Matthew 28:11 – While they were going, behold, some of the guards went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place.
Last time we examined the resurrection event from the perspective of those who were faithful to Jesus. Now we will see the same events from the perspective of ‘unbelievers’.
In verses 2-4 of chapter 28, Matthew informs us that the guards were at the tomb when the earthquake occurred and the angel appeared. Instinctively, they realized that the angel had far greater power and authority than anything they possessed, even as a group. They cowered in fear before the angel.
Eventually, they were able to rise and leave the tomb; they were gone by the time the women arrived there. The most likely scenario is that the senior officers went to see the priests, while the ordinary soldiers returned to their barracks. After all, there was no need to stand guard at an empty grave.
This raises an interesting question – did the soldiers see Jesus rise from the dead?
It is doubtful that they did. If Jesus was not going to let his faithful followers see him rise from the dead, he certainly wasn’t going to manifest himself to a bunch of heathen soldiers (possibly the same band that crucified him). In fact, there is no record of Jesus appearing to any unbelievers after the crucifixion (Acts 10:40-41).
As we discussed in our last post, some scholars believe that the angel opened the door of the tomb, and Jesus came out. But others dispute that. They believe that Jesus never walked out the door of the tomb at all. They believe that since Jesus had a resurrected body, he could pass through the stone of the tomb, as he passed through the walls/doors of buildings (John 20:19, 26).
If this is the case, then we are left with the same question we had before – why does the angel open the tomb? If Jesus had already left it, what was the point?
The answer is that the tomb was not opened to let Jesus out, it was opened to let the disciples in!
God wanted reliable witnesses to the resurrection. So the women and (later) the disciples were able to go into the tomb, see the grave clothes and testify that the tomb was empty.
Matthew 28:12-13 – And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep’”.
As the soldiers were under the command of the priests, they brought their report to the Jews, rather than Pilate. In response to their report, the chief priests called an emergency meeting of the Sanhedrin.
Now, you would think that these events would give the Jewish leaders a reason to pause and carefully consider their beliefs and future actions. There can be no doubt that there was an earthquake. There can be no doubt that these heathen men had seen an angel, and they were scared. There can be no doubt that the tomb was empty, because the soldiers would certainly have looked inside to see. Therefore, the only logical conclusion is that Jesus rose from the dead. And if that was true, he MUST be the Messiah!
But again, the Jews are blinded by hate and fury. They refuse to recognize any scenario that indicates Jesus as the Messiah of their people. So instead of accepting the truth, the council conspires together and makes up a lie. The soldiers are to tell everyone that they fell asleep, and the disciples took the body of Jesus during that time. You would think the Scribes and Pharisees could have come up with something a bit more realistic than a weak fairy tale like that! Just look at all the inconsistencies in their version of events:
- The story of the Pharisees required ALL of the soldiers in the entire detachment to fall asleep, ALL at the same time. Falling asleep on duty was a death sentence for any Roman soldier; even ONE man falling asleep was unlikely.
- If they were all asleep at the same time, how do they know that it was the disciples who came and took the body?
- On the other hand, if they saw the disciples stealing the body, why didn’t they put a stop to it? That was their job.
- How did the disciples manage to roll the stone away from the tomb without waking up the soldiers?
- The disciples had no real motive for stealing the body; a ‘faked’ resurrection would soon be found out. Besides, by all accounts, they have been temporarily stunned into cowardly inaction. They couldn’t even bring themselves to stay until the crucifixion was over; there is no way they had the courage to break into a heavily guarded tomb and steal the body.
- If, for some strange reason, they did want to steal the corpse, they would do it as quickly as possible – they would not take time to remove the grave clothes before they left.
Nevertheless, that was the story the religious leaders came up with, and that was the story they were going to stick to. But now they face another dilemma.
The tomb is empty and the body is gone. There is no way around that. It won’t be long before the disciples find out the tomb is empty, and they are going to spread the word that Jesus has risen. That story would spread among the people like wildfire. So the religious leaders have an immediate need to circulate their version of events, or else everyone is going to believe in Jesus.
Step one of that plan was to bribe the guards into supporting their story. Where do you suppose they got the money for the bribes? You guessed it – the temple treasury. Previously they had used sacred money to betray Jesus, now they use it to hush up his resurrection.
Matthew 28:14 – “And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”
In addition to the bribe money, the Scribes and Pharisees also guarantee the guards that there will not be any repercussions from Pilate. How could they be so sure? What do they mean “if” the governor hears of it?
Pilate stayed in Jerusalem during the Passover so he could deal with any trouble/rebellion that might pop up during the feast. But after the city emptied, he would immediately return to Caesarea.
He wasn’t going to hang around Jerusalem to make further inquiries about the death of Jesus. He was probably glad to have that whole matter behind him. The only reason he ever got involved in the situation in the first place was at the request of the Jewish leaders. So, unless the Sanhedrin demanded him to take further action (which they obviously wouldn’t), he would have considered the matter closed, and immediately left town. He had no interest in what had happened to the body.
Matthew 28:15 – So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.
‘This story’ refers to the lie that the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb.
