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Bible Commentaries

Arno Gaebelein's Annotated Bible

Matthew 28

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-20

14. His Resurrection and the Great Commission.

CHAPTER 28

1. His Resurrection. (Matthew 28:1-10.)
2. The Lying Report of the Jews.(
Matthew 28:11-15.)
3. The Great Commission. (
Matthew 28:16-20.)

We have reached the last portion of our Gospel. The end is brief and very abrupt. The account of the resurrection of the Lord as given by Matthew is the briefest of all the Gospels. Only a few of the facts are mentioned. Then the characteristic feature of this last chapter is that no mention is made of the ascension of the Lord. However, the fact of His ascension is implied in numerous places in the Gospel. In the Gospel of Mark we find the statement that He was taken up into heaven and sat at the right hand of God. In Luke we read that He was “carried into heaven,” but in Matthew no such statement is made. The Gospel ends as if He were still on the earth, all power in heaven and on earth in His hands and with His own to the completion of the age. All this is in perfect harmony with the scope of the Gospel.

In giving a brief exposition of this last chapter we shall not consider the different accounts of the resurrection, nor shall we attempt to harmonize the different manifestations of the risen Christ or to give the order of these. All this is beyond the work we have undertaken. We confine ourselves to the account as given here.

The chapter contains three parts. First, we find a brief account of the resurrection and the manifestation of Christ to the women. In the second place we find an account, which, like the last paragraph of the previous chapter, is peculiar to Matthew, the lying report invented by the Jews. Lastly, we see the disciples gathered in Galilee and He gives them His great commission, declares His power in heaven and on earth and assures them of His presence with them, even unto the end of the age. This is the last vision of the King in the Gospel of Matthew.

“Now late on Sabbath, as it began to dawn on the first day of the week, came Mary of Magdala and the other Mary to look at the sepulchre.” This is the brief introduction to the scene which follows. With the many women the two Marys had looked on the awful crucifixion scene. How they must have suffered in these hours of the agony of Him whom they loved. Then we beheld them sitting opposite the sepulchre. And now after others had gone and were taking a physical rest they could not stay away; they overcame all fear and went out to the sepulchre once more. The wording of the first verse is peculiar. Another translation reads, “And late in the week, when it was on the point of dawning into the first of the week came Mary the Magdalene and the other Mary to view the sepulchre.” ( Rotherham ) Some have thought of two visits these women made, one on the evening and the other in the early morning. This is not probable. The dawning of the first day of the week is the time marked out. The first day of the week began after sundown on the Sabbath. It is quite correct to translate “after the Sabbath.” To this agree the other records.

“And behold there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending out of heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his look was as lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became as dead men” (Matthew 28:2-4). The great earthquake was occasioned by the descending angel and the stone, so securely sealed, was rolled away and the heavenly messenger took his seat upon it. However, the resurrection of the Lord did not take place when the earthquake happened and when the stone was rolled away. Paintings often help along this unscriptural conception. No angel was needed to open the way for Him from the tomb. God raised Him from the dead and He Himself arose. The stone was rolled away to show that the tomb was empty. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was God’s mighty and glorious seal upon the atoning work accomplished on the cross. It was God’s answer to His strong crying and tears (Hebrews 5:7). The women no doubt felt the earthquake and may have seen that flash of light from above.

We have the effect of what happened upon the soldiers first, in the next place upon the women, and, lastly, upon the Jews. Three classes are seen in connection with the resurrection of the Lord in Matthew. The soldiers represent unbelieving Gentiles, the women, believers and then the Jews. The soldiers are terror-stricken. They were lying around on the ground as if they were dead. It is the effect upon the natural man of God’s power made known. On what greater scale this will be repeated when He comes again in resurrection Glory, as King of kings and Lord of lords.

The trembling soldiers are left for the present. We shall hear of them later. The women are now addressed by the angel. They, too, must have made an outcry for the angel “answered them.”

“And the angel answering said to the women, Fear not ye, I know that ye seek Jesus, the crucified One. He is not here, for He is risen as He said. Come and see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and say to the disciples that He is risen from the dead; and Behold He goes before you into Galilee, there shall ye see Him. Behold I have told you.”

What a glorious message it was. The crucified One risen from the dead! Mary of Magdala is in the foreground. Out of her the Lord had driven seven demons. She and the other Mary take the place of a Miriam and Deborah in the Old Testament. They are to herald and celebrate the mighty victory over sin, death and the devil which had been won. They hear the good news first and are the publishers of the same. As in the beginning of the Gospel, in the genealogy of the King, women are prominently mentioned, so in the closing scenes, in the triumph of the King, they have the lead.

