XIV. Resurrection and Great Commission (Matthew 28:1-20)
XIV. Resurrection and Great Commission (28:1-20)
28:1-4 Early on Sunday, the first day of the week, some of the women who followed Jesus went to the tomb so they could anoint his body with spices (28:1; Mark 16:1). But there they encountered more than they were expecting. An angel in snowy white clothes, whose appearance was like lightning, came down, rolled back the stone, and perched on top of it (16:2-3). This was no cute little cherub. He was so astonishing and fearsome that the guards who saw him were terrified and passed out (16:4).
28:5-6 The angel announced to the women shocking news. Jesus who was crucified was not in the tomb. He’d risen as promised! (see 12:40; 16:21; 17:9, 22; 20:19). Even Jesus’s enemies knew he’d claimed he would rise again from the dead. That’s why they wanted a guard posted at his grave (27:62-66), but Jesus’s disciples—and apparently these visitors—had been slow to understand and believe. The angel invited them to see the empty tomb, a glorious sight.
28:7-10 Then the angel commissioned the women to proclaim Jesus’s resurrection to the disciples (28:7). So they left quickly with fear and great joy to tell them, trying to make sense of all that had happened (28:8). On their way, they met Jesus, their risen Lord. The only proper response to that miraculous sight was to fall down and worship him (28:9). He calmed their fears and sent them to tell the disciples they’d soon see him, too (28:10).
28:11-15 The soldiers who had been guarding the tomb reported to the chief priests what had happened (28:11). Knowing they had to come up with an explanation, the chief priests gave the soldiers a large sum of money to spread a lie (28:12-13). They were to claim that Jesus’s disciples stole his body in the night as they slept (28:13). Not only did the priests promise the guards cash, but also protection from Pilate when he heard the news (28:14).
Notice the fatal flaw in the story the soldiers were to spread. How could they know what had happened if they’d been sound asleep? And, even if they had been awake, how could a small band of civilians overpower armed and trained Roman soldiers?
Here we see an attempt to deny a supernatural event by replacing it with a natural explanation. Jesus really rose from the dead! The resurrection is the greatest event of human history and is proof that Christianity is true. Without it, we have nothing. With it, we have hope in history and for eternity (see 1 Cor 15:12-19).
28:16-17 The disciples traveled to Galilee to meet with Jesus just as they’d been instructed (28:16; see 28:10). When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted (28:17). So, even while they fell at the feet of the Son of God, they had lingering questions. Is this for real? Can I bank on this? The good news is that their doubts didn’t keep them from him. God is not afraid of your questions either. But don’t let them keep you away.
28:18-20 These final words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel have become known as the Great Commission. In them we find the church’s marching orders. Jesus declared to his disciples that all authority . . . in heaven and on earth had been given to him (20:18). In other words, he said, “I’m in charge.” Indeed, the Father has given the Son all authority up there and down here, in heaven and in history, in eternity and in time. Christianity, then, is no generic religion tied to a generic god. Authority over the universe is in the hands of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
On any football field, the players are more powerful than anyone else. But the referees have the authority. No matter how strong and fast the players are, referees can stop their whole show. The devil is far more powerful than you, but Jesus has all authority. That’s why your association with Jesus is the ultimate determining factor in your life.
In light of Jesus’s all-encompassing authority, he commands his disciples to make disciples (28:19). This is a command, not a suggestion or request. A disciple is a learner who seeks to become like the one whom he is following. The goal of discipleship, then, is to help people become progressively like Christ in character and conduct, in attitudes and actions. Jesus shares his authority only with disciples so that they may see the rule of God in and through their lives.
Discipleship is the key element of God’s kingdom agenda; it’s the visible manifestation of God’s comprehensive rule over every area of life. The effectiveness of a church is therefore evaluated—not in the number of its members—but by its disciple-making. It’s the absence of discipleship that keeps a church impotent and ineffective, because by not taking up Christ’s mission of discipleship, its people cannot draw on Christ’s authority.
We accomplish disciple-making by going, baptizing, and teaching. To make disciples, then, you must go: leave your holy huddle, take your witness with you into the world, and share the gospel.
Next, Jesus commanded them to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (28:19). The presence of the three titles with the singular “name” affirms the Trinity. To be baptized is to commit a covenantal act by which you are publicly identified with the triune God. As sure as wearing a wedding ring identifies you as married, it should be clear to all that you are under Jesus’s authority.
Jesus said to teach would-be disciples to observe everything he had commanded (28:20). The goal of this is not merely to impart knowledge—it’s to help people apply knowledge. Taking notes and memorizing verses is good, but until a learner also obeys God’s Word, teaching has not produced a disciple.
King Jesus closed the meeting with a powerful promise: I am with you always, to the end of the age (28:20). The second Person of the Trinity promises to uniquely engage and be involved with believers and churches that are making disciples. The church’s mission in history, in fact, is possible because of Jesus’s heavenly presence. The one who is called Immanuel—“God is with us” (1:23)—will be with us until the end. Therefore, we are to live our lives as disciples and equip others to do the same. Importantly, Jesus does not have the same level of commitment to believers who refuse discipleship (see John 2:23-25).