. He is not here, that you should any longer bedew his corpse with tears: no; he is risen for your comfort, as he said he should on the third day. Then graciously inviting them to come and see the place where the Lord lay, that they might be convinced he was not there, he probably led the way into the sepulchre, whither they followed him, and saw the other angel, mentioned John 20:12. And hereupon the angel dismisses them with a message to the disconsolate disciples; Go quickly, and be the messengers of this glad news; tell his disciples, now dejected and despairing, to their surprise and joy, he is risen from the dead; and behold, for the confirmation of your own faith and theirs, he goeth before you into Galilee, where you and they must follow him; and there shall ye see him, converse with him, and receive the fullest assurance of his resurrection. Lo! I have told you; remember to deliver these tidings, and be assured of the truth of what I have spoken.

4. Agitated with surprise and joy at what they had seen and heard, and eager to communicate the glad news, they ran to the disciples; and in their way Jesus himself met them, and with kindest salutation accosted them, All hail, all peace, happiness, and joy be with you! With lowliest reverence they cast themselves instantly at his feet, and in a transport of love embraced them, adoring him as their risen Lord and Saviour. Then Jesus, further to confirm their hearts, and remove every fear, bids them not be afraid; they need apprehend neither danger nor delusion, but must deliver the message his angel had put into their mouths, Go tell my brethren; by such an endearing name was he pleased to distinguish his disciples; that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me. Note; (1.) Christ is not ashamed to call his servants brethren. (2.) Faith in a risen Redeemer effectually silences a sinner's fears: in him we see the great atonement accomplished, and are filled with joy and peace in believing.

2nd, The resurrection of Jesus is proved by a cloud of unexceptionable witnesses, among whom his very enemies held a distinguished place.

1. The guard, who had fled, had just reached the city as the women were on their return thither; and some of them, probably the officers who commanded the detachment, went directly to the chief priests; and to their astonishment related all that had passed—the earthquake, the descent of the angel, the removal of the stone, and perhaps the rising of Jesus; and if any thing could ever have shocked their obdurate hearts, one should conceive the report of such incontestible eye-witnesses of the fact would have convinced them of their wickedness, and turned them to the Lord. But they were determined in impenitence and unbelief, and therefore given up to a reprobate mind. Hereupon,

2. The chief priests and elders consulted together, and resolved to support what they had done at all events; and therefore, to invent the most plausible pretext to evade the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus, knowing the powerful effects of money, and how ready men are to sell the truth, nay their very souls, for it, they bribed the guard high to tell a lie as absurd as wicked, that his disciples came by night, and stole him away while they slept. And as the men might justly apprehend such a confessed criminal neglect in them, as sleeping upon guard, might be attended with rigorous punishment if it came to the governor's ears, the rulers engage to interpose their influence, and to save them harmless. But the whole contrivance was so barefaced, that it carried its own confutation, except to such as chose their own delusions. Can it be conceived, that where the trust was so important, and death the penalty of neglect, a centinel would sleep? But if one man may be supposed to be overtaken, would a whole band of men be all asleep at once? If they had been so, would those timid disciples, who had fled at the first approach of danger, when their Master was alive, now dare rush into the jaws of death, to rescue his corpse? Could such a number of them as was requisite to roll away the stone, and remove the body, have been able to accomplish such a thing without awaking one of the soldiers that lay around the tomb? and if they slept, how could they possibly know that his disciples came and stole him away? Nay, their very living to support the falsehood, was a full proof against them; for, had they slept as they pretended, these very priests had been the first to have had them put to death for their neglect, instead of interesting themselves to screen them from punishment.

3. The bribe extorted from the heathen soldiers an easy compliance: they took the money, and said and did as they were taught. And this senseless story, being industriously propagated by the priests, was readily followed by those who wished to be deceived, and continued long after to be commonly reported among the Jews, to render the disciples odious, and prevent the effects of their ministry. Note; (1.) Money is the grand bait for the grossest crimes: the raging love of that once rooted in the heart, swallows up every consideration of truth, honesty, and justice. (2.) No outward evidence is sufficient to overcome the infidelity of the heart, where the sinner is determined to oppose the powerful operations of the Holy Ghost. Were we to choose what proofs we would, greater could not be given than these men beheld, and yet not one of them was converted. No signs or wonders will convince those who wilfully and obstinately reject the Gospel. (3.) A malicious lie once raised, is in its consequences often fatally extensive; but woe to the author!

3rdly, According to the directions of their Master, the eleven Apostles went into Galilee to the mountain appointed, having summoned a general meeting of all the disciples, whose number amounted to above five hundred. There Jesus again appeared unto them, and, fully convinced now of his being the Son of God, they paid him divine adoration. But some among them still doubted, weak and wavering, and scarce able to credit the testimony of their senses: so very slow of heart were they to believe, and so little disposed to be credulous in a matter of such infinite importance. But Jesus soon removed all their doubts, conversing familiarly with them, and giving them the most indubitable proofs of the identity of his person, and the certainty of his resurrection. Hereupon, as he was now about to take his farewell of earth, he invests them with his authority, sends them out under his influence, directs them in their work, and assures them of his blessing on their labours.

1. He asserts the authority with which, as Mediator, he is invested, and in virtue of which he puts them in trust with his gospel. All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. As Mediator, he had received the universal sovereignty; angels, principalities, and powers above were made subject unto him; and on earth all things and persons were put under his government; which was a most encouraging consideration to them who were about to go forth in his name, since his support would make them more than conquerors. Note; When we are discouraged with the view of our own weakness and insufficiency, we should look by faith to the all-sufficiency of Jesus, and be comforted.

2. He gives them a commission out of the plenitude of his power. Go ye therefore, and all who shall in succeeding ages be put in trust with the same Gospel, teach all nations. They are to carry the glad tidings into all lands, and make disciples every where, baptizing them and their households, who should be converted by their ministry, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, admitting them by this rite into the visible communion of the Church: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; declaring to them the riches of the grace, and the extent of the privileges of the Gospel; with all the mighty obligations to obedience resulting from faith, which worketh by love; enjoining the word of Jesus as the only rule of duty, to which nothing is to be added, and whence nothing must be diminished; and urging the disciples to adorn the doctrine which they profess, by that conscientious observance of all those moral duties and positive ordinances, which may prove the truth of the grace which is in them, bring glory to God, and credit to their holy religion.

3. He assures them of his constant spiritual presence, to teach, comfort, and prosper them in all their labours of love. Lo! I am with you; be assured of it, as the most undoubted truth, though my bodily presence be removed, my spirit shall abundantly supply that loss; in all difficulties and dangers I will support you; in all emergencies I will direct you; I will give you success in all your labours, and consolation in all your sufferings; and that alway, even unto the end of the world. Not only all your days shall you find me near to help you, but to the end of time your faithful successors in the ministry shall experience my continual support and blessing, in the preaching of that Gospel which you deliver unto them. Amen. Verily I say unto you, who am the faithful and true witness, I will fulfil my promises. Or this may be the Evangelist's word, expressing his own, and the church's faith and prayer, that so it may be, and so we believe it shall be. What Christ hath promised, we may confidently expect to receive, and pray in faith, nothing doubting.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 28:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/matthew-28.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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