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What do angels, a religious scandal, a bunch of women and a group of soldiers all have in common? They are all part of the last chapter of Matthew’s gospel!

Written by Mike Biolsi on .


We have spent almost two years reading about John the baptist, Jesus, the disciples, the religious leaders and the crowds. When we come to the end of the book we are expecting there to be a neat-tidy summary that drives home of the point of the previous 27 chapters, right?

Well, let’s just dive into these verses:

Matthew 28:1–10 CSB

1 After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to view the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, because an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and approached the tomb. He rolled back the stone and was sitting on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. 4 The guards were so shaken by fear of him that they became like dead men.

5 The angel told the women, “Don’t be afraid, because I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here. For he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see him there.’ Listen, I have told you.”

8 So, departing quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, they ran to tell his disciples the news. 9 Just then Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” They came up, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus told them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”

David covered some of the significance of the resurrection last week. Right now, I want us to focus on the main characters.

›     Who are the main characters?

  1. Mary & Mary
  2. The angel(s)
  3. The soldiers
  4. The disciples
  5. Jesus!

The Women

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, some women go to the tomb. While different gospel accounts mention other women, Matthew mentions Mary & Mary.

If we look back a bit, we read that:

  • The women were at the crucifixion - Matt 27:55-56 “55 Many women who had followed Jesus from Galilee and looked after him were there, watching from a distance. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.”
  • notice there was a group of women that were with Jesus and the disciples. I think we often think of just the band of 13 traveling, but there were obviously many more in the traveling pack.
  • The women followed Joseph (and his servants) to the tomb so they certainly knew where the body was placed, and they saw the tomb sealed. Matt 27:57-61 “57 When it was evening, a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph came, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. 58 He approached Pilate and asked for Jesus’s body. Then Pilate ordered that it be released. 59 So Joseph took the body, wrapped it in clean, fine linen, 60 and placed it in his new tomb, which he had cut into the rock. He left after rolling a great stone against the entrance of the tomb. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were seated there, facing the tomb.”

So these women have been witnesses of the death and of the burial of Jesus. We do not know where the disciples are - they might have been watching all of this or they might have gone home. Matthew, however, has chosen to emphasize the women.

  • The women were the first ones to go to the tomb on the first day of the week. Matt 28:1 “1 After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to view the tomb.”
  • The women were the first ones to receive the message from the angel. Matt 28:5-6 “5 The angel told the women, “Don’t be afraid, because I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here. For he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
  • The women were the first ones Jesus appeared to post resurrection. Matt 28:9 “9 Just then Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” They came up, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.”

IF you wanted an accepted witness in a patriarchal society that gave all social prominence to men, and especially those in positions of authority, the LOGICAL group have as your initial witnesses of the resurrected Jesus would have been Peter and the disciples or even one of the Pharisees or Priests who had become disciples.

INSTEAD - God chose the women - a group that carried little weight by means of legal testimony in their culture. Even the disciples did not believe the women!

Luke 24:1–11 CSB

1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. 3 They went in but did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men stood by them in dazzling clothes. 5 So the women were terrified and bowed down to the ground.

“Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” asked the men. 6 “He is not here, but he has risen! Remember how he spoke to you when he was still in Galilee, 7 saying, ‘It is necessary that the Son of Man be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’8 And they remembered his words.

9 Returning from the tomb, they reported all these things to the Eleven and to all the rest. 10 Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them were telling the apostles these things. 11 But these words seemed like nonsense to them, and they did not believe the women.

However, Matthew was very specific is mentioning that the women were a part of the group that came from Galilee to Jerusalem for the Passover. They same group of women watched him get crucified and buried. Then, some of them witnessed the resurrection and the message from the angel. FINALLY, they were the first people Jesus appeared to in his resurrected body (that we know of).

First, I think this helps to lend credibility to the fact that the gospel authors were recording what actually happened, and not just creating a story of what “might” have happened. It also lends credibility to the resurrection as the women would not have had the strength to roll away the stone and steal the body - so it had to be someone else that rolled the stone away!

Second, I think it shows how God sees all people are valuable regardless of social status. We saw this when:

  • The angel first appeared to Mary (a teenage girl) to tell her she was going to have a son.
  • The angels appeared to shepherds instead of princes to announce the birth of Jesus.

God finds pleasure in elevating the weak to be strong, the downcast to be lifted up and the least to be the greatest. It has always been his way.

The Soldiers.

The next group of characters we need to recognize are the soldiers. They were a special guard, given to the priests, by Pilate with one job - protect the tomb: Matt 27:62-66 “62 The next day, which followed the preparation day, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that while this deceiver was still alive he said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 So give orders that the tomb be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come, steal him, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” 65 “You have a guard of soldiers,” Pilate told them. “Go and make it as secure as you know how.” 66 They went and secured the tomb by setting a seal on the stone and placing the guards.”

