Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection (Matthew 26-28)

Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection (Matthew 26-28)

Matthew marks the end of Jesus’ eschatological discourse with his normal formula (26:1), but inserts the word “all.” Jesus, however, continues to address his disciples in the same place. A fifth passion prediction is given, with the new statement that his crucifixion will occur within two days (26:2). Jesus links the Celebration of Passover with his Crucifixion. The scene suddenly shifts (26.3ff) to the palace of the high priest, where we discover the Jewish religious leaders gathered in order to plot Jesus’ arrest so that they can execute him (cf. 12:13-14). They recognize, however, the tense situation that the Passover Feast presents and so would like to do it either before or after Passover, because they are afraid of what the people might do (26:3-5). A thorubos (θόρυβος v. 5) would be a disturbance or uproar that would motivate Roman intervention.

Events move quickly. The remainder of chapter 26 narrates the events that lead up to Jesus’ death, ending with his Jewish trial. Chapter 27 outlines the Roman trial and sentence and his execution and burial. Chapter 28 records his resurrection and final commands to the Eleven. Note how time is compressed.

Thursday          Chapter 26

Friday              Chapter 27

Sunday            Chapter 28.

Carter[1] suggests that we consider the following elements that Matthew emphasizes in relation to Jesus’ death:

  • It is the work of his opponents
  • It is God’s will
  • It is Jesus’ Self-giving
  • It is a Model for Discipleship
  • It is accomplished for others
  • It provides Salvation from Sin as
    • Jesus is faithful to his commission
    • Jesus offers sacrifice on behalf of and for the benefit of the sins of others
    • Jesus in his death bears punishment “For Many,” the judgment for the sin of all
    • Jesus, Son of God, now becomes ‘the temple of God’ where people encounter God’s forgiving presence and atonement for sin
  • Jesus unites believing Jews and Gentiles as the People of God
  • Jesus inaugurates the Beginning of the New Age through his death and resurrection.

Matthew has a lot to say about the significance of Jesus’ death in these chapters. Much of this comes through his incorporation of OT materials that serve to define what Jesus is doing and why.


26:1-75            The last day with his disciples

While the religious leaders are plotting, Jesus continues to minister among his followers. The first half of the chapter (vv. 1-46) narrates various venues in which he continues to interact with them, ending in the Garden of Gethsemane. After his arrest, Jesus experiences the Jewish judicial trial, while Peter denies any relationship with Jesus (vv. 47-75). Each of these stories is related in some way to Jesus’ imminent death.

Jesus’ fifth passion prediction (vv. 1-2) is immediately followed by its fulfillment in the action of the high priests and elders of the people (vv. 3-5), who gather to implement their conspiracy to kill Jesus.

The next sequence of stories begins with Jesus’ interaction with a female disciple, at the home of Simon the Leper (v. 6). Presumably Simon was a healed leper, restored by Jesus’ actions. The woman is anonymous, but seems to have some wealth and she gives perhaps her greatest treasure to honour Jesus. He interprets this as a preparation for his burial, a prophetic action foretelling his death (v. 12). Although the other disciples are upset at this apparent waste, Jesus commends her, prophesying that her act will be remembered “wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world” (v. 13).  Why are his disciples so indignant? Does this express once more their failure to understand who he is, even though the woman seems to discern this with clarity and anoints him as if he is already dead? Again, his language (v. 13) reflects elements of the Great Commission in 28:19-20 and indicates to his disciples that something great is about to occur, something described as “this good news.” Jesus used this same expression in 24:14. Always in Matthew it is Jesus who uses this term (4:23; 9:35). The universal implications of Jesus’ activity are being emphasized. The juxtaposition of the religious leaders’ conspiracy, Judas’ betrayal, and the woman’s generous act to honour Jesus should be noted with all of the attendant irony.

Why does Judas take this action? Perhaps he finally has understood that Jesus’ passion predictions will be fulfilled. Since Judaism has no concept of a dying Messiah, this must mean that Jesus is a false messiah and so he should be destroyed.

