The Resurrection, 1-10

28:1 Now after the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

‘This is not an account of how Jesus rose from the dead but of how his resurrection was discovered. The miraculous removal of the stone was not in order to let Jesus out but to let the women in to see the empty tomb. Each of the gospels presents a different story of how the fact was discovered, but none of them describes the event itself.’ (NBC) In fact, it was not until the apocryphal gospels of the 2nd century that anyone is said to have witnessed the resurrection.

Mt 28:1–8 = Mk 16:1–8; Lk 24:1–10; Jn 20:1–8

‘All four Gospels report that the female disciples of Jesus were the first ones to receive the angelic account of Jesus’ resurrection and commission to go and tell the male disciples of this event (Mt 28:1-8; Mk 16:1-8; Lk 24:1-12; see Jn 20:1-13). According to Luke (Lk 24:10-11,22-24) the men did not believe the report of the women (see also Mk 16:11 in the long addition to Mark).

Further, the Gospels of Matthew and John and the long ending of Mark report that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:14-18; Mk 16:9-11; in Mt 28:9-10 the other Mary (see Mt 27:61; 28:1) is with Mary Magdalene; this other Mary is presumably Mary the mother of James the younger and Joseph, mentioned in Mt 27:56). In the Matthean and Johannine accounts Mary Magdalene is commissioned by Jesus to tell the male disciples what she has seen and heard.’ (DJG)

‘Mary Magdalene had been especially helped by Jesus and was devoted to him. (Lk 8:2) She had lingered at the cross, (Mk 15:47) and then she was first at the tomb. With her were Mary the mother of James; Joanna; and other devout women, (Lk 24:10) hoping to finish preparing their Lord’s body for burial. It was a sad labor of love that was transformed into gladness when they discovered that Jesus was alive.’ (Wiersbe)

‘That women are chosen as the first witnesses is highly significant; the surrounding culture considered their witness worthless. It fits Jesus’ countercultural and counterstatus ministry and certainly runs counter to what outsiders would have valued or anything the later church would have chosen to invent.’ (NT Background Commentary)

After the Sabbath – The underlying expression can also be translated ‘after the sabbath’; this, however, is difficult to reconcile with the following phrase.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary – ‘All four Gospels report that the female disciples of Jesus were the first ones to receive the angelic account of Jesus’ resurrection and commission to go and tell the male disciples of this event (Mt 28:1-8; Mk 16:1-8; Lk 24:1-12; see Jn 20:1-13). According to Luke (Lk 24:10-11,22-24) the men did not believe the report of the women (see also Mk 16:11 in the long addition to Mark).

Further, the Gospels of Matthew and John and the long ending of Mark report that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:14-18; Mk 16:9-11; in Mt 28:9-10 the other Mary (see Mt 27:61; 28:1) is with Mary Magdalene; this other Mary is presumably Mary the mother of James the younger and Joseph, mentioned in Mt 27:56). In the Matthean and Johannine accounts Mary Magdalene is commissioned by Jesus to tell the male disciples what she has seen and heard.’ (DJG)

‘That women are chosen as the first witnesses is highly significant; the surrounding culture considered their witness worthless. It fits Jesus’ countercultural and counterstatus ministry and certainly runs counter to what outsiders would have valued or anything the later church would have chosen to invent.’ (NT Background Commentary)

28:2 Suddenly there was a severe earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descending from heaven came and rolled away the stone and sat on it. 28:3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.

The earthquake and the angel represent God’s supernatural power breaking in.

There was a violent earthquake – ‘When he died, the earth that received him, shook for fear; now that he arose, the earth that resigned him, leaped for joy in his exaltation. This earthquake did as it were loose the bond of death, and shake off the fetters of the grave, and introduce the Desire of all nations, Hag 2:6,7. It was the signal of Christ’s victory; notice was hereby given of it, that, when the heavens rejoiced, the earth also might be glad. It was a specimen of the shake that will be given to the earth at the general resurrection, when mountains and islands shall be removed, that the earth may no longer cover her slain.’ (MHC)

‘Christ rose from the dead with awful majesty. So you find it in Mat. 28:2, 3, 4. “And behold there was a great earthquake; for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.” Human infirmity was not able to bear such heavenly majesty as attended the business of that morning. Nature sank under it. This earthquake was, as one calls it, triumpale signum: a sign of triumph, or token of victory, given by Christ, not only to the keepers, and the neighboring city, but to the whole world, that he had overcome death in its own dominions, and, like a conqueror, lifted up his head above all his enemies.’ (Flavel, The Fountain of Life)

An angel of the Lord – Cf. Lk 24:4.

‘In all four Gospels…angels announce Jesus’ resurrection. In the Matthean account, an angel rolled back the stone at Jesus’ tomb (again, probably the Angel of the Lord, Mt 28:2), and reassured and instructed the women who had gone there. (Mt 28:5-7) In Luke “two men” appear in similarly dazzling dress (Lk 24:4-7; cf. Lk 24:23), while Mk 16:5 has “a young man” in white. (cf. /APC 2Ma 3:26,33-34) At this critical point in the gospel story angels intervene, bringing divine revelation and encouraging and instructing Jesus’ followers. Similarly, angels were integral to the events surrounding the Savior’s birth. We might best understand the mediation of angels at both his birth and resurrection as marking the unique meeting of heaven and earth in these events.’ (DJG)

‘The angels frequently attended our Lord Jesus, at his birth, in his temptation, in his agony; but upon the cross we find no angel attending him: when his Father forsook him, the angels withdrew from him; but now that he is resuming the glory he had before the foundation of the world, now, behold, the angels of God worship him.’ (MHC)

Rolled back the stone – The stone was rolled back, not to let Jesus out, but to let the disciples in.  Indeed, it is possible to infer from Matthew’s account (taking v6 into account) that the body of Jesus left the tomb before the stone was rolled away (so Murray Harris; see the discussion in Grudem, Systematic Theology, p612)

Angels, especially visibly fiery ones (ancient Judaism typically believed angels were made of fire), generally terrified people cf. Jud 6:22-23; 13:19-20.

