Let's wrap up our study by reviewing Matthew's final chapters where Jesus the King wins His great victory over death, and turns authority over to His Apostles. Previously we examined Jesus' prophesy about the eventual destruction that Jerusalem would suffer because of the Jewish peoples' rejection of Him as the Messiah, as well as a prophecy concerning His eventual return at the end of the world to judge mankind. Of course, these prophecies might have sounded a little far-fetched at that moment, but His words would grow in importance once the resurrection was completed.
The Passion in Matthew
Many writers and commenters have referred to the last hours of Jesus' life, including His torture and crucifixion, as the Passion. And so, like the other three gospel writers, Matthew devotes the final portion of his written word to the Passion and resurrection of Jesus, and like Mark, adds the commission Jesus gave to the Apostles. The Passion is divided into three sections:
1. The final hours with the Apostles – 26:1-56
The time with the Apostles included several scenes:
A woman anoints Jesus' head with costly perfume. This was a gesture of honor and respect prefiguring His death as His body was being prepared for the grave. This was done as Jesus ate with the disciples at the home of Simon, a leper who lived in Bethany. Matthew explains that it was at this moment that Judas decided to make an arrangement with the Jewish leaders to betray Jesus.
The Lord's Supper
It was the time of the Passover when thousands of Jews from all over the world converged on Jerusalem to observe this religious feast. They would offer a lamb as sacrifice and gather together to eat the Passover meal in remembrance of the time when they were liberated from Egyptian slavery many years before. Jesus, a good Jew, gathered His Apostles and together they shared the Passover meal. Near the end of the meal however, Jesus instituted a new "meal" of sorts. He told His disciples that from that day forward they would share the Lord's Supper of bread and wine in order to commemorate His death on the cross. There was to be no more sacrificing of the lamb because He was the final sacrifice for sin. He was to be the Lamb of God. There was to be no more bitter herbs to eat as a reminder of their bitter experience of slavery. From now on the unleavened bread would represent His pure and broken body on the cross, and the fruit of the vine/wine would represent His blood shed for sin. The entire experience would now commemorate their freedom from sin to a promise of an eternal home in heaven with God, obtained by His sacrificial death on the cross as payment for the sins of all humanity.
The third event with the Apostles takes place in a garden outside the city walls of Jerusalem. At this place Jesus struggles with His human nature, which is recoiling at the thought of what He will have to face. This would be a natural reaction for the human part of His nature to have. In the end, the Apostles are with Him, but not much help because they are weary with sorrow and sleep. The final scene shows the Lord coming to grips with the horror before Him, and as He does, Judas the traitor arrives to betray Him into the hands of the Jewish authorities. At this point the Apostles scatter just as Jesus said they would.
What is interesting about these events is that each one continues a prophetic element about the death to come: the anointing for burial, the supper of remembrance, the garden of suffering and surrender.
Note that in each instance the Lord is preparing Himself and His Apostles for the death He will endure.
2. The trials
Jesus had several trials or hearings that were organized in unlawful ways. Contrary to the Law, they were done at night and were convened without all the leaders present. Of course, the purpose was not to determine truth, these show trials were conducted to provide a reason and charge for which He could be executed. Matthew describes the scenes:
The trial before Caiaphas
Caiaphas was the high priest at that time, and Jesus was first brought to him from the garden after the betrayal by Judas. Here He is mocked and baited by those assembled. They have no charge as one accuser after another contradicts himself. Finally, out of exasperation, Caiaphas asks Jesus directly if He thinks He is the Messiah. Jesus does not deny the claim and in so doing gives Caiaphas the charge he so desperately is looking for: blasphemy. Under Jewish Law blasphemy was punishable by death, but while they were under Roman rule the Jews did not have the civil and legal authority to carry out the death penalty. This could only be decreed by a Roman court and carried out by Roman law.
The trial before Pilate
The Jews now bring Jesus before Pilate hoping to persuade him to carry out the death penalty they have levied on Jesus. Pilate, in examining Jesus, finds nothing under Roman law to justify the execution of this man. On the contrary, the more he speaks with Jesus, the more he wants to release Him. Even Pilate's wife appeals to her husband to let the Jewish prisoner go, having had a dream of Him.
Pilate then tries to exchange Jesus for a notorious murderer, but to no avail. The Jews are adamant. Finally, when Pilate sees that the Jewish leaders are fomenting a riot over the issue, he relents and permits the execution to go forward. The release of one innocent Jew was not worth the trouble a riot would cause on his watch.
In both trials, no proof or credible charge was made, no guilt was found, no crime was committed and no justice meted out. Jesus was falsely accused, illegally tried, improperly sentenced and brutally executed for being who He really was!
