Matthew 26-28

Matthew 26‑28  •  19 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Matthew 26-27:61
These chapters give us necessary matter, the closing scenes of the life of our Lord here; His death and resurrection; such as is common to all the Gospels, and such also as to a general intent is the same in all. There are, however, even in these common narratives, marks which are characteristic; such as I have noticed in my meditations on Luke and John, already referred to.
In Matthew we need not these marks in detached pieces of the narrative: it is the whole of this Gospel, as I observed before, which bespeaks its purpose, letting us know that it is Messiah’s question with the Israel of His day that we are reading. It takes a well-formed character thence, as we have now seen; its structure and its parts leaving us without doubt as to its intent and object. Still we should find characteristic marks of a minuter kind, did we look for them; many such I have had occasion to exhibit, while meditating on the Gospel by Luke. And I would now notice some further things which are peculiar to Matthew, and characteristic of him, in these last chapters.
I think we may observe that in neither Matthew nor Mark is the Lord presented so much in thoughts of His own personal elevation and glory as in Luke or John. He is seen rather as One that is consciously in man’s hand, yielding Himself to that enmity which, according to this Gospel, had been at work against Him from the beginning. For the cross, needfully fulfilling the counsel of God, in the accomplishing of redemption, in another light was the fruit of Jewish enmity, the fruit of man’s reprobate, revolted heart. In the slaying of the Lord Jesus man was doing, through his own wickedness, what God, in His own riches of grace, had determined before should be done (Acts 4:2828For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. (Acts 4:28)). And Matthew and Mark rather put that character upon this deed.
In Matthew and Mark, consequently, we get this scene much the same. And yet Matthew has some things which distinguish him.
For instance, he is the only evangelist who notices the word of the prophet about the potter’s field. That field was bought with the price of the Lord’s blood, and it was made the place to bury strangers in. And this had a meaning for Israel, with whom Matthew has to do. Judas’s act was Israel’s act. He was guide to those who took Jesus (Acts 1:1616Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus. (Acts 1:16)). It was they who with wicked hands crucified and slew Him, as the apostle tells them, and their land is “Aceldama” to this day (Joel 3: 21). It is the field of blood, and the grave of aliens. It is a defiled land, and Gentiles have it in possession.
So the answer of the multitude to Pilate, in order that they might quiet every scruple of his mind, and that he might be led on to do with Jesus as they desired—this is likewise peculiar to Matthew. The people seem to have perceived the hesitation of the governor; and, to make sure of their prey, they say to him, “His blood be on us and on our children.” And, I ask, can anything be more characteristic? Does not this solemnly tell us that the death of the Lord, as looked at in Matthew, was the death of a Martyr at the hands of the Jews?
This is very significant. Surely we know it was the death or immolation of the Lamb of God, under the hand of God; but surely also, it was the death or martyrdom of the Righteous, at the hands of wicked men.
And, as still maintaining its peculiarity to the very end, this is the only Gospel which tells us of Jewish enmity pursuing the Lord beyond the cross. It is Matthew, and Matthew only, who tells us of the sealing of the stone, and of the setting of the watch, at the door of the sepulcher. This was permitted by the Roman governor, at the request and suggestion of the elders and priests of Israel. Pilate cared nothing about it; it was the settled purpose and bitter hatred of the Jewish mind; following the Lord beyond the grave; proving itself unconquerable. No coals of fire, though heaped on the head again and again, reduce it, nor does death quiet it. His sepulcher must witness it, as His life and death have done. Our evangelist does not let us lose sight of it for a moment. It is that enmity which opens his Gospel, in the attempt of Herod against the young Child’s life, and it is the same which now closes it, at the tomb of their martyred Messiah. Nay, His resurrection shall likewise witness it; for when the sepulcher has disappointed it, and, in spite of the seal and the soldiers, the Lord has risen, the chief priests and the elders are at the same work again. They had procured the guard of Roman soldiers to watch the sepulcher, and now they corrupt the Roman soldiers with large money, to tell a lie about the sepulcher (Matt. 27:69; Matt. 28:1212And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, (Matthew 28:12)).
Strikingly indeed does the Spirit keep the pen of the evangelist true to his subject throughout. Christ has been presented again and again to Israel, and that, too, according to their own prophets, and in the marvelous healing, blessing grace of His own ministry; but He has only drawn forth Israel’s hatred again and again from the beginning even to the end.
This enmity of man to God is to be seen all along man’s history; but, indeed, we get it exhibiting itself here to the full. “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” No attractions soften it, no threats subdue it. At the beginning, Cain sins in spite of the Lord’s personal pleading with him; Nimrod defies God’s judgments; Pharaoh is proof against the solemn visitations of Jehovah’s hand upon his land; Amalek insults the unfurled banner of the Lord; and Balaam hardens himself against the checks of God’s Spirit. Absalom, and Haman, and Herod may stand forth as further witnesses of man; and so may the fierce multitude that ran madly upon Stephen, though his face, at the moment, shone like that of an angel. And, by-and-by, the apostates of the Apocalypse, at the close of the history, will be bold to withstand the white-horsed Rider and His army, descending in glory and power from heaven. Is not all this the witness of something incorrigible and incurable, which no attractions can soften, and no threats control? And a sample equal to any of these we get in these priests of Israel, and in these soldiers of Rome. The veil had just been rent as in the presence of the one, and the tomb in the presence of the other, but they consent together to invent a lie, and falsify it all.
Man is desperate in his stiff-neckedness and enmity. Who will trust a heart which has been thus exposed?
And further still, as to this enmity of Israel. We read here, in our twenty-eighth chapter, that this lie of the confederate priests and soldiers (that the disciples came and stole away the body of Jesus while the watch were asleep), is commonly reported to this day; a fair token of the old enmity, and of its being continued through all generations of the nation, to this day.
It will not, however, do to kick against the pricks. It is but self-destruction. Jesus rises on the third, the appointed, day; and His resurrection is judgment on His enemies. It tells us this—that He with whom are the issues of life and death, has put Himself on the side of the world’s Victim, on the side of Him whom man has cast out and refused. It tells us that there is a question between God and the world about Jesus; and the end of that question must be judgment, the judgment of that which has arrayed itself against God. Therefore it is written, “He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead” (Acts 17).
This is the power and fruit of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus which we get in our Gospel. A pledge of this is given in the opening of Matthew 28. The angel rolls back the sealed stone. It bore the official signet that the purpose might not be changed; and who will dare to touch it? It would be death to any man. But He that sat in the heavens laughed it to scorn. The angel sits in triumph upon it, and puts the sentence of death into the keepers of it. Israel had set God’s sure Stone, His elect, tried Stone, at naught, and had chosen for themselves one which bore another seal; but this in which they trusted is now set at naught by God; for it is not the Rock of God’s people, as they may now themselves be judges. And the full fruit of this pledge shall be brought forth in that day, when the enemies of Jesus shall be made His footstool, and the falling of the disallowed stone shall grind to powder. (Matt. 21:42-4442Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? 43Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. 44And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. (Matthew 21:42‑44); Matt. 22:4444The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? (Matthew 22:44)).
This is the voice of the resurrection, as we read it in Matthew. Of course I need not say how it has other voices which faith listens to; how it tells of remission of sins, and how it pledges, like a first-fruits, the harvest in the day of the rising and ascending heavenly family. But here, in Matthew, it speaks of judgment. It is as the budding rod of Numbers 17, which was brought forth, as a living thing, from the presence of God, to silence the murmuring, rebellious camp of Israel.
It is only in Matthew that we get this scene at the sealed stone; but that, of course, because it is only in Matthew that we get the sealed stone itself, as we saw before.
But how perfect in the unity of the whole Gospel this is! It is the Gospel of Israel’s enmity to Messiah, and their rejection of Him; and here that enmity receives the full pledge of its coming judgment in the day of the power of Him whom they had rejected.
But further. Judgment of His enemies is to be followed by the seating of Himself in the place of power and dominion. The judgment is to make way for the glory. Accordingly, the resurrection of the Lord in this Gospel closes by showing Him to us in that place; and this is the only Gospel that does so. Here only do we hear the risen Lord using these words, when speaking to His apostles: “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all 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 commanded you.”
This is the exaltation and lordship of the risen Jesus. The conversion of the nations, and the gathering of the whole earth, the whole Gentile world, in obedience to Him, is here assumed; and this, too, as the fruit of that apostleship which the Lord had already ordained; an apostleship Jewish in its character; for it is to His Twelve that He commits this ministry.
This, therefore, is a gathering of the nations to the risen Jesus, as the Lord of Israel. And thus, in this last chapter, the Lord in resurrection “resumes His Jewish relations,” and, through those relations, His connection with the whole earth.
He witnesses universal lordship as in His hand, power both in heaven and in earth; and thereupon He makes His claim to the discipleship and obedience of all nations. We have nothing of the effect of the resurrection upon heavenly places here, nothing of the mystery of the glorified family. It is only Jesus exalted, and exalted as Messiah; and, upon that, the discipling of the whole earth, on the testimony and teaching of the Jewish apostleship. It is the Lord returned to the earth, for the ends of forming a people for His name there, and there displaying His kingdom. The ascension is not seen here. It is only the risen, not the ascended, Christ we get here; and therefore the women may hold Him, and worship Him, though, in John’s Gospel, Mary must not so much as touch Him (John 20:1717Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (John 20:17)); for there He was on His way to the Father. His resurrection led only to His ascension there; the earth was only a stage to heaven. Here it is the end of His glorious, triumphant journey.
How consistent with the purpose of the Spirit of God in our evangelist all this is! Jewish enmity and unbelief still work, and keep this condition of things, this headship of the nations in Jesus their Messiah, unrealized. But the promises of all the prophets who have spoken in God’s name from the beginning shall be made good; the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established, and all nations shall flow unto it; and the rights of Jesus-Messiah be vindicated in sovereign power. The “mercies of David” are “sure,” made sure by the resurrection which we are contemplating (Acts 13:3434And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. (Acts 13:34)); and He shall reappear, and claim them, and enjoy them, and exercise them, through the everlasting, millennial age.
The Seed of David, all faithfulness and truth as He is, shall have His rights, and His people, all wretched and unbelieving as they have been, and still are, shall be made willing. As yet, as it is written of them, they “would not”; but, by-and-by, as it is again written of them, they shall be made “willing” (Matt. 23:3737O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Matthew 23:37); Psalm 110:33Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth. (Psalm 110:3)). And then shall the promises all be established.
But we have a still further and very wondrous pledge of this blessing that is to be the portion of Israel and of Jerusalem in coming days of Messiah’s glory and power. And Matthew, in full consistency with his whole Gospel, is the only evangelist that gives it to us.
He records the following great fact in these closing chapters; that after the Lord had yielded up His life on the cross, “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after His resurrection and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.”
This was a marvelous event, and as significant as it was marvelous.
Graves were opened as the fruit of the triumph of the Lord’s death; and then these opened graves yielded up bodies of saints after His resurrection; and then these risen saints went and showed themselves in the holy city.
What glory for Jesus! What a publishing of the full victory of His death! If the veil of the temple yielded then, so did the graves of the saints. Heaven delighted to own that victory, and hell was forced to own it!
But, if this were glory to Jesus, what grace was it to Jerusalem!
A special message was sent to Peter, by the angel of the same risen Lord: “Go your way, tell His disciples and Peter that He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see Him.” And tender and considerate that was; for Peter needed a special pledge at the hand of his denied Master. And so a special, a very special and marvelous pledge, in like grace, is here given to Jerusalem, when these first-fruits of the Lord’s resurrection, of His triumph over sin and death, are thus borne to her.
And she is called “The Holy City.” Still excellent wonders of grace indeed! Jerusalem takes from the pen of our evangelist her title of honor. This is the city over which, a day or two since, the Lord had wept, the city out of which (He had lately testified) a prophet could not perish. He had withdrawn Himself from it leaving it in guilty desolation. He had, a few hours before, been crucified there; and by its own doings, it had earned for itself the title of Sodom and Egypt.
Revelation 11:88And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. (Revelation 11:8). But now it is “the holy city.” In the counsel of grace, and in the language of the Spirit, Jerusalem is “The Holy City.”
What a pledge of the cleansing of that fountain which had now been opened, as prophets speak, even for Jerusalem! What an earnest was this of that day when the captivity of Zion shall be brought again, and this speech shall be used in the land of Judah, “The Lord bless thee, O habitation of justice, and mountain of holiness” (Jer. 31:2323Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; As yet they shall use this speech in the land of Judah and in the cities thereof, when I shall bring again their captivity; The Lord bless thee, O habitation of justice, and mountain of holiness. (Jeremiah 31:23)).
The grace of those words, “Beginning at Jerusalem,” has been commonly admired, and properly so; that when the risen Lord was sending forth to all the world the tidings of salvation in the remission of sins, He would have it first declared in the guilty city, the bloody Jerusalem. But we need scarcely wonder at that, since we have before it this wondrous and glorious pledge of grace—the very first-fruits of our Lord’s triumphant resurrection sent to Jerusalem as “the holy city”!
But all the prophets tell us of this grace that aboundeth, and of Israel’s final blessing through it.
The glory, in Ezekiel, has to leave the city at the beginning, because of the abominations that were done there; but, at the last, it returns. And now, as we see, the glory in the Gospel by Matthew does exactly the same. Jesus is the glory. He leaves the city; but He leaves sure, infallible tokens of His return in due season. Thus Ezekiel and Matthew are together; so Isaiah and Matthew are together. The divorced wife of Isaiah became, in due time, a joyful mother of children. And here, in Matthew, we hear the same. Jerusalem is left by the Lord, as one put away and desolate, in Matthew 23; but at the last, in Matthew 28, her apostleship of twelve will disciple all nations. (See Isa. 50 and 54). What harmonies! In the ways of the Lord is continuance, and Israel shall be saved (Isa. 54:55For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called. (Isaiah 54:5)).
The light; of the prophets rises and shines again, after so long a time, in the evangelists. The glory in Ezekiel, and Jesus in Matthew, take the same journeys; the Jerusalem of Isaiah is the Jerusalem of our evangelist. We might not have expected this, but so we find it. And as we thus listen to the voices of prophets and evangelists, as in concert, we may remember those two happy lines—
“In the Old Testament the New is concealed,
In the New Testament the Old is revealed.”
The lights of God which sweetly dawn
In earliest books divine,
As morning hours to noonday lead,
Along the volume shine.
‘Tis but the same, the bright’ning sun,
Which clearer, warmer glows;
The clouds which veiled his rising beam,
Fly ere the evening close.
So consistent, as well as rich; so changeless, as well as full, is the grace of God in all His purposes, and those oracles of God which record those purposes. “Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour,” utters the prophet; and the Jesus of our evangelist is the God of Israel thus hiding Himself, turning His back on Jerusalem for a time, and saying, “Ye shall not see Me” (Isa. 45:1515Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour. (Isaiah 45:15); Matt. 23:3939For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. (Matthew 23:39)).
Such, I doubt not, is the bearing of our Gospel generally, and of the closing part of it, which I have now been looking at, particularly.
I may say it is a very complete and needful and wondrous lesson in the way of our God that we sit down to read in this Gospel. Jewish enmity we have watched and tracked from the beginning of it to the end of it. It proved to be unwearied, relentless, true to itself, refusing to yield to any entreaty, or to surrender itself on any terms. It pursued the Lord at His birth, throughout His life, up to His death, in His grave, after His death, and, as our evangelist further shows us, “until this day.”
It rejected Him in every form in which He could present Himself. He was again and again introduced to His Israel by their own prophets, but they would not know Him.
In the course of all this fearful exhibition of unbelief in Israel, the Spirit, by our evangelist, takes occasion, by reason of this enmity, to glance, for a moment, at the dealing of God with the Gentiles (as we saw in Matt. 13); and then, for another moment (as we saw in Matt. 17), to anticipate the kingdom in its heavenly glory; for these things are the results, settled surely in divine grace and sovereignty, of this enmity.
And then, at the close, our evangelist is led, by the same Spirit, to give intimations of the judgment which is to come upon this enmity, and also of that abounding grace which is to gather and to bless Israel in the last days of the glorious millennial kingdom.
May I not, therefore, say of it, that it is a complete and wondrous scripture? Marvelous indeed, that such treasures of wisdom and knowledge should be found in one short book!
But it is God’s, and who teacheth like Him? “What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord.” And sure I am, “if we wait patiently on the Lord, all difficulties of Scripture are inlets to light and blessing.” This has been said by another, and I think I can say, I have found it so though the waiting upon Him has been cold and feeble. And the heart further bows to another saying: “Spiritual conceptions dazzle and illuminate and cheer the mind, before they guide and content it; and we can never teach with the same vigor those truths which we only see and enjoy, as we do those by which we are guided and controlled.”