‘This was a visible representation, by that which we call splendid and illustrious, of the glories of the invisible world, which know no difference of colours. His look upon the keepers was like flashes of lightning; he cast forth lightning, and scattered them, Ps 144:6. The whiteness of his raiment was an emblem not only of purity, but of joy and triumph. When Christ died, the court of heaven went into keep mourning, signified by the darkening of the sun; but when he arose, they again put on the garments of praise. The glory of this angel represented the glory of Christ, to which he was now risen, for it is the same description that was given of him in his transfiguration (ch. 17:2); but when he conversed with his disciples after his resurrection, he drew a veil over it, and it bespoke the glory of the saints in their resurrection, when they shall be as the angels of God in heaven.’ (MHC)

28:4 The guards were shaken and became like dead men because they were so afraid of him.

Matthew does not represent the guards as being the first witnesses to the resurrection; it is likely that as soon as they recovered they fled the scene.

‘Human infirmity was not able to bear such heavenly majesty as attended the business of that morning. Nature sank under it.’ (Flavel)

28:5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 28:6 He is not here, for he has been raised, just as he said. Come and see the place where he was lying.

Angel – Cf. Lk 24:4 n

“Do not be afraid” – ‘Often when people fell before a revelation as if they were dead, the revealer declared, “Do not be afraid” (compare Mt 28:10; 17:7; Mk 16:6; Dan 10:11-12; for other parallels, see notes on Mt 17:6-7). But here the angel says Do not be afraid to the women, not to the guards who had fainted before him (28:4-5). Jesus appears directly to the women as well, but not to people who did not believe (Mt 28:8-10; compare Acts 10:41).’ (IVP NT Commentary)

‘The story of the women at the tomb is interlocked with that of the soldiers by the common motif of “fear.” (see Mt 28:4,5,10) Although both the women and the guards when confronted with the same events involving an earthquake, the removal of the stone, and the appearance of the “angel of the Lord” are both gripped with “fear,” (Mt 28:4-5) the women are addressed directly and told not to be afraid, (Mt 28:5) while the soldiers’ “fear” leaves them as “dead men”.28-2 (Mt 28:4) Instead of being incapacitated like the solders, the events, coupled with their divine interpretation, move the women to action. Clearly, the women followers of Jesus function as models of discipleship. Exemplary devotion enables them to be present as witnesses of both the crucifixion and resurrection. Discipleship as defined by the action of these women, consists of both recognizing and worshiping Jesus as the crucified and risen Christ, and being obedient to a commission to bear witness to others. (see Mt 28:7,10) In fact, it is the commission of Jesus given the women to announce his resurrection to the disciples that precipitates the reassembling of the male disciples so they might be commissioned to a worldwide mission (28:16-20).’ (College Press)

Three imperatives

‘As we read this story of the first two people in the world to be confronted with the fact of the empty tomb and the Risen Christ, three imperatives seem to spring out of it:-

(i) They are urged to believe. The thing is so staggering that it might seem beyond belief, too good to be true. The angel reminds them of the promise of Jesus, and confronts them with the empty tomb; his every word is a summons to believe. It is still a fact that there are many who feel that the promises of Christ are too good to be true. That hesitation can be dispelled only by taking him as his word.

(ii) They are urged to share. When they themselves have discovered the fact of the Risen Christ, their first duty is to proclaim it to and to share it with others. “Go, tell!” is the first command which comes to the man who has himself discovered the wonder of Jesus Christ.

(iii) They are urged to rejoice. The word with which the Risen Christ meets them is chairete; that is the normal word of greeting; but its literal meaning is “Rejoice!” The man who has met the Risen Lord must live for ever in the joy of his presence from which nothing can part him any more.’ (DSB)

“He is not here; he has risen” – ‘To be told he is not here, would have been no welcome news to those who sought him, if it had not been added, he is risen. Note, It is matter of comfort to those who seek Christ, and miss of finding him where they expected, that he is risen: if we find him not in sensible comfort, yet he is risen. We must not hearken to those who say, Lo, here is Christ, or, Lo, he is there, for he is not here, he is not there, he is risen. In all our enquiries after Christ, we must remember that he is risen; and we must seek him as one risen. (1.) Not with any gross carnal thoughts of him. There were those that knew Christ after the flesh; but now henceforth know we him so no more, 2 Cor 5:16. It is true, he had a body; but it is now a glorified body. They that make pictures and images of Christ, forget that he is not here, he is risen; our communion with him must be spiritual, by faith in his word, Rom 10:6-9. (2.) We must seek him with great reverence and humility, and an awful regard to his glory, for he is risen. God has highly exalted him, and given him a name above every name, and therefore every knee and every soul must bow before him. (3.) We must seek him with a heavenly mind; when we are ready to make this world our home, and to say, It is good to be here, let us remember our Lord Jesus is not here, he is risen, and therefore let not our hearts be here, but let them rise too, and seek the things that are above, Col 3:1-3 Php 3:20.’ (MHC)

“He has risen, just as he said” – ‘For the proof of Christ’s resurrection, we have here the testimony of the angel, and of Christ himself, concerning his resurrection. Now we may think that it would have been better, if the matter had been so ordered, that a competent number of witnesses should have been present, and have seen the stone rolled away by the angel, and the dead body reviving, as people saw Lazarus come out of the grave, and then the matter had been past dispute; but let us not prescribe to Infinite Wisdom, which ordered that the witnesses of his resurrection should see him risen, but not see him rise. His incarnation was a mystery; so was this second incarnation (if we may so call it), this new making of the body of Christ, for his exalted state; it was therefore made in secret. Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. Christ gave such proofs of his resurrection as were corroborated by the scriptures, and by the word which he had spoken; (Lk 24:6,7-44 Mk 16:7) for here we must walk by faith, not by sight.’ (MHC)

