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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Matthew 28

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

XXVIII.

(1) It will probably help the student to place before him, in their right order, the recorded appearances of our Lord Jesus after His resurrection:—

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

(2.) To Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, Matthew 28:9.

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

(4.) To Cleopas and another disciple at Emmaus, Luke 24:13-35.

(5.) To the eleven, or more strictly, the ten Apostles at Jerusalem, Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36; John 20:19.

(6.) To the eleven Apostles at Jerusalem, John 20:26.

(7.) To the disciples—five named, and others—by the Sea of Galilee, John 21:1-24.

(8.) To the Eleven on a mountain in Galilee, Matthew 28:16; Mark 16:15.

(9.) To the five hundred brethren, possibly identical with.

(8), 1 Corinthians 15:6.

(10.) To James the brother of the Lord, 1 Corinthians 15:7.

(11.) To the Eleven at Jerusalem before the Ascension, Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50; Acts 1:3-12.

In the end of the sabbath.—Literally, late on the Sabbath; St. Mark, “when the Sabbath was over;” St. Luke, “very early in the morning.” St. Matthew’s addition, “as it began to dawn,” brings his narrative into harmony with St. Luke’s. The order of facts appears to have been as follows:—(1) Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the mother of James the Little, watched the burial just before the Sabbath began on the evening of the day of the crucifixion. (2.) They stayed at home during the twenty-four hours of the Sabbath. (3.) On the evening of that day (the Sabbath-rest being over) they bought spices for the embalmment. (4.) At earliest dawn, say about 4 A.M., they set out to make their way to the sepulchre, and they reached it when the sun had risen (Mark 16:2).


Verse 2

(2) There was a great earthquake.—The words imply, not that they witnessed the earthquake, but that they inferred it from what they saw. The form of the angel is described in Mark 16:5 as that of a “young man” in white or bright (Luke 24:4) raiment. This was the answer to the question they had been asking as they came, “Who shall roll away the stone for us?” (Mark 16:3). That would have been beyond their strength.


Verse 3

(3) Like lightning.—The word employed by St. Luke to describe the “raiment has the same force. The “white as snow” has its counterpart in the record of the Transfiguration (Mark 9:3) and the vision of the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9.


Verse 4

(4) The keepers did shake.—The words imply that the two Maries when they reached the sepulchre saw the soldiers prostrate in their panic terror.


Verse 5

(5) The angel answered and said. . . .—We do not read of any words as spoken by the women, but the words which they now heard were an answer to their unuttered questionings and fears. The bright one on whom they gazed knew their distress and amazement at the sight of the emptied sepulchre, and told them that there was no cause for fear.


Verse 6

(6) He is not here.—It is not given to us to fix the precise moment when the grave was opened and the risen Lord came forth from it, but the indications point to the time at or about sunrise. There was an obvious fitness in the symbolism of the Resurrection of the Son of Righteousness coinciding with the natural “day-spring.” (Comp. Luke 1:78.)

Come, see the place.—Comp. the description in John 20:5-6, the “linen clothes,” or bandages, that had swathed the limbs, the napkin, or sudarium, that had veiled the face.

The report in St. Mark (Mark 16:6-7) nearly coincides with this. St. Luke is somewhat fuller (Luke 24:5-7), introducing the question, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” and a more detailed reference to our Lord’s prophecies of His resurrection.


Verse 7

(7) He goeth before you into Galilee.—The words seem to point to a meeting in Galilee as the first appearance of the risen Lord to His disciples, and St. Matthew records no other. No adequate explanation can be given of the omission of what the other Gospels report, if we assume the whole Gospel to have been written by the Apostle Matthew. On the hypothesis that it is a “Gospel according to Matthew,” representing the substance of his oral teaching, the absence of this or that fact which we should have expected him to record may have been due to some idiosyncrasy in the scribe, or, so to speak, editor of the Gospel. It is possible that if the disciples had believed the report brought by the women the mountain in Galilee would have been the scene of the first meeting between them and their Master; but they did not believe, and required the evidence which He in His compassion gave them, in order to quicken their faith and lead them to obey the command thus given.


Verse 8

(8) They departed quickly.—It is natural that independent narratives, given long years afterwards, of what had passed in the agitation of “fear and great joy “should present seeming, or even real, discrepancies as well as coincidences. The discrepancies, such as they are, at any rate, show that the narratives were independent. The best solution of the questions presented by a comparison of the Gospel narrative at this stage is that Mary Magdalene ran eagerly to tell Peter and John, leaving the other Mary and Joanna (Luke 24:10), and then followed in the rear of the two disciples (John 20:2). Then when they had left, the Lord showed Himself first to her (John 20:14), and then to the others (Matthew 28:9), whom she had by that time joined, and then they all hastened together to tell the rest of the disciples.


Verse 9

(9) All hail.—Literally, rejoice. The word was probably our Lord’s wonted greeting to the company of devout women, and though used in homage, real or derisive, as in Matthew 27:29, John 19:3, had not necessarily the solemnity which modern usage has attached to “hail.” It was, we may believe, by that familiar word and tone that the other women at first recognised their Lord, as Mary Magdalene had done by His utterance of her own name.

