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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Matthew 28

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-15

6

Chapter 20

The Third Day- Matthew 27:57-66 - Matthew 28:1-15

Now that the atoning work of Christ is finished, the story proceeds with rapidity to its close. It was the work of the Evangelist to give the history of the incarnate Son of God; and now that the flesh is laid aside, it is necessary only to give such notes of subsequent events as shall preserve the continuity between the prophetic and priestly work of Christ on earth which it had been His. vocation to describe, and the royal work which, as exalted Prince and Saviour, it still remained for Him to do. We need not wonder, then, that the record of the three days should be quite brief, and of the forty days briefer still.

This brevity is a note of truthfulness. The old idea of deliberate falsehood having been quite given up, reliance is placed, by those who wish to discredit the gospel witnesses, on the suggestion that the records of the resurrection are the result of fancy crystallising into so-called fact. But not only was there no time, between the death of Christ and the latest date which can be assigned for the writing of the first Gospel, for the process of crystallisation, but had there been such a process, the result would have been very different. Had fancy, and not observation, been the source, how comes it that nothing is told but what came within the range of actual vision? Why is there not a word about Christ’s. entry into Paradise, or descent into Hades? What a fruitful field for fancy here!-yet there is not even a hint; for it is not from anything in the Gospels, but solely from a passage in one of the Epistles, that the doctrine of the descent into Hades has been derived. There is not a word or a hint of anything that passed in the unseen; a plain statement of what was done with the body of Jesus is absolutely all. Clearly it is not myth, but history, with which here we have to do.

THE EVENING OF THE FIRST DAY Matthew 27:57-61

Day was passing into evening when Jesus "yielded up His spirit"; for the early evening, according to the Jewish reckoning, began at the ninth hour. It was probably some time after this-perhaps towards the later evening, which began about the twelfth hour (six o’clock)-that Joseph of Arimathea thought of claiming the body to give it honourable burial. Why should such a duty have fallen to a stranger? Where were the eleven? Had none of them so far recovered from their fear? Where was Peter? might not his penitence for the past have impelled him to come forward now? Where was John? He had taken the mother of Jesus to his own home; but why did he not come back to see what he could do for the sacred body? How can they all leave this tender office to a stranger?

It may be thought by some sufficient answer simply to say, So the Lord willed it, and so the Scripture was fulfilled which intimated that He Who had died with the wicked should be "with the rich in His death"; but is there not more than this to be said? Is not the disappearance of the eleven and the coming forward of the two secret disciples (for as we learn from the fourth Gospel, Nicodemus-another secret disciple-appears a little later on the scene) true to human nature? Let us remember that the faith of the eleven, while much superior to that of the two, was from the nature of the case exposed to a counter-current of feeling, of which neither Joseph nor Nicodemus could know anything. They had committed themselves and their all to Jesus, as Joseph and Nicodemus had never done. The consequence was that when the terrible tempest broke on Him, it came with all its force on them too. But Joseph and Nicodemus had not as yet ventured their all-had not, it would appear, as yet ventured anything for Christ. They were looking on at the storm, as it were, from the shore; so they could stand it, as those who were in the very midst of it could not. They could stand beholding. Not having made themselves known, they were not exposed to personal danger, hence were in a position calmly and thoughtfully to watch the progress of events. We can imagine them first looking towards Calvary from afar, and then, as the darkness favoured a timid approach, drawing nearer and nearer, and at last coming within the spell of the Divine Sufferer. As they witnessed His patient endurance, they would become more and more ashamed of their half-hearted sympathy, ashamed to think that though they had not consented to the counsel and deed of the rest, [Luke 23:51, John 7:50-51] they had not had courage to offer any serious opposition. They would feel, as they thought of this, as if they shared the responsibility of what must now appear to them an awful crime; and so, looking to Him whom they had pierced, they would mourn; and, brought at last to decision by His death, [John 12:32] first Joseph, and after him Nicodemus, came out boldly, the one asking for the body of Jesus, the other joining him in those tender and reverent ministrations which all that was best in them now constrained them to render.