“Fear not ye” is the message of the angel to the women. This, indeed, is the good news from the empty tomb. There is no cause to fear, absolutely none, for those who have believed on the Lord and are His own. All darkness, all uncertainty, all doubt and fear are at an end. The whole sin question has been righteously dealt with. The empty tomb, the glorious victory over death, and the grave are the everlasting witnesses. Gazing on this empty tomb, hearing that angelic message “He is risen” faith breaks forth in that song of triumph, penned by the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:1-39. “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not also with Him give us all things? Who shall bring an accusation against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is he that condemns? It is Christ who has died, but rather has been also raised up; who is also at the right hand of God; who also intercedes for us.” God is for us; He gave His Son; Christ died for us and God raised Him from the dead. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; He was buried, He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinth. 15:3-4). Thanks be unto God for His blessed Gospel.

But we must refrain from following the blessed doctrine of resurrection. If we were teaching this great doctrine we would have to follow the revelations as given in the Epistles. This is not our purpose. We are following only a partial historical account of the event itself.

The angel directs the women to bear the good news to the disciples and assures them the risen One Himself would go before them to Galilee, and there the disciples would see Him. This appointment was according to His own word. We find it in chapter 26:32. It is peculiar to Matthew and as we shall see later of no little importance.

“And going out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, they ran to bring His disciples word. And as they went to bring His disciples word behold, also, Jesus met them, saying, Hail! And they coming up took Him by the feet and worshipped Him. Then Jesus says to them, Fear not; go, bring word to my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there they shall see Me” (Matthew 28:8-10).

This tells us that they had entered into the empty tomb and had looked upon the place His blessed Body had rested. They must have trembled in great excitement; but greater still was their joy. The angel’s message had at last brought back the remembrance of the words of the Lord about His resurrection on the third day. They ran, therefore, to bring the news to the disciples. And as they hastened on, eager to carry out the command, behold Jesus met them and greeted them with the word _Chairete “Oh! the Joy” or “Rejoice!” He was full of joy and graciously He revealed Himself to these devoted women. But oh, the joy! when at last His own are all with Him. Worshippingly they fall at His feet, while He Himself assures them “Fear not!” and repeats the message of the angel, “Bring word to my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there they shall see Me.”

All this is very tersely told. In the Gospel of John we find the fuller account of the Lord’s manifestation to Mary (John 20:11-18). It is often said by those who do not believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures that there is a discrepancy between Matthew and John. In Matthew they fall at His feet and worship Him, but in John’s Gospel the Lord says to Mary “Touch me not.” There is no difficulty here at all. She fell at His feet and touched them, and laying hold of them the Lord uttered the words which are found in the Gospel of John. The taking hold by the feet is reported in the Gospel of Matthew, and the words He spake in the Gospel of John. This is one of the beautiful evidences of the divine authorship of the Gospel records. In our Gospel Christ is seen in relation to Israel. He is the risen Messiah in connection with His believing remnant. Well can she claim Him and take hold of His feet. As the women fell at His feet and worshipped Him, so His earthly people will at some day worship the Lord and own Him as the Messiah. But in John it is the heavenly side. He is to ascend, to go away, leaving the earth and going on high; His bodily presence on the earth in relation to Israel is not the revelation found in the fourth Gospel. Then the Lord calls His own “Brethren.” In the Gospel of John we find the same command. Never before did the Lord call His disciples “brethren,” but on that glorious resurrection morning He uses this expression. It is now fully manifested that “He that sanctifieth and they are sanctified are all of one; therefore He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Hebrews 2:11-12). The word itself is mentioned in Psalms 22:1-31. “I will declare thy name unto my brethren” (Psalms 22:22). That Psalm, containing the great prophecy of the suffering and exaltation of Christ, is prominent in the closing scenes of Matthew. We saw the fulfillment of the sufferings on the cross and here the prediction which relates to His resurrection. The main thing, however, insisted upon in the resurrection account in Matthew is Galilee. The disciples are told to go there; there the Lord will meet them and send them forth on their great mission among the nations. Before we behold them gathered in the mountain, which the Lord had appointed, another scene is introduced.

“And as they went, behold some of the watch went into the city, and brought word to the chief priests of all that had taken place. And having assembled with the elders, and having taken counsel, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers saying, Say that His disciples coming by night stole Him while we were sleeping. And if this should come to the hearing of the governor we will persuade him and save you from all anxiety. And they took the money, and did as they had been taught. And this report is current among the Jews until this day” (Matthew 28:11-15).

