Matthew 28 – A Risen Lord Jesus and His Commission
A. The risen Jesus.
1. (1-3) Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany find an angel at the tomb.
Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow.
a. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb: They came to finish the preparation of Jesus’ body, which was cut short by the Sabbath (Luke 24:1-3). So after the Sabbath on Sunday (the first day of the week), they came to the tomb – fully expecting to find the dead body of Jesus.
b. There was a great earthquake: Matthew alone notes this earthquake. The earthquake did not cause the stone to be rolled away; if anything, the angelic rolling of the stone prompted the earthquake.
i. “The earth shook both at Christ’s passion and at his resurrection; then, to show that it could not bear his suffering; now, to show that it could not hinder his rising.” (Trapp)
ii. Some think this was not a normal earthquake, but refers to the disturbance of the guards at the tomb (Matthew 28:4). “Seismov, a shaking or commotion of any kind: probably the word means no more than the confusion caused among the guards by the angel’s appearance. All this had taken place before the women reached the sepulcher.” (Clarke)
c. An angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it: When the women came to the tomb, they saw the stone rolled away and an angel sitting on the stone. The door to the tomb was wide open.
i. “Indeed there needed not any angel at all to remove the stone, if this had been all he had come down for; He that was quickened by the Spirit, could by the same power have rolled away the stone; but as it was fit that the angels, who had been witnesses of his passion, should also be witnesses of his resurrection.” (Poole)
ii. The stone that enclosed the body of Jesus in the tomb had been like the gate of a prison cell, trapping the body of Jesus in the grave. Now it became a place of rest, as the angel sat on it.
2. (4-6) The angel’s message.
And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”
a. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men: The Roman soldiers responsible for guarding the tomb were terrified. The angelic presence made these professional soldiers tremble and faint.
i. “He does not appear to have drawn a flaming sword, nor even to have spoken to the keepers; but the presence of perfect purity overawed these rough legionaries.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “The resurrection of Christ is a subject of terror to the servants of sin, and a subject of consolation to the sons of God; because it is a proof of the resurrection of both, the one to shame and everlasting contempt-the other to eternal glory and joy.” (Clarke)
b. He is not here, for He is risen: For the first time, the followers of Jesus – these faithful women – heard what they did not expect to hear. They heard that Jesus was not in the tomb, but risen to resurrection life.
i. There are several examples in the Bible of people being resuscitated before this, such as the widow’s son in the days of Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-24) and Lazarus (John 11:38-44). Each of these was resuscitated from death, but none of them were resurrected. Each of them was raised in the same body they died in, and raised from the dead to eventually die again. Resurrection isn’t just living again; it is living again in a new body, based on our old body, perfectly suited for life in eternity. Jesus was not the first one brought back from the dead, but He was the first one resurrected.
ii. We should also say that Jesus still is risen. He ascended into heaven and continues to reign as resurrected man, still fully man and fully God.
iii. In Israel, one may see many graves and tombs – there is an ocean of tombs on the Mount of Olives, and vast sea of graves outside the eastern wall of the temple mount. You can see the tomb of Rebekka, the tomb of David, the tomb of Absalom – but you won’t find the tomb of Jesus anywhere. He is not here.
iv. As He said reminded these women – and all the disciples – that they should have expected this. It was just what He promised.
c. Come, see the place where the Lord lay: The stone was not rolled away to let Jesus out. John 20:19 tells us that Jesus, in His resurrection body, could pass through material barriers. It was rolled away so that others could see in and be persuaded that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.
i. “The invitation to see the place where he lay is appropriately addressed to the same people who had watched the body being deposited – so there is no possibility of a mistake.” (France)
ii. “Come and see the niche in which he was laid-it is now empty; nor was there any other body in the place, for the tomb was a new one, in which no man had ever been laid, John 19:41; so there could be no deception in the case.” (Clarke)
iii. The fact of the resurrection is clear enough. We must also grapple with the meaning of the resurrection. Simply, Jesus’ resurrection proved that His death was an actual propitiation for sin and that the Father had accepted it as such. The cross was the payment, the resurrection the receipt, proving that the payment was fully accepted.
iv. Those women were later grateful that the angel told them to see the place where they laid Him. It would have – it should have – been enough to merely hear the testimony of the angel. Nevertheless, when they saw it, it gave them ground to stand on even more solid than the testimony of an angel. “One eye-witness is better than twenty ear-witnesses; men will believe what you have seen if they do not believe what you have heard.” (Spurgeon)
· When we see the place where they laid Him, we see that the Father did not forsake Jesus.