The sad duty hastily, but tenderly and fitly, done, a great stone is rolled to the door of the sepulchre, and they depart. But the sepulchre is not deserted yet. What are these figures in the dusk, these women that advance as the others retire? While the two men were busy they have been keeping at a discreet and respectful distance; but now that all is silent at the tomb, they draw nearer, and though night is coming on apace, they cannot leave it, and the story of the long day ends with this pathetic touch: "And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre."

THE SECOND DAY. [Matthew 27:62-66]

It was the Jewish Sabbath. The Evangelist for some reason avoids the common designation, preferring to speak of it as "the day after the preparation"-whether it was that he shrank from mentioning the Sabbath in such a connection, or whether it was that the great event of the preparation day had such complete possession of his mind that he must date from it, we shall not attempt to decide.

This is the only record we have of that Sabbath day except that St. Luke tells us that on it the women "rested according to the commandment." But the enemies of Jesus could not rest. They were uneasy and troubled now that the deed was done. They could not but have been impressed with the bearing of their Victim, and with all the portents which accompanied His end. It was natural, therefore, that words of His, which when reported to them before had not seemed worth noticing, should come back to them. now with fateful force. "After three days I will rise again" was what He had often said. "What if He should rise? we must see that He does not." It would never do, however, to confess to such a fear; but they may get all needful precautions taken by suggesting that there was danger of the disciples stealing the body, and then saying that He had risen. On this pretext they get a guard from Pilate, and authority to seal the sepulchre. Having thus made all secure, they can sleep in peace.

THE MORNING OF THE THIRD DAY Matthew 28:1-15

The women, having rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment, knew nothing of what had been done at the tomb that day, so, as they set out before daybreak on the third morning, they only thought of the great stone, and wondered how it could be rolled away; but when they came, the sun just rising as they reached the spot, they found the stone already rolled away, and an angel of the Lord at the tomb, so lustrous in the livery of heaven that the keepers had quailed in his presence and were powerless to interfere. The awe with which the sight would naturally inspire the women also was mingled with joy as they heard his kindly greeting and sympathetic words. Altogether worthy of an angel from heaven are the words he is reported to have spoken. There is first the tender response to their looks of dread-"Fear not ye," as if to say, These others well may fear, for there is nothing in common between them and me; but with you it is different; "I know that ye seek Jesus, Which was crucified." Then there is the joyful news: "He is not here; for He is risen, as He said": and as he observes their look of half-incredulous wonder he kindly adds, to let their sight be helper to their faith, "Come, see the place where the Lord lay." Then he gives them the honour of carrying the glad tidings to the other disciples, and assuring them that the Divine Shepherd will meet them all in Galilee, according to His word,

At this point we encounter one of the chief difficulties to be found in St. Matthew’s record of the resurrection. There are indeed several particulars in this Gospel, as well as in the others, which it is difficult to fit into a connected account embracing all the facts; but as every person of even moderate intelligence knows that the same difficulty is met in comparing various truthful accounts of any great event in which details are many and complex, it is only the most unreasoning prejudice that can find in this an excuse for doubting the credibility of the writers. Rather is this feature of the records a distinct note of truthfulness; for, had it been easy to fit each fact into its exact place in all the other accounts, we should have heard from the very same doubters, and with far better reason, that there was every sign of its being a made-up story. All the four accounts are brief and fragmentary; there is evidently no attempt whatever to relate all that took place, and we should need to know all in order to form a complete picture of the entire series of events which glorified the first Easter Day. We must therefore be content with the four vivid pictures given us, without insisting on what with our imperfect knowledge is perhaps the impossible task of so combining them as to have one great canvas embracing all the details in each of the four.

The account before us is the briefest of all, and therefore it would be especially out of place in dealing with this Gospel to attempt to fill up the blanks and construct a consecutive history of all that took place on that eventful day. But there is one point with which it is especially necessary to deal in considering St. Matthew’s account of the resurrection-viz., the prominence given to the appearance of the Lord to His disciples in Galilee-whereas in the fuller records of the third and fourth Gospels, not Galilee, but Jerusalem and its vicinity, is the region where He makes Himself known.

