The special purpose of this Gospel appears in the account of the Lord's death and resurrection as plainly as elsewhere. Hardly any portion, indeed, more strikingly illustrates it than the chapter before us. Thus we have no mention of our Lord's ascension. If we had only Matt. 28, we should not have known as a fact that the Lord went up to heaven at all. It is impossible without a special purpose that the apostle could have omitted an event so glorious and interesting. Not that this omission is a defect in Matthew's narrative; on the contrary, it is a part and proof of its perfection, when the scope is understood. Were the ascension scene introduced here, it would be out of keeping with the history that closes in our chapter. Yet even now it is one of the points that learned men stumble over. Neglecting the evidence of design, they reason a priori, and consequently cannot understand why such an event should be left out by our Evangelist. Evidently they do not believe, in any full sense, that God wrote these Gospels; else they would conclude that the fault lay in their ignorance and misreasoning. A simple-hearted believer, though he may not understand why, rests satisfied that the omission in Matthew is as perfect as the insertion of it in Luke; everything is as it should be in the word of God, as He wrote it. And the notion that something is now wanting, which Matthew once wrote as a conclusion, is contrary to all evidence, external and internal.
Before closing, I shall endeavour to show how its presence here would be incongruous and detract from the beauty of the picture God was supplying: on the other hand, its presence where it does occur elsewhere is, I need hardly add, equally beautiful and necessary. Events are selected in connection with the immediate subject. Taking the chapter as it comes, we see that the Holy Ghost here confines Himself to a Messiah risen from the dead, who meets His disciples in Galilee, outside the rebellious city. In other parts of this Gospel the ascension is implied or assumed, as in Mat_13:41; Mat_16:27-28; Mat_22:44; Matthew 24; Matthew 25; and, above all, Mat_26:64. It was therefore not omitted ignorantly, nor has any accident robbed us of it in the original. I only say this as entirely refuting the foolish and irreverent reasoning of men, chiefly moderns.
"In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn, etc. (ver. 1) This was not the morning of the resurrection-day, but the evening previous to it. We, with our western reckonings of time, might think only of the early twilight; but it means simply that the week was drawing to its close. We must remember that to a Jewish mind evening twilight commenced the new day.* An exactly similar phrase occurs in Luk_23:54, where the Jewish sense cannot be doubted. The Holy Ghost does not continue the description of this visit of the women to the sepulchre. There is no real ground for connecting the circumstances of the first three verses of this chapter.** The first merely presents the devotedness of these holy women. When the disciples had gone to their own homes, these women, spite of natural fears at such a place and time, could not stay away. They had prepared spices for embalming the body, but rested the sabbath-day (as we read in Luke), according to the commandment. "It was just getting dusk" is the true thought here. It was the twilight after the sabbath. Their hearts took them to the grave, being bound up with Jesus, as soon as the sabbath-law permitted.
* This is according to Gen_1:5: "And the evening and the morning were the first day." So vers. 8, 13, etc.: to this the Jewish reckoning conformed. If we believe that Gen. 1 has also a symbolical application, as others have clearly shown, the omission of "evening and morning" on the seventh day very significantly points to God's rest (and ours with Him) in new creation, where sin shall not enter, and His rest shall not be broken. - [Ed.
**This is quite in keeping with what we have found in Matthew elsewhere. The reader can compare καὶ ἰδ ού ("and behold") in Mat_8:2 with the same in Mat_28:2. The true connection is in the object of the narrator, not in mere time, There is no ground to suppose the women witnessed the earthquake: the soldiers, I believe, alone did.
"And, behold, there was a great earthquake," etc. This was an after-occurrence; how long after is not said. We have simply a narrative of events one after another, in these early verses, without defining the intervals of time. We rnust not confound the visit of the women here (in verse 1) with their visit on the morning of the first day mentioned by Mark and in our verse 5, etc. The Lord was not on this last occasion in the sepulchre, and the angel, descending and rolling away the stone, had nothing directly to do with the Lord's rising. No such interposition was in any way necessary to Him. God raised Him, and He Himself rose - taking up His life as He had laid it down. Such is the scriptural doctrine of the resurrection. This angelic action was, I suppose, to call the attention of men to the Divine act in the resurrection of Jesus, and the more fully to set aside the deceits or the reasonings of enemies.* So the angel's word is, "Come, see the place where the Lord lay."
*Perhaps more especially for the comfort and assurance of the sorrowing disciples, as well as the announcement to them of the resurrection of Jesus. Ed.
One remarkable consequence of the resurrection is always pressed: the angel says, "Fear not ye." That mighty act of God is intended forever to dispel the alarm of those who believe in Jesus, by giving them the certainty of His intervention on their behalf. Up to the advent and resurrection of Jesus there was a measure of darkness and uncertainty, however great the kindness and mercy shown by the Lord. The resurrection left all the world apparently undisturbed; but what was the great resulting truth and blessing for the people of God? To faith it is the triumph of God over the last efforts of sin and the power of Satan. No doubt death is still in the world, pursuing its ravages. And what is the resurrection to you? says the caviller. Everything, if Christ is my life. I am entitled to have the comfort of it; my soul is welcome to drink into the joy of it, though my body does not yet share the deliverance. God has shown me in the cross of Christ the perfect witness of suffering for sin. Man believes not that He is the Son.. and cannot understand how God could allow His best-beloved to suffer. Others too had cried to God; and, spite of all their faults, they had been heard; yet, in the extremity of Christ's sufferings, and spite of His grace and glory, and of the Father's love to Him, He cried and was not heard! For truly, in all His life He was the beloved One over whom the heavens opened with delight. But upon the cross the crisis is come, and all js changed. It might have seemed to the world that all was over with the claims of Jesus. He had died on the cross, and by His own confession was forsaken of God. Was all now as man or the devil desired? On the third day God interferes: Jesus rose from the dead, and all the power of earth and hell was shaken to its. centre. Resurrection settled everything in peace for the believer. Every cause for fear and unbelieving sorrow was buried in the grave of Christ. Every blessing overflows in Him risen. How much is made of this in the Epistles! Nothing is more fundamental or more insisted on. Vague thoughts of God's goodness, love, etc., would not be enough for the solid comfort of God's people. Full, settled peace is founded on the solid basis to which God points - the death and resurrection of Jesus. If His death meets all my evil, His resurrection is the spring and pattern of the new life and acceptance - beyond sin, and death, and judgment. Our life, our peace, our new place before God, are now to be associated with Jesus risen.
The course of the world was not interrupted by the Lord's resurrection. Men slept as usual, and rose as if nothing had happened. Yet was it the greatest work of power that God had ever wrought; yea (founded on the deepest suffering that ever was endured), it was the greatest work He ever will do; and I say this looking on to the day when everything shall be made new according to His glory. These are the consequences of Christ's resurrection, the applications of the power put forth therein. But if the world was indifferent to it, what should it be to us? Say not it is a little thing because it is as yet a matter of faith. Into the midst of this scene of weakness and death the mighty power of God has entered, and has been put forth here in the resurrection of Christ. No more could God do, nor needs to do, to blot out sin: it has been put away by the sacrifice of Christ. Jesus was treated as if He were covered with it, as if it were all His own. If it was to be removed, He must bear it thoroughly: He did so, and now it is gone; and we rest upon what God tells us of Him and it. This is what tests the soul's confidence in God. Am I willing to trust God, when I cannot trust myself? Sin brought in distrust of God; but the gift, death and resurrection of Christ more than restore what was lost, and establish the soul in such a knowledge of God as no angel ever did or can possess. What my soul wants is, not that God should be so merciful as not to destroy me because of my sins, but a full deliverance with a full judgment of sin (Rom_8:1; Rom_8:3). We can not have fellowship with God except on the ground of sin being taken away righteously. Jesus crucified has abolished sin before God for those who believe. To believe God about the death of His Son because of our sin is to take God's part against ourselves. Before Him to acknowledge ourselves lost sinners is repentance toward God, and inseparable from faith.
Perfect love is in God, and comes out of the depth of His own holy being. God became a man that He might go through the whole moral question of sin: that done in Christ is the triumph of grace. No wonder then that the angel could say, "Fear not ye." The resurrection shows every hindrance gone. The angel acknowledges Him as Lord ("Come and see the place where the Lord lay"); but what a blessing to be able to say our Lord! What a joy thus to own that risen One who was crucified as entitled in everything to command! No doubt, what made His work of value was that He was God Himself - One who, while He was a man, was infinitely above man - a daysman - One who could lay His hand upon both. The angel intimates this, that in the presence of a risen Saviour there was nothing for the most timid believer to fear. On the other hand, Act_17:31 says: "He [God] hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men in that He hath raised Him from the dead." If I do not trust to a risen Saviour for the deliverance of my soul, I participate in the guilt of His death. If I have not fled for refuge to Him, I belong to the same firm, as it were, that crucified Him. But by faith in Him I am washed from this guilt by His blood. How just that the provision of grace which signs the believer's deliverance should, if despised, become the dead weight that sinks the world! If I believe Him, I know it was man that crucified Jesus; and not merely profane man; for the guilt pervades all. And there is one only door of deliverance for any, and this is Jesus crucified. "Fear not ye." There is no need of alarm, for He is risen. "I know that ye seek Jesus," etc. It was the heart set upon Jesus that was valued. It had ever been in the mind of God to blot out sin; but now it was all gone; and God was waiting for this to declare the glad tidings. He who was full of holy love in giving Jesus to die, now raised Him up from the dead, and gave Him glory, that our faith and hope might be in God. If my faith and hope are in God, my delight is in Christ; if in myself, Christ becomes to me a cipher, and I justly perish forever. If I have not Christ for my rest and delight, for my Saviour and Lord, here, I must by and by quail before Him as my judge.
And now, returning to the women, they were to go and tell His disciples that Jesus was risen from the dead, and was going before them into Galilee. In Luke there is no notice of Galilee, but there He joins the two disciples going to Emmaus; and when they returned to Jerusalem the same evening, they "found the eleven gathered together. . . . saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon." Jesus Himself appears in their midst. All circumstances there have Jerusalem as their centre. In Matthew the great point pressed is the meeting-place assigned in Galilee. And why? Is it not remarkable on the face of it that one should give the meeting of Jesus with His disciples in Jerusalem, the other in Galilee? Has not God some truth to teach me hereby,? We are apt to measure the importance of a truth by its results to ourselves; but the true standard is its bearing on the glory of God. The way in which God gives us His truth, after all, is also the best for us. Throughout the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is found in Galilee. Jerusalem refuses Him, was troubled at His birth, and cast Him out unto death, even the death of the cross. "We did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted," exactly describes their feeling. They looked in the Messiah for something suited to their earthly idea; they vented their disappointment in the rejection of the Son of God. In accordance with this, then, Matthew records that the scene of His living labours, as also where He manifested Himself as risen after the house of Israel rejected Him, was Galilee - the place of Jewish scorn. He shows Himself anew in despised Galilee of the Gentiles, when all power is given to Him in heaven and earth; and there He gives the godly remnant from His ancient people their great commission.
