IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 2, Number 23, June 5 to June 11, 2000

COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 28:1-20

by Dr. Knox Chamblin

THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS. 28:1-20.

Here, as throughout the commentary, we shall concentrate on the message of the Evangelist Matthew. For a comparison of Mt to the other accounts of Jesus' resurrection, see the larger commentaries and the special studies to which they refer.

I. THE STRUCTURE.

The resurrection of Jesus is already anticipated in the references to the rising of the saints (27:52-53), the burial of Jesus (27:60), and the sealing of the tomb and the posting of the guard (27:66) - as well as in Jesus' prophecies of this event (16:21, etc.). Yet we may say with Grant R. Osborne (The Resurrection Narratives: A Redactional Study, 74-75), that the resurrection account proper begins with the posting of the guard, 27:62-66. We may further agree with Osborne that the resurrection narrative extends through 28:20 (not just through v. 15), which is not to deny that 28:16-20 conclude the Gospel as a whole (see IV. below).

Osborne detects a threefold structure here (what he calls a "triptych"), "a progressive pattern of three contrasts with each panel portraying the Risen Lord in victory over his enemies, each building on the one before it" (p. 74):

FIRST PANEL. Preparation: the posting of the guard (27:62-66) versus the approach of the women to the tomb (28:1).

SECOND PANEL. Reaction: the fear of the guards (28:2-4) versus the joy of the women (28:5-10).

THIRD PANEL. Results: the spread of lies (28:11-15) versus the announcement of truth (28:16-20).


II. NEWS OF THE RESURRECTION. 28:1-10.

A. The Time. 28:1.

It is not Saturday evening but Sunday morning (cf. Mk 16:2, including the words "just after sunrise"; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1; Appendix B, n. 11; Carson, 587; Osborne, 76; pace Gundry, 585). The two Marys mentioned in 27:56, 61, now come to the tomb - further evidence of their devotion to Jesus (cf. 27:55-56).

B. The Power. 28:2-4.

The "violent earthquake" recalls that of 27:51. Matthew represents this one as the effect of the angel's descent from heaven (note the "for," gar, in v. 2). The angel has come both to roll back the stone from the entrance (something that no man could do), and to testify that Jesus has risen from the dead. Significantly, it is the angel himself, not the earthquake, that terrifies the men: "The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men" (v. 4). Such is his power (v. 2a), and such is the splendor of his presence (v. 3). By all indications, the women did not arrive at the tomb until after the angel's descent, the earthquake (v. 2a can be rendered "There had been a violent earthquake"), and the flight of the guards (v. 11); thus Bruce, Matthew, 93. No other account refers to the guards' presence at the tomb upon the approach of the women or the disciples.

C. The Angel's Announcement. 28:5-6.

Neither here nor anywhere else in the NT, is Jesus' actual resurrection recorded. For a later attempt to penetrate this holy mystery, see the Gospel of Peter, 9:35-10:42 (in R. McL. Wilson, ed., New Testament Apocrypha 1: 185-86). The NT itself stresses the witness to an accomplished event and to a risen Savior. Here the angel is the first to bear the witness.

Having first addressed the women's fear (for they, no less than the men, are terrified by his dazzling appearance), he declares: "He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay" (v. 6). We now understand why the angel has removed the stone from the entrance (v. 2): it was not to allow Jesus to emerge from the tomb (as indicated, that event is not recorded) but to allow his followers to enter into the tomb, so that they can see that it is empty; apud Carson 588, pace Gundry, 587. Jesus' resurrection did not depend upon the removal of the stone - not because his resurrection body was less substantial than his crucified body, but because (I believe) it was more substantial, in preparation for his return to heaven, the supremely solid place (for a development of such imagery, see C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce). Unlike Lazarus (Jn 11:44), Jesus did not require that someone (such as an angel) remove his graveclothes; rather he passed through them, leaving them neatly in place (Jn 20:5-7). Likewise he passed through the wall of the cave. The heavier or denser substance has passed through the lighter, as when water passes through air, or a steel pipe through water.

D. The Instructions. 28:7.

"Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you."

1. The language. The angel echoes Jesus' own prophecy (26:32). Proago in this instance means not "lead" (despite 26:31) but "precede," as is clear from the next clause, "There you will see him," and from v. 10 (cf. BAGD, s.v. 2.; Carson, 588-89). Proagei is a futuristic present, and does not exclude prior appearances of Jesus in Judea (cf. Ned B. Stonehouse, The Witness of Matthew and Mark to Christ, 173).

2. The purpose. Jesus thus acts to restore the fellowship broken by the flight of the disciples (26:56). Again it is God, the offended Party, whose initiative of grace brings about restoration. For the accent on Galilee, as distinct from Judea or Jerusalem, see IV. below.