Those who are anxious to make the most of this difficulty are much disappointed to find the ninth verse [Matthew 28:9] in their way. Wishing to prove a sharp contradiction, as if the one said the Lord appeared only in Galilee, and the other that He appeared only in Jerusalem and its neighbourhood, they are naturally vexed to find one of the Jerusalem appearances actually mentioned here. The attempt has accordingly been made to discredit it; but in vain. It stands there an unquestionable part of the original text. So we must bear in mind that St. Matthew not only does not assert that it was only in Galilee that our Lord appeared, but he expressly mentions one appearance in Jerusalem. On the other hand, while St. Mark mentions no appearance in Galilee, he does mention the Lord’s promise to meet His disciples there, and leaves it distinctly to be inferred that it was fulfilled. St. Luke, indeed, makes no mention of Galilee at all; but there is abundance of room for it: for while he occupies almost all his space with the record of one day, he tells us in the beginning of his second volume [Acts 1:3] that Christ "showed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." St. John also confines himself to what took place at Jerusalem; but in the interesting appendix to that Gospel there is a striking account of a meeting with the eleven in Galilee-evidently not the same one which is recorded here, but another of the same, affording one more specimen of meetings which were no doubt frequently repeated during the forty days. It is abundantly evident, therefore, that there is no contradiction whatever.

Still the question remains, Why does St. Matthew make so little of what the others make so much of, and so much of what the others make so little of? In answer we might first ask whether this was not in every way to be expected and desired. If, as evidently was the case, there were manifestations of the risen Lord both in the south and in the north, and if we were to have several accounts, was it not desirable that one at least should make it his specialty to bring into prominence the appearances in the north? And if so, who could do it more appropriately than Matthew the publican of Galilee? The favour shown his own northern land had most deeply impressed his mind. It will be remembered that he passed over entirely the early Judean ministry recorded by St. John, and rejoiced in the Galilean ministry as the dawning of the new Day according to the words of ancient prophecy. [Matthew 4:14-16]

Furthermore, there is every reason to suppose that it was not till they met in Galilee that the scattered flock of the disciples was gathered all together. The appearances in Jerusalem were to individuals and to little companies; whereas in Galilee it would seem that He appeared to as many as five hundred at once; [1 Corinthians 15:6] and though the Lord appeared to the ten (Thomas being absent), and again to the eleven, before they left Jerusalem, it is not to these occasions, but rather to the meeting on the shore of the lake, that we look for their fresh commission to address themselves again to their work as fishers of men. This will appear more clearly if we bear in mind our Lord’s sad reference, as the crisis approached, to the scattering of the flock, and His promise that after He had risen again He would go before them into Galilee. [Matthew 26:31-32] We have here, then, [Matthew 28:7] a repetition of the same promise, "He goeth before you" (as the shepherd goes before his flock) "into Galilee," where all the scattered ones shall be gathered round the Shepherd once again, and thence sent out as under-shepherds, {see John 21:15-17} to gather in the rest of the flock that are scattered abroad.

The conduct of the chief priests and scribes (Matthew 28:11-15) is the natural sequel of their futile attempt to seal the sepulchre. It is in vain to raise the objection, as some do, that it was too clumsy a device for men so astute; for what else could they do? It was indeed a poor evasion; but, baffled as they were, no better was possible for them. Let the critic say what better expedient they could have thought of, before he assigns its poverty as a reason for discrediting the story. That St. Matthew, and he alone, records it, is sufficiently accounted for by the fact that, his being the first written Gospel, and moreover the Gospel for the Jew, it behoved him to deal with a saying "commonly reported among the Jews until this day"; while its being recorded by him was a sufficient reason why no further notice should be taken of it, when there was so much of greater importance to tell.

