Risen, Just as He Said: Going, Just as He said


I. The empty Tomb shows the completion of the work of redemption on the day before. Death no longer had its hold on him; in fact, it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him (Acts 2:24). Having paid sin’s wages in submitting to the death of a divine outpouring of wrath, Jesus entered the rest gained by faithfulness to that work. As God finished creation and then rested, so Jesus completed redemption and then rested.

A. The First Day – This is the foundation for Christian worship on the first day of the week.

    1. Notice the mention again of this in John 20:1 (“on the first day of the week” and its reiteration in 20:19 (“on the evening of that day, the first day of the week”). Another first day appearance occurs in John 20:26. This was on the eighth day after his resurrection (“Eight days later”), the first day of the week. Thomas had his first “Lord’s Day” worship.
    2. Apparently, Paul expected all the churches to meet for worship on the first day (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2).
    3. John received his messages to the churches when in the Spirit on “The Lord’s Day.”  Rev. 1:10 – Even in exile John set aside this day for particular exercises of worship and while isolated became a pastor and preacher to all churches throughout the world, throughout the ages, until the Lord comes.  On this day of the week, he first saw the resurrected Lord and as he appears to him now, Jesus calls himself the one who lives and was dead; “and behold I am alive for evermore” (Rev 1:18).
    4. Theologically, this constitutes the completion of redemption and the inauguration of the new creation which will culminate in the New Heavens and the New Earth. It is the day subsequent to the completion of the work of redemption and the beginning of his work of continual intercession for us. So the Sabbath of the nation Israel was commemorated because it was the day after the completion of creation and the beginning of his sustaining the created order by the word of his power. The first Sabbath shadowed the rest that would come in the gospel—the rest from our own works for Christ’s work has done all that can be done for redemption. The Lord’s Day, therefore, is the testimony to our confidence in the satisfaction that Christ has made to the Father’s wrath against sin and his fulfillment of the righteous requirements of the Law, so that “whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” To observe this first day is a testimony to having entered into Christ’s perfected righteousness and still foreshadows the rest of eternal life that yet remains for the people of God (Hebrews 4:9, 10).

B. The Work of the Angel cf. 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:4

    1. He rolled the stone away with a great display of power (2). – The earthquake occurred because of the angel’s action. “There was an earthquake, for an angel of the Lord had descended.” The earthquake is explained by the angel’s descent and his act of rolling away the stone. The angel descended, then came, then rolled back the stone, and then sat.
    2. The angel overwhelmed the guards with his glory (3, 4). “They became as mere dead men,” so overwhelmed with helplessness that they could not move.
      • Angels always strike fear into those who see them. The combination of lightning (how brilliant is lightning?!) and whiteness shows the difficulty, often seen in Scripture, of describing things that form part of the environment in which the glory of God dominates. Think of the face of Moses when he came from his time with God and had received the tablets (Exodus 34:29 ff). This is the first time angels are said to appear in white (afterwards. Acts 1:10, 10:30) They do not appear as the cute cherubs that adorn the hearth, the bookshelf, and the mantle.  They have come directly from the throne of God and have a specific mission.  They don’t linger around and engage in light banter, or amuse those to whom they are sent like a litter of two-week old puppies, but they finish their assignment with forthrightness and authority. If these beings are so glorious (Rev. 18:1) and yet cover their faces (Isaiah 6:2) before the holy glory of God, what must the glory of God be like?
      • On two occasions, the apostle John was so overwhelmed with the appearance of an angel that he bowed in worship. In Revelation 19:10, the angel responded, “You must not do that. I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” John then commented, “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” In 22:8 the angels responded in a similar way, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” The prophets to whom the angel referred were the New Testament prophets, those who “held the testimony of Jesus” in the churches until the completion of this testimony. That completion was to occur at the end of the next 13 verses of Revelation 22. The angel, the apostle, and the Lord Jesus complete the prophetic word. The last of the apostles dies, the prophetic utterance in the churches resolves into Scripture, and angels do their work without observation until they appear with the Lord in his glorious appearing (1 Thessalonians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:7).
    1. The angel delivered his message (5-7).
      • He knows their intention – His knowledge of their purpose was supposed to quiet their immediate fears. This event probably is the historical background for the first three assertions of the confession in 1 Timothy 3:16 – “He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels.” This entire series of events constituted the staggering condescension of the Son of God “into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:10-12).
      • He leaves them in no doubt as to why the tomb is empty – No one has stolen the body; he has risen from the dead. The chronology of this event must be developed in the context of John 20:1-18.
      • The angel reminds them that this is in accord with what Jesus has said – Mt. 16:21; 17:9, 23; 20:17-19 – The elect angels (1 Timothy 5:21) those who kept their estate of being servants of God, serve him day and night and have nothing that gives them more joy and more fulfills their very reason for being than to highlight the redemptive activity of the Son. They themselves marvel at these things and long for fuller grasp of the grace of God shown toward sinners in this astonishing work of substitution (1 Peter 1:12). An angel appeared in Gethsemane to strengthen, and, as before at his birth, at the tomb to announce; no angel appeared at Calvary, but Jesus specifically refused the ministry of the angels in that work he must accomplish alone and without any sustaining comforts (Matthew 26:33).
      • He commissions them to tell the disciples that Christ is risen and is going ahead of them into Galilee where they will see him. It is there that he will tell the disciples about their preaching mission; as Jesus ascends, the angels again tell of the next epochal event of redemption (Acts 1:10, 11).
      • He indicates the completion of that he has been sent to do. “Behold I have told you.” So faithfully should his messengers today say everything that he has told us to say. We should do this neither adding to nor subtracting from the revealed message.