After Judas makes his arrangement with the high priests for betraying Jesus, we move into the Passover Scene (17-25). Note that Judas begins to seek eukairia (εὐκαιρία favourable time, v. 16) to betray Jesus, even as Jesus acknowledges that “my time (kairos καιρός) is near” (v. 18). Judas’ arrangement is known to Jesus (v. 25), but Matthew does not say when Judas left the Passover meal to complete his arrangements with the Jewish authorities. Perhaps he expects the reader to assume that this occurs while Jesus is praying in Gethsemane (v. 36). Judas next is mentioned explicitly in the arrest scene (vv. 47-56). Matthew also records the death of Judas (27:3-10) in fulfillment of a prophecy in Jeremiah (32:6-9; cf. Zech. 11:12-13). While his death is self-inflicted, it comes as a result of remorse[2] (27:3) when he recognizes he has betrayed “innocent blood” (v. 4) and by this admission is guilty of murder.[3]  Judas recognized his error, perhaps remembering Jesus’ words in v. 24, but the Jewish religious leaders would not recognize theirs.

The disciples know that Jesus has come to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover (vv. 17-18) and Jesus has already made the arrangements because “my opportune time is near” (v. 18). Jesus links the Passover with his imminent death in a very purposeful manner. During this sacred meal he reveals the treachery that is afoot, but he seems quite settled because everything is happening “according as it stands written” (v. 24) with reference to “the Son of Man.” The revelation about this treachery is expressed as an ‘amen’ statement (v. 21). Jesus identifies Judas as the culprit (v. 25). The meal continues and Jesus takes advantage of the normal ritual in the Passover meal to explain to his disciples the significance of what he is about to do. The Passover meal becomes a participatory parable revealing the mysterious, sacred implications of his death. The linkage with the Passover Meal imbues Jesus’ death with ideas of redemption, salvation, deliverance, and sacrifice. In the Exodus story God kills Pharaoh’s firstborn in order to deliver his own firstborn, i.e., Israel. In the gospel story, God sacrifices his beloved son in order that his people and the rest of humanity might access salvation. His son becomes the new Passover sacrifice, whose execution is instigated by the Jewish leaders to eradicate a deceiver, not to gain deliverance.  The ironies are multiple.

Jesus’ language needs careful consideration (v. 28). His death will create a “covenant.” It will be established through his violent death (blood poured out – language used in Greek Jeremiah). “Many” will receive benefit, namely “the forgiveness of sins.” In the OT covenants often are established in the context of a sacrifice. How this sacrifice generates forgiveness of sins is not explained, but it is affirmed (cf. 1:21; 3:6). Although Jesus speaks clearly about his death, he also indicates that this is not the final act. His statement about drinking wine again “with you” assures them that he will survive this ordeal and will have further relationship with them, all in the context of his father’s reign (v. 29).  Given earlier references to the eschatological meal (cf. 8:11-13), Jesus presumably is referencing this event.

As they walk towards the Mount of Olives, Jesus makes another startling announcement. His death will create a significant obstacle for them all “in this night” (v. 31). They will all “be offended” (skandalisthēsesthe σκανδαλισθήσεσθε “stumble or made to stumble”), which encompasses Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, and the general desertion by the Twelve. Jesus considers this a fulfillment of prophecy (Zech. 13:7). But he expects his words to be a comfort, demonstrating that God is the One who will “smite the shepherd.” Again, Jesus moves to assure his disciples that this is not the end. “I shall be raised and go ahead of you into Galilee” (v. 32). Somehow Jesus’ death fulfills God’s program, even though the Jewish religious leaders and Pilate are the immediate agents. The impact of this event on Jesus’ followers is devastating – they, the shepherd’s sheep, will all be scattered. We have started to see the consequences of this in Judas’ action. Peter will be next. Despite his protestations, Peter learns that he, the Rock, will “deny Jesus,” something he and his fellows vigorously deny will ever happen. Jesus, much to their discomfort, insists that it will happen “in this night” (v. 34).  We cannot overlook Jesus’ ironic use of this verb “deny”, the very one he used in chapter 16 to describe the disciple as one who denies self for Christ’s sake.