Six arguments for the resurrection

Michael Green (BST) points out that even though Matthew does not offer exhaustive evidence for the resurrection, nevertheless he does ‘give us a handle on six arguments for the truth of the resurrection which were widely deployed in the early church and down the centuries:-

1. The first witnesses. The testimony of women counted for little in both Jewish and Greco-Roman society. They could not bear witness in a court of law. But God chose them to be the first witnesses to the resurrection of his Son! This counts heavily against the idea that the story of the resurrection was fabricated.

2. The empty tomb, Mt 28:2-6. A dead body had been placed in a tomb and a guard put over the sealed entrance. The body disappeared and could not be produced by those who would have loved to have denied the resurrection. Any Jewish notion of resurrection involved the body: some kind of ‘spiritual’ survival would have made no sense to them at all.

3. The resurrection appearances. (cf. 1 Cor 15 ) Matthew records two in particular: to the women, v9, and then to the eleven disciples in Galilee, vv16-20. A large number of people, in different places and at different times, were convinced that they had seen Jesus alive and well after his death. Their experiences cannot be explained simply as visions or hallucinations. The very existence of the early church is based upon this conviction.

4. The transformed lives, Mt 28:8-9,17. The two Marys had approached the tomb in grief and despondency; they left in amazement and joy. Running through the various resurrection accounts is that sense of “We can hardly believe it!” which rings so true. But James and John, once ‘sons of thunder’, became apostles of love. Simon Peter, once unstable and unpredictable, became ‘the rock’. The Eleven, once fearful and confused, became an apostolic task force. ‘The disciples were men of honour, and could not have foisted a lie on the people. They spent the rest of their lives proclaiming the message of the resurrection, as cowards transformed into men of courage. They were willing to face arrest, imprisonment, beating, and horrible deaths, and not one of them ever denied the Lord and recanted of his belief that Christ had risen.’ (James Rosscup, Q in McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict)

5. The fulfilled predictions, Mt 28:6. Three times in the Gospel account Jesus had predicted that he would rise again on the third day (Mt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19). To predict such an event, and then for its fulfilment to be reliably recorded is utterly amazing.

6. World mission, Mt 28:18-20. “Go and make disciples of all nations,” instructed Jesus, and it all began with the resurrection. It was the Easter faith that launched the church on its mission into the world. By the time that Matthew wrote this account, the Christian faith had spread to many parts of the world. Nothing less than a resurrection could explain this phenomenal growth. The originator of a new religion came to the great French diplomat- statesman Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord and complained that he could not make any converts. “What would you suggest I do?” he asked. “I should recommend,” said Talleyrand, “that you get yourself crucified, and then die, but be sure to rise again the third day.” Christianity stands on the resurrection.


The foundation of the faith

‘The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of the Christian faith. The resurrection of Jesus is the key to the Christian faith. Why?

  1. Just as he promised, Jesus rose from the dead. We can be confident, therefore, that he will accomplish all he has promised.
  2. Jesus’ bodily resurrection shows us that the living Christ is ruler of God’s eternal kingdom, not a false prophet or impostor.
  3. we can be certain of our resurrection because he was resurrected. Death is not the end-there is future life.
  4. The power that brought Jesus back to life is available to us to bring our spiritually dead self back to life.
  5. The resurrection is the basis for the church’s witness to the world. Jesus is more than just a human leader; he is the Son of God.’

(HBA, formatting added)

28:7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead. He is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there.’ Listen, I have told you!” 28:8 So they left the tomb quickly, with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Go quickly and tell his disciples – Mk 16:7 adds: ‘and Peter’.

Afraid yet filled with joy – ‘For there are sometimes opposite feelings in the hearts of the godly, which move them alternately in opposite directions, until at length the peace of the Spirit brings them into a settled condition.’ (Calvin)

28:9 But Jesus met them, saying, “Greetings!” They came to him, held on to his feet and worshiped him. 28:10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee. They will see me there.”

‘The witness of women was considered unreliable in that culture, yet Jesus goes against the culture by revealing himself to the women and telling them to bear his message to the other disciples. This detail is definitely not one that ancient Christians would have invented, because it did not appeal to their culture.’ (NT Background Commentary)

The Guards’ Report, 11-15

28:11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 28:12 After they had assembled with the elders and formed a plan, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 28:13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came at night and stole his body while we were asleep.’ 28:14 If this matter is heard before the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 28:15 So they took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story is told among the Jews to this day.

The account of the bribing of the guards occurs only in Matthew.

‘It is interesting to note the means that the Jewish authorities used in their desperate attempts to eliminate Jesus. They used treachery to lay hold on him. They used illegality to try him. They used slander to charge him to Pilate. And now they were using bribery to silence the truth about him. And they failed. Magna est veritas et praevalebit, ran the Roman proverb; great is the truth and it will prevail. It is the fact of history that not all men’s evil machinations can in the end stop the truth. The gospel of goodness is greater than the plots of wickedness.’ (DSB)

“His disciples…stole him away while we were asleep” – ‘There had been a guard. It had not prevented the resurrection. Probably, when the earthquake dislodged the stone, the guard entered to ensure that all was well, found that the tomb was empty, saw the angelic presence, and fled to tell the chief priests, once they had sufficiently recovered to get to their feet. This disaster called for an explanation. So the chief priests bribed the soldiers, and circulated the story that the disciples had stolen the body while the guard was asleep on duty. Highly embarrassing, but not so embarrassing as admitting the truth of the resurrection. The authorities were simply making the best of a bad situation.’ (BST)

This story has been widely circulated among the Jews – As someone has said, a lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is still putting its coat on.