According to Justin Martyr, who wrote in AD 170, the Jewish rulers sent messengers to their fellow Jews all throughout the known world, proclaiming that the resurrection was a myth, and that the body of Jesus had been stolen by his disciples.
Matthew informs us that their campaign of disinformation was at least somewhat successful because 15-20 years later (when he penned his gospel), the Jews were still spreading this rumor around.
Although denying the resurrection amounted to an attack on Christianity, this did not prevent the truth of the gospel from spreading far and wide. It traveled much further than the false rumors – it crossed the boundaries between Jew and Gentile and it went from Jerusalem to Judea to the uttermost parts of the world!
Try as he might, Satan will never stop the gospel message!
Matthew 28:16 – Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.
As we have mentioned prior to this, Matthew’s gospel is streamlined in many ways. Here is another example. Jesus made a number of appearances to his disciples which have been recorded by both Luke and John, which Matthew has omitted from his text.
These appearances were private meetings that included the women and the disciples.
However, as Matthew indicates, there was an appointed meeting that was to take place in Galilee. Jesus no doubt revealed the time and location to his followers in one of their private meetings. Although we don’t know exactly where that meeting took place, many people conjecture that it was the same location where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount.
Why do you suppose that Matthew records only this one meeting? Maybe by mentioning only one meeting, he is calling it to our attention. He is letting us know that this meeting was extremely important.
This was the meeting that Jesus spoke about during the last supper, before he died:
Matthew 26:31-32 – Then said Jesus unto them, all you shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee.
It was the meeting the angel mentioned on the day of the resurrection (Matthew 28:7). It was the meeting that Jesus himself spoke about while he met with the women, who were on the way to inform the disciples about the resurrection (Matthew 28:10). It is probably the meeting that Paul spoke about where over 500 followers of Jesus were present:
1 Corinthians 15:6 – After that, he [Jesus] was seen of over five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep.
How did so many people get invited to the meeting?
Well, ask yourself this question – If you were one of the disciples and you had seen and spoken to Jesus after he was risen, would you keep that information to yourself? Or would you joyfully tell others, especially people you knew were believers? Of course, you would share your good news!
And If you heard this good news what would you do? Of course, you would do whatever it took to be in Galilee that day, to see your risen Lord! So it isn’t all that improbable for there to be over 500 people waiting in Galilee to see the Lord!
Matthew 28:17 – And when they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.
This too, would be natural. The disciples certainly recalled the words of Jesus when he told them he would die and rise again. There was no doubt in their minds that Jesus was the risen Messiah, the Son of God and they immediately worshiped him.
However, while Jesus had appeared multiple times to the 11 and to the women, some people at this meeting were seeing Jesus for the first time. In a group this large, it would take some time for Jesus to get around to greeting each person. So some may have doubted until they actually came face-to-face with Jesus and had a chance to speak with him.
Once they got close enough and spoke with him, faith triumphed over doubt. They recognized his walk, his speech and his face. Perhaps he showed them the nail marks in his hands as he did for Thomas. In any case, his followers knew it was him.
Doubt may also have occurred because the event they were witnessing was truly mind blowing! The one who had been cruelly tortured and put to death as they watched was now standing before them in a heavenly body, which revealed his glory and splendor.
Matthew 28:18 – And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Was authority given to Jesus right then? Didn’t he already have authority?
Jesus, the Son of God, had an original right to all things because he was the creator of all things:
Colossians 1:16-17 – For by him [Jesus] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
As creator, he has the right to control and dispose everything. In other words, the Creator has a right to arrange, set in order, regulate, settle or otherwise make determinations regarding his creation. He has the right to assign a use or bestow a purpose on anything he chooses. This is true for all the hosts of heaven, as well as all life and material on earth.
As you know, he gave mankind authority over the earth, which man then turned over to Satan.
Now, after his voluntary death and resurrection, all authority and power in the universe are put into the hands of Jesus as Mediator of the new covenant.
Because of what he has done, Jesus now has all power and authority to redeem his people, to create and gather the church, to defend his chosen ones, to subdue all of our enemies, to make us conquers and then make us more than conquers! In other words, he is taking back planet earth!
Ephesians 1:20-23 – …that he [God] worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Jesus is the head of the church; he has all authority and power to redeem, defend, lead/guide, provide for and save the church which he purchased with his own blood. His authority and mediatorial government extends over the material world, over angels, over devils and over mankind, whether wicked or righteous.
As the One with all authority and power, he now gives his followers a commission:
Matthew 28:19-20 – 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,
The commission was given primarily to the apostles, because they were about to lay the foundations of the church. But this commission also extended to the other believers of that day as well, and it has been passed down through the ages to you and me.
The New Covenant of salvation is not restricted to the Jewish nation, as the Old Covenant had been. Now, Jews and Gentiles alike are eligible to join the family of God.
Those of us who believe are to share the gospel with others and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, lead them to faith in Christ as well.
We are to show them the love of God and assist them in understanding his laws and statutes. We are to help them become equipped to be soldiers in the army of God, able to bring still others into the kingdom of heaven.
We are not only to disciple them, but we are to baptize them. That is, we are to devote them to God by submerging (or sprinkling) them in water.