The Gethsemane episode stands as the transition point between Jesus’ preparation for his imminent death and various notices about this in the first part of chapter 26, and his trial and death that ensue in the last part of chapters 26-27. In Gethsemane Jesus speaks about his ordeal and its implications. While he invites the same three disciples who experienced his transfiguration to hold vigil with him, all of the attention in the pericope is on Jesus and his interaction with his father. Matthew sets the stage, noting that Jesus “began to be grieved and distressed” (37), confessing that “my soul is deeply grieved until death” (38). What is the cause of this grief? Is it his awareness that paying the penalty for humanity’s sin will affect his relationship with God? Is it concern about the suffering that he is about to experience? Is it grief for Israel whose collective action to reject him will result in terrible judgment (cf. 23:37-39)? Jesus’ personal sacrifice was not an easy thing.

Many questions swirl around the significance of Jesus’ request to his father (39). Jesus has known for some time that his life will end in death, terrible death, to be followed by resurrection, and he has prophesied about it numerous times. Yet here he acknowledges God’s power to change things – if he should so will it. Conversely, he submits himself to whatever God does decide. Jesus’ will does not represent a conflict with the Father, but knowing the pain and difficulty of what the next hours will bring to himself, as well as the terrible implications for Israel, he expresses a desire that another way might be found. Of course, another way is what Satan offered in Matthew 4, but Jesus rejected it. No alternative, like a ram in bush, comes. God’s plan proceeds, despite the costly consequences for his son and for Israel. Is God, the Father, in this uncaring or somehow abusive? I do not think so. Jesus knows why he dies, he submits voluntarily (v. 42) to this death, and understands the benefits that accrue to those he loves through his pain and suffering. And so, knowing that “the hour has come” he strides forward to meet the betrayer (vv. 45-46). He embraces and fulfills his mission (20:26-28).

As noted, Jesus’ concern in Gethsemane may not be solely with himself, but may extend to those who will suffer the implications of his rejection and death, i.e., the inhabitants of Jerusalem. He has prophesied repeatedly that their rejection of him will result in the destruction of the Temple and the city and the death of many. At the end of Matthew 23:37-39  we have discerned his grief at their failure to respond to him, with the result that their city is left “desolate.” Is this a significant cause of Jesus’ grief and distress?

The interaction with the three disciples in this episode highlights once again their failure to engage in the spiritual mission because they rely on their own strength. Jesus’ statement to them (v. 41) probably reflects the essence of his own struggle. He will not be tempted, because “the Spirit” is strong, even though his flesh shrinks from embracing the cross.  Is the reference to “the Spirit” a note that the Holy Spirit is the One Who is leading Jesus into the crucifixion, just as he led him into the inaugural testing (4:1)? He shows to his disciples how to deal with such situations and remain spiritually strong by relying on this Spirit. Their sleeping exemplifies the difficulty human disciples have in “watching”, i.e., remaining spiritually vigilant (cf. chapter 25).

The signal of a kiss that Judas used stresses the treacherous nature of his act.[4] If the compound verb in v. 49 means “kiss effusively,” then perhaps Jesus’ response in v. 50 means “Friend, what do you mean [by such an effusive display of affection]?”, knowing full well his perfidy. However, there are many different ways to read Jesus’ response (cf. Davies and Allison’s Commentary). Jesus takes no action in this episode, he only speaks. And yet, he seems to be the one controlling the action. He does not resist Judas. He orders his followers not to resist, though some do (v. 51). He reveals there are significant resources at his disposal which he chooses not to use to protect himself (v.53 – more than 12 legions (72,000) of angels), similar to the heavenly army mentioned in 2 Kings 6:17. At his second coming these heavenly resources will be displayed with their full power and fully used. It is important to note what Jesus says. His father would provide these angels and protect his son, if Jesus asked (note again the linkage with 4:5-7 and the Temptation narrative). God would do it straightway. Only Jesus’ commitment to his Father’s plans and his love for those he will save restrains him. Scriptures must be fulfilled (v. 54). The statement “in that hour” (v. 55) picks up Jesus’ affirmation in v. 45 that “the hour has come near.”  Jesus affirms that these events are in full accord with scripture. The religious leaders could have challenged him any time in the temple, but they are afraid to do so. Jesus challenges them about this and tells them they are fulfilling scripture by their conspiratorial actions (v. 56). They treat him as an “insurrectionist” (lēistēs (λῃστής v. 55), a term he had used to criticize the actions of the religious leaders in the temple (21:13).