‘Wide circulation of this story probably led to the emperor’s edict in the Nazareth Inscription (likely dated ca AD 41–54) that threatened death to anyone who removed an entombed body.’ (CSB Study Bible Notes)

‘That without exception all should have fallen asleep when they were stationed for so extraordinary a purpose, to see that the body was not stolen…is not credible: especially when it is considered that these guards were subjected to the severest discipline in the world. It was death for a Roman sentinel to sleep at his post. Yet these guards were not executed; nor were they deemed culpable even by the rulers, woefully chagrined and exasperated as they must have been by failure of their plan for securing the body.’ (E.G. Selwyn, Q in McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict)

“That the Jewish rulers did not believe what they instructed and bribed the soldiers to say, is almost self-evident. If they did, why were not the disciples at one arrested and examined? For such an act as was imputed to them involved a serious offence against the existent authorities. Why were they not compelled to give up the body? Or, in the event of their being unable to exculpate themselves from the charge, why were they not punished for their crime?…It is nowhere intimated that the rulers even attempted to substantiate the charge.’ (E.G. Selwyn, Q in McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict)

‘Jesus’ enemies could not account for the body’s disappearance. Indirectly this suggests that opponents of Christianity conceded that Jesus’ body was missing and that no simple”]r explanation (such as the body’s being deposited in the wrong tomb) was available. Although Paul does not appeal to the empty-tomb tradition in 1 Cor 15, his account necessarily implies it. Many people in antiquity claimed to see “ghosts,” but for Palestinian Jews “resurrection” meant bodily resurrection and nothing else. Against some commentators, it is quite difficult to imagine that the disciples would have begun proclaiming the resurrection, and the authorities opposing them, without anyone’s having checked the tomb. Yet the church depended on the testimony of witnesses of the risen Christ, not simply on an empty tomb. The empty tomb tells us about the nature of the resurrection (and the body and history), but the witnesses attest to its facticity.’ (IVP NT Commentary)

The Great Commission, 16-20

28:16 So the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain Jesus had designated. 28:17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.

The eleven disciples went to Galilee – Cf Mt 26:32; 28:7. It has been pointed out that the absence of Judas should serve as a warning, but the presence of Peter an encouragement.

To the mountain where Jesus had told them to go – The specific mountain is not identified, ‘but we do know that mountains were particularly significant in Matthew’s story of Jesus: there is the mount of temptation, Mt 4:8; the mount of the famous sermon, Mt 5:1; the mount where the crowd was fed, Mt 15:29; the mount of transfiguration, Mt 17:1; and the mount of Olives discourse, Mt 24:3.’ (Peskett & Ramachandra, The Message of Mission, 173)

They worshipped him – Keller writes: ‘Jesus’s miracles in particular were never magic tricks, designed only to impress and coerce. You never see him say something like: “See that tree over there? Watch me make it burst into flames!” Instead, he used miraculous power to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and raise the dead. Why? We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order. The Bible tells us that God did not originally make the world to have disease, hunger, and death in it. Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. His miracles are not just proofs that he has power but also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power. Jesus’s miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming.’ (The Reason for God, p99)

Some doubted – Not surprising, given that the two on the Emmaus road did not recognise Jesus at first, and that the fishermen did not recognise him. Moreover, it is not usual to meet a dead person, recently buried, in another part of the country. ‘What is interesting is to speculate why Matthew included this reference to doubting in his story without any specific resolution of the doubt. A likely answer is that Matthew, with pastoral sensitivity, records this story so that his readers might take courage in their own struggles between worship and doubt. This touch shows that the disciples were not supermen and the resurrection was not a matter of wish-fulfilment. The Great Commission was not given to spiritual giants; it was given to an ordinary group of devoted, failure-prone learners.’ (Peskett & Ramachandra, The Message of Mission, 174)

‘Though there were those that doubted, yet, he did not therefore reject them; for he will not break the bruised reed. He did not stand at a distance, but came near, and gave them such convincing proofs of his resurrection, as turned the wavering scale, and made their faith to triumph over their doubts.’ (MHC)

As Keller says, ‘that is a remarkable admission. Here is the author of an early Christian document telling us that some of the founders of Christianity couldn’t believe the miracle of the resurrection, even when they were looking straight at him with their eyes and touching him with their hands. There is no other reason for this to be in the account unless it really happened.’ (The Reason for God, p98)

28:18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

‘This short account contains the culmination and combination of all of M’s central themes: (1) the move from particularism to universalism in the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom; (2) discipleship and the establishment of the church; (3) Jesus’ commands as ultimately incumbent on Christians; and (4) the abiding presence of Jesus as teacher, as divine Son of God, and the risen and sovereign Lord of the universe.’ (Blomberg)

It is the sublimest of all spectacles to see the Risen Christ without money or army or state charging this band of five hundred men and women with world conquest and bringing them to believe it possible and to undertake it with serious passion and power. Pentecost is still to come, but dynamic faith rules on this mountain in Galilee.’ (A.T. Robertson)

Jesus gave them

  1. his power – such was his victory over death that his authority over heaven and earth was beyond question.  And with that authority he sends them
  2. his commission – to make all the world his disciples
  3. his presence – as they are sent on the greatest of tasks, they go with the greatest presence

“All authority” – see here the great honour which God has given to the Lord Jesus Christ. Cf. Php 2:9 – ‘Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name…’ Christ has authority over death and hell; he is the anointed Priest, who alone can absolve sinners; he is the fountain of life, whereby we are cleansed; he is Saviour, who alone can give eternal life; see 1 Jn 5:12 – ‘He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.’ We can never think too highly of Christ.