Looking back on this very brief record of the great events of Easter Day, nothing is more striking than the prominence of the women throughout. It is a note of the new dispensation. It must have been very strange to all the disciples, and not least to the author of this Gospel, that woman, who had been kept so far in the background, treated almost as if her presence would pollute the sacred places, should, now that the veil was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, not only enter into the sacred presence of the risen Lord as the equal of her brother man, but should be there before him, -that a woman’s eyes should be the first to see Him, a group of women the first to receive His loving welcome and to fall in adoration at His sacred feet. Yet so it was. Not that there was any partiality. "In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female." It is not a question of sex; it is a question of love and faith; and it was because the love of these women was deeper, and their fidelity greater, than that of any of the men, that they had this honour. Had the love of John been as all-engrossing as that of Mary of Magdala, he would not have had to wait for the Easter tidings till she had come to tell him. It is not a question of faith alone, but of faith and love. The women’s faith had failed them too. It was with no hope of seeing a risen Lord that they had gone to the tomb-it was with spices to finish the embalming of His dead body; but their love, love stronger than death, even in the wreck of faith, kept them near, and so it was that, when light first broke from out the darkness, they were there to see.


Verses 16-20

Chapter 21

The Gospel for all the Nations through "All the Days" - Matthew 28:16-20

The brief concluding passage is all St. Matthew gives us of the thirty-nine days which followed the Resurrection and preceded the Ascension. It would seem as if he fully realised that the manifestations of these days belonged rather to the heavenly than to the earthly work of Jesus, and that therefore, properly speaking, they did not fall within his province. It was necessary that he should bear witness to the fact of the Resurrection, and that he should clearly set forth the authority under which the first preachers of the gospel acted. Having accomplished both, he rests from his long labour of love.

That the commission of the eleven was not restricted to this particular time and place is evident from notices in the other Gospels; [Mark 16:15, Luke 24:48, John 20:21-23; John 21:15-17] but we can see many reasons why this occasion was preferred to all others. We have already seen how natural it was that St. Matthew should call the attention of his readers to the appearances of the risen Lord in Galilee rather than to those in Jerusalem and its vicinity; and the more we think of it, the more do we see the appropriateness of his singling out this one in particular. It was the only formally appointed meeting of the Lord with His disciples. In every other case He came unannounced and unexpected; but for this meeting there had been a distinct and definite appointment.

This consideration is one of many which render it probable that this was the occasion referred to by St. Paul when our Lord was seen by above five hundred brethren at once; for on the one hand there was nothing but a definite appointment that would bring so large a company together at any one point, and on the other hand, when such an appointment was made, it is altogether natural to suppose that the news of it would spread far and wide, and bring together, not the eleven only, but disciples from all parts of the land, and especially from Galilee, where the greater number of them would no doubt reside. That St. Matthew mentions only the eleven may be accounted for by the object he has in view-viz., to exhibit their apostolic credentials; but even in his brief narrative there is one statement which is most easily understood on the supposition that a considerable number were present. "Some doubted," he says. This would seem altogether natural on the part of those to whom this was the only appearance; whereas it is. difficult to suppose that any of the eleven could doubt after what they had seen and heard at Jerusalem.

In any case, the doubts were only temporary, and were in all probability connected with the mode of His manifestation. As on other occasions, of which particulars are given in other Gospels, the Lord would suddenly appear to the assembled company; and we can well understand how, when first His form was seen, He should not be recognised by all; so that, while all would be solemnised, and bow in adoration, some might not be altogether free from doubt. But the doubts would disappear as soon as "He opened His mouth and taught them," as of old. To make these doubts, as some do, a reason for discrediting the testimony of all is surely the very height of perversity. All the disciples were doubters at the first. But they were all convinced in the end. And the very fact that it was so hard to convince them, when they were first confronted with so unexpected an event as the Lord’s appearing to them after His death, gives largely increased value to their unfaltering certainty ever afterwards, through all the persecution and sufferings, even unto death, to which their preaching the fact of the Resurrection exposed them.

