Notes Matthew chapter 28
© copyright 1997 drs Gijs van den Brink
The Resurrection and the Empty Tomb 28:1-8
28:1. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. Early in the morning of the day following the sabbath, at daybreak, a number of women again went to the tomb: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (see 27:61). Mark (16:1) also names Salome and Luke (24:10) further adds Joanna the wife of Chuza (Luke 8:3).
Matthew tells only the main purpose of the occurrence, which was that the women were going to mourn, as was the case with ‘sitting over against the sepulchre’ in 27:61. We know from Mark (16:1) and Luke (24:1) that they had also brought spices to finish off the hasty burial.
2. There was a violent earthquake. The Greek kai idou (‘and lo’ or ‘and behold’) suggests something unexpected: in this case it was an earthquake and the coming of an angel of the Lord. The earthquake, which in 27:51 was also linked to a resurrection, is a revelation of God’s power.
for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven … rolled back the stone and sat on it. The word ‘for’ introduces a subordinate clause (with the verb in the aorist, indicating a completed action) which explains the earthquake, the appearance of the angel and the opening of the tomb. The women would have felt the earthquake while on their way to the tomb, but they did not see the angel descend and remove the stone. This appears from the form of the verb ‘sat upon it’ (imperfect). This shows the state of affairs the women encountered when they came to the tomb. The angel had not come to release Jesus, but to open the grave for the women and to show them that it was empty.
3. The snowy white, shining (like lightning) appearance is characteristic of a heavenly body. It is a revelation of heavenly glory (Matt 17:2; Acts 1:10; Rev 1:16;; Dan 7:9; cf. Ps 104:2). It is possible that the Greek word idea combined with clothing does not so much refer to form, appearance, as to the face in particular (cf. Dan 10:6).
4. they shook and became like dead men. The guards began to tremble for fear before the angel. Literally the words are, ’they were shaken’. The same word (eseisthsan) is used as for the earthquake (seismos) in v.2. These soldiers, hardened as they were, trembled with fear and fell down as if they were dead. They, who should have been standing guard over a corpse, became themselves like the dead. Shortly afterwards they ran away (cf. v.11). Note that while the fear of death overcomes the soldiers, the angel simply says to the women, ‘Do not be afraid’, (v.5) and that they depart with fear and joy (v.8).
5. “Do not be afraid. The angel turns to the women and says, ‘Do not be afraid’, litt. ‘Fear not ye’. The stress is on ‘ye’ to accentuate the contrast with the guards. What first strikes the dwellers of heaven about the children of men is their fear (see also v.10). Apparently their life is so attuned to this earth that the heavenly world arouses fear. But for these women, and for all who like them seek Jesus, there is no reason for fear, but for joy, because Jesus, who was crucified, is risen from the dead (v.6a).
6. He is not here; he has risen. Not the time but the fact of the resurrection is revealed to the women. The Greek form (aorist) of ‘has risen’ means, it has happened once for all. The angel confirms his message by pointing to two things. Firstly to Jesus’ words, ‘as he said’ (see 16:21; 17:23; 20:19). Jesus had spoken clearly about his resurrection, but apparently it had remained obscure to them. Secondly to the empty tomb: ‘Come and see the place where he lay.’ In other words, compare what you heard from Him with what you see here. It really is true: the Lord is risen!
7. The women must go immediately to tell the disciples about this mighty intervention by God into earthly events. A direct testimony of Jesus’ resurrection must be given, not first to the Pharisees but first to the disciples (cf. v.10) and then to the world (v.19). It was the woman who sinned first at the Fall, but women were also prominent at Jesus’ resurrection. They were faithful (27:55,61; 28:1), were the first witnesses of His resurrection and had to bring the news to the disciples, who had run away (26:56). In addition, the women had to remind the disciples that Jesus would go to Galilee before them (26:32).
There you will see him. The angel adds, ’there you will see Him’. Jesus died vicariously for all mankind in Jerusalem. But He will reveal Himself to His disciples in Galilee, where He had lived and worked (see also vv.10 and 16).
Now I have told you: the women are made responsible for carrying out the angel’s instructions.
8. So the women hurried away from the tomb. The women’s immediate obedience is striking. We read that they left the tomb immediately and ran to bring the news to the disciples. Their belief was not belief as a matter of course, but consisted of fear mingled with joy, two emotions which go well together (cf. Ps 2:11).