All authority has been given to the risen and exalted Lord. But how is this authority exercised today? For the Roman Catholic, Christ’s authority is exercised through the church, and in particular through the Pope. Liberals believe that it is exercised through reason and conscience. ‘But the reformed and evangelical conviction is that Christ exercises his authority by his Spirit through his Word. Although both tradition and reason are important, Scripture is the sceptre by which Christ rules the church.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, p96)

Note the astounding scope: Jesus has all authority; he sends his followers to all nations; disciples are to be taught to obey all that he has commanded; his presence is assured all of the time.

‘In Matthew’s story Jesus’ authority has already been revealed, Mt 7:29; the Roman centurion (a man familiar with power hierarchies) talks with Jesus in terms of authority, Mt 8:9; in one incident Jesus argues that his power to heal a paralysed man is the vindication of his authority to forgive the man’s sins, Mt 9:6; Jesus delegates his authority to his disciples when he sens them out on mission, Mt 10:1; Jesus prefaces his famous invitation to people to come to him for rest, with the claim, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him,” Mt 11:27. The altercation between Jesus and the Jewish leaders in Mt 21:23 ff is about his authority. Finally, Jesus surrenders to powerlessness in his passion. But now, like the victorious Son of Man in Daniel 7, he has been exalted to the highest position of authority in the universe. This crucified Jew, a provincial man from Galilee, claims universal authority. The rest of the Commission basks in the floodlight of this claim. According to Isa 42:8, God says that he will not share or give his glory to another. But here we see Jesus raised to the highest place.’ (Peskett & Ramachandra, The Message of Mission, 175)

‘Hereby he asserts his universal dominion as Mediator, which is the great foundation of the Christian religion. He has all power. Observe, (1.) Whence he hath this power. He did not assume it, or usurp it, but it was given him, he was legally entitled to it, and invested in it, by a grant from him who is the Fountain of all being, and consequently of all power. God set him King, (Ps 2:6) inaugurated and enthroned him, Lk 1:32. As God, equal with the Father, all power was originally and essentially his; but as Mediator, as God-man, all power was given him; partly in recompence of his work (because he humbled himself, therefore God thus exalted him), and partly in pursuance of his design; he had this power given him over all flesh, that he might give eternal life to as many as were given him, (Jn 17:2) for the more effectual carrying on and completing our salvation. This power he was now more signally invested in, upon his resurrection, Acts 13:3. He had power before, power to forgive sins (ch. ix. 6); but now all power is given him. He is now going to receive for himself a kingdom, (Lk 19:12) to sit down at the right hand, Ps 110:1. Having purchased it, nothing remains but to take possession; it is his own for ever. (2.) Where he has this power; in heaven and earth, comprehending the universe. Christ is the sole universal Monarch, he is Lord of all, Acts 10:36. He has all power in heaven. He has power of dominion over the angels, they are all his humble servants, Eph 1:20,21. He has power of intercession with his Father, in the virtue of his satisfaction and atonement; he intercedes, not as a suppliant, but as a demandant; Father, I will. He has all power on earth too; having prevailed with God, by the sacrifice of atonement, he prevails with men, and deals with them as one having authority, by the ministry of reconciliation. He is indeed, in all causes and over all persons, supreme Moderator and Governor. By him kings reign. All souls are his, and to him every heart and knee must bow, and every tongue confess him to be the Lord.’ (MHC)

All authority in heaven and on earth – ‘No king of Israel ever claimed, no future ‘Messiah’ was ever promised, any kind of authority in heaven. Jesus now proclaims that sovereignty over the entire universe has been committed to him …’ (Beare)

…has been given to me – ‘The passive verb assumes God as the acting subject’ (WBC)

Wright notes that Jesus does have ‘all authority’, even though the word is (obviously) not yet what it should be or will be:

‘People get very puzzled by the claim that Jesus is already ruling the world, until they see what is in fact being said. The claim is not that the world is already completely as Jesus intends it to be. The claim is that he is working to take it from where it was – under the rule not only of death but of corruption, greed and every kind of wickedness – and to bring it, by slow means and quick, under the rule of his life-giving love. And how is he doing this? Here is the shock: through us, his followers. The project only goes forward insofar as Jesus’ agents, the people he has commissioned, are taking it forward.’ (Wright, Matthew for Everyone)

As DeYoung and Gilbert observe:

‘The mission Jesus is about to give is based exclusively and entirely on his authority. There can only be a mission imperative because there is first this glorious indicative. God does not send out his church to conquer. He sends us out in the name of the One who has already conquered. We go only because he reigns.’ (What Is the Mission of the Church? (pp. 45-46). Crossway. Kindle Edition.)
28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 28:20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

“Therefore go” – Links the command of this verse with the claim of the previous verse.

Murray Harris (Navigating Tough Texts, p24) comments that the Greek grammar here is often misunderstood.  It is said that there is no command to ‘go’, but only a participle, ‘going’:

‘But in the Greek language, when someone wants to express two commands in succession, such as “Go and see,” they usually decide which is the main command and express that by the imperative (= command) mood, while using a participle to express the subsidiary command.’

Another example of this construction is found in Mt 28:7 (“Go and tell”).

Harris also says that the aorist tense of the command to ‘make disciples’ does not imply a single action.  Rather, ‘All the aorist signifies here is that the whole process of making disciples is being considered as a unit.’

‘The fundamental basis of all Christianity missionary enterprise is the universal authority of Jesus Christ, “In heaven and on earth”.  If the authority of Jesus were circumscribed on earth, if he were but one of many religious teachers, one of many Jewish prophets, one of many divine incarnations, we would have no mandate to present him to the nations as the Lord and Saviour of the world.  If the authority of Jesus were limited in heaven, if he had not decisively overthrown the principalities and power, we might still proclaim him to the nations, but we would never to able to “turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God”, Acts 26:18.

‘Only because all authority on earth belong to Christ dare we go to all nations.  And only because all authority in heaven as well is his have we any hope of success.  It must have seemed ridiculous to send that tiny nucleus of Palestinian peasants to win the world for Christ.  For Christ’s church today, so hopelessly outnumbered by hundreds of millions who neither know nor acknowledge him, the task is equally gigantic.  It is the unique, the universal authority of Jesus Christ which gives us both the right and the confidence to seek to make disciples of all the nations.  Before his authority on earth the nations must bow; before his authority in heaven no demon can stop them.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 316f)

“and make disciples of all nations” – To treat this as if Jesus had said, “…make disciples of all people everywhere” is to slightly misconstrue his words.  But was he referring to ‘all nations’ as the Gentiles excluding the Jews, or to ‘all nations’ as including both groups?

Some scholars have argued that ‘all nations’ (panta ta ethne) excludes Israel.  They point out that the expression normally refers to Gentiles in Matthew (Mt 4:15; 6:32; 10:5,18; 12:8, 21; 20:19,25), and says that this is consistent with Matthew’s assertion that Israel has forfeited her gospel-privileges.  But there are other places in Matthew where the expression probably does not exclude the Jews, Mt 21:43; 24:9,14; 25:32, and the present verse.  (See Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, p47)

Blomberg (NAC) comments: ‘The two main options for interpreting ethnē are Gentiles (non-Jews) and peoples (somewhat equivalent to ethnic groups). The former translation is popular among those who see either Jesus or Matthew as believing that God once-for-all rejected the Jews. We have repeatedly seen evidence that calls this perspective into serious question (see under Mt 10:23; 23:39; 24:30; 27:25). Matthew’s most recent uses of ethnē (Mt 24:9, 14; 25:32) seem to include Jews and Gentiles alike as the recipients of evangelism and judgment. God is not turning his back on Jewish people here. What has changed is that they can no longer be saved simply by trusting in God under the Mosaic covenant. All who wish to be in fellowship with God must now come to him through Jesus.’

‘With the words “all nations,” Matthew’s gospel returns to the theme introduced in the very first verse (Mt 1:1)—that the blessings promised to Abraham and through him to all peoples on earth (Gen 12:3) are now to be fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah. The expression is comprehensive, including Gentiles and Jews. The aim of Jesus’ disciples, therefore, is to make disciples of all people everywhere, without distinction.’ (Carson, EBC)

George A. Terry concludes: ‘The essential function of “all nations” is to clarify the worldwide scope of the church’s mission. The biblical theology conjoined to the phrase is too important to be cursorily translated “everyone.” The Great Commission in Matthew is not the first time or the last time Scripture defines God’s vision for his world’s host of ethnicities. The original expression occurs in the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12:3. There, God covenanted with Abraham to make him a blessing to “all nations.”  France sees in Jesus’s commission an echo to Daniel 7:14: “To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him.”30 Revelation 7:9 indicates the future historical fulfillment of this covenant: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, … standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”’

We see here another twist on the ‘end of exile’ theme.  In the prophets, the nations come to Jerusalem, and there worship Israel’s God.  But here God’s people are to leave their land and make disciples from all nations, teaching them to follow Christ (not Moses).

This ‘”go” is something new. Hitherto men were welcomed when they came to Israel, God’s people; now the people of God are to go to men everywhere … what going there has been since Jesus spoke this word! Who will count the miles traveled by the messengers of Jesus?’ (Lenski)

‘Matthew’s Gospel is now, in its final verses, returning to the theme introduced in the very first verse … that the blessings promised to Abraham and through him to all peoples on earth (Gen 12:3) are not to be fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah. And when that promise is reiterated in Gen 18:18 22:18, the LXX uses the same words found here: panta ta ethne.’ (Carson)

Dawkins (The God Delusion, p257) quotes John Hartung with approval: ‘Jesus would have turned over in his grave if he had known that Paul would be taking his plan to the pigs.’  But, ‘on the contrary, all four gospels show that the invitation was intended to be extended to the Gentiles. Jesus’ interactions with, and stories about, Samaritans are a big clue in this direction. So are his teachings that blood membership of the people of God is not sufficient (John 8:39-47; see also John the Baptist’s similar words in Matthew 3:9). And the mission to the Gentiles is explicit in John 10:16, Matthew 28:19 and Acts 1:8.’ (Helen Paynter)

Christianity a missionary religion.  ‘There are the five parts of the Bible.  The God of the Old Testament is a missionary God, calling one family in order to bless all the families of the earth.  The Christ of the gospels is a missionary Christ; he sent the church out to witness.  The Spirit of the Acts is a missionary Spirit; he drove the church out from Jerusalem to Rome.  The church of the epistles is a missionary church, a worldwide community with a world-wide vocation.  The end of the Revelation is a missionary End, a countless throng from every nation.  So I think we have to say that the religion of the Bible is a missionary religion.  The evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable.  Mission cannot be regarded as a regrettable lapse from tolerance or decency.  Mission cannot be regarded as the hobby of a few fanatical eccentrics in the church.  Mission lies at the very heart of God and therefore at the very heart of the church.  A church without mission is not longer a church.  It is contradicting an essential part of its identity.  The church is mission.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 316)

A young girl returning home from Sunday School expressed disappointment with the class’s reaction after the day’s lesson. “We were taught to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations,” she said, “but we just sat.”