As Galilee was the most convenient place for a large public gathering of disciples, so a mountain was the most convenient spot, not only because of its seclusion, but because it would give the best opportunity for all to see and hear. What mountain it was we can only conjecture. Perhaps it was the mount on which the great Sermon was delivered which gave the first outline sketch of the kingdom now to be formally established; perhaps it was the mount which had already been honoured as the scene of the Transfiguration; but wherever it was, the associations with the former mountain scenes in Galilee would be fresh and strong in the disciples’ minds.

The choice of a mountain in the north was moreover suitable as signalising the setting aside of Mount Zion and Jerusalem as the seat of empire. From this point of view we can see still another reason why St. Matthew, the Evangelist for the Jew, should mention the formal inauguration of the new kingdom in the north. The rejection of the Messiah by His own people had gone very deeply to the heart of the author of this Gospel. He certainly never obtrudes his feelings, even when they are strongest, as is most strikingly apparent in his calm record of the Passion itself; but there are many things which show how keenly he felt on this point. Recall how he tells us on the one hand that "Herod the king was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him," when the report was spread abroad that the Christ was born in Bethlehem, and on the other that the wise men from the East "rejoiced with exceeding great joy." Remember how he speaks of "Galilee of the Gentiles" as rejoicing in the great light which had been unnoticed or unwelcome in Jerusalem, and how he calls special attention to "the coasts of Caesarea Philippi," the utmost corner of the land, as the place where the Church was founded. And now, having recorded the Lord’s final and formal entry into the ancient capital to claim the throne of David, only to be despised and rejected, mocked and scourged and crucified, it is natural that, as the Evangelist for the Jew, he should pass away from what he often fondly calls "the holy City," but which is now to him an accursed place, to those calm regions of the north which were associated in his mind with the first shining of the light, with so many words of wisdom spoken by the Lord, with the doing of most of His mighty deeds, with the founding of the Church, and with the glory of the Transfiguration.

The words of the Lord on this last occasion are worthy of all that has gone before. Let all doubters ponder well the significance of this. Suppose for a moment that the story of the Resurrection had been only "the passion of a hallucinated woman," as Renan puts it, and then consider the position. No one of course denies that up to the moment of death there was a veritable Jesus, whose sayings and doings supplied the material for the history; but now. that the hero is dead and gone, where are the materials? The fishermen and publicans are on their own resources now. They have to make everything out of nothing. Surely, therefore, there must ‘be now a swift descent; no more of those noble utterances to which we have been accustomed hitherto-only inventions of the poor publican now. No more breadth of view-only Jewish narrowness now. It was about this very time that the disciples asked, "Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" Suppose, then, these men obliged themselves to invent a Great Commission, how narrow and provincial will it be!

Is there, then, such a swift descent? Are not the reported words of the risen Lord-not in this Gospel merely, but in all the Gospels-as noble, as impressive, as divine as any that have been preserved to us, from the years of His life in the flesh? Search through this Gospel, and say if there can be found anywhere an utterance that has more of the King in it, that is more absolutely free from all Jewish narrowness and from all human feebleness, than this Great Commission which forms its magnificent close. It is very plain that these simple artists have their subject still before them. Manifestly they are not drawing from imagination, but telling what they heard and saw.

There is an unapproachable majesty in the words which makes one shrink from touching them. They seem to rise before us like a great mountain which it would be presumption to attempt to scale. What a mighty range they take, up to heaven, out to all the earth, down to the end of time!-and all so calm, so simple, so strong, so sure. If, as He finished the Sermon on the Mount, the multitude were astonished, much more must these have been astonished who first listened to this amazing proclamation.

"All authority hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth" (R.V). What words are these to come from One Who has just been put to death for claiming to be the king of the Jews? King of kings and Lord of lords is the title now He claims. And yet it is as Son of man He speaks. He does not speak as God, and say, "All authority is Mine": He speaks as the man Christ Jesus, saying, "All authority has been given unto Me"-given as the purchase of His pain: authority in heaven, as Priest with God-authority on earth, as King of men.