· When we see the place where they laid Him, we see that death is conquered.
· When we see the place where they laid Him, we see that we have a living friend in Jesus.
3. (7-8) The angel’s instructions to Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany.
“And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.
a. Go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead: The angel commanded them to be the first messengers of the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. Since these women were some of the few people courageous enough to publicly identify themselves with Jesus, it was an appropriate honor.
i. “Not first to them who were the heads of the Church, as it were, but first of all to lowly women, did the Lord appear; and the apostles themselves had to go to school to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to learn that great truth, ‘The Lord is risen indeed.’” (Spurgeon)
b. He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him: This assured the women they would see the resurrected Jesus. He wasn’t simply raised from the dead; He was raised to continue His relationship with them.
i. Conceivably, the angel might have said: “He is risen, and has ascended to heaven!” That would have been better than knowing He was dead; but the truth was far better. He was risen, and risen to have and continue a real relationship with His disciples.
c. Ran to bring His disciples word: The women – filled with fear and great joy – did exactly what the angel told them to do. He told them to go quickly and they did.
i. “Saints running in the way of obedience are likely to be met by Jesus. Some Christians travel to heaven so slowly that they are overtaken by follies or by faults, by slumber or by Satan; but he who is Christ’s running footman shall meet his Master while he is speeding on his way.” (Spurgeon)
4. (9-10) Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany meet a risen Jesus.
And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.”
a. As they went to tell His disciples: The women met Jesus as they obeyed the command to tell the news of the resurrection.
b. Jesus met them, saying “Rejoice!” What else could Jesus say to these women? What else could they do other than rejoice?
i. The old King James Version translates “Rejoice!” with All hail! France observes, “‘Hail!’ represents the normal Greek greeting, an almost homely ‘Hello!’ in contrast with the fearsome appearance of the angel.”
c. So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him: When the women met Jesus, they felt compelled to worship Him. An hour before, they thought everything was lost because they thought Jesus was dead. Now they knew everything was gained because Jesus was alive.
i. Notably, Jesus received the worship of these ladies. If Jesus were not God, it would have been terribly sinful for Him to receive this worship. But being God, it was good and appropriate for Him to receive it.
d. Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me: Jesus told the women to do the same thing that the angel told them to do.
i. My brethren: “This is the first time our Lord called his disciples by this endearing name: they no doubt thought that their Lord would reproach them with their past cowardice and infidelity; but, in speaking thus, he gives them a full assurance, in the most tender terms, that all that was passed was buried for ever.” (Clarke)
5. (11-15) The cover-up of the resurrection begins with the bribery of the guards.
Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.
a. Tell them, “His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept”: This cover-up attempt shows the darkness of these priests. They knew the truth of the resurrection, yet they rejected that truth.
i. A large sum of money: “The Greek is literally ‘sufficient money’ – it would need to be large!” (France)
b. While we slept: The cover-up also shows their foolishness. If it was true that the guards were asleep, they could not know that it was His disciples that stole the body of Jesus.
i. To believe this, we have to believe:
· All the soldiers were asleep – all of them!
· All the soldiers violated the strict law of the Roman military against sleeping on watch, punishable by death.
· All the soldiers slept so deeply that none of them were awakened by the work and exertion and noise necessary to roll away the stone and carry out the body.