3. The crucifixion and burial – 27:57-66
Matthew continues to describe the Passion in the third section of this narrative by relating the events of Jesus' crucifixion and burial.
Roman crucifixion was merciless, excruciating and deadly, so much so that a Roman citizen was not allowed to be put to death in this way. It was reserved for the worst criminals, slaves and foreigners. Matthew does not provide much detail about the crucifixion itself, but does describe the reaction of the people who were present at the cross:
- The soldiers gambled for H is clothing.
- The crowd mocked His helplessness.
- The Jewish leaders taunted Him.
- The criminals crucified at Hi s side derided Him.
Matthew also describes the unusual things that took place once Jesus actually died:
- The veil of the temple was torn.
- The earth shook.
- Some were raised from the dead who had been disciples and believers.
- One of the centurions who had participated in the crucifixion was converted on the spot.
Matthew also describes the fact that the Romans placed a sign above His head that read, "This is Jesus, the king of the Jews." The Romans had put it there to annoy and humiliate the Jewish leaders. They had objected and wanted Pilate to write, "He said, I am the king of the Jews" (John 19:21) thus humiliating Jesus and not themselves. Pilate, however, was adamant, and the sign remained as it was originally written. Despite the lies and disbelief, what was written above the head of the Lord, as a form of mockery, was the exact truth of the matter.
The Jews, in collaboration with the Roman authorities, had executed their own Messiah and, to make matters worse, had done it through the hand of pagan Rome.
Matthew goes on to describe the scene as Joseph of Arimathea and Mary Magdalene prepare the body for burial. There were others who participated, but Matthew mentions only these two. He also describes how the Jews, knowing of Jesus' prophecies concerning His resurrection, go to Pilate to make sure the tomb is properly guarded. Pilate permits them to double the guard and put a seal on the stone so there would be no tampering or switching of bodies.
This is the final scene leading up to the glorious event where Jesus will provide insurmountable proof to confirm His claim as King of the kingdom of God in heaven as well as King of the kingdom of God on earth.
The Resurrection – 28:1-15
1 Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.
It was early Sunday morning as several of His female disciples come with the hope of finishing the burial procedure left undone because Jesus' death occurred too near the Sabbath day.
2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men.
Matthew describes what happened before the women had arrived that morning. The angel's presence had caused an earthquake when He rolled the stone away. The angel appeared as a man (they always do in the Bible). Matthew describes the angel in terms of bright light (common for spiritual beings to be described this way; i.e. Jesus at transfiguration). The guards fainted (they were afraid and unworthy to see the sight of the risen Christ).
5 The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6 He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. 7 Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you."
The angel instructs the women as to what has happened and what they should do.
8 And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me."
On their way to do this, Jesus appears to them and they worship Him as the King.
He also repeats the instructions of the angel (who originally received them from the Lord).
12 And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.' 14 And if this should come to the governor's ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble." 15 And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.
Matthew describes the scene where the Jewish leaders construct a story to explain the disappearance of the body and the amazing experience of the soldiers. It is interesting to note that Matthew credits this story as something that was still being spread by the Jews as a way to discredit the resurrection; even some thirty years later when Matthew was writing and circulating this gospel.
But Jesus has risen and the tide of human history will now change forever. A new King is crowned to rule over the kingdom that God has established on the earth in place of the evil ruler that held the power of death over the people.
One royal duty remains for the King to carry out.
The Commission – 28:16-20
Jesus' position as the Savior/King has been established fulfilling all the prophecies about Him. The prophets said that the Messiah and true King of God's people would provide proof of His identity by resurrecting from the dead. Many prophets and leaders did miracles, raised the dead and won great victories, but only the Messiah/King would die for the people and resurrect three days later. This was the final proof of His identity as King/Savior "who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead" Romans 1:4.
Now that this fact has been established, there remains one last act for the King to do. He now gives His Apostles a commission and the authority to proclaim the King's message throughout the world. The commission and message are the following:
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
- He gives them the authority to speak with authority.
- They are to proclaim His rule as King and His offer of salvation as Messiah.
- They are to proclaim the way into the kingdom (faith and obedience).
- He promises to be with them until the end (which He has already talked about in Matthew 24-25, the end of Jerusalem for them/the end of the world for all other disciples).
This is the message we are charged with today.
- He is our King.
- This is our authority.
- The gospel is our message to proclaim.
- He will be with us in this work until we die or He returns, whichever comes first.
Grace and honor be to our King and Savior, Jesus Christ, forever and forever, Amen.