Held him by the feet.—Better, clasped His feet. Mary Magdalene had, we must remember, already heard the words “Touch Me not” (John 20:17), but, if we suppose her to have rejoined the other women, passionate and rejoicing love carried her, as it carried the others, beyond the limits of reverential obedience.

Worshipped him.—The word does not necessarily imply a new form of homage. The prostration which it indicates had been practised before (Matthew 8:2; Matthew 9:18); though (it is right to add) by many persons not connected with the apostolic company, who came with definite petitions. It was the natural attitude of a suppliant servant before his master (Matthew 18:26). It was, perhaps, not till later that the disciples were led to feel that the attitude was one that was due to God and to the Man Christ Jesus, and to no other of the sons of men (Acts 10:26) or angels (Revelation 22:9). (See Note on Matthew 28:17.)


Verse 10

(10) Go, tell my brethren.—The words are clearly used of those who were brethren by spiritual relationship, as in Matthew 12:49, and have their counterpart in John 20:17, “I ascend to My Father and your Father.”


Verse 11

(11) Some of the watch.—This incident, like that of the appointment of the guard, is reported by St. Matthew only. As writing primarily for the Jews of Palestine, it was natural that he should take special notice of the rumour which hindered many of them from accepting the fact of the Resurrection, and trace it to its corrupt source. The object of the soldiers was, of course, to escape the penalty which they were likely to incur for seeming negligence, but their statement to the priests was at first a truthful one. They told “all the things that were done”—the earthquake, the opened and emptied sepulchre, perhaps also of the form in bright raiment that had filled them with speechless terror.


Verse 12

(12) When they were assembled.—Obviously the chief priests to whom the soldiers had told their tale.

And had taken counsel.—Better, as before in Matthew 27:1; Matthew 27:7, having held a council. It was a formal, though probably, as before, a packed, meeting of the Sanhedrin. They decided on the ready expedients of bribery and falsehood. The fact that the chief priests were Sadducees, and therefore specially interested in guarding against what would appear as a contradiction of their main dogma, must not be forgotten, as in part determining their action. (Comp. Acts 4:42.)


Verse 13

(13) His disciples came by night.—The story was on the face of it self-contradictory. How could they tell, if they had been asleep, who had stolen the body? All that they could know was that they had fallen asleep, and that when they awoke the sepulchre was open and empty.


Verse 15

(15) This saying is commonly reported.—The passage is interesting as the earliest indication of a counter-statement to the witness borne by the disciples, and as in part explaining the partial non-acceptance of their testimony. The phrase “until this day” suggests some considerable interval—say, at least, fifteen or twenty years—between the facts recorded and the composition of the narrative. (See Note on Matthew 27:8.) Justin Martyr mentions the report as current among the Jews of his time, the Jews having sent “chosen men” into all parts of the world to propagate it (Dial. 100 Tryph. c. 108).


Verse 16

(16) Then the eleven disciples.—The writer passes over, for some reason which we cannot now discover, all the intermediate appearances, and passes on at once to that which connected itself with the mission and work of the Apostles, and through them of the universal Church.

Into a mountain.—Better, to the mountain. The words imply some more definite announcement than that of Matthew 28:7; Matthew 28:10, and therefore, probably, some intermediate meeting. We may think of the mountain as being one that had been the scene of former meetings between the Master and His disciples. They had seen Him there before, in the body of His humiliation. They were now to see Him in the body of His glory. (Comp. Philippians 3:21.)


Verse 17

(17) They worshipped him—i.e., fell prostrate at His feet. The act, as has been said, was not new in itself, but it seems certain that our Lord’s manifestations of His Presence after the Resurrection had made the faith of the disciples stronger and clearer (comp. John 20:28), and so the act acquired a new significance.

Some doubted.—It seems hard at first to conceive how those who had been present in the upper chamber at Jerusalem (John 20:19-26) could still feel doubt; but the narrative of John 21:4 throws some light upon it. There was something mysterious and supernatural in the manifestation of the glorified body—outlines, at first indistinct and scarcely recognised, and then the whole form seen as it had been seen in life. The more devoted and loving disciples were probably, here as before, the first to recognise their Lord. Others questioned whether it was a phantom (comp. Notes on Matthew 14:26) or a reality.


Verse 18

(18) All power is given unto me.—Literally, all authority was given, the tense used being that in which men speak of something that occurred at a given point of time. We may possibly connect it with St. Paul’s use of the same tense in the Greek of Philippians 2:8. The exaltation came, the authority was given, as at the moment of the Resurrection, and as the crown of His obedience unto death.


Verses 18-20

Christ’s Parting Charge

And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing 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: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.—Matthew 28:18-20.