These soldiers are at the tomb that early morning. Let’s read about them:

Matthew 28:2–4 CSB

2 There was a violent earthquake, because an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and approached the tomb. He rolled back the stone and was sitting on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. 4 The guards were so shaken by fear of him that they became like dead men.

›     ask: When the angel showed up, what happened to them? [they fainted with fear!]

The women are standing and talking to an angel, and the soldiers are all passed out. I would tend to think that this was very much divine intervention and not just a cowardly cohort. When they did come back to their senses, some of the went to talk to the priests about what had happened.

Matthew 28:11–15 CSB

11 As they were on their way, some of the guards came into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 After the priests had assembled with the elders and agreed on a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money 13 and told them, “Say this, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him while we were sleeping.’ 14 If this reaches the governor’s ears, we will deal with him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 They took the money and did as they were instructed, and this story has been spread among Jewish people to this day.

TIMING: The soldiers were en route to the priests while the women were on their way to the disciples.

They explained “all” that happened, which would have included the angelic appearance and them fainting.

They accept the bribe and spread the lies.

That introduces us to the third group:

The Priests

They have been the enemy of the Savior throughout the entire ministry of Jesus. While there are some priests that chose to follow Jesus, we are talking about them as a group.

They have been plotting to discredit and eventually to kill Jesus. They were religious bigots who strained a gnat and swallowed a camel. [for instance, they would not go into Pilate’s house lest they become unclean, but they arrested and sentenced an innocent man to death by crucifixion and were not concerned about it.

Speaking of which, the priests hear about the angel’s appearance, the stone being rolled away, and Jesus rising from the dead, and are not even concerned! They simply create another lie to try to protect themselves and discredit Jesus. They offer the soldiers a bunch of money to say that the disciples took the body while they were asleep.

Let’s talk about that propaganda for a few minutes...

The Problematic Lie

FIRST, the reason the soldiers were there was to prevent such an incursion.

Second, to fall asleep while on duty was punishable by death.

SOLDIERS -> Imagine if your commanding officer offered to pay you to tell a lie, saying it was in the best interests of our nation. The lie is that while you were supposed to be guarding an important person, you decided to just go to sleep and when you woke up they were gone. Would you feel comfortable with that? It must have been a LARGE sum of money - because your future career path does not look good!

Third, IF they were actually asleep and the moving of the stone did not wake them, how would they have known it was the disciples who took the body? [CSI Jerusalem, maybe?]

It is an absurd story, but apparently it did the trick. In return, the priests promise to protect the soldiers if something was charged against them.

SO we have two groups who are each proclaiming a message; two groups of evangelists:

1.   soldiers (and priests) -> spreading a lie that the disciples took the body while the soldiers slept

2.   women -> spreading the message that Jesus rose form the dead

The Disciples

What about the disciples? This is the end of the book - I want some closure on some things, right? The last two disciples we read about were Peter when he denied Jesus 3 times, and Judas whose life came to an abrupt end. I really want to know how all of that works out - but I guess I will need to read the book of Acts, right?

While the women have many verses written about them, we basically have 2 about the disciples that state they went to Galilee. We do not know if the women were convincing enough to get the disciples to go to Galilee. We read from Matthew that the disciples were doing what Jesus had told them to do. Jesus had already told them he would meet them there, but that was BEFORE they crucified him:

Matthew 26:32 CSB

32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”

They DO go to Galilee. When they arrive, Jesus DOES meet them there!

Matthew 28:16–17 CSB

16 The eleven disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted.

Verse 17 is a challenging verse. Did some worship and others doubt? Did they all worship but some still struggled believing their senses? The word “doubt” also means to “waver”. The only other time Matthew used this word was when Peter stepped out of the boat and started walking on water, they he look at what he saw and started to sink.

Matthew 14:31 CSB

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew is finishing another theme in his gospel account -> the lack of faith the disciples had and how that faith was growing but not perfected.

THOUGHT: Jesus CHOSE to use these men, knowing that they would struggle at times with their faith. Worship and doubt can coexist. Service and uncertainty often walk hand-in-hand.

Matthew wanted us to see that the work that God was doing in the disciples was not finished yet, and there is always room for growth. Learned to “see” with faith versus seeing the physical around us, is a discipline that all of us can use work on!

God takes pleasure in using the “least” and the “weak”, people who have no social status and who have imperfect faith, to build his kingdom.

The Words

When Jesus had the disciples’ attention, he told them their mission.

Matthew 28:18–20 CSB

18 Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew gives us a Theology sandwich to chew on:

A. Theological Statement - all authority has been given to Jesus

B. Command to the Disciples - go and make disciples

C. Theological Statement - Jesus will be with them to the end of the ages.

BECAUSE OF A and C, the disciples can do B

Authority Given

Jesus was tempted in the wilderness to take that authority for himself. The satan offered him the kingdoms of this world if he would just turn his back on the Father. Instead, Jesus chose to be obedient to the Father, and the FATHER then bestowed on him the name above all names and the kingdoms not only of this world but of the heavenly realm as well.