As previously stated this is peculiar to Matthew and the continuation of the story contained in the last paragraph of chapter 27. We learn that the effect of the resurrection of the Lord was a hardening one for the Jews. These wicked men had given thirty pieces of silver to have him delivered into their hands and now they are giving an immense sum to circulate a lie about His resurrection. The watch had sufficiently recovered from their awful fright, and some of them hasten back to the city. Surely something must have happened or why should they leave their important post and return to the city to make a report? Then it is strange that they went to the chief priests first and not to the Roman governor. This was indeed a very irregular proceeding. From this fact we must conclude that in the estimation of these soldiers, that which they had to report, was of greater importance for the chief priests to know than it was for Pilate. Who knows but these priests had instructed the guard, that if something should happen at the sepulchre and He should come forth, that they were to come to them first of all? This is probable. They bring their report and this was nothing less but a witness of the resurrection and that the tomb is empty. The enemies were the first witnesses of His triumph. The whole Sanhedrin was then hastily summoned to receive the report in an official way. The straightforward statement, as men of a military training are apt to report, made doubt about veracity impossible. The agitation of the guard, their frightened looks, the evidences that they had passed through a terrible experience, substantiated the truth of what they had reported. The Sanhedrin had nothing else left but to accept the report. To impeach these witnesses, to accuse them of falsehoods, would have been insane. There was no doubt in their minds that all had really happened as they reported. An earthquake had taken place, an angel had come down from heaven, the stone was rolled away, the tomb was found empty. What motives could make these soldiers to rush back to the city? Did they not do it at the risk of their own lives? The Sanhedrin was, therefore, in an awful predicament. What would happen, this must have flashed through the minds of these blinded men, if this truth should get out among the people? Perhaps they thought too of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, two of their number who had confessed Him by their devoted actions. Then they had thought of the possibility of something to happen with the sepulchre and had the guard placed there. And now the attempt to defeat the resurrection of the Lord had miserably failed. He has risen from the dead. His own words came true. The temple which was destroyed was built again; as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, so He was in the heart of the earth. He is risen. The very guards they had placed before the sepulchre to make any deception impossible bear the witness. Their fine minds, some of them legally trained, saw the hopelessness of their case. One thought was written upon every one of their dark hearts; the truth about the resurrection must be denied. This again could only be accomplished by inventing a lie. The only possible lie was to say that His disciples stole the body. The whole story they invented is, of course, incredible. It is far easier to believe He arose from the dead than to believe what the Jews invented about His resurrection. If His disciples could have stolen the body, if it had been possible, they surely would not have done it. But if they had a desire to steal the body, they could not have done so, for with the guard placed at the tomb, it was an impossibility. The disciples had forgotten all about the resurrection promise; they were a scattered, poor and timid lot of people. But even if they had been anxious to steal the body, how could they have done it? Here was the company of armed men. They were experienced guards and careful watchers, trained in that profession. Then there was the sealed, heavy stone. How could they have rolled away the stone and carried away the body without being detected? Impossible. But the utterly ridiculous side of the whole lie came out with the report which these soldiers were to circulate, being well paid for it by the Sanhedrin. The disciples came and stole the body, while they were sleeping! In the first place, it is incredible that all these men had fallen asleep at the same time. All were fast asleep, so fast asleep that the commotion of rolling away the stone and the carrying away of a dead one did not disturb them. Furthermore, sleeping at a post meant death for the Roman soldier. One might have nodded and thus risked his life, but that all slept is an impossibility. But the report is foolish; they were asleep, and while they were asleep they witnessed how the disciples stole the body of Jesus. How ridiculous. The whole proceedings were out and out fraud and falsehood. And this was indeed the only statement they could possibly bring against the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a miserable lie. And this lie is continued to the present day. A small volume is still circulated among the Jews, the “Toledoth Jesu” in which the most blasphemous things are said about our blessed Lord, and the lie about His resurrection invented by the Sanhedrin is likewise printed. This lie will be upheld by the unbelieving Jews till the day comes when He appears the second time, and the believing remnant of His earthly people will cry out, “Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel.” We might mention here the testimony of Josephus. He says in his antiquities: “He appeared to them alive on the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning Him.”

Indeed the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, His physical resurrection is unassailable. How wicked then to deny it or any part of it! Yet this is of common occurrence in these last days. (That evil system known by the name of “Millennial Dawnism,” or “Russellism,, [also known as Jehovah’s Witnesses]” belongs to those movements which introduce damnable heresies in the last days (2 Peter 2:1-22). “Millennial Dawnism,” among other things, denies the literal, physical resurrection of our Lord.)

And now but a few brief sentences remain with which the Gospel of Matthew closes.

“But the eleven disciples went into Galilee to the mountain which Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw Him they worshipped Him, but some doubted. And Jesus coming up spoke to them, saying, “All power has been given me in heaven and upon earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have enjoined you. And behold I am with you all the days, until the completion of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20).