1. In Galilee as in Jerusalem the Risen Saviour manifested Himself to the representatives of His universal Church. The brief summary of the history which St. Matthew gives calls up before our eyes a scene of singular majesty and awe. The time we are not told; we may conjecture that it was again a Lord’s Day, the day which even then was becoming hallowed as the weekly memorial of the resurrection, the birthday of the Lord into the new life, and the birthday of His people in Him. The place is “the mountain”—the mountain of the Beatitudes, or the mountain where once He had fed the crowds. The occasion differs from all those which had gone before. At other times He had appeared at most to a handful of His followers. Now, if we may interpret the hint of the Evangelist by the statement of St. Paul, there were with the Eleven five hundred of the brethren. At other times He had come suddenly and unexpectedly. Now the place is of His appointment, the meeting of the disciples by His command. It is, to use a phrase of the Epistles, the first Christian Ecclesia—the conscious gathering of those who belong to Him into His presence as the one centre and secret of their common life. He comes not suddenly, as before, but as a looked for friend approaching from the distance.

When the Eleven saw Him, they, assured now of His resurrection, “worshipped him.” But “the others”—the greater part, it may be, of the waiting multitude, who as yet had not themselves seen—“the others doubted.” They had expected, we may conjecture, to behold clear tokens of unearthly majesty, signs which should have compelled belief; and lo, it was “the same Jesus” whom they had loved and followed in earlier days who was now drawing nigh. “The others doubted.” They had all obeyed their Master’s call; they were all true to the instincts of sacred fellowship. But they had not all attained to the same measure of faith. They could not all bear the test of a spiritual crisis. They could not all at once give the Lord the glad welcome of an unquestioning worship. The fact of their doubt is recorded, but the Evangelist does not stay to give the details of the sequel. Doubtless he would have us understand that to them, as to the Eleven, Christ spoke; that on them, as on the Eleven, Christ laid the burden of His great commission; and that as they listened to His voice, as they learned something of the work which was to be the portion of His followers, their misgivings probably did not find a precise and logical answer, but melted away in the enthusiasm of service.

2. The text may well fascinate the theologian, for it has something to say about the nature of God. It throws some light on the Person of Christ, and is a part of the very significant testimony which He bears to Himself. The text may also engage the thoughts of the ecclesiastic, for it has suggestions to make as to the ministry of the Church and the conditions of admission to the membership of the Church. But the text is of supreme interest to the missionary, because it is the charter of his enterprise, and sets forth four things concerning the enterprise to guide his work, test his success, quicken his conscience, support his faith, feed his courage and enthusiasm—its aim, its field, its obligation, and its encouragement. The aim of missionary enterprise is to make disciples of Christ, receive them into the fellowship of His Church, and teach them His will and train them in His grace. The field of missionary enterprise is the world as represented by “all the nations”; the obligation of missionary enterprise rests on the final command of Him who wields all authority in heaven and on earth, and has the right to command; the encouragement to missionary enterprise is the Presence in “all the days” of the risen Christ who commands all the means necessary for the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

This great utterance of our Lord falls into three parts:

A Great Claim—“All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth.”

A Great Commission—“Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.”

A Great Assurance—“Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

I

The Claim

“All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth.”

1. In these words Jesus, standing on the resurrection side of His grave, in the simplest language made the sublimest claim when He thus declared Himself to be King by Divine right, and therefore absolute in His Kingship. The word admits of no qualification. The claim admits of no limitation. In that moment He claimed authority in the material, mental, and moral realms. The application of His claim to this world does by no means exhaust it. He swept the compass with a reach far wider, more spacious, and stupendous. Not only on earth but in heaven is authority given to Him. The one phrase, “in heaven and on earth,” includes the whole creation of God. It is manifest that He is excluded who created, and who puts all things under the feet of His King. It is equally manifest that all is included which comes within the scope of that comprehensive word, the creation of God. We may interpret this final claim of Jesus by the prayer He taught His disciples: “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.” Having completed His ministry of teaching; having accomplished His exodus and resurrection, at last He claimed authority in heaven and on earth, thus assuming the throne of empire over the whole creation of God, included in the terms of the prayer, and now defined in the words, “as in heaven, so on earth.”

Who is it that dares thus confidently to make this amazing claim? Who is it that utters it as if it were a simple matter of fact about which there was no question? Not merely power or might ( δύναμις), such as a great conqueror might claim, but “authority” ( ἐξουσία), as something which is His by right, conferred upon Him by One who has the right to bestow it (Revelation 2:27). And “all authority,” embracing everything over which rule and dominion can be exercised; and that not only “upon earth,” which would be an authority overwhelming in its extensiveness, but also “in heaven.” Human thought loses itself in the attempt to understand what must be comprehended in such authority as this. Nothing less than the Divine government of the whole universe and of the Kingdom of Heaven has been given to the Risen Lord. In more than one Epistle, St. Paul piles up term upon term in order to try to express the honour and glory and power which the Father has bestowed upon the Son whom He has raised from the dead. The glorified Christ is “above every principality and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:21; comp. Colossians 1:16-21; Philippians 2:9-11). Nevertheless, with all his fulness of language, the Apostle does not get beyond, for it is impossible to get beyond, the majestic, inexhaustible reach of the simple statement which Christ, with such serenity, makes here.1 [Note: A. Plummer.]