E. The Meeting with Jesus. 28:8-10.

1. The preparation: fear and joy. As noted, the women share the fear of the guards. (That Jesus says to the women, "Do not be afraid," Me phobeisthe, v. 10, indicates that the phobou of v. 8 should be translated "fear" rather than "awe" as in the Jerusalem Bible.) But the women's fear, unlike that of the guards, is mingled with joy over the news of Jesus' resurrection. Their joy, here visibly expressed in their running to tell the disciples, demonstrates that they believe the angel's word even before Jesus meets them (contrast the male disciples' reaction to the report, Lk 24:11, "But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense").

2. The manifestation of Jesus. Here, as in all the other appearances, the risen Jesus comes upon witnesses; they do not meet him, he confronts them (this is true for Paul too, Acts 9:3-6; 1 Cor 15:4-8). The women's response shows that they recognize Jesus, although he has not identified himself in the greeting (contrast Acts 9:5). This shows that while Jesus' resurrection body is a transformed body, the continuity of being is safeguarded. The women recognize the risen Savior as the very one they had known before. It is Jesus, the crucified one, he and no other, who is risen from the dead (28:5-6; cf. Acts 9:5, "I am Jesus"). On the ways and means by which the risen Christ came to be recognized by his followers, see Peter J. Kreeft, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven, But Never Dreamed of Asking, Part 1.

3. The effect of Jesus' presence. "They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him" (v. 9b). This statement confirms the substantiality of Jesus' resurrected body: they "clasped his feet" (Jn 20:17 should be rendered, not "Touch me not," KJV, but "Do not hold on to me," NIV). That the women worship Jesus, witnesses to his deity (Gundry, 591). Cf. the comments on 28:16-20.

4. Renewed instructions. Jesus now underscores the angel's instructions (28:10, cf. v. 7), demonstrating the great importance of the meeting in Galilee. The repetition helps to build momentum for the climactic 28:16-20. Significantly, Jesus refers not to disciples (as the angel had done) but to brothers. The same group is in view (perhaps, now, including members of Jesus' own family; cf. Bruce, Matthew, 93-94). That Jesus uses the more intimate word underscores his desire to restore broken fellowship. It is true, as Jesus himself taught, that he is the disciples' Master and thus distinguished from the brotherhood (23:8). But such is the relationship established now between God and his people by the presence of Immanuel, that the very One who is their Master and King is also their Elder Brother (cf. Rom 8:29; Heb 2:11).


III. THE GUARDS' REPORT. 28:11-15.

A. The Witness.

The guards' witness to the chief priests (1) mirrors the women's report to the disciples, and (2) recalls the soldiers' exclamation at the cross (the phrase ta genomena occurs in both 27:54 and 28:11; note too the common element of phobos in the two passages). Although this passage contains no explicit reference to Jesus' resurrection, the authorities' response implies that the guards have witnessed to the empty tomb.

B. The Deception.

Verse 13 strongly implies that the guards found the tomb to be empty before they fled from the scene. This, together with the fact that no disciples came to the tomb until after the guards had fled, demonstrates both (1) the authorities' steadfast refusal to believe the truth even in face of overwhelming evidence (the sign of Jonah has been given, and rejected; cf. comments on 12:30-42), and (2) the enormity of their fraud. The very attempt to silence the witnesses with money (v. 12), testifies to the power of the truth and to the authorities' awareness that the story of v. 13b is untrue. The teaching of the lie (v. 15) stands in stark contrast to the teaching of the truth (v. 20); observe that the two verses have in common the verb didasko. Cf. Gundry, 593; and Panel Three under I.


IV. THE GREAT COMMISSION. 28:16-20.

A. The Place. 28:16.

In accord with the instructions (vv. 7, 10), the disciples go to Galilee; the particular place (as only now disclosed to the reader) is "the mountain." Matthew's purpose is threefold:

1. The revelation. "Matthew viewed mountains as places of divine revelation" (Osborne, 87, following Günther Bornkamm); cf. 5:1; 17:1. What better place, therefore, for the risen Lord's first manifestation (in Mt) to his chosen apostles. Observe Jesus' initiative, both in his preceding the disciples to the mountain (v. 7) and in his coming to them to speak (v. 18).

2. The commission. This passage provides an inclusio with Mt 4. In Mt Jesus' ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing, begins in "Galilee of the Gentiles" (4:15; see comments on 4:12-25). It is fitting that the commission to "make disciples of all nations," should be issued in the same place.