Jesus’ refusal to permit his followers to fight for him with swords is explained by the statement “all who take a sword by a sword will perish” (v. 52). Perhaps Jesus seeks consistency with his earlier injunction to love one’s enemies (5:47). Perhaps more difficult is the statement of retribution that it bears. Who brings this judgment against such violent people  – God or human? The story ends with “all his disciples, leaving him, fled” (v. 56). Is this part of the scriptural fulfillment?

The trial of Jesus before the Jewish authorities (vv. 57-68) proceeds at night, with some unusual elements. Despite great efforts and “many false witnesses,” finally they get two to agree on their testimony. They claim that Jesus said “I am able to destroy the temple of God and in three days to build it” (v. 61). We find no such claim linked with any Messianic speculation  prior to Jesus. Rather in the OT God is both the destroyer of the temple (Jer. 7) and its rebuilder (Ezek. 40ff). These witnesses testify that Jesus made such a claim. Exactly what Jesus said and what he meant by it is understood in various ways, as you compare the Synoptic parallels.

When Jesus says nothing in response to all of this, the high priest asks him directly (v. 63), to swear an oath before the living God and tell them, “are you the Messiah, the son of God?” Presumably because the High Priest has named God’s name, Jesus feels compelled to answer. Jesus’ response again has some ambiguity – You have said, but I am saying to you….” I think we have to take both elements together, but contrasting. Jesus does not affirm directly here what the high priest says nor does he identify himself explicitly as the Son of Man. However, the indirectness of his initial answer is clarified when Jesus identifies himself as Son of Man linked intimately with God on his throne, (Psalm 110:1) and also coming once again in glory, as Daniel prophesied (Dan. 7:13). By tearing his clothes the high priest demonstrates that Jesus is claiming some sort of equality with Yahweh and his authority. Jesus does not reveal when these religious leaders will see these things happen. Perhaps it will occur when all humanity sees him (24:30). Note how the three key titles this writer uses in reference to Jesus are brought together in this interchange – son of man, son of God, and Messiah.

The high priest describes Jesus’ answer as blasphemy. Just what in Jesus’ response leads to this accusation is debated. Many claimed to be Messiah but were not accused of blasphemy as far as we can tell. Probably it is his identification as the Son of Man with the throne of Yahweh, i.e., Yahweh’s authority and glory, that generates this outcry and accusation. They all, in Matthew’s narrative, determine that “He is guilty of death” (v. 66). The victimization of Jesus that ensues is rather grotesque. The high priest’s house has been discovered in Jerusalem and excavated. You can see underground cisterns associated with it that probably served as prison chambers for Jesus during this period.

The focus now shifts to Peter. Matthew had noted that while the disciples all fled, Peter “followed from afar” and entered the courtyard of the high priest’s residence “to see the outcome” (v. 58). The narrator picks up the thread of Jesus’ previous prophecy of Peter’s denial and shows how this is fulfilled in the threefold rejection by Peter of any association with Jesus. The repeated verb “he denied” (70, 72, 75) echoes the words of Jesus’ prophecy. What denial means gets defined in v. 74. Peter is said to invoke curses and to swear in order to convince others that he has no association with Jesus. The irony of his response “I do not know the person” should not be overlooked, given Peter’s previous confession, “You are the Messiah, the son of God.” The immediacy of the rooster’s cry adds drama to the episode. Peter’s remorse is deep and desolating.


Matthew 27 – Second trial, execution and burial.

Matthew summarizes the results of the Jewish religious leaders actions (vv. 1-2) that produce the decision to execute Jesus. To accomplish this, however, will require the agreement of Pilate, the Roman governor. Decisions to execute could only be made by the Roman authorities. The trial scene before Pilate (vv. 11-26) begins with personal interaction between Pilate and Jesus. The governor asks the key question “are you the king of the Jews,” expressing the issue in slightly different terms, but using political language understood by the Roman authorities. It places the issue into a political framework and not just a religious framework. Jesus’ answer again is ambiguous, “you say.” Jesus says nothing more, despite what the religious leaders accuse him of (v. 14).