2. The words “hath been given” point to a definite time when this all-embracing authority was conferred. When was it given? Let another portion of Scripture answer the question—“Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead.” Then to the Man Jesus was given authority over heaven and earth. All the early Christian documents concur in this view of the connexion between the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and His investiture with this sovereign power. Listen to Paul: “Becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name.” Listen to Peter: who “raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory.” Hear the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews: “we see Jesus … for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour.” Hearken to John: to Him “who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Look with his eyes to the vision of the “Lamb as it had been slain,” enthroned in the midst of the throne, and say whether this unanimous consent of the earliest Christian teachers is explicable on any reasonable grounds, unless there had been underlying it just the words of the text, and the Master Himself had taught them that all power was given to Him in heaven and on earth. As it seems impossible to account for the existence of the Church if we deny the resurrection, so it seems impossible to account for the faith of the earliest stratum of the Christian Church without the acceptance of some such declaration as this, as having come from the Lord Himself. And so the hands that were pierced with the nails wield the sceptre of the universe, and on the brows that were wounded and bleeding with the crown of thorns are wreathed the many crowns of universal Kinghood.

The resurrection of Christ marked the acceptance of His work by the Father, and revealed the triumph in which that work ended. Death and all the power of the enemy were overcome, and victory was attained. But the resurrection of Christ was also His emergence—His due emergence—into the power and blessedness of victorious life. In the Person of Christ life in God, and unto God, had descended into the hard conditions set for Him who would associate a world of sinners to Himself. In the resurrection the triumph of that enterprise came to light. Now, done with sin, and free from death, and asserting His superiority to all humiliation and all conflict, He rose in the fulness of a power which He was entitled also to communicate. He rose, with full right and power to save. And so His resurrection denotes Christ as able to inspire life, and to make it victorious in His members.1 [Note: R. Rainy, Epistle to the Philippians, 239.]

3. This claim means the success of His life purpose. He had told His disciples that He would build His Church; that He would lead it as an army in conflict against evil and its issues, and in victory over all, including the very gates of Hades; that He would erect a moral standard, and make them, His disciples, His interpreters thereof, giving them “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Immediately following this declaration of purpose, He had spoken to them of the necessity for the cross, and they, with faith faltering, had seen Him die. Notwithstanding all He had foretold them, they looked upon the cross as evidence of His failure to accomplish His purposes. From their standpoint of observation, it was impossible for one who died to build a Church, and lead an army, and insist upon a moral standard. But now they saw Him in all the glory of resurrection life, and knew that therein He demonstrated His power to build a Church, having passed through death and become the firstborn from among the dead. They knew that He had the power to combat sin and overcome it, for He had taken hold of death, which is the ultimate of sin, and in His mastery of death had revealed His ability to deal with sin. He had lived in perfect conformity with His own ethical standard, and when His life resulted in His rejection by men and His being put to death, it had seemed as though the impossibility of obedience was proved; but now, standing in the power of risen life, He claimed authority, and thereby suggested that His own victories vindicated His right to be the ethical Teacher of the world.

4. But in this claim we have not merely the attestation of the completeness of Christ’s work, we have also the elevation of Manhood to enthronement with Divinity. For the new thing that came to Jesus after His resurrection was that His humanity was taken into, and became participant of, “the glory which I had with thee, before the world was.” Then our nature, when perfect and sinless, is so cognate and kindred with the Divine that humanity is capable of being invested with, and of bearing, that “exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” In that elevation of the Man Christ Jesus, we may read a prophecy, which shall not be unfulfilled, of the destiny of all those who conform to Him through faith, love and obedience, finally to sit down with Him on His throne, even as He is set down with the Father on His throne.

No system thinks so condemnatorily of human nature as it is, none thinks so glowingly of human nature as it may become, as does the religion of the cross. There are bass notes far down beyond the limits of the scale to which ears dulled by the world and sin and sorrow are sensitive; and there are clear, high tones, thrilling and shrilling far above the range of perception of such ears. The man that is in the lowest depths may rise with Jesus to the highest, but it must be by the same road by which the Master went. “If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him,” and only “if.” There is no other path to the throne but the cross. Via crucis, via lucis—the way of the cross is the way of light. It is to those who have accepted their Gethsemanes and their Calvarys that He appoints a kingdom, as His Father has appointed unto Him.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

II

The Commission

“Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.”

The all-ruling Christ calls for the universal proclamation of His sovereignty by His disciples. He craves no empty rule, no mere elevation by virtue of Divine supremacy, over men. He regards that elevation as incomplete without the voluntary surrender of men to become His subjects and champions. Without its own consent He does not count that His universal power is established in a human heart. Though that dominion be all-embracing like the ocean, and stretching into all corners of the universe, and dominating over all the ages, yet in that ocean there may stand up black and dry rocks, barren as they are dry, and blasted as they are black, because, with the awful power of a human will, men have said, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” It is willing subjects that Christ seeks, in order to make the Divine grant of authority a reality.