Jesus Appears to the Women 28:9-10
9. Suddenly Jesus met them. Matthew tells how suddenly the Lord Jesus appeared. ‘Jesus met them’ and ‘greetings’ are in fact everyday expressions. The women met Jesus and he greeted them in the normal way (something like, Good morning).
They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him. The women’s reaction was in fact the complete opposite of a conventional greeting. They fell on their knees, clung to His feet (an expression of the highest veneration, SB, I,1054) and worshipped Him (cf. v.17 and 4:10). In this way they showed their deep subjection and honour.
Matthew possibly gives a brief account of Jesus’ appearance to Mary of Magdala (see John 20:11-18), but it is more probable that another appearance of Jesus to more women is described here.
10. Jesus says just what the angel had said (v.7). What is important here is not so much His message as His appearance. He wanted to convince the women that He was the same Lord who had died and been buried. For them this was the third confirmation (after the message and the empty grave, v.6) that Jesus had risen.
Do not be afraid. By saying ‘do not be afraid’ Jesus wants to dispel any fear (cf. v.5) the women still might have. His resurrection is a matter of joy for the disciples. Then He repeated the angel’s message, to tell the disciples that they were to go to Galilee (v.7).
Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee. When Jesus calls the disciples ‘my brothers’ (as previously, 12:49ff.; cf. 25:40), He wants to make it clear that they have nothing to fear despite the fact that they ran away (26:56). He still recognizes them as His brothers, as His fellow-workers in the Kingdom of God. And He invites them as such to an encounter in Galilee (see v.16).
The Lie of the Sanhedrin 28:11-15
11. While the women were still on their way (see v.10) some of the soldiers from the watch came into the city. Apparently the watch had fled in all directions after the angel had appeared (28:4). The soldiers did not go to tell their commanding officers but the chief priests what had happened to them. This is in total agreement with 27:64-66. Pilate had seconded the watch to the chief priests, who had left them to guard the grave, after sealing it.
While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city is perhaps no more than a bridge between two pericopes, but it may also indicate that the lie about the empty grave was spread even more quickly than the truth about the resurrection.
12. When the chief priests had met with the elders. We read that the chief priests and the elders gathered together, which suggests a formal meeting of the Sanhedrin. After the failure of their attempt to prevent the body of Jesus from disappearing by setting a guard on the tomb (27:64), they tried to find another way. The High Council decided to get the soldiers to tell a lie (v.13) by bribing them. We may not deduce that the Sanhedrin believed the soldiers’ tale. They merely intended to suppress the story in view of the effect it might have on the people (see 27:64).
They gave the soldiers a large sum of money, see v.13.
13. This is the lie the Sanhedrin wants the soldiers to tell: that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body at night, while they were asleep. By so doing the High Council are trying to brand the apostolic preaching of the resurrection as a lie beforehand (cf. 27:64). Such a story was definitely not honourable for the soldiers and could have extremely harmful consequences for them if the governor were to hear of it. For this reason the chief priests gave them large sums of money (v.12) and the assurance to square things if the governor came to learn of it (v.14).
14. The Sanhedrin took control of the business. They assured the soldiers that they would settle things with the governor if they were called to account by him. Considering that the watch had been placed by Pilate at the Jewish leaders’ disposal (27:65-66), everything had been done on their responsibility. They assure the soldiers that they would accept responsibility if any difficulties arose.
15. The soldiers went to spread the message of v.13. It was acceptable to them for without this lie they could be held accountable of dereliction of duty. They now obtain money and the support of the Jewish authorities. Furthermore, they will not have failed to note that the governor had allowed himself to be considerably influenced by these Jewish leaders.
And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day, i.e., the time at which Matthew wrote his gospel. The church father Justin Martyr, who lived in the second century A.D., says that the lie was current all over the (then known) world (Dialogue with Trypho, 108).
The Great Commission 28:16-20
16. Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee. The eleven disciples (Judas had gone his own way, 27:5) went to Galilee, as the angel and Jesus had told them to do through the women (vv.7 and 10). Jesus wanted to give His disciples their commission in Galilee. This shows that the teaching of the risen Lord does not replace the teaching of Jesus of Galilee, but continues it (cf. v.20a: ‘and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you’).
