We have reached the final chapter in Matthew's account of Jesus' life. I don't know about you but this deep dive into such a familiar story has been a great time of spiritual growth and understanding, more so than I even expected! The last chapter ended on perhaps the lowest note in all of history with Christ's brutal murder and eventual burial. In this chapter, we rejoice in the truth that He did not remain there!
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” Matthew 28:1-10
Every time Jesus predicted His death throughout His ministry, He also told His disciples that He would rise again! In His last prediction, He even told them to meet Him in Galilee. Yet during the crucifixion and in the days that followed the disciples seemed to lose all hope and were terrified that the religious leaders would be coming for them next.
The women going to Jesus' tomb, we find out in the other Gospel accounts, were debating how to move the stone so they could further embalm Jesus' body as was their custom. Then just as with Jesus' birth, the terrifying appearance of an angel brings the wonderful news that just as He promised Jesus has risen! I also love that just to drive that truth home Jesus Himself appears to the women as they're running to tell the disciples what they have seen.
What I find interesting about Matthew's account is his focus on the response of the Temple guards to this angelic event and how the religious leaders deal with the news.
While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 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.’ And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. Matthew 28:11-15
When the religious leaders hear the account of the guards they gathered the elders, took counsel together, and decided to pay off the guards. What's stunning about this is that there is no lightbulb moment for them that they really have just falsely accused and murdered the Messiah that all of Israel had been waiting for. They obviously believe that the guards saw what they claim to have seen but the truth doesn't play into their agenda for the people under their care. There isn't even a moment of fear or remorse for what they have done. Instead, they conspire together, pay off the guards and promise to deal with Rome for their protection. They knew the truth and they still continued to reject Him!
Matthew writing only a few decades after the events that took place tells us that the story given to the guards is still circulating among the Jews. I can tell you that even today that story continues to be a question non-believers point out as a reason the "real man" they must acknowledge in history couldn't possibly have risen from the dead even though there is a historically empty grave written in both the religious and secular record. The way Matthew phrases this for his audience is almost as if to say, "have I given you enough proof yet that Jesus was who He said He was and that you should believe in Him?!"
This is the mission given to Christ's disciples and the purpose of the Church until Christ's return.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20
What do we know about Jesus from this Commission?
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him.
He is with us always, to the end of the age.
There will be an end to this age.
What do we know about the Church's responsibility from this Commission?
We are to make disciples of all nations.
We are to baptize them (the disciples) in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
We are to teach them to observe all that Jesus has commanded.
If you're trying to answer the question in your own life, how do I live as a Christian? This is the clearest answer that I can give you, this is what we're called to do as Christ's followers as we wait for His return.
How are you following the Great Commission in your own life?