This command must appear, when we consider it, to be simply astonishing. Here is, as it seems, a Jewish peasant, surrounded by a small company of uneducated followers, bidding them address themselves in His name to races, ancient, powerful, refined; to win their intellectual and moral submission to doctrines and precepts propounded by Himself. “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.” The only idea of empire of which the world knew was the empire of material force. Wherever the legions of Rome had penetrated, there followed the judge and the tax-collector: and the nations submitted to what they could not resist, until at length their masters became too weak to control or to protect them. As for an empire of souls, the notion was unheard of. No philosopher could found it, since a philosopher’s usual occupation consisted mainly in making intellectual war upon his predecessors or contemporaries. No existing religion could aim at it, since the existing religions were believed to be merely the products of national instincts and aspirations; each religion was part of the furniture of a nation, or at most of a race. Celsus, looking out on Christianity in the second century of our era, with the feelings of Gibbon or of Voltaire, said that a man must be out of his mind to think that Greeks and Barbarians, Romans and Scythians, bondmen and freemen, could ever have one religion. Nevertheless this was the purpose of our Lord. The Apostles were bidden to go and make disciples of all the nations. Yes; all the nations. There was no nation in such religious circumstances, none so cultivated, none so degraded, as to be able to dispense with the teaching and healing power of Jesus Christ, or to be beyond the reach of His salvation.1 [Note: H. P. Liddon, Easter in St. Paul’s, 398.]

1. The great aim of the missionary is to make disciples. No doubt he is a civilizer, but he does not go to heathen lands in the interests of civilization; he goes to proclaim salvation by grace. He is the friend of commerce, education, freedom of every kind, and rapidly promotes them wherever he goes; but he does not go to China, India, and the islands of the South Seas in order to circulate Western ideas of trade, culture, good government, and social weal; he goes to represent the character, announce the will, illustrate the grace, offer the salvation, and promote the reign of the God whom Christ has made real and saving to us. And whatever improvements he may help to make in the outward conditions in which the people live, he has not fulfilled his distinctive mission until he has given them “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” and won them to a trust in and love of God that will free them from their idolatries, cleanse them from their immoralities, and make them worshippers with intelligent conviction, zeal and courage in their devotion. Indeed to give them Western civilization without Western religion, with its powerful ethic to illumine and discipline their conscience, would be to multiply their power of sin and mischief and tend to their corruption. To give China, with her vast population and material resources, the civilization of Europe and America without the Christ who is its light and salt would be to make her the menace of the world, and to create a “yellow peril” indeed.

I was hearing the other day the testimony of a Coptic judge in Egypt as to how the very idea of justice had for the first time dawned upon the fellah in Egypt when he saw that he, poor man, was going to get his Nile water, a thing hitherto inconceivable, equally with his rich neighbour. We bring justice, and yet even the justice of administration, glorious as that gift is, does not get to the inner heart and conscience of men. It does not give them the peace to live by in their private life; it does not create character; it does not get to the conscience or the heart.1 [Note: Bishop Gore.]

2. “Baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” “Baptism,” it has been well said, “is the oldest ceremonial ordinance that Christianity possesses; it is the only one which is inherited from Judaism.” Immersion of the body in water is naturally symbolical and suggestive of purification; so, in the sacrament of Baptism, the one essential of entrance into the Kingdom of God is visibly set forth. It is a Kingdom into which nothing unclean can enter, yet in Baptism the right of every man to inherit the Kingdom is declared, and the condition of admission revealed. Baptism, therefore, is the token of a universal Church; it is not the symbol of a sect, or the badge of a party; it is a visible witness to the world of a common humanity united in God.

Dr. Moritz Busch, the Boswell of Prince Bismarck, relates this story. It happened some time ago that King Frederick of Denmark conferred upon the great German Chancellor the Grand Cross of the Danebrog Order. One of the rules of that order is that every one who receives the decoration of its cross must set up his name and arms in the principal church at Copenhagen, with a motto which must be chosen by himself, and must bear a double or ambiguous meaning. “So I hit upon this motto,” said Prince Bismarck, “‘In Trinitate robur,’ alluding to the trefoil, the clover, which was the old device of our family.” “And what was the other meaning?” said Dr. Busch. “Was it, ‘My strength is in the Triune God’?” And the answer was given with a solemn gravity “Yes, just so; that is exactly what I meant.”2 [Note: J. E. C. Welldon, The Fire upon the Altar, 59.]

3. “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.” Those who come under the influence of the proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus, and, yielding to it, pass through His death and resurrection into living union with Him, are to be taught “to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.” They are to realize in their own fellowship the actuality of His Kingship, and are to manifest through their corporate life the glory and grace of the Kingdom of God. This new society is formed wherever, as a result of the proclamation of His Lordship, men and women yield thereto; a society of those who not only believe in His Lordship, but bend to it, and exhibit to the world the result of His Kingship in their individual lives and social fellowship. We hear a great deal in these days about the worthlessness of mere dogmatic Christianity. Jesus Christ anticipated all that talk, and guarded it from exaggeration. For what He tells us here that we are to train ourselves and others in is not creed but conduct; not things to be believed or credenda, but things to be done or agenda—“teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.” A creed that is not wrought out in actions is empty; conduct that is not informed, penetrated, regulated by creed is unworthy of a man, not to say of a Christian. What we are to know we are to know in order that we may do, and so inherit the benediction, which is never bestowed upon them that know, but upon them that, knowing these things, are blessed in, as well as for, the doing of them.