Having thus laid broad and deep and strong the foundations of the new kingdom, He sends the heralds forth: "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you" (R.V). These are simple words and very familiar now, and a distinct effort is needed to realise how extraordinary they are, as spoken then and there to that little company. "All nations" are to be discipled and brought under His sway, -such is the commission; and to whom is it given? Not to Imperial Caesar, with his legions at command and the civilised world at his feet; not to a company of intellectual giants, who by the sheer force of genius might turn the world upside down; but to these obscure Galileans of whom Caesar has never heard, not one of whose names has ever been pronounced in the Roman Senate, who have excited no wonder either for intellect or learning even in the villages and country sides from which they come, -it is to these that the great commission is given to bring the world to the feet of the crucified Nazarene. Imagine a nineteenth-century critic there, and listening. He would not have said a word. It would have been beneath his notice. A curl of the lip would have been all the recognition he would have deigned to give. Yes, how ludicrous it seems in the light of reason! But in the light of history is it not sublime?

The hidden power lay in the conjunction: "Go ye therefore." It would have been the height of folly to have gone on such an errand in their own strength; but why should they hesitate to go in the name and at the bidding of One to Whom all authority had been given in heaven and on earth? Yet the power is not delegated to them. It remains, and must remain with Him. It is not, "All authority is given unto you." They must keep in closest touch with Him, wherever they may go on this extraordinary mission. How this may be will presently appear.

The two branches into which the commission divides-"Baptising them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost," "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you"-correspond to the twofold authority on which it is based. By virtue of His authority in heaven, He authorises His ambassadors to baptise people of all nations who shall become His disciples "into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." Thus would they be acknowledged as children of the great family of God, accepted by the Father as washed from sin through the blood of Jesus Christ His Son, and sanctified by the grace of His Holy Spirit-the sum of saving truth suggested in a single line. In the same way by virtue of His authority on earth, He authorises His disciples to publish His commands so as to secure the obedience of all the nations, and yet not of constraint, but willingly, "teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you."

Easily said; but how shall it be done? We can imagine the feeling of bewilderment and helplessness with which the disciples would listen to their marching orders, until all was changed by the simple and sublime assurance at the close: "And lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." This assurance is perhaps the strangest part of all, as given to a company, however small, who were to be scattered abroad in different directions, and who were commissioned to go to the very ends of the earth. How could it be-fulfilled? There is nothing in St. Matthew’s narrative to explain the difficulty. We know, indeed, from other sources what explains it. It is the Ascension-the return of the King to the heaven whence He came, to resume His omnipresent glory, by virtue of which alone He can fulfil the promise He has made.

This brings us to a question of considerable importance: Why is it that St. Matthew gives no record of the Ascension, and does not even hint what became of the risen Christ after this last recorded interview with His disciples? It seems to us that a sufficient reason is found in the object which St. Matthew had in view, which was to set forth the establishment of the kingdom of Christ upon earth as foretold by the prophets and expected by the saints of old; and inasmuch as it is Christ’s kingdom on earth which he has mainly in view, he does not call special attention to His return to heaven, but rather to that earthly fact which was the glorious result of it-viz., His abiding presence with His people on the earth. Had he finished his Gospel with the Ascension, the last impression left on the reader’s mind would have been of Christ in heaven at the right hand of God-a glorious thought indeed, but not the one it was his special aim and object to convey. But, concluding as he does, the last impression on the reader’s mind is of Christ abiding on the earth, and with all His people even to the end of the world-a most cheering, comforting, and stimulating thought. To the devout reader of this Gospel it is as if his Lord had never left the earth at all, but had suddenly clothed Himself with omnipresence, so that, however far apart His disciples might be scattered in His service, each one of them might at any moment see His face, and hear His voice of cheer, and feel His touch of sympathy, and draw on His reserve of power. Thus was it made quite plain, how they could keep in closest touch with Him to Whom was given all authority in heaven and on earth.