‘Reacting, and reacting rightly, against the dogmatic triumphalism of much past Christian approach to men of other faiths, it is all too easy to swing to the other extreme and talk happily of different roads to the summit, as if Jesus were in no particular and distinctive sense “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Of course where this point is reached, the Great Commission is tacitly, of not explicitly, held to be indefinitely in suspense if not quite oriose. This is a view forcefully propounded by some Christians holding professorial Chairs in Britain and across the Atlantic. Are they right? Is courtesy always to preclude contradiction? Is choice now just a matter of taste, no longer a response to an absolute demand? Is the Cross of Calvary reall no more than a confusing roundabout sign pointing in every direction, or is it still the place where all men are meant to kneel?’ (Warren, I believe in the Great Commission, 150f)

‘The command contains four verbs, all of which are significant; the main verb is “make disciples;” the subsidiary verbs are “go…baptise…teach.” (Peskett & Ramachandra, The Message of Mission, 175)

Matthew’s gospel frequently emphasises the universality of the message of Jesus: Mt 1:1; 1:3-5; 2:1-12; 3:9; 4:15ff; Mt 8:5ff; Mt 8:28; 10:18; 11:21-22; 12:21; 12:41-42; 13:38; 15:21-28; 16:13; 21:28-32,41-43 22:8-10; 24:14,31 25:31-32; 26:13; 27:54.

Baptizing them autos – ‘shifts to the masculine pronoun from the neuter peoples (ethne) and therefore implies a shift from groups to individuals (as in 25:32)’ (Blomberg).  Our Lord, accordingly, is not speaking of the collective conversion of national groups, but of individual members of those groups.

According to Murray Harris (Navigating Tough Texts, p24), ‘baptizing’ and ‘teaching’

‘do not specify two results of the formation of disciples, but at a minimum they describe two simultaneous actions that accompany disciple-making. More probably, they depict the two primary but separate means, but not necessarily the only means, by which obedient disciples will fulfil Jesus’ basic command to make disciples.’

‘But ancient hearers would, and modern hearers should, recognize a drastic innovation in a command to disciple ‘nations’. To be sure, the discipling of nations is carried out through baptizing and teaching individuals in those nations; although exceptions to grammatical consistency in antiquity abound, it is probably significant that the object “them” attaching to baptizing and teaching (Mt 28:19-20) is masculine (autous) rather than neuter (auta), although “nations” (ta ethne) is neuter. Nevertheless, the stark command to disciple “nations” implies more than producing disciples for any ancient teacher would, and in contrast to other disciplers Jesus’ followers would not disciple others to themselves.’ (Mt 23:8)

For DeYoung and Gilbert, these participles, which have the force of imperatives,

‘flesh out what is entailed in the disciple-making process. We go, we baptize, and we teach. “Going” implies being sent (see Rom. 10: 15). “Baptizing” implies repentance and forgiveness as well as inclusion in God’s family (Acts 2: 38, 41). “Teaching” makes clear that Jesus has more in mind than initial evangelism and response. He wants obedient, mature disciples, not just immediate decisions.’ ‘What Is the Mission of the Church?’ (p. 46). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

…in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – ‘Matthew innocently places this formula on Jesus’ lips, unaware that in centuries to come it would become well-known as a brilliant piece of dogmatic theology. He is, at this point, rather like someone innocently whistling a snatch of tune that a great composer will later make the centrepiece of a wonderful oratorio.’ (N.T. Wright)

‘Jesus has already spoken of God as his Father, (Mt 11:27 24:36) of himself as the Son, (Mt 11:27 16:27 24:36) and of blasphemy against God’s work in himself as against the Spirit. (Mt 12:28) Mounce states, “That Jesus should gather together into summary form his own references … in his final charge to his disciples seems quite natural.”. On the other hand, it is not inconceivable that Matthew distilled the essence of Jesus’ more detailed parting instructions for the Eleven into concise language using the terminology developed later in the early church’s baptismal services.’ (Blomberg)

It is unlikely that the command to baptise ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ represent a liturgical formula. It is more likely that the phraseology recalls the OT idea of ‘calling on the name of the Lord’, or that it means something like ‘loyalty to’ or ‘submission to’. (Peskett & Ramachandra, The Message of Mission, 181)

‘This commission to the nations has never been rescinded; it is still binding on the people of God. It was issued by the risen Christ who was able to claim that “all authority in heaven and on earth” had been conferred o him. A link between the “all authority” he claimed and the “all nations” he commissioned his followers to disciple is clearly intended. The universal mission of the church springs from the universal authority of Jesus.’ (Stott, The Contemporary Christian, 329)


Regarding baptism, note here its:-

1. Its divine authority. Even though there is no record that Jesus himself baptised with water, Peter’s invitation at Pentecost, Luke’s record (in Acts) of fifteen baptisms, and the teaching of Paul, Peter, and John leave no doubt, that the first disciples believed that baptism possessed Christ’s authority,

2. Its formula. It is a baptism ‘into’ (not ‘in’) the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Other NT references suggest that the formula was not followed precisely, but that the common feature was the name of Jesus Christ. The trinitarian formula was already in use by the time of the Didache (AD 100).

Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you – ‘Remarkably, Jesus does not foresee a time when any part of his teaching will be rightly judged needless, outmoded, superseded, or untrue: everything he has commanded must be passed on “to the very end of the age”.’ (Carson)

‘Matthew’s Gospel ends with the expectation of continued mission and teaching. The five preceding sections always conclude with a block of Jesus’ teaching … but the passion and resurrection of Jesus end with a commission to his disciples to carry on that same ministry … in the light of the Cross, the empty tomb, and the triumphant vindication and exaltation of the risen Lord.’ (Carson)

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Remember – lit. ‘look’.

I am with you – ‘God-with-us’ has become ‘Jesus-with-us’ (Wright).  Cf. Mt 1:23.