Surely, if there be anything with which metaphysics have nothing to do, and where a plain man, without skill to walk in the arduous paths of abstruse reasoning, may yet find himself at home, it is religion. For the object of religion is conduct; and conduct is really, however men may overlay it with philosophical disquisitions, the simplest thing in the world. That is to say, it is the simplest thing in the world as far a understanding is concerned; as regards doing, it is the hardest thing in the world. Here is the difficulty, to do what we very well know ought to be done; and instead of facing this, men have searched out another with which they occupy themselves by preference—the origin of what is called the moral sense, the genesis and physiology of conscience, and so on. No one denies that here, too, is difficulty, or that the difficulty is a proper object for the human faculties to be exercised upon; but the difficulty here is speculative. It is not the difficulty of religion, which is a practical one; and it often tends to divert attention from this. Yet surely the difficulty of religion is great enough by itself, if men would but consider it, to satisfy the most voracious appetite for difficulties. It extends to rightness in the whole range of what we call conduct; in three-fourths, therefore, at the very lowest computation, of human life. The only doubt is whether we ought not to make the range of conduct wider still, and to say it is four-fifths of human life, or five-sixths. But it is better to be under the mark than over it; so let us be content with reckoning conduct as three-fourths of human life.1 [Note: Matthew Arnold, Literature and Dogma, chap. i.]

III

The Assurance

“Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

There are four ways in which this verse has been regarded. Some say that the words are fiction: that they were never spoken by the Lord; that they were born in another man’s mind; that they have no vital relationship with the thought and purpose of Jesus, and therefore we should employ a penknife and cut them out. The second statement made concerning them is that the report is accurate, but the claim presumptuous. We are told that, like all other great leaders of men, the Nazarene had moments of unillumined ecstasy. There were times when, like Mohammed, like Luther, like John Wesley, He lost the true perspective and purpose of things. Or, to put it more plainly, these are the words of a fanatic, and due allowance must be made for exaggeration. Then there is a third way. The words were certainly spoken, but they were never intended to be taken literally. They are symbolic and figurative, and we must beware not to spoil them by getting away from the symbolism. We must exercise the imagination and interpret them upon the purely human plane. The fourth way is this: that the words are simply, naturally, literally and gloriously true; that the Master said them; that He meant just what He said, that He—Jesus the Christ, a personal, conscious, intelligent presence—is for ever abiding with His disciples, sharing all the difficulties of the pilgrim road, participating in their triumphs right away to the end of the world. That is the witness, the overwhelming witness, of the Christian Church.

1. What then do the words signify? First of all, they promise a personal presence. The assurance of Jehovah’s presence—“certainly I will be with thee”—is repeated ever and again in the histories and oracles of the Old Testament. To Jacob, to Moses, to Joshua, to the Judges, to Jeremiah, to Israel in the land of exile it was vouchsafed as the seal of pardon or as the pledge of guidance and of needed strength. But the promise then must have seemed vague and uncertain. Jehovah was far away, unseen, an awful Judge and King. The Incarnation transfigures man’s whole conception of God’s nearness to him. Christ speaks as Friend to friend, loving and loved. The promise is Divine as of old, but now it is human also. The Speaker we know has had His part in flesh and blood, in toils and temptations, in life and death.

George Eliot said that the Lord Jesus, when He was upon earth, gave a sort of impulse to the race, and that impulse remains to our own day and, therefore, He lives. It is something like an engine, shunting on the railway. The engine gives the train a sudden impact and then stops. And the trucks continue on the strength of the impact given, while the engine remains dead. And, says George Eliot, and all who believe in her teaching, it is perfectly true that He is with us now in a dumb, vague, blessed impulse. Is that your Jesus? If I may recall my illustration of the train, I will tell you of my Jesus. When the Lord came and put Himself on the train He went with it, and He is with it now. “I am with you, not merely as some dumb, contributory impulse, a dying dynamic; I am with you a living presence, conscious, intelligent, knowing you and offering the powers of the Infinite to save you and to complete the plan of your life, and lift you into a life of holiness with God.”1 [Note: 1 J. H. Jowett.]