II. An Appearance of the Resurrected Christ (8-10)

A. Other Appearances – Mark 16:9-20 in disputed texts; Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and “other women” in Luke 24:1-10; two men on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13-15; Simon Luke 24:34, and the 11 with these 2 Emmaus-road travelers, Luke 24:36; in John 20, Mary Magdalene, disciples without Thomas, disciples with Thomas, 7 disciples by the sea of Tiberias after a night of fishing. cf. Paul, Acts 9:4-6; 13:31;1 Cor 15:5-9; Acts 1:3 calls these “many convincing proofs, over a period of forty days.” It is precisely the observations of the resurrected Christ combined with his special appointment of them that constitutes the apostles as “witnesses” (Luke 24:48; Acts 1:22; 3:15; 4:33; 10:39-41; 13:30, 31; 22:14, 15; 23:11; 26:15-18; Hebrews 2:3, 4; 1 Peter 5:1; 1 John 1:1-4).

B. The first worship of the Resurrected Christ is in 28:9 on the first day of the week “And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.” See also verse 17 on the day of his ascension (“When they saw him they worshipped him”). Also see John 20:16, 17, 28. Christian worship is specifically christocentric. When the women and the disciples worshipped Jesus, this was no violation of the second commandment. Nor were the Father and the Holy Spirit offended by this. Instead only such worship can draw us into a full experience of the Trinity. We cannot know and love the Father except through the Son (“that the Father may be glorified in the Son” John 14:15) and we do not receive the Spirit apart from the Son and his being sent from the Father through the Son (John 14:26). Look at Galatians 4:4-7.

C. Jesus gave a message to the brethren (10). The title “brethren” is filled with grace. They were servants, disciples, then friends, then brethren. And this term of deep endearment is pronounced even after their having forsaken him and fled. The disciples, brethren, future apostles, are now tested to believe the announcement of witnesses, and women witnesses at that.  They will be called on to do this very thing and expect their hearers to believe them (see Acts 1:21, 22; 2:24, 32). Peter would know the immediate difficulty of giving credit to such a report. The call to believe the resurrection, however, is not merely a call to give credit to an anecdote. The resurrection is connected with a body of promises and a series of spiritual necessities which only this event can effect.

D. The credibility of the resurrection does not suffer from lack of evidence, but moral preferences make people resist it. Affirming the resurrection, embraces all that Jesus said about the reasons for and the effects of his death [ransom, necessity for forgiveness, removal of the wrath of God] Salvation incorporates the substance of what it means to “Believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead” (Romans 10:9).

III. Verses 11-15 narrate the attempt of the Jewish leaders to cover up the events of the resurrection by making it appear that the disciples had stolen to body. Their blindness to the character and power of Jesus was present throughout his ministry, so no surprise that even a resurrection would not change them. (cf. 12:22-29 and Luke 16:31). The entire plot shows the irrationality and banality of seeking to produce a false narrative and the compromising nature of bribes. Love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Money was used to prompt Judas to betray innocent blood (Mark 14:10, 11).

IV. The disciples gathered where Jesus had instructed them to meet (28:10). Matthew condenses the post resurrection events to this meeting between Jesus and the disciples. Luke 24 and John 20, 21 include several other events and meetings between Jesus and his disciples. Paul records those other meetings also in 1 Corinthians 15 and Acts 13:31. The command that Jesus gives the disciples here is a summary of all the moral duties that are fitting for the relation of the creature to the creator. The immediate authority of Jesus always is sufficient for absolute obedience; the intrinsic worthiness of the Gospel is the fountain from which flows the abiding and absolute moral power of this command. Going to the world with the gospel is not a positive institution but the culmination of all the abiding moral duties of humanity summarized in the two great commandments.