Judas’ remorse, his return of the “blood money, and his suicide are recounted in vv. 3-10. The duplicity of the Jewish religious leaders seems to be revealed again. Their action to use the money to purchase a burial place “for strangers” is said to fulfill prophecy (Jer. 32:6-9 and Zech. 11:12-13).

The narrative then considers the custom of the Roman governor to release a Jewish prisoner during the Passover. Pilate has recourse to this practice as a way to release Jesus. The crowd would make the selection in some manner. The other prisoner under consideration is introduced as “a notorious prisoner named [Jesus] Barabbas” (v. 16). Whether “Barabbas” is his formal name or a nickname is unclear. It is an Aramaic expression meaning “son of the father.” Also, the textual tradition is divided as to whether the name “Jesus” was part of his name in the original narrative. If it was original, then we have this irony – two prisoners, one named Jesus, son of God/son of man, and one named Jesus, father’s son. Pilate contrasts Jesus Barabbas with Jesus Christos (v. 17). Matthew says that Pilate used this ploy because “he knew that because of envy Jesus was handed over to him” (v. 18). What the nature of this envy was we have to discern from his narrative. Further, Matthew reports the warning from Pilate’s wife (v. 19). Her dreams have in some way indicated to her that Jesus Christos is trouble and Pilate needs to take great care (remember the use of dreams in Matt. 1-2). Yet, despite Pilate’s clever ploy, the high priests and elders persuaded the people to “destroy Jesus” (cf. 12:14 – their original desire). The cry “crucify” now fills his ears. He can do nothing to dissuade them and so washes his hands publicly before them “to be innocent of this person’s blood.” He retreats from responsibility of murdering an innocent person. They accept responsibility (v. 25).

They take “innocent blood” upon themselves, just as Jesus warned in 23:35. They agree that the consequences will also affect their children (cf. 23:36). Pilate released Barabbas and handed Jesus over, after scourging, to be crucified.  Judas was also aware that he had betrayed innocent blood (27:4-5).

The Roman soldiers now take over the action and accomplish the crucifixion (vv. 27-56). After the mocking and abuse scene (vv. 27-31), they lead him out to be crucified. The parody of kingship – robe, rod, crown – and the various kinds of abuse are designed to demean, humiliate, and weaken the prisoner.

The actual crucifixion is narrated rather sparsely (vv. 32-37). Jesus refuses any narcotic to blunt the pain. He is crucified between two lēistai (λῃσταί), i.e., insurrectionists or robbers (v. 38). Matthew recounts how the Jewish religious leaders continue to heap scorn upon Jesus (vv. 39-44). The assumption behind their slander is that the Messiah would never tolerate such suffering and indignity. He would use his power “to save himself” (v. 42). If he can “destroy the temple and build it in three days,” why can he not use such power to deal with the Roman authorities? If he will get off the cross, then “we will put confidence in him” (v. 42). This is the kind of “sign” that will convince them of Jesus’ messianic credentials. Further, if he claims to put confidence in God, then God, if it his will, can save him (v. 43). But if God does not save him, obviously he cannot be the Messiah. This is the same temptation Satan employed in Matt. 4. Again they assume that God would never allow his Messiah to be treated in this manner. However, as Jesus acknowledged in Gethsemane, it is God’s will that places him on the cross. What should cause absolute astonishment generates nothing but scorn. Even the two “insurrectionists” join in abusing Jesus. Perhaps they thought he might include them in his miraculous escape!

Matthew, as Mark, devotes a special section to the actual death of Jesus (vv. 45-56). We are told what he did and said at the moment of death and who witnessed this event. As well Matthew notes the cosmic and religious phenomena that occur concurrent with Jesus’ death. Cosmic phenomena include the darkness from 12 noon to 3pm, the earthquake, and rocks splitting (v. 51). Religious phenomena include the tearing of the temple veil, from top to bottom (v. 51), tombs were opened, bodies of ‘holy ones’ were raised (v. 52), and those raised entered the holy city, appearing to many people (v. 53). These proto-eschatological events indicate the significance of Jesus’ death and anticipate its future consequences. The tearing of the veil has been understood in various ways, but I would link it with Jesus’ prophecies about the temple’s destruction.