‘The promise echoes numerous OT passages that promise the presence of Yahweh with his people, e.g., Gen 28:15; Exod 3:12; Josh 1:5, 9; Isa 41:10). Where Yahweh was formerly with his people, Jesus is now with his people, the church. Jesus, though not physically present among them, will not have abandoned them. He will be in their midst, though unseen, and will empower them to fulfill the commission he has given them.’ (Hagner, WBC)

‘Some writers have pointed out that Matthew has no ascension narrative; it is as if in his view the presence of Jesus had never been withdrawn, and never will be until the end of time.’ (Peskett & Ramachandra, The Message of Mission, 176)

As France says, this is ‘not so much a cosy reassurance as a necessary equipment for mission.’

‘In other words, the disciple is not going to be left to serve God as well as he can in the light of what he has learned from the things Jesus has commanded. The disciple will find that he has a great companion as he goes on his way through life…He is not speaking of a temporary residence with first-century disciples, but of a presence among his followers to the very end of time. This Gospel opened with the assurance that in the coming of Jesus God was with his people (Mt 1:23), and it closes with the promise that the very presence of Jesus Christ will never be lacking to his faithful follower.’ (Morris)

To succeed this great undertaking; “Lo, I am with you, to make your ministry effectual for the discipling of the nations, for the pulling down of the strong holds of Satan, and the setting up of stronger for the Lord Jesus.” It was an unlikely thing that they should unhinge national constitutions in religion, and turn the stream of so long a usage; that they should establish a doctrine so directly contrary to the genius of the age, and persuade people to become the disciples of a crucified Jesus; but lo, I am with you, and therefore you shall gain your point. (MHC)

‘Wherever we are the word of Christ is nigh us, even in our mouth, and the Spirit of Christ nigh us, even in our hearts. The God of Israel, the Saviour, is sometimes a God that hideth himself, (Isa 45:15) but never a God that absenteth himself; sometimes in the dark, but never at a distance.’ (MHC)

A summary and climax

It would seem that the Great Commission sums up many of the great themes of the Gospels.  So, write DeYoung and Gilbert:

‘More than any other Gospel, Matthew focuses on discipleship. What do disciples believe about Jesus? How do they behave? What must they be willing to give up? It’s no surprise, therefore, that Matthew’s Great Commission stresses discipleship.
Similarly, from the opening genealogy to his baptism in the Jordan, to his temptation in the wilderness, to the frequent references to Old Testament fulfillment, Matthew presents Jesus as a new Israel, as the Messiah to whom the Law and Prophets were pointing. So, again, it’s no surprise that Jesus’s closing words in Matthew emphasize his authority.
We could go on and note the long Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, which forms the backbone of Jesus’s teaching, or the presence of the magi in the second chapter, which hints at Jesus’s universal kingship. These elements too find their climax in the Great Commission, with its emphasis on going to the nations and teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded.
The Great Commission, it turns out, sums up Matthew’s most important themes.’

What Is the Mission of the Church? (pp. 43-44). Crossway. Kindle Edition (paragraphing added).

The form of an ancient covenant

‘It is a remarkable and solemn thing that the familiar words of the Great Commission of Matthew 28 are cast in the form of an ancient covenant. There is a preamble, ‘All authority is given to me in heaven and in earth.’ There is a stipulation, ‘Go, teach all the nations.’ And there is a promise, ‘I am with you always.’ What are we being told here? That the presence of God is covenantal: ‘I am with you as you go and because you go.’ If we divorce the promise from the stipulation, there is no presence. The preaching of the Word, the evangelising of the nations, church extension, outreach, bringing God’s word to bear upon the lostness and blindness around us: it is all covenantal. That is the precondition of our enjoying the presence of God. We cannot invert the biblical order and say, ‘ we won’t go; we’re not ready; we are waiting for the presence.’ It is the going church which alone enjoys the covenant promise of the presence of God.’ (MacLeod, A Faith to Live By)

The Great Commission, Mt 28:18-20

1. Its objective – ‘make disciples…teaching them to obey’ Simply to wear the badge of Christianity, or to go through the motions of religious observance, are both useless, unless we seek to obey the Lord in everything that he has commanded. See Jn 15:14 “You are my friends if you do what I command.”

2. Its scope – ‘all nations’. Some people say, ‘Christianity is fine for some, but I’m not a religious type.’ But this misses the point completely. If Christianity is true, then it is of vital importance to us all. If it is untrue, then Christians are deluded. C.S. Lewis put it like this: ‘Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.’

3. Its focus – ‘baptising’, ie, membership of the church, and a public profession of faith. Cf. Mk 8:38 “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

4. Its doctrinal foundation – the triune God. It is a baptizing, not ‘in the name of’ (on the authority of), but ‘into the name of’ (coming into fellowship with) the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. ‘What we are witnessing is the authoritative announcement of the Trinity as the God of Christianity by its Founder, in one of the most solemn of his recorded utterances. Israel had worshipped the one only true God under the name of Jehovah; Christians are to worship the same one only and true God under the name of “the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.” This is the distinguishing feature of Christians; and that is as much as to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is, according to our Lord’s own apprehension of it, the distinctive mark of the religion which he founded.’ (Warfield)

5. Its method – ‘teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you’. ‘The apostolic word has primacy in the development of a disciple’s life.’

6. Its inspiration – ‘I am with you’. The disciples might think themselves left alone, as orphans in an uncaring world. But here is a promise full of consolation both to them and to us. He is with us, to pardon and forgive, to sanctify and strengthen, to defend and protect, to lead and guide, in sorrow and in joy, in sickness and in health, in life and in death, in time and in eternity.

7. Its duration – ‘to the very end of the age’.

And also: 8. Its dynamic – ‘all authority’.