· All the soldiers were so soundly asleep – yet they knew who it was who did this.
ii. Clarke rightly comments, “Here is a whole heap of absurdities.”
c. This saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day: Through the years, there have been many objections suggested to the resurrection of Jesus. Some say He didn’t die at all, but just swooned or fainted on the cross and spontaneously revived in the tomb. Others say He really died, but His body was stolen. Still others suggest He really died, but His desperate followers hallucinated His resurrection. A plain, simple understanding of these evidences of the resurrection of Jesus answers all of these theories, and shows they take far more faith to believe than the Biblical account does.
i. “I suppose, brethren, that we may have persons arise, who will doubt whether there was ever such a man as Julius Caesar, or Napoleon Bonaparte; and when they do, – when all reliable history is flung to the winds, – then, but not till then, may they begin to question whether Jesus Christ rose from the dead, for this historical fact is attested by more witnesses than almost any other fact that stands on record in history, whether sacred or profane.” (Spurgeon)
ii. We sometimes sing: “You ask me how I know He lives; He lives, He lives inside my heart.” But that is not the best way to prove Jesus lives. He lives because the historical evidence demands we believe in the resurrection of Jesus. If we can believe anything in history, we can believe the reliable, confirmed testimony of these eyewitnesses. Jesus rose from the dead.
B. The great commission.
1. (16-17) The disciples meet Jesus at Galilee.
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.
a. The eleven disciples went away into Galilee: Matthew doesn’t tell us about the Jerusalem appearances of Jesus to His disciples, as John does. Matthew was more interested in showing that the promise of Jesus in Matthew 26:32 was fulfilled.
i. To the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them: “The meeting place would be some familiar haunt…only imperfectly recorded in the Gospels.” (Bruce)
b. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him: This was not their first meeting with the risen Jesus; but it was an important one. At this meeting, they received their apostolic commission.
c. They worshiped Him; but some doubted: The natural reaction to encountering the risen Jesus is worship, even if some had to overcome uncertainty and hesitation – probably from feeling it was too good to be true, and lingering shame from having forsaken Jesus during His suffering.
i. “When they recognized him, it was natural that they worshipped him, but the whole experience was so mysterious and overwhelming that some doubted…The verb distazo does not denote a settled unbelief, but a state of uncertainty and hesitation.” (France)
ii. “Dunn sees Matthew’s mention of this doubt as ‘a genuine historical echo’ – those who were there would never have forgotten the conflicting emotions and beliefs in that unique experience.” (France)
iii. The fact that some of the disciples doubted argues against the theory that their seeing Jesus was simply a hallucination born of a desperate desire to see Him.
2. (18-20) Jesus instructs His disciples regarding their duty after His departure.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on 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 that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
a. All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth: This commission that follows is given in light of the authority of Jesus. This indicates that this is an authoritative command, not a suggestion. It is the same idea as if an officer reminded a private of his rank before he gave the order. Because He has this authority, He can send whomever He wills to do whatever He pleases.
i. “‘All’ dominates Matthew 28:18-20 and ties these verses together: all authority, all nations, all things, all the days.” (Carson)
ii. “Power in the hands of some people is dangerous, but power in the hands of Christ is blessed. Oh, let him have all power! Let him do what he will with it, for he cannot will anything but that which is right, and just, and true, and good.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “We believe in this power, and we rest in it.” (Spurgeon)
· We do not seek any other power.
· We defy every other power.
· We know our powerlessness will not hinder the progress of His kingdom.
· We give all our power unto Him.
iv. “If Jesus Christ were not equal with the Father, could he have claimed this equality of power, without being guilty of impiety and blasphemy? Surely not; and does he not, in the fullest manner, assert his Godhead, and his equality with the Father, by claiming and possessing all the authority in heaven and earth?” (Clarke)
b. Go therefore: Because Jesus has this authority, we are therefore commanded to go. It is His authority that sends us, His authority that guides us, and His authority that empowers us. His work and message would continue to the world through His disciples.