The description of Jesus’ death is quite unusual – “crying with a loud voice he released the spirit” (v. 50). Parallels are found in texts such as Genesis 35:18 and Wisdom 16:14. Jesus still is in charge. He does not die in weakness, but with vigour and purpose. The speculations regarding Elijah are probably tied to the prophecy in Malachi that Elijah would appear as the great day of Yahweh dawned. If Jesus is Messiah, their eschatological timetable would expect Elijah next. However, they are uncertain as to Elijah’s precise relationship to the Messiah, particularly a dying Messiah. They are probably prompted by Jesus’ use of Psalm 22:1 in which the term “ēli (Ηλι),” the transliteration of the Hebrew terms “my God,” is confused with the name of Elijah.

One of the witnesses is the centurion, but Matthew also includes the other soldiers in the unit (v. 54). As they observe these various phenomenon, particularly the earthquake and the darkness, terror seizes them and they conclude “Truly this person was son of God” (v. 54). Romans were particularly attuned to natural phenomena as indicators of divine direction. Are their assumptions about “son of God” based in the taunts they heard from the Jewish religious leaders (v. 43)? What would these soldiers mean by this expression? Is it a statement about Jesus’ political/religious significance, since the Roman emperor was also “son of God” (filius dei)?

Some female disciples of Jesus were present, at least at a discrete distance, observing these things too (vv. 55-56). These are the women who will be significant as resurrection witnesses and assistants in Jesus’ burial.

Matthew emphasizes two significant elements about Jesus’ burial. First, it was accomplished by one “who considered himself to be a disciple of Jesus” (v. 57). Apart from his wealth and that he had a tomb already prepared, we learn nothing else about Joseph, other than his home town – Arimathea. What prompts Joseph to act, when none of the eleven will not dare to do this is not stated. But he dares to request directly from Pilate permission to bury Jesus – the act of a pious Jew to prevent the land from being desecrated by an unburied body. It was still Passover – probably Friday. Several women assist him.

The next day, i.e., Sabbath, the religious leaders tidy up some lose ends, particularly anticipating some problems about resurrection speculation. They do not believe Jesus will rise again, but want to prevent his followers from stealing the body and making this claim. So they ask Pilate to post a guard and officially to seal the tomb until after the third day. Matthew used a Latin loan word “custodia (κουστωδία) to describe this guard. While Pilate makes the religious leaders responsible, he seems to put at their disposal some Roman military resources (cf. 28:14). They have his permission to make it “as safe as they know how” (v. 65).

There is no doubt that Jesus dies. All the indications make this very clear. He is buried, according to normal Jewish process, with his body wrapped in cloth and anointed with aromatic ointments.

Does anyone really expect that Jesus will rise from the dead? His disciples have fled and are nowhere to be found. His body is entombed with no sense that it is done in any way to facilitate resurrection. His enemies take every precaution to prevent grave tampering – a common occurrence in antiquity. Roman resources and authority support their efforts. Jesus’ resurrection catches everyone by surprise. For all concerned the end of chapter 27 is the end of the story of Jesus, a fitting end for one who has created “deception” (v. 64). What happens Sunday is a complete surprise, even though Jesus has prophesied it would happen numerous times.


Matthew 28 – Resurrection, Restoration, and Commissioning

Matthew 28 has three segments:

  1. 1-10          The account of the Resurrection
  2. 11-15         The Soldiers explanation for the empty tomb
  3. 16-20 Jesus’ resurrection appearance to his followers and final commands.


Resurrection (vv. 1-10)

Sabbath ends at sundown on Saturday. The women arrive very early on Sunday morning to complete the burial arrangements – Mary Magdalene and the “Other Mary.” Whether the earthquake occurs as they are on the way to the tomb or previous to this, they encounter a divine messenger (angel of the Lord; cf. 1:20) who opens the tomb (v. 2).  The description of the messenger’s clothes (v. 3) is similar to the transfiguration description of Jesus in Matthew 17.  This spiritual being is visible to the soldiers guarding the tomb – they see him in action and are petrified with fear.

