Notes on Matthew 28

Matthew 28  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Here the recital becomes rapid and abrupt. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary arrive at the end of the sabbath—that is, the evening of Saturday—to see the sepulcher. Then, in the morning of the Sunday, the sepulcher opens, an angel having rolled away the stone from the entrance. The glory of this angel terrifies the soldiers who are guarding it, so that they become as dead. The same angel comforts and encourages the women; he shows them where the body of the Lord had lain, saying, “Fear not; for I know that ye seek Jesus which was crucified, He is not here, for he is risen, as he said.”
That which follows has altogether the character of this Gospel: it is important to remark this. We find neither the profoundly interesting and instructive conversations which are recounted in the Gospel of John, nor the ascension which took place at Bethany, and is related by Luke. The angel tells the women to go quickly and tell His disciples that He was risen, that He was going before them into Galilee, and that there they should see Him. This makes conspicuous an entirely new character of His relations with them since His resurrection. He is still with the remnant, with the poor of the flock, in the place where the Messiah was to appear to Israel according to the prophecy of Isaiah. These relations are renewed on the footing of resurrection. No doubt He possessed all power in heaven and earth; but He was re-establishing His relations with the remnant of Israel, not yet as King manifested in glory to subdue the nations, but as associated with His disciples, viewed in the character of messengers of the kingdom, then when Christ, rejected from Jerusalem, had gathered the residue of Israel, and had recognized them in grace. Such is the character which the disciples wear here. The women go to announce these things to the disciples; they enjoy, by virtue of their faithfulness and their attachment to Jesus, this special privilege. They are the first witnesses (and that even to the apostles) of the victory which the grace and power of God gained over the efforts of the enemy, now conquered for evermore.
Nevertheless it is not only the angel who sends them. As they are going to carry the message to the disciples, Jesus Himself, full of love, comes to meet them, so that they may be eye-witnesses of His presence on earth: a touching response of the Savior to their fidelity; a blessed testimony, which proves that the heart of Jesus is as full of love and of human condescension now that He is risen, as when He was walking in lowliness down here, the most accessible of men. He also encourages them. But this fact is related to other truths which are connected with the position which the Lord takes in this Gospel, and specially on this occasion. In John, where the heavenly side and the actual position of the Savior are in question, He forbids Mary Magdalene to touch Him. She thought she had again found Him whom she loved, as come back on the earth to remain there in His character of risen Messiah. Such was not the case; He was ascending to His Father and our Father, to His God and our God. His bodily presence on earth was no longer to be the object of affection to His own. He had placed them in His own position before His Father; in the same relationship as His own—ever a man with God, the well-beloved Son of the Father. This is why Thomas will only believe on condition of touching Him; the Lord grants him this favor, but makes him feel nevertheless, that those who believe now without having seen are more blessed than those who will only believe when they see. Christians, though now they see Him not, rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory; while the remnant, typified by Thomas, will only believe when they look upon Him whom they have pierced.
The unhappy Jews seek to hide their confusion, without humbling themselves, without repenting. By bribes they induce the soldiers to spread the report, even at the risk of falling under the severity of the Roman discipline, that the disciples had taken away His body while they slept.
Finally, the eleven go into Galilee to a mountain which the Lord had appointed them. Doubt still remained in the heart of some, but they worship Him as soon as they saw Him. Their doubt is changed for us into certainty, based not only on the operation of the Holy Spirit in the soul—the true foundation of faith—but on the clear evidence that it was neither a fable of their invention, nor a history arranged beforehand, nor the fruit of an ardent imagination which only saw what it wished. Some of the disciples themselves doubt, as we have seen in the case of Thomas; they believe only on irresistible evidence, sealed by the gift and the mighty operation of the Holy Spirit come down from heaven on the day of Pentecost. I think that there were present on that occasion other disciples besides the eleven; perhaps the five hundred of whom Paul speaks.
Here the mission of the apostles has its point of departure at the interview in Galilee with their risen Master; it is a remnant already associated with Jesus; it is not, as in Luke, a Savior who ascended to heaven, and who from heaven begins with Jerusalem, just as took place. Here Jerusalem is forsaken, and delivered into the hands of the wicked and of the Gentiles, while the remnant of Israel is associated with the Messiah rejected, but now risen; then those who are thus associated with the disowned Lord are sent to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. This mission, up to the present time, has never been accomplished. The mission to the Gentiles was formally transferred to Paul by those who were pillars among the apostles (Gal. 2), with divine authority from Jesus glorified, and by the direct mission of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:4; 26:16-184So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. (Acts 13:4)
16But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; 17Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, 18To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. (Acts 26:16‑18)
It is possible the other apostles may have gone later; but the history which is given us in the word does not speak of it, unless it be in a very general and even vague verse at the end of Mark. The apostles remained at Jerusalem at the time of the persecution which took place after the death of Stephen; then the gospel was carried to the nations by those scattered abroad, and later on committed to Paul. John is found in Patmos, left last of all to watch over the church in its decline. The last verses of Mark say that they went everywhere, and that the Lord wrought with them to confirm the preached word by the signs which it was granted them to per. form. However it may he here, in Matthew, the commission is given them. They were also to teach the baptized nations to observe all that Jesus had commanded the disciples, and He Himself would be with them to the end of the age. It is not the Christian mission properly so called; this is found rather in John 20, Luke 24, and Mark 161.