What mountain it was He had appointed as the meeting place we do not know. Some one has said “Matthew is the Gospel of the Mountain.” (H.G. Weston.)

From a mountain He gave as King His great proclamation, the so-called sermon on the mount, in which He proclaimed the principles of His Kingdom. On a mountain we saw Him transfigured, the blessed type of His second coming in majesty and glory for the establishment of that Kingdom. On the mount of Olives He took the place as Son of David to ride down into Jerusalem. From the same mountain He delivered His great prophetic discourse concerning the future of the Jews, the Christian profession and the nations. And now we see Him and His own on the Galilean mountain. But why is Galilee made so prominent in the last chapter of Matthew?

It is, indeed, a strong and important point in this Gospel. Galilee was the place of His rejection. This is evident in the whole Gospel of Matthew, which gives us exclusively His Galilean ministry. Jerusalem would not have Him. It rejected Him and sought to kill Him through Herod in His infancy. This is only found in Matthew. Therefore, when the King began His ministry He began it in “the Galilee of the nations” (chapter 4). The most ignorant Jews resided in Galilee and they had become mixed with the Gentiles. The scribes despised Galilee and as we know said “Search and look, for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet” (John 7:52). His first appearing there was prophetic. It was a sign that Israel would reject Him and that the people sitting in darkness would behold the great light and that to them which sit in the region and shadow of death, light would spring up Matthew 4:16). Jerusalem did reject Him and, therefore, in this Gospel of the Kingdom, the Kingdom preached and rejected, we see the risen One passing by Jerusalem. He returns to the place of His rejection and His disciples have to go there and meet Him in Galilee. Here on this significant ground He gives them the great commission to proclaim the kingdom world-wide, to disciple all nations and to baptize them.

This is the Kingdom commission. In Luke 24:1-53 we have the proper Christian mission. A time is coming when this great commission here will be carried out by a remnant of Jewish disciples, who are represented by the eleven. It is the same remnant as in Matthew 24:1-51.

We desire to give this fact in the words of another, which will be helpful. (Collected writings of J.N.D., page 327.)

“It is well to notice what has been alluded to: -- the ministry in the Acts is not the accomplishment of this commission in Matthew, but of the mission in Luke, the book itself being, as is known, the continuation of his Gospel; nor was the ministry of Paul, who took up by a separate divine mission the evangelization of the nations, the carrying out of this (the commission here in Matthew). His was fully more even yet a mission from the ascended and glorified Saviour, to which was added the ministry of the church. It connects itself even much more in its first elements with Luke. The ministry here established stands alone. The disciples are not sent to Jews, as in Luke. But Jerusalem is rejected and the remnant is attached to Christ (His brethren and owned in this character) sent out to Gentiles. This as far as Scripture teaches us has never been fulfilled. The course of events under the hand of God, the disciples remain in Jerusalem. A new mission is sent forth in the person of Paul and that connected with the establishment of the church on earth. The accomplishment of the commission here in Matthew has been interrupted, but there is the promise to be with those who went forth in it to the end of the age. Nor do I doubt it will be so. This testimony will go forth to the nations before the Lord comes. ‘The Brethren’ will carry it to warn the nations. The commission was given, but we find no accomplishment of it. It connects the testimony with the Jewish remnant owned by a risen Lord of all, with the earth and His earthly directions, and for the present it has in fact given place to a heavenly commission, and the church of God.”

How wonderful and harmonious is the Word of God. If anything else had been put at the close of Matthew it would have disturbed and marred the scope of the whole book. Man’s wisdom could never have produced such a work.

The eleven then saw Him there. Some doubted. How this indeed carried conviction with it of the truthfulness of the report. Most likely they were taken by surprise, beheld Him from a distance; soon all doubts vanished, for He came up and spoke to them.

All power is His; all power in heaven and on earth. Soon the day will come when indeed He will have all things put under His feet. And the last word, “And behold, I am with you all the days until the completion of the age.” Precious promise to faith! He will never leave nor forsake, and He who is with us is the “I am,” the mighty Jehovah, the Immanuel, having all power in heaven and on earth.

The Gospel of Matthew begins with Immanuel, “God with us,” it ends with Immanuel. With Him, our Saviour and Lord, we shall be in all eternity. Forever with the Lord. With all our hearts we praise God for such a Saviour, for such a Lord, for such a Gospel and for such a future with HIMSELF, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Our study is ended. We lay this work at His feet, and if it pleases Him to use it for the edification of His people, for the defence of the faith, above all for the PRAISE AND GLORY OF HIS ADORABLE NAME, we shall praise Him for it in all eternity. Amen and Amen.

 


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Bibliography Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Matthew 28:4". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/gab/matthew-28.html. 1913-1922.

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