2. It is an abiding presence: “I am with you alway.” The Lord, using the simple idiom of His native tongue, says “all the days.” The pledge is precise and detailed. It goes hand in hand with the Church into all the vicissitudes of her long and perilous journey. It has never been withdrawn or modified. The history of the Christian centuries is the record of its fulfilment. It is ours to-day—this critical day of the Church’s life—to make us courageous in face of difficulty and calm in the midst of controversy. That word “alway” separates Him from every other teacher the world has ever seen. If you want to know how infinite is the separation, take down the biographies of some of the superlatively great leaders of the human race. Listen to their last words, and when you have their message in your ears come back to this, and you will feel that you are in another world. Take that great book of Plato in which he describes the last few moments when Socrates is leaving his disciples. It is a beautiful picture, tragic, pathetic, winsome. But you never find Socrates even whispering that when he has left his disciples he will remain with them, a personal attendant spirit among them. Take the Apostle Paul himself—next to the Lord, perhaps, the greatest man among men—and read his Second Epistle to Timothy, where you get his almost farewell word: “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth”—I will remain with you? Not a suggestion of it. The great men of our race do not come within an infinite distance of suggesting that they will remain among their disciples. This makes the Lord unique: “Lo, I am with you alway.”

Charles Lamb said that he sat at his desk in the East India House till the wood had entered his soul, so wooden were his duties. When I think of this I think there is nothing that cannot become monotonous, and again I think of one of the greatest souls that God ever made, pacing the fringe of the Sinaitic desert for forty years, the companion of sheep, a solitary soul; and for forty years more leading about and about, a march without a goal, a people more stupid than the sheep, and I read “he endured.” How? Through Divine companionship. “The Lord spoke with Moses face to face.” Then all monotony went. “He endured as seeing him who is invisible.” And I think of a greater than Moses—the greatest of all—living for thirty years in the monotonous routine of an Oriental village, a peasant’s cottage, and a carpenter’s shop, and I say, He knows monotony, and He is with me on the dull bit of road. He may be the companion, and blessed be drudgery if He be near and I may feel the warmth of His love.1 [Note: C. Brown, The Message of God, 54.]

Look into any life which has been shaped and fashioned by living faith in Jesus, and you will see this promise fulfilled.

Where the many toil and suffer,

There am I among Mine own;

Where the tired workman sleepeth,

There am I with him alone.


Never more thou needest seek Me,

I am with thee everywhere:

Raise the stone, and thou shalt find Me;

Cleave the wood, and I am there.

3. It is a victorious presence. The phrase “the end of the world” may be better rendered “the consummation of the age.” The ultimate victory of the King is implied. There was no fear of failure in the heart of the King. The age initiated by His first advent will be consummated at His second; and through all the toil He abides with His people, leading them in perpetual triumph as they abide in fellowship with Him.

One of the most frequently quoted of the promises of Christ he held to be largely a conditional promise. As he interpreted it, “Lo, I am with you alway,” following as it did the great commission, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,” left the impression that, failing the fulfilment of the commission, the promise was largely invalidated. On the other hand, he found a deep and perennial conviction, born of his experiences in the dangers and difficulties of his missionary career, that all men and women (and all Churches) that obediently carry out the command have still the Promise of Omnipotence—the Everlasting Word—of the Abiding Presence of the Son of God.1 [Note: John G. Paton: Later Years, 35.]

When John Wesley had done his work and was even now passing within the veil, we are told that, gathering up what strength remained to him, he cried out, “The best of all is, God is with us.” He had put Christ’s promise to the test, as few have done; and he had found it true. Christ’s presence is for all the days of the Church’s history, for each hour of the day of every Christian man’s life—the light of life’s solemn evening, but no less surely the strength of life’s strenuous noon, and the joy of life’s bright morning. “The best of all is, God, God in Christ, is with us.”2 [Note: Bishop Chase, in The Cambridge Review, xx. p. xciii.]

I was reading the other day that glorious book of Charles Kingsley’s, entitled, Yeast. You remember how Nevarga, dirty, habit-stained, morally and spiritually broken, feeling utterly defiled, kneels away in the desert by a furze bush, and lifts up his heart to God and cries, “Then I rose up like a man and I spoke right out into the dumb, black air, and I said, ‘If Thou wilt be my God, if Thou wilt be on my side, good Lord who died for me, I will be Thine, villain as I am, if Thou canst make anything of me.’” And Charles Kingsley says the furze bush began to glow with sacred flame, and there in the desert the Lord Jesus found a new companion and made a new friend.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]

Christ’s Parting Charge

Literature

Broughton (L. G.), Table Talks of Jesus, 96.

Brown (C.), The Message of God, 46.

Brown (H. D.), Christ’s Divinity School, 68.

Campbell (R. J.), New Theology Sermons, 50.

Cross (J.), Old Wine and New, 185.

Dyke (H. van), The Open Door, 85.

Fremantle (W. H.), The Gospel of the Secular Life, 91.

Greenhough (J. G.), Christian Festivals and Anniversaries, 123.

Ingram (A. F. W.), The Gospel in Action, 45.

John (Griffith), A Voice from China, 38.

Liddon (H. P.), Easter in St. Paul’s, 393.

Morgan (G. C.), The Missionary Manifesto, 29.

Moule (H. C. G.), Christ’s Witness to the Life to Come, 135.

Newman (C. E.), The Bible in the Pulpit, 225.

Simpson (J. G.), Christian Ideals, 309.

Smellie (A.), In the Secret Place, 3.

Stubbs (C. W.), Christus Imperator, 18.

Terry (G. F.), The Old Theology in the New Age, 119.

Vaughan (C. J.), University Sermons, 233.

Virgin (S. H.), Spiritual Sanity, 47.

Welldon (J. E. C.), The Fire upon the Altar, 54.

Cambridge Review, xx., Supplement No. 510 (F. H. Chase).

Christian World Pulpit, viii. 100 (H. W. Beecher); xliii. 300 (R. Rainy); lv. 248 (C. Gore); lxviii. 67 (J. Foster); lxxi. 309 (C. Brown).

Churchman’s Pulpit: Pt. 82, Mission Work, 183 (W. Leitch).

Record of Christian Work, xxxii. (1913) 439 (J. H. Jowett).


Verse 19

(19) Teach all nations.—Better, make disciples of all the heathen. The Greek verb is the same as that which is rendered “instructed” in Matthew 13:52, and is formed from the noun for “disciple.” The words recognise the principle of a succession in the apostolic office. The disciples, having learnt fully what their Master, their Rabbi, had to teach them, were now to become in their turn, as scribes of the kingdom of heaven, the teachers of others. It is, to say the least, suggestive that in this solemn commission, stress should be laid on the teaching, rather than on what is known as the sacerdotal element, of the Christian ministry; but the inference that that element is altogether excluded requires to be balanced by a careful study of the words of John 20:23, which seem at first sight to point in an opposite direction. (See Note on John 20:23.)

The words rendered “all nations” are the same as those in Matthew 25:32. and, as commonly used by the Jews, would point to the Gentile nations of the world, as distinguished from the people of Israel. They are therefore an emphatic expansion of the commission given in Matthew 10:5. And it is every way interesting that this full declaration of the universality of the Gospel should be specially recorded in the Gospel written, as we see throughout, specially for Jews.

Baptizing them in the name of the Father.—We have to deal (1) with the form, (2) with the substance. As regards (1) we have to explain why, with this command so recently given, the baptisms recorded in the Acts (Acts 2:38; Acts 10:48; Acts 19:5), and referred to in the Epistles (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27). are in (or rather, into) “the name of the Lord Jesus,” or “of Christ.” What has been noted as to the true meaning of the word “nations” seems the best solution of the difficulty which thus presents itself. It was enough for converts from the house of Israel, already of the family of God, to be baptised into the name of Jesus as the Messiah, as the condition of their admission into the Church which He had founded. By that confession they gave a fresh life to doctrines which they had partially received before, and belief in the Father and the Spirit was virtually implied in their belief in Jesus as the incarnate Son. For the heathen the case stood otherwise, They had worshipped “gods many and lords many” (1 Corinthians 8:5), had been “without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12), and so they had not known the Father. (2) There remains the question, What is meant by being baptised “into a name”? The answer is to be found in the fact so prominent in the Old Testament (e.g. Exodus 3:14-15), that the Name of God is a revelation of what He is. Baptism was to be no longer, as it had been in the hands of John as the forerunner, merely a symbol of repentance, but was the token that those who received it were brought into an altogether new relation to Him who was thus revealed to them. The union of the three names in one formula (as in the benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:14) is in itself a proof at once of the distinctness and equality of the three Divine Persons. We cannot conceive of a command given to. and adopted by, the universal Church to baptise all its members in the name (not “the names”) of God and a merely human prophet and an impersonal influence or power.


Verse 20

(20) All things whatsoever I have commanded you.—The words obviously point, in the first instance, to the teaching of our Lord recorded in the Gospels—the new laws of life, exceeding broad and deep, of the Sermon on the Mount, the new commandment of Love for the inner life (John 13:34), the new outward ordinances of Baptism and the Supper of the Lord. But we may well believe that they went further than this, and that the words may cover much unrecorded teaching which they had heard in the darkness, and were to reproduce in light (Matthew 10:27).

I am with you alway.—Literally, all the days, or, at all times; the words emphasising continuity more than the English adverb. The “days” that were coming might seem long and dark and dreary, but He, their Lord, would be with them, in each of those days, even to the far-off end.

Even unto the end of the world.—Literally, of the age. The phrase is the same as that in Matthew 13:39-40; Matthew 13:49; Matthew 24:13. In Hebrews 9:26 it is used of the time of the appearance of Christ in the flesh, as the beginning of the last age of the world. Like all such words, its meaning widens or contracts according to our point of view. Here the context determines its significance as stretching forward to the end of the age, or aeon, which began with the first Advent of the Christ and shall last until the second.

We ask, as we close the Gospel, why it ends thus? why there should be no record of a fact so momentous as the Ascension? The question is one which we cannot fully answer. There is an obvious abruptness in the close of the book as a book. It may be that it was left unfinished. It may be that the fact of the Ascension entered into the elementary instruction of every catechumen, and was therefore taken for granted; or that it was thought of as implied in the promise of Christ’s perpetual presence; or, lastly, that that promise seemed, in its grandeur and its blessedness, to be the consummation of all that Christ had come to accomplish, and therefore as the fitting close of the record of His life and work.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Matthew 28:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/matthew-28.html. 1905.

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