When the women arrive, they observe this scene and the divine messenger acts to moderate their fearful response (v. 5). He announces to them that Jesus, the crucified one (perfect participle), now “has been raised just as he said” and so is not present (v. 6). They are commanded to take this news to the disciples (v. 7). As well they are to remind the disciples that “he goes before you into Galilee, there you will see him.” This references an earlier prophecy in Matthew 26:32.

Their response is different from that recorded in Mark’s gospel (16:8). They are fearful, but also filled with joy and immediately obey the messenger (28:8).  On the way Jesus appears; they recognize and worship him; he reaffirms the instructions of the divine messenger (28:10). He calls his disciples “my brothers.”


The Guards (28:11-15)

As the women are busy following their instructions, the guards run into the city to let the high priests know what has happened (28:11). More conspiring occurs (28:12) as a strategic response is worked out. More silver passes palms and a story is fabricated – they spin the message as we would say. The Jewish leaders efforts to prevent claims of resurrection (sealing the tomb, establishing a Roman guard) would be vain if his disciples succeeded in stealing the body (28:13-14). Matthew notes that this same false report still is circulating in his day (28:15).


Final Resurrection Appearance and Command (28:16-20)

This pericope is divided into two sections. First there is the report of Jesus’ post-resurrection meeting with the Eleven (vv. 16-18). The Eleven have returned to Galilee as Jesus commanded. When Jesus appears, “they worshiped but some doubted” (v. 17). What does this imply? Why the doubts? Perhaps the verb describes uncertainty as to what they have experienced and its implications for their future.

The second part is Jesus’ response to their uncertainty (vv. 18-20) in the form of several commands and declarations:

  1. Jesus now exercises “all authority in heaven and on earth” – this was how God was defined in Matthew 6:9-10. The “Kingdom of Heaven”, i.e., the powerful rule of God is now being exercised through the risen Jesus (v. 18). This is Matthew’s final comment about the source and nature of Jesus’ authority.
  2. Jesus commands them “make disciples/recruit learners” (v. 19). Discipleship formation has been a primary theme of Matthew’s Gospel and here we see its culmination. “All nations” are the scope of their mission. This is to occur “as they go” about their normal business.
  3. The elements of this disciple-making are twofold – baptism and teaching. Why this order and why these elements? Teaching correlates to the role of a “learner” (disciple). The content of the teaching is “keeping all of the commands of the Messiah.” This is not just a communication of knowledge, but it is a transformation of life – keeping, preserving, guarding. Faithful, active vigilance is required.
  4. The act of immersion/purification signals a person’s repentant response to their witness and a desire to be purified for participation in the Messiah’s community. Its Trinitarian focus reflects Jesus’ baptismal act in 3:13-17 which also involved the Father, Son and Spirit at the inauguration of Jesus’ mission. Such people live and act in the name of God (as in Matthew 10 and 18).
  5. We end with another declaration of divine presence “to the end of the age.” The “Emmanuel” (“God with us”) prophecy in Matthew 1:23 is taken up and reiterated. Bodily absence does not mean spiritual absenteeism.

These are Jesus’ “great commandments” which form the essence of the new covenant life and service. Part of their teaching role will entail assisting people to interpret correctly the Jewish scriptures in the light of Jesus Messiah, using his framework of interpretation.

[1] Warren Carter, Matthew: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist, p. 186ff.

[2] Matthew used this word metamelomai (μεταμέλομαι) at 21:29, 32, where he scolds the religious leaders for refusing to change although they acknowledge John as prophet and heard his message.

[3] Pilate at 27:24 claims that he is “innocent from this blood” after he acquiesces to the crowd’s insistence that Jesus be crucified.

[4] In v. 48 Matthew used philēsō (φιλήσω) and in v. 49 katephilēsen (κατεφίλησεν). Often in Greek the use of the compound verb indicates some amplification or intensification of the action. However, it is not clear if this is the case in this instance.