A. Love God with all one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength. Nothing is more worthy of the complete devotion of a creature made in God’s image, than to love God without any reservation, without any rival. The command is not an imposition on the human conscience undeserving of obedience like worshipping the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar. No, this command is entirely consistent with the infinite excellence of the living object of worship. It is absolutely unpretentious, and fully worthy of the most earnest and energetic, unalloyed obedience.

B. Love thy neighbor as thyself.

    1. Intrinsically, as creatures of God, made in his image, every individual of mankind should seek for his neighbor every good that he ought to seek for himself. Everything that fulfills the purpose and potential for which we were created, we should seek for ourselves and we should work for the same for our fellow image-bearers. The equal dignity and worthiness of every creature makes the second command stand in beautiful symmetry with the first command and proves it to be perfectly rational.
    2. As Fallen creatures, we must seek reconciliation with God for ourselves and seek that same reconciliation for our fellow sinners. Nothing is more fitting and nothing is more urgent for the honoring of the name of God and eternal good of ourselves and our neighbors than reconciliation, so nothing should be more compelling to our affections than the ministry of reconciliation.

C. “All Authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (18). As Son of God, eternally generated by the Father, Jesus possesses by nature authority over all things. In eternity, the Father committed to the Son the function of creating this world and sustaining it (Hebrews 1:3, 4a; Colossians 1:16, 17). And all judgment has been committed to the Son (John 5:22, 23).

    1. Note the claims of Jesus – Psalm 110 represents the Lord giving to the Lord power over his enemies as well as efficacious power to save. “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.’ The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power.”
    2. In Matthew 11:27 Jesus claimed that “all things have been handed over to me by my Father.” He is speaking specifically in the realm of the redemptive purpose of God. “No one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” The disciples will go into all the world with the confidence that the Son has saving power.
    3. John 17:2 reaffirmed this as Jesus, in his great high priestly prayer, said, “You have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”
    4. 1 Corinthians 15:27 looks to the final victory over all things after Jesus’ resurrection with the same attribution of authority, “For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”
    5. This post resurrection authority is given even more detailed description in Ephesians 1:20-22: “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.”

D. As Messiah, having come to redeem, authority “has been given” (Matthew 28:18).

  1. As “Son of Man” Jesus has been given authority to execute judgment (John 5:27-28). As the Messiah in whose name redemption comes, judgment to the unbeliever also comes.
  2. Philippians 2:9, 10 show that as a result of his humiliation, “even the death of the cross,” God has exalted him and “given him” the name that is above every name. This particular exaltation is given to him, as merited by his perfect obedience.
  3. Hebrews 1:4, 8, 9 – Having become as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs, he sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high. Having loved righteousness and hated wickedness in his role as the new covenant head of his elect, God “anointed him with the oil of gladness” beyond his companions, but for the sake of his companions.
  4. “In heaven and in earth” – His fulfillment of the covenant of redemption has consummated the purpose of the heavenly counsels. He is seated at the right hand of the Father interceding for his people so that not one of them will perish. On earth he has sent forth his Spirit to convict and convert his people (Acts 2:33) so that as many as are ordained to eternal life will believe (Acts 13:48).

V. “Go Therefore”, or “As you are going,” assumes that, in accordance with the universal claims of the gospel and the intent of Jesus to redeem from every tongue, tribe, and nation, they will be scattered. It is translated as an imperative because it takes its force from the imperative make disciples.

A. The words “Make disciples” has the force of giving instruction of such a nature that it creates submissive learners. The believers are forgiven of sin, justified, redeemed, and reconciled; now they will learn the way of true life consistent with the eternal life in God’s presence and lay aside the deceitful and encumbering life taught them by the world in accord with their former lusts (Hebrews 12:1, 2; 1 Peter 4:1-6)

    1. They are to teach and preach in such a way that human sin is defined clearly and the need for salvation is established without equivocation.
    2. They are to define repentance and faith so that the fitting response to the gospel will be understood and they will be drawn to trust in the completed work of Christ.
    3. They are to teach the character of God with clarity and establish his sovereignty over all things even in the midst of human sin and presumptuous arrogance (Acts 2:23).
    4. They are to proclaim the certainty of judgment on the basis of the work of Christ (Acts 17:31).
    5. They were to teach all the elements of the gospel and the eternal purpose of God in glorifying himself through the grace of the gospel (Acts 20:26, 27).
    6. They were to teach that the inevitable outflow of true faith was holiness of life (Romans 12:1, 2).
    7. They were to instruct believers that purification from sin and mortification of unlawful lust in this life would prepare them for the righteousness of the heavenly life (2 Peter 3:11-13; 1 John 3:1-6).