"And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them," etc. In John, where Mary recovers her beloved Lord, as she thinks, He says, "Touch Me not." How comes it that here, when the women came and held Him by the feet, our Lord does not forbid it? A totally different truth is thus set forth by these acts. The great hope of Israel was to have Christ in their midst. But to us the absence of Christ on high, while we go through our time of trial, is just as characteristic as His presence will be to them. John speaks fully of our Lord's going away: another scene of glory entirely distinct from this world is brought out there. Hence the teaching implied is, as it were, You may have been looking as Jews for a scene where I shall be personally present; but instead of this, I tell you of My present place on high, and the many mansions that I go to prepare for you in My Father's house. He reveals to them a heavenly hope totally distinct from His reigning over His people in this world: therefore in John the Lord says to Mary, "Touch Me not, for . . . I ascend," etc. But in Matthew we are shown Jesus rejected by Jerusalem, yet found in Galilee, even after His resurrection. Whatever His power and glory now, and the comfort and blessing to His own, He is still, as regards the Jews and Jerusalem, the rejected and despised Messiah. Hence it is that on this occasion He confirms the message of the angel, saying to the women, "Be not afraid: go tell My brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see Me" (ver. 10).
The governor wielded the power of the Roman kingdom; but who were they that secretly instigated him? The false religionists of their day - the priests, utterly blinded of the devil. Always without simplicity of heart, they assembled together with the elders and took counsel; and those who bribed a treacherous disciple with "thirty pieces of silver" to put Christ to death, gave "large money" now to deny the truth of His resurrection. Such is man, such is the world; and, solemn to say, such is its highest and proudest phase. Such it was then: is the moral complexion altered now? If we read the Bible aright, we shall find in it not only the record of the past, but the divine lesson-book of the present and the future. May we read it for our own souls! Certain it is that the Jews, and especially the religious chiefs, took the lead in evil and in opposition to God before Christ's death (Matt. 26, 27), while He lay in the grave (Mat_27:62-66), and after He rose again (Mat_28:11-15). But unbelief is after all as weak against God as faith is mighty with and by Him. Their own guard became the clearest, most unwitting and least suspected witness of the resurrection. What a testimony was the alarm of the soldiers, added to the doubts of His own disciples! It became more than unbelief now; it was a deliberate, wilful lie; and there are the Jews "until this day." Their fears were, without their meaning it, a sure testimony to Jesus; but their enmity leads them on now to reject What they knew was the truth, even if they perished everlastingly.
"Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted" (vers. 16, 17). "Some doubted" - and these were disciples. How good is God! how above the thoughts of man! Man would have held back the fact. Why say that some of His disciples doubted? Would it not stumble others? but it is profitable to know the depth of our unbelieving hearts - to see that even in the presence of a risen Jesus "some doubted." No matter what His love to His children, God never hides their sins, nor makes light of them.
"And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. . . . And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." Now it appears to me that with such a word as this the ascension scene would be incongruous. He had said, "Lo, I am with you alway"; and there the curtain drops - the unbroken blessedness of this promise rings on the heart! Thus the keeping out of view His departure seems to me to crown the beauty of the parting promise, and of the whole Gospel.
And why not here "repentance and remission of sins"? why not "preach the gospel to every creature "? What is the peculiar fitness of this conclusion of Matthew? The Lord, rejected as the Jewish Messiah, opens out fresh dealings of God with men. Before, they were not to go even to Samaritans; but here an entirely new sphere is opened. It is no longer God having His peculiar dwelling-place in one nation; it is now this larger thought - "Go ye therefore, and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (ver. 19).* Baptism is here in contrast with circumcision, and the fuller revelation of the Godhead is contrasted with the name Jehovah by which God was known to Israel. "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." This falls in with the sermon on the mount, where the Lord says, in contrast with them of old time, "But I say unto you." He was the Prophet like unto Moses whom God had promised to raise up, and to whom they were bound to harken. What special guidance was this for Jewish disciples! They were to teach all things that Jesus had commanded. He was the beloved Son of God who now was to be heard pre-eminently. It was not a question of putting the Gentiles under the law - which has been the ruin of Christendom, the denial of Christianity, and the deep dishonour of Christ Himself.
* It is still "the kingdom," but no longer confined to Israel. - [Ed.
And here all closes. The disciples were about to enter on a troubled scene; but, "Lo, I [Jesus] am with you all the days, unto the consummation of the age." And this was and is enough for faith. The Lord grant that we may confide our souls, both for this age and forever, to that Word which shall stand when heaven and earth pass away!