THIS IS the anti-fall. This is the un-Genesis-3. This is totally undoing what Adam and Even did with that temptation. Rather than allow God to give them knowledge of good and bad, Adam & Eve chose to take it for themselves. And they were banished lest they “take” from the tree of life also.

It was the temptation of Babel when God scattered the nations; and of the chief priests as they chose to build their own religion and make themselves God instead of acknowledging the Son of God. In each “bad” scenario, people tried to take what God was meant to give. In Jesus case, he was totally obedient and the Father gave him the authority and power.

This is also a culmination of the “Son of Man” image that Jesus assumed, which further illustrates this truth. The one title he gave himself was “the son of man”. He never called himself the son of God. He did not call himself the king of the Jews. He was, “the Son of Man”.

Daniel 7:13–14 CSB

13 I continued watching in the night visions,

and suddenly one like a son of man

was coming with the clouds of heaven.

He approached the Ancient of Days

and was escorted before him.

14 He was given dominion

and glory and a kingdom,

so that those of every people,

nation, and language

should serve him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion

that will not pass away,

and his kingdom is one

that will not be destroyed.

You will see at least a few direct references between this passage about “one like a son of man” and the commission given to the disciples by “the Son of Man”.

  • he was given dominion, glory & a kingdom VS all authority has been given to me
  • every people, nation and language should serve him VS of all nations, teaching to observe all things

Go Therefore

After the statement about authority, Jesus gave an authoritative command, “Go, therefore, and make disciples...”

The word ‘therefore” is connecting the command back to the previous truth. Because God has given Jesus rule over heaven and earth, we are to go and make disciples.

  • The message of the angels to the women was: come and see, go and tell the disciples
  • The message of Jesus to the women was: go and tell the disciples (because they did see!)
  • The message of Jesus to the disciples was: go and make new disciples

This passage is often referred to as “The Great Commission”. What I LIKE about that concept is the idea of ‘co-mission” - a mission that we share with Jesus to reconcile people to God.

What I do NOT like about that concept is that when we add the word GREAT we seem to somehow connect it to a chosen few that are super-heroes of the faith. Often, this is the work of “professional missionaries”, right?

Dann Spader more aptly titles it, “The Everyday Commission”. It is not a single, special event for a super-hero people. This message is for all past, present and future disciples of Jesus - go and make more disciples!

It is NOT just about going and telling (evangelism). Nor is it just about baptizing or teaching. It is about both and so much more!

AND it is not just about making disciples in the people groups we are comfortable with. Make disciples of “all nations” would have seemed like a very uncomfortable command for a Jew.

What does it mean?

The Jews were a people, with a city and a temple, that were meant to be planted as a light to the nations. People would come to Jerusalem to meet Solomon and see God. They would come to the temple to see the people of God and the worship and see God. It was a “come and see” situation.

The followers of Jesus are a “go and make” people. We are not called to be content with others just coming to us, but we are to be busy going to meet them and do what Jesus did:

  • associate with them
  • eat with them
  • love them unconditionally. This has been misinterpreted by much of the modern church to mean that we embrace their sinful lifestyles and allow them to be members and leaders in the church even if they are living contrary to God’s standards. That is so very far from the truth! We are to love the way Jesus loved - sacrificially, but we are also commanded to teach disciples to obey the things Jesus taught - which also means addressing sin. Which is the next point:
  • teach them the truth
  • point them to our Father
  • help them when they fail
  • encourage their faith

Making disciples is the job of everyone. While many have made this the cornerstone passage of modern church missions, that is ONLY acceptable if each one of us sees ourselves as the missionary - which we are!

We make disciples by telling them about Jesus, baptizing them once they believe, and teaching them how to live for God.

We “go” in the authority given us by Jesus. We make disciples by “teaching” them what we learned from Jesus about our Father. We receive the power, wisdom and strength to do this work because the Spirit of Christ is in us.

This is the co-mission of all Jesus-students!

QUESTION: who are YOU discipling?

  • your friends?
  • your children? other people’s children?
  • your boyfriend/girlfriend?
  • your co-workers or neighbors?
  • your church family?

God uses the least (me and you) with imperfect faith (like me and you) to build his kingdom by making new disciples.

I am with you

And the other piece of bread in this sandwich is that as we go and make disciples, the spirit of Christ is with us. Matthew ties together yet another thread in the gospel as well as the greater narrative of scripture: Jesus is still Emmanuel, God with us.

TODAY, Jesus is STILL the way to have a relationship with Yahweh! And for those that choose to be disciples, we get the privilege of being ambassadors for the Kingdom of Heaven by going and making disciples.