After all, is it quite torrent to say that St. Matthew omits the Ascension? What was the Ascension? We think of it as a going up; but that is to speak of it after the manner of men in the kingdom of heaven there is no geographical "up" or "down." The Ascension really meant the laying aside of earthly limitations and the resumption of Divine glory with its omnipresence and eternity; and is not this included in these closing words? May we not fancy one of these doubting ones (Matthew 28:17), who trembled in the presence of that Form in which the Lord appeared to them upon the mount, recalling afterwards the supreme moment when the words "Lo, I am with you," entered into his soul, in language such as this:

"Then did the Form expand, expand-

I knew Him through the dread disguise,

As the whole God within His eyes

Embraced me"-

an embrace in which he remained, when the Form had vanished.

The Ascension is all in that wonderful "I am." It is not the first time we have heard it. Among His last words in Capernaum, when the Saviour was thinking of His Church in the ages to come, gathered together in companies in all the lands where disciples should meet in His name, the great thought takes Him for the moment out of the limitations of His earthly life; it carries Him back, or rather lifts Him up, to the eternal sphere from which He has come to earth, so that He uses not the future of time, but the present of eternity: "There am I in the midst of them". [Matthew 18:20] A still more striking example has been preserved by St. John. When on one occasion He spoke of Abraham as seeing His day, the Jews interrupted Him with the question, "Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast Thou seen Abraham?" Recognising in this a challenge of His relation to that timeless, dateless sphere from which He has come, He promptly replies, Before Abraham was, I am. It is as if a foreigner, speaking perfectly the language of the country of his adoption, were suddenly betrayed into a form of expression which marked his origin.

That was a momentary relapse, as it were, into the language of eternity; but this last "I am" marks a change in His relations to His disciples: it is the note of the new dispensation of the Spirit. These forty days were a transition time marked by special, manifestations-not wholly material as in the days of the Incarnation, nor wholly spiritual as in the days after Pentecost; but on the borderland between the two, so as to prepare the minds and hearts of the disciples for the purely spiritual relation which was thenceforward to be the rule. Whichever appearance was the last to any disciple would be the Ascension to him. To very many in that large gathering this would be the Saviour’s last appearance. It was in all probability the time when the great majority of the disciples bade farewell to the Form of their risen Lord. May we not, then, call this the Ascension in Galilee? And just as the parting on the Mount of Olives left as its deepest impression the withdrawal of the man Christ Jesus, with the promise of His return in like manner, so the parting on the mount in Galilee left as its deepest impression not the withdrawal of the human form, but the permanent abiding of the Divine Spirit-a portion of the truth of the Ascension quite as important as the other, and even more inspiring. No wonder that the great announcement which is to be the Christian’s title-deed, for all ages to come, of God’s unspeakable gift, should be introduced with a summons to adoring wonder: "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."

The Gospel ends by removing from itself all limitations of time and space, extending the day of the Incarnation to "all the days," enlarging the Holy Land to embrace all lands. The times of the Son of man are widened so as to embrace all times. The great name Immanuel [Matthew 1:23] is now fulfilled for all the nations and for all the ages. For what is this finished Gospel but the interpretation, full and clear at last, of that great Name of the old covenant, the name Jehovah: "I am," "I am that I am"? [Exodus 3:14] All of the Old Testament revelation is gathered up in this final utterance, "I am-with you"; and it has in it by anticipation all that will be included in that last word of the risen Saviour: "I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last". [Revelation 22:13]

This last sentence of the Gospel distinguishes the life of Jesus from all other histories, biographies or "remains." It is the one "Life" in all literature. These years were not spent "as a tale that is told." The Lord Jesus lives in His gospel, so that all who receive His final promise may catch the light of His eye, feel the touch of His hand, hear the tones of His voice, see for themselves, and become acquainted with Him Whom to know is Life Eternal. Fresh and new, and rich and strong, for "all the days," this Gospel is not the record of a past, but the revelation of a present Saviour, of One Whose voice sounds deep and clear across all storms of life: "Fear not: I am the First and the Last: I am He that liveth and was dead; and behold I AM ALIVE FOR EVERMORE."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Matthew 28:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/matthew-28.html.

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