3. The teaching. The passage also provides an inclusio with Mt 5-7. Jesus' first great discourse in Mt is delivered from a mountain in Galilee. It may be that "the mountain" of v. 16 is "the mountainside" of 5:1 (the two verses have in common the phrase eis to oros); cf. Gundry, 594. Bernhard Weiss even suggests that the words hou etaxato in 28:16, mean not "where he had told them to go" (NIV), but "where he delivered the [New] Law to them" (cited in F. C. Grant, The Gospels: Their Origin and Growth, 140). While this is a dubious translation, and while the mountain is not identified (cf. comments on 17:1-13), the idea is attractive that Jesus' commission to impart to the Gentiles "everything he has commanded," would be issued in the very place where the foundational parts of that teaching were delivered. Stonehouse thinks that Matthew's interest in place is "quite incidental to his interest in the revelations of Christ" (Witness of Matthew, 187, cf. 169). The revelation and the authority of the risen Lord are unmistakably the dominant note in this closing scene (cf. 1. above). But the importance of place must not be minimized. Four of the five major discourses were delivered in Galilee (note 19:1, the closing of the fourth). And it is precisely in those discourses, nowhere more than in the first, that Jesus reveals his great authority as the New Moses and as Yahweh incarnate. "The appearance to the disciples...in Galilee...ensures that the risen Christ and his teaching are not thought of as a substitute for, but as continuous with, Jesus' ministry and teaching in Galilee" (David Hill, Matthew, 361).

Osborne's explanation for Matthew's emphasis on Galilee: "Since Galilee was the place where Jesus' message was accepted and Jerusalem where it was rejected, Galilee thus became the place for the final act of the redemptive drama" (Resurrection, 83). In my judgment this explanation is unacceptable. In both Galilee and Judea, there are three responses to Jesus: he is accepted (by true disciples), partially accepted (by nominal disciples and certain members of the crowd), and rejected (by various elements of the religious leadership).

B. The Responses. 28:17.

1. Worship. Answering to the response of the women, v. 9, the disciples now worship Jesus (proskyneo is used in both places). In speaking of Jesus' worthiness to receive worship, Matthew climaxes a theme introduced at the very threshold of his Gospel - the deity of Jesus. Only Yahweh is entitled to worship. Just as the magi had worshipped the newborn baby (proskyneo appears in 2:2, 11), so now the disciples adore the risen Jesus.

2. Doubt. Matthew says that "some doubted," but he does not elaborate. What did they doubt? Did their doubts persist? If not, when were their doubts removed - here, or hereafter? And of whom does Matthew speak - members of the Eleven (cf. Jn 20:24-29) or disciples beyond the Eleven (cf. comments on v. 10)? See the discussion in Carson, 593-94.

C. The Instructions. 28:18-20a.

1. The basis. The instructions are based on Jesus' authority (exousia), v. 18; note the "therefore" of v. 19a. This is authority that the Father has granted him (edothe is the "divine passive"). The exousia itself is not newly conferred. Mt bears powerful witness to Jesus' exercise of authority during his earthly ministry (cf. the instances of exousia, 7:29; 8:9; 9:6, 8; 10:1; 21:23, 24, 27; and the comments on Mt 8-9). The point is that the Father confers upon the Son, by virtue of his atoning death and triumph over death, the right to exercise authority universally. Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth (cf. Dan 7:13-14; Phil 2:9-11). Having refused the devil's offer of "all the kingdoms of the world" (4:8-10), Jesus now receives them from the Father - and the dominion of heaven besides!

2. The mission field. The disciples are to go to all nations, v. 19a. Thus is climaxed another Matthean theme - the salvation of the Gentiles. Moreover, this commission embraces the Jewish people: that which Jesus began during his ministry (15:24) is to continue right up to the time of his Parousia (10:23: Hill, 361; Gundry, 595-96).

3. The task. At the heart of Jesus' commission is the imperative "Make disciples" (matheteusate). Behind NIV's "go" is the participle poreuthentes, better translated "going." Both linguistically and actually, the "going" is supportive of the central task. What it means to "make disciples," Jesus explains by the two present participles which follow the imperative - "baptizing" (baptizontes) and "teaching" (didaskontes). The imperative embraces both terms: discipleship entails both becoming a Christian (signaled by baptism) and being a Christian (signaled by obedience to Jesus' teaching). Verse 19b distinguishes Jesus' baptism from John's (Gundry, 596). Moreover, baptism into the triune God and baptism in Jesus' name (e.g. Acts 2:38), are perfectly compatible. Neither represents a fixed, unalterable "formula" (cf. Carson, 598).

D. Immanuel. 28:20b.

The closing statement of Mt forms an inclusio with the promise of 1:23. (Does Jesus utter the words of 28:20 in conscious allusion to Gen 28:14-15? Ralph Winter offered this suggestion at the RTS Missions Conference in September 1987.) If Jesus is the risen Lord who stands over the disciples (v. 18), he is also Immanuel who stands with them, in their midst and by their side, as they embark upon their crucial and perilous mission.

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