i. “These verses thus magnificently conclude the final section…but they also bring the whole Gospel to a dynamic conclusion, which is in fact more a beginning than an end.” (France)
ii. Jesus said, “Go” to some very imperfect disciples. “Who is to go out of that first band of disciples? It is Peter, the rash and the headstrong. It is John, who sometimes wishes to call fire from heaven to destroy men. It is Philip, with whom the Savior has been so long, and yet he has not known him. It is Thomas, who must put his finger into the print of the nails, or he will not believe him. Yet the Master says to them, ‘Go ye; all power is given unto me, therefore go ye. You are as good for my purpose as anybody else would be. There is no power in you, I know, but then all power is in me, therefore go ye.’” (Spurgeon)
c. Make disciples of all the nations: The command is to make disciples, not merely converts or supporters of a cause. The idea behind the word disciples is of scholars, learners, or students.
i. Make disciples reminds us that disciples are made. Disciples are not spontaneously created at conversion; they are the product of a process involving other believers. This making of disciples is the power of spreading Christianity.
d. Of all the nations: In His previous ministry, Jesus deliberately restricted His work to the Jewish people (Matthew 15:24) and previously sent His disciples with the same restriction (Matthew 10:6). Only in rare exceptions did Jesus minister among the Gentiles (Matthew 15:21-28). Now all of that is in the past, and the disciples are commissioned to take the gospel to all the nations. There is no place on earth where the gospel of Jesus should not be preached and where disciples should not be made.
i. “The aim of Jesus’ disciples, therefore, is to make disciples of all men everywhere, without distinction.” (Carson)
ii. “Christ commands them to go and baptize the nations: but how much time was past before such a journey was taken! And when the time was now come that this work should be begun, Peter doth not enter upon it without a previous admonition given him from heaven.” (Lightfoot, cited in Clarke)
e. Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: Significantly, when Jesus told them to go to all the nations, He did not tell them to circumcise those who became disciples. Instead, they were to baptize them, suggesting the break with traditional Judaism.
i. “In the name is literally ‘into the name’, implying entrance into an allegiance.” (France)
ii. The words and context certainly indicate that it is disciples who are baptized, those of age who can be taught and who can observe the things Jesus commanded.
iii. Those who favor infant baptism answer, albeit unconvincingly: “But it doth not therefore follow, that children of such professors are not to be baptized, for the apostles were commanded to baptize all nations; children are a great part of any nation.” (Poole)
iv. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: “The experience of God in these three Persons is the essential basis of discipleship. At the same time the singular noun name (not ‘names’) underlines the unity of the three Persons.” (France)
f. Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you: Disciples are made through teaching. This teaching is not with words only, but with the power of the always-present Jesus. He will be present with His people until the job of making disciples is done – until the end of the age.
i. “Hitherto Jesus alone has been the teacher, and the verb has not been used by Matthew of his disciples’ ministry. Now they take over his role of teaching.” (France)
ii. The content of the teaching must be all things that I have commanded you. The followers of Jesus are responsible to present the whole counsel of God to those who are made disciples.
g. Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age: Jesus sent His disciples with a mission to fulfill, but He did not send them alone. The promise of His constant presence was more than enough to strengthen and guide the disciples as they obeyed Jesus in making disciples of all the nations.
i. The promise of His presence is complete. “The English adverb ‘always’ renders an expression found in the New Testament only here – strictly, ‘the whole of every day’. Not just the horizon is in view, but each day as we live it.” (Carson)
ii. His presence means privilege, because we work with a Great King. Paul understood this principle well in 1 Corinthians 3:9, where he wrote: For we are God’s fellow workers. Since Jesus promised, “I am with you always,” then we work together with Him in all our service. We certainly work for Jesus, but more than that, we work with Jesus.
iii. His presence means protection, because we are never out of His sight or supervision.
iv. His presence means power, because as we fulfill this great command, we work in His name.
v. His presence means peace, because it always reminds us that the church belongs to Jesus. It is His church, and His work. How, then, can we worry?
vi. “When Christ saith, ‘I will be with you,’ you may add what you will; to protect you, to direct you, to comfort you, to carry on the work of grace in you, and in the end to crown you with immortality and glory. All this and more is included in this precious promise.” (Trapp)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission