Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.XXVIII.
(1) It will probably help the student to place before him, in their right order, the recorded appearances of our Lord Jesus after His resurrection:—
(2.) To Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, Matthew 28:9.
(4.) To Cleopas and another disciple at Emmaus, Luke 24:13-35.
(6.) To the eleven Apostles at Jerusalem, John 20:26.
(7.) To the disciples—five named, and others—by the Sea of Galilee, John 21:1-24.
(9.) To the five hundred brethren, possibly identical with.
(8), 1Corinthians 15:6.
(10.) To James the brother of the Lord, 1Corinthians 15:7.
In the end of the sabbath.—Literally, late on the Sabbath; St. Mark, “when the Sabbath was over;” St. Luke, “very early in the morning.” St. Matthew’s addition, “as it began to dawn,” brings his narrative into harmony with St. Luke’s. The order of facts appears to have been as follows:—(1) Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the mother of James the Little, watched the burial just before the Sabbath began on the evening of the day of the crucifixion. (2.) They stayed at home during the twenty-four hours of the Sabbath. (3.) On the evening of that day (the Sabbath-rest being over) they bought spices for the embalmment. (4.) At earliest dawn, say about 4 A.M., they set out to make their way to the sepulchre, and they reached it when the sun had risen (Mark 16:2).
And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.(2) There was a great earthquake.—The words imply, not that they witnessed the earthquake, but that they inferred it from what they saw. The form of the angel is described in Mark 16:5 as that of a “young man” in white or bright (Luke 24:4) raiment. This was the answer to the question they had been asking as they came, “Who shall roll away the stone for us?” (Mark 16:3). That would have been beyond their strength.
His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:(3) Like lightning.—The word employed by St. Luke to describe the “raiment has the same force. The “white as snow” has its counterpart in the record of the Transfiguration (Mark 9:3) and the vision of the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9.
And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.(4) The keepers did shake.—The words imply that the two Maries when they reached the sepulchre saw the soldiers prostrate in their panic terror.
And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.(5) The angel answered and said. . . .—We do not read of any words as spoken by the women, but the words which they now heard were an answer to their unuttered questionings and fears. The bright one on whom they gazed knew their distress and amazement at the sight of the emptied sepulchre, and told them that there was no cause for fear.
He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.(6) He is not here.—It is not given to us to fix the precise moment when the grave was opened and the risen Lord came forth from it, but the indications point to the time at or about sunrise. There was an obvious fitness in the symbolism of the Resurrection of the Son of Righteousness coinciding with the natural “day-spring.” (Comp. Luke 1:78.)
Come, see the place.—Comp. the description in John 20:5-6, the “linen clothes,” or bandages, that had swathed the limbs, the napkin, or sudarium, that had veiled the face.
The report in St. Mark (Mark 16:6-7) nearly coincides with this. St. Luke is somewhat fuller (Luke 24:5-7), introducing the question, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” and a more detailed reference to our Lord’s prophecies of His resurrection.
And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.(7) He goeth before you into Galilee.—The words seem to point to a meeting in Galilee as the first appearance of the risen Lord to His disciples, and St. Matthew records no other. No adequate explanation can be given of the omission of what the other Gospels report, if we assume the whole Gospel to have been written by the Apostle Matthew. On the hypothesis that it is a “Gospel according to Matthew,” representing the substance of his oral teaching, the absence of this or that fact which we should have expected him to record may have been due to some idiosyncrasy in the scribe, or, so to speak, editor of the Gospel. It is possible that if the disciples had believed the report brought by the women the mountain in Galilee would have been the scene of the first meeting between them and their Master; but they did not believe, and required the evidence which He in His compassion gave them, in order to quicken their faith and lead them to obey the command thus given.
And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.(8) They departed quickly.—It is natural that independent narratives, given long years afterwards, of what had passed in the agitation of “fear and great joy “should present seeming, or even real, discrepancies as well as coincidences. The discrepancies, such as they are, at any rate, show that the narratives were independent. The best solution of the questions presented by a comparison of the Gospel narrative at this stage is that Mary Magdalene ran eagerly to tell Peter and John, leaving the other Mary and Joanna (Luke 24:10), and then followed in the rear of the two disciples (John 20:2). Then when they had left, the Lord showed Himself first to her (John 20:14), and then to the others (Matthew 28:9), whom she had by that time joined, and then they all hastened together to tell the rest of the disciples.
And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.(9) All hail.—Literally, rejoice. The word was probably our Lord’s wonted greeting to the company of devout women, and though used in homage, real or derisive, as in Matthew 27:29, John 19:3, had not necessarily the solemnity which modern usage has attached to “hail.” It was, we may believe, by that familiar word and tone that the other women at first recognised their Lord, as Mary Magdalene had done by His utterance of her own name.
Held him by the feet.—Better, clasped His feet. Mary Magdalene had, we must remember, already heard the words “Touch Me not” (John 20:17), but, if we suppose her to have rejoined the other women, passionate and rejoicing love carried her, as it carried the others, beyond the limits of reverential obedience.
Worshipped him.—The word does not necessarily imply a new form of homage. The prostration which it indicates had been practised before (Matthew 8:2; Matthew 9:18); though (it is right to add) by many persons not connected with the apostolic company, who came with definite petitions. It was the natural attitude of a suppliant servant before his master (Matthew 18:26). It was, perhaps, not till later that the disciples were led to feel that the attitude was one that was due to God and to the Man Christ Jesus, and to no other of the sons of men (Acts 10:26) or angels (Revelation 22:9). (See Note on Matthew 28:17.)
Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.(10) Go, tell my brethren.—The words are clearly used of those who were brethren by spiritual relationship, as in Matthew 12:49, and have their counterpart in John 20:17, “I ascend to My Father and your Father.”
Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.(11) Some of the watch.—This incident, like that of the appointment of the guard, is reported by St. Matthew only. As writing primarily for the Jews of Palestine, it was natural that he should take special notice of the rumour which hindered many of them from accepting the fact of the Resurrection, and trace it to its corrupt source. The object of the soldiers was, of course, to escape the penalty which they were likely to incur for seeming negligence, but their statement to the priests was at first a truthful one. They told “all the things that were done”—the earthquake, the opened and emptied sepulchre, perhaps also of the form in bright raiment that had filled them with speechless terror.
And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,(12) When they were assembled.—Obviously the chief priests to whom the soldiers had told their tale.
And had taken counsel.—Better, as before in Matthew 27:1; Matthew 27:7, having held a council. It was a formal, though probably, as before, a packed, meeting of the Sanhedrin. They decided on the ready expedients of bribery and falsehood. The fact that the chief priests were Sadducees, and therefore specially interested in guarding against what would appear as a contradiction of their main dogma, must not be forgotten, as in part determining their action. (Comp. Acts 4:42.)
Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.(13) His disciples came by night.—The story was on the face of it self-contradictory. How could they tell, if they had been asleep, who had stolen the body? All that they could know was that they had fallen asleep, and that when they awoke the sepulchre was open and empty.
So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.(15) This saying is commonly reported.—The passage is interesting as the earliest indication of a counter-statement to the witness borne by the disciples, and as in part explaining the partial non-acceptance of their testimony. The phrase “until this day” suggests some considerable interval—say, at least, fifteen or twenty years—between the facts recorded and the composition of the narrative. (See Note on Matthew 27:8.) Justin Martyr mentions the report as current among the Jews of his time, the Jews having sent “chosen men” into all parts of the world to propagate it (Dial. 100 Tryph. c. 108).
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.(16) Then the eleven disciples.—The writer passes over, for some reason which we cannot now discover, all the intermediate appearances, and passes on at once to that which connected itself with the mission and work of the Apostles, and through them of the universal Church.
Into a mountain.—Better, to the mountain. The words imply some more definite announcement than that of Matthew 28:7; Matthew 28:10, and therefore, probably, some intermediate meeting. We may think of the mountain as being one that had been the scene of former meetings between the Master and His disciples. They had seen Him there before, in the body of His humiliation. They were now to see Him in the body of His glory. (Comp. Philippians 3:21.)
And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.(17) They worshipped him—i.e., fell prostrate at His feet. The act, as has been said, was not new in itself, but it seems certain that our Lord’s manifestations of His Presence after the Resurrection had made the faith of the disciples stronger and clearer (comp. John 20:28), and so the act acquired a new significance.
Some doubted.—It seems hard at first to conceive how those who had been present in the upper chamber at Jerusalem (John 20:19-26) could still feel doubt; but the narrative of John 21:4 throws some light upon it. There was something mysterious and supernatural in the manifestation of the glorified body—outlines, at first indistinct and scarcely recognised, and then the whole form seen as it had been seen in life. The more devoted and loving disciples were probably, here as before, the first to recognise their Lord. Others questioned whether it was a phantom (comp. Notes on Matthew 14:26) or a reality.
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.(18) All power is given unto me.—Literally, all authority was given, the tense used being that in which men speak of something that occurred at a given point of time. We may possibly connect it with St. Paul’s use of the same tense in the Greek of Philippians 2:8. The exaltation came, the authority was given, as at the moment of the Resurrection, and as the crown of His obedience unto death.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:(19) Teach all nations.—Better, make disciples of all the heathen. The Greek verb is the same as that which is rendered “instructed” in Matthew 13:52, and is formed from the noun for “disciple.” The words recognise the principle of a succession in the apostolic office. The disciples, having learnt fully what their Master, their Rabbi, had to teach them, were now to become in their turn, as scribes of the kingdom of heaven, the teachers of others. It is, to say the least, suggestive that in this solemn commission, stress should be laid on the teaching, rather than on what is known as the sacerdotal element, of the Christian ministry; but the inference that that element is altogether excluded requires to be balanced by a careful study of the words of John 20:23, which seem at first sight to point in an opposite direction. (See Note on John 20:23.)
The words rendered “all nations” are the same as those in Matthew 25:32. and, as commonly used by the Jews, would point to the Gentile nations of the world, as distinguished from the people of Israel. They are therefore an emphatic expansion of the commission given in Matthew 10:5. And it is every way interesting that this full declaration of the universality of the Gospel should be specially recorded in the Gospel written, as we see throughout, specially for Jews.
Baptizing them in the name of the Father.—We have to deal (1) with the form, (2) with the substance. As regards (1) we have to explain why, with this command so recently given, the baptisms recorded in the Acts (Acts 2:38; Acts 10:48; Acts 19:5), and referred to in the Epistles (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27). are in (or rather, into) “the name of the Lord Jesus,” or “of Christ.” What has been noted as to the true meaning of the word “nations” seems the best solution of the difficulty which thus presents itself. It was enough for converts from the house of Israel, already of the family of God, to be baptised into the name of Jesus as the Messiah, as the condition of their admission into the Church which He had founded. By that confession they gave a fresh life to doctrines which they had partially received before, and belief in the Father and the Spirit was virtually implied in their belief in Jesus as the incarnate Son. For the heathen the case stood otherwise, They had worshipped “gods many and lords many” (1Corinthians 8:5), had been “without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12), and so they had not known the Father. (2) There remains the question, What is meant by being baptised “into a name”? The answer is to be found in the fact so prominent in the Old Testament (e.g. Exodus 3:14-15), that the Name of God is a revelation of what He is. Baptism was to be no longer, as it had been in the hands of John as the forerunner, merely a symbol of repentance, but was the token that those who received it were brought into an altogether new relation to Him who was thus revealed to them. The union of the three names in one formula (as in the benediction of 2Corinthians 13:14) is in itself a proof at once of the distinctness and equality of the three Divine Persons. We cannot conceive of a command given to. and adopted by, the universal Church to baptise all its members in the name (not “the names”) of God and a merely human prophet and an impersonal influence or power.
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.(20) All things whatsoever I have commanded you.—The words obviously point, in the first instance, to the teaching of our Lord recorded in the Gospels—the new laws of life, exceeding broad and deep, of the Sermon on the Mount, the new commandment of Love for the inner life (John 13:34), the new outward ordinances of Baptism and the Supper of the Lord. But we may well believe that they went further than this, and that the words may cover much unrecorded teaching which they had heard in the darkness, and were to reproduce in light (Matthew 10:27).
I am with you alway.—Literally, all the days, or, at all times; the words emphasising continuity more than the English adverb. The “days” that were coming might seem long and dark and dreary, but He, their Lord, would be with them, in each of those days, even to the far-off end.
Even unto the end of the world.—Literally, of the age. The phrase is the same as that in Matthew 13:39-40; Matthew 13:49; Matthew 24:13. In Hebrews 9:26 it is used of the time of the appearance of Christ in the flesh, as the beginning of the last age of the world. Like all such words, its meaning widens or contracts according to our point of view. Here the context determines its significance as stretching forward to the end of the age, or aeon, which began with the first Advent of the Christ and shall last until the second.
We ask, as we close the Gospel, why it ends thus? why there should be no record of a fact so momentous as the Ascension? The question is one which we cannot fully answer. There is an obvious abruptness in the close of the book as a book. It may be that it was left unfinished. It may be that the fact of the Ascension entered into the elementary instruction of every catechumen, and was therefore taken for granted; or that it was thought of as implied in the promise of Christ’s perpetual presence; or, lastly, that that promise seemed, in its grandeur and its blessedness, to be the consummation of all that Christ had come to accomplish, and therefore as the fitting close of the record of His life and work.