The mountain where Jesus had told them to go: this has not been mentioned previously, at least not in our gospels. This possibly indicates one or more of Jesus’ appearances known to Matthew of which he gives no account. Which mountain it was is also not divulged.
17. When they saw him, they worshipped him; When the disciples saw Jesus, they fell on their knees in worship. As the opposite of doubt, it includes belief.
But some doubted: since no others are mentioned than the Eleven, we have to accept that some of the eleven disciples doubted (some translations read, ‘But they’ – i.e., all doubted. This can hardly mean anything else than that they doubted whether it was Jesus. This may be explained by the fact that Jesus approached them from a distance (v.18: Jesus came to them …). As a matter of fact we read that the disciples did not believe in Jesus’ resurrection when He appeared to them on other occasions (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:37; John 20:25). Belief in Jesus’ rising from the dead apparently did not immediately become common ground. This reaction indicates how incomprehensible and divine the whole matter had been. But note too that both the doubters and the believers received Jesus’ commission and promise (vv.18-20).
18. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Apparently Jesus stood first at a distance, came closer and said, ‘All power (i.e., might, authority) is given (by God) to me in heaven and on earth.’ These words are clearly reminiscent of Dan 7:14: ‘And there was given him (someone like the Son of man) dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion …’ The Son of man who was humbled and had to endure suffering, now receives universal everlasting dominion from God. According to Daniel’s prophecy Jesus is now exalted and installed as Ruler and Judge of the world. During His lifetime Jesus spoke several times about this exaltation (cf. 16:28; 24:30; 26:64). It appears now that His exaltation began at His resurrection. What appeared from the prophecies to be a single dispensation now appears to fall into a number of dispensations. The future has already begun in Christ.
Even during His lifetime Jesus had had power as the Son of man (see 7:29; 9:6; 21:23 and elsewhere), but this was limited by virtue of the way of humility He had to tread (cf. 26:53-54). But now His claim to all power (11:27) is fulfilled, He will sit at the right hand of the Father (26:64), and receive all power in heaven and on earth.
19. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations. The commission in v.19 is a result of Jesus’ position in v.18 (’therefore’). Through Jesus’ ascension and kingship (v.18) other prophecies are fulfilled in principle, for instance God’s salvation also coming to the nations (Isa 2:2-5; Micah 4:1-5; Zech 8:20-23). The disciples had preached the Gospel before, but then their field of activity was confined to the Jewish country (Matt 10:5,6). Now a new era has begun, in which all nations will share the salvation of the Messiah (cf. Matt 8:11). Through Jesus’ ascension and the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles these Old Testament prophecies are being fulfilled, but their definitive fulfilment will not take place until Christ’s Return (cf. commentary on v.18). It is not hard to understand that the disciples did not immediately comprehend these words as a commission to go unto the nations (see the developments in the book of Acts), considering the Old Testament background that all the nations will come to Jerusalem (see texts quoted above). As a matter of fact the only imperative in vv. 19 and 20 is: ‘make disciples’. A disciple of Jesus is someone who has a personal relationship with Him and who passes on His teachings to others.
Baptizing them … One becomes a disciple by 1) being baptized and 2) being taught (v.20). Baptism is the beginning, the initiation of the disciple.
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. ‘In (Gk. eis = into) the name’ refers to the purpose and the result of baptism. By giving oneself up into baptism, one confirms to belong to God (’to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit’). By using these words ‘in the name of …’ Jesus did not give a baptismal formula (cf. Acts 8:16, etc), although mentioning the name of the Holy Trinity at the time of the baptism is a suitable way to indicate the relationship between God and the person receiving baptism.
20. and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. In order to become a disciple who passes on the things he has learnt from his Master, the person that received baptism himself must first be taught to obey everything that the Lord Jesus has commanded. Giving oneself up into baptism is the foundation for this kind of education.
And surely I am with you always. Jesus concludes his short speech with a promise. By saying ‘I am with you’ He promises His divine presence (cf. Gen 28:15; Judges 6:12; Acts 18:10; see also commentary on Matt 18:20). Through these words Jesus assures His disciples that He will be present in the Spirit (cf. John 14:23) and that He will protect them with His royal authority (v.18) against all kinds of disasters (cf. Mark 16:17; Luke 10:19).
to the very end of the age. Jesus means the period from His resurrection until the end of the present world, with the coming of the Son of man in glory (cf. 13:39; 24:3).