When we are baptized, we are identifying with the atoning work of Christ in our own personal life. As we are submerged in the water, it represents our death to sin and our burial. As we are raised up out of the water again, it signifies our new birth in the kingdom of heaven; the salvation of our soul. We went into the water as a sinful person, but came up a new creature in Christ; old things were passed away and all things became new.
Of course, we are speaking symbolically here. It is the blood of Jesus that cleanses us from sin and makes us a new creation in Christ. Baptism is an outward sign of salvation, which Jesus has already accomplished within our hearts.
The rite of baptism is to be proclaimed in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
Baptism signifies a full and eternal consecration of the person being baptized to the service of the Being in whose name it is administered:
- By being baptized in the name of the Father, you agree to obey his laws, to be devoted to him, to receive his system of religion and to trust his promises.
- By being baptized in the name of the Son, you agree to receive him as Messiah; he is your Prophet, Priest and King. He is your Savior and you submit yourself to his laws.
- By being baptized in the name of the Holy Spirit, you agree to publicly receive him as the Sanctifier, Comforter and Guide of your soul.
All together, you are making a solemn commitment to the service of the Trinity.
Baptism, therefore, is irrefutable evidence of the doctrine of the Trinity; the Son and the Holy Spirit are equal with the Father.
Who are we to disciple and baptize? Individuals in all nations; or all human beings. There are no restrictions to who can become a disciple of Christ and be baptized.
Matthew 28:20 – teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Here we see that the apostles did not have the right to ‘take over’ the church. Jesus, even though he would now be with them in Spirit, was/is still the head of the church. He is still the Rabbi or teacher.
The teachings that he gave the apostles were to be passed down through the ages to each new generation of believers. The Holy Spirit made this easier for us by prompting different men to pen the books of the bible. So God has provided every generation with spiritual shepherds and the manual for Christian living.
As we have stressed many times in the past, it is imperative that each believer examine what is being preached from the pulpit and taught in classes to ensure that the teachings line up with the Bible.
Living your own Christian life is one thing, but winning the world is quite another. Let’s talk about our commission for a moment. Preaching the gospel to the whole world, baptizing and discipling all those converts… it sounds like an impossible task.
And in some ways, it is. It is an ongoing duty that will never be finished, until Jesus calls us home to heaven. It is a duty that we can never hope to achieve by relying on our own human strength/power. It can only be fulfilled by working with Jesus and depending upon his invincible Spirit for strength, wisdom and power. It is His Spirit that convicts men of their sins and leads them to repentance. Thus, victory only comes with the help of Jesus and his Spirit.
But here is the good news – we have the assurance of Christ that he will be with us until the end of the age. Thus, we are guaranteed to have his help at all times. Because Jesus is head of all things (including the church), he is able to provide strength, power, wisdom, finances, open doors, closed doors, miracles, new ideas/opportunities and anything else that his church needs in its mission to spread the gospel all over the world. Hallelujah!
Notice that Jesus is going to be with us until the end of the age. This means that Jesus is and will continue to be in charge of all that happens during the gospel dispensation or what we call the age of grace, which began with his resurrection and will end with his second coming. All we have to do is listen to his voice and follow his commands; he will provide everything else that the church needs for victory.
Let me offer you some encouragement:
Jesus is with you all the time. That means every moment of every day. This is the same Jesus who has angels at his beck and call, who causes demons to tremble, who causes storms to cease, the blind to see, the lame to walk and the dead to raise. He is living inside of you! What more encouragement do you need to go out and share the gospel, while living a full exciting life? What will you and Jesus accomplish today?
Let me offer you some relief:
Jesus is the head of the church, not man. Man loses direction or becomes corrupt or does stupid stuff, but not Jesus. He is perfect. So you don’t need to worry about the final outcome of the church. I assure you, it will be successful, because Jesus will not let the church be defeated by the powers of darkness. In fact, the church is going to wind up being holy and without blemish:
Ephesians 5:27 – That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
So don’t waste your time on worry. Spend your time in God’s presence, listening to his voice and obeying his call. These are the keys to a successful Christian life and a successful church.
Let me offer you some strength:
We live life not knowing what tomorrow holds. That is not true for Jesus, the head of the church. The scriptures tell us that he already knew how everything would wind up, before it even started, and that it would wind up exactly as he planned!
Isaiah 46:9-10 – …I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My council shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…”
So when things don’t seem to turn out like you planned or hoped, take courage and strength in the knowledge that Jesus is the head of your life. He knows what tomorrow holds he will make all things work out for your good.
Happy 100th post!
Can you believe it? This is the 100th bible lesson post for the Kipton Community Church blog, SHOWERS. Remember, that stands for a Second Helping Of the Word for Encouragement, Relief and Strength.
If you have been a reader from the very beginning, we thank you and hope this has been a blessing to your walk with God. Please share it with someone you know.
If you joined us at a later point, we are very glad to have you along. All of the posts that occurred before you joined us are still accessible, so feel free to back up and read what you missed.
There will be no new post next week (1/20/21), as we gear up for our next lesson series. Join us for a new study on 1/27/21, and God bless you!