B. “Of all the nations” – The new covenant community is the target. The gospel transcends the protection of the purity of Israel. This is one of the reasons the Jewish leaders, were so alarmed at the company Jesus kept. They were the conservators of a revelation that they did not understand. Jesus’ sermon at Nazareth (Luke 4:26-30) evoked a response of hatred toward Jesus and a desire to kill him because of his emphasis on divine sovereignty in giving special blessings to Gentiles even in critical situations in the Old Testament.

    1. This was a fulfillment of what Jesus told the Woman of Samaria in John 4 – “Neither in this mountain nor in that” but in “Spirit and in Truth.”
    2. This brought the end of the religious state. The people of God do not inhabit any particular socio-political place but are throughout the world, people of every tongue and tribe and nation. They all will praise him as the Lamb who redeemed men to God by his blood (Revelation 5:9, 10). It is a mistake to seek to reinstitute it or pine for the existence of a “Christian nation.”

III. “Baptizing them,” that is, we are to baptize those who have been made disciples out of all the nations through believing the message preached. None else are to be baptized. None can be a candidate for baptism who does not hear and understand the gospel. None except those who shun any pretensions of personal merit and embrace the surpassing excellence of the righteousness that comes from God by imputation of Christ’s obedience are candidates for baptism. Those who repent unto the forgiveness of sins are the true candidates for baptism.

A. Baptism shows that they are separated from this world and united to Christ in his redemptive work and to other believers in the community of the redeemed: “All of us who have been baptized … were baptized into his death … [that] we might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3, 4).

    1. Every person, not only every land, is a mission field for this presentation of the gospel for this purpose.
    2. Wherever in the world we baptize, we testify to the enduring nature of the entire command. Whether we baptize believers here in our home churches or in places with sparse or no Christian preaching, then we confess that all that Jesus said in this command still has authority in all nations.

B. Trinitarian Formula – We testify to the absoluteness of the Christian message by invoking the name of the triune God at the observance of this ordinance on the one professing belief of the gospel. There is no other God but the God who exists eternally in a fellowship of three distinct persons, existing in the same nature. In the covenant of redemption, co-eternal with the purpose, will, rationality, consciousness. and love within the three-personed deity, each divine immutable, all-wise person assumed a portion of the whole work of redemption, so that baptism assumes both the eternal purpose and historic operations of each person in order to accomplish this glorious work—”In the name [singular] of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Peter’s statement in Acts 2:38—in the name of Jesus Christ—is not stating a formula for baptism but restating the specific authority by which baptism is performed as a sign of reception into the new Israel, the new people of God, the holy nation.

IV. Teaching them to observe all things. – Paul always saw this as consistent with his ministry. Titus 1:1 condenses this stewardship with the words, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior; to Titus, my true child in a common faith.”

A. “Whatsoever I have commanded you” means all that Jesus taught them to observe during his earthly ministry.

    1. Jesus said to baptize believers. He confirmed baptism by submitting to John’s baptism, gave it its powerful meaning in his death, burial, and resurrection.
    2. Celebrate regularly the memorial of his death. This do in remembrance of me, that is, in the particular purpose of his coming to give his life a ransom for many (Luke 22:17-20; Mark 10:45).
    3. Expect men to revile and persecute you. The servant is not better than his master. Have courage in these times of error, hostility, and persecution. Rejoice when it is for the sake of Christ (Matthew 5:11; 10:22-28).
    4. Have courage in these times of error, hostility, and persecution. Rejoice when it is for the sake of Christ.
    5. Go to the Samaritans; go the Gentiles; preach the gospel to the outcast and to those deeply miserable in sin. “Can anyone withhold water from baptizing these people {Gentiles], who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:47, 48).

B. Included in these commandments would be all that Jesus would teach them to observe through the continued revelatory ministry of the Holy Spirit in the apostles (John 16:12-15).

    1. Distinguish between the ceremonial and the moral law that people might understand the nature of saving grace and righteousness (Acts 10:44-48; Galatians 5:1-3; Philippians 3:1-3).
    2. Contend for the faith once delivered to the saints (1 John 4:1-6; Jude 3).
    3. Cultivate the affections by which the power of indwelling sin will more and more be subdued (Galatians 5:13-16; Romans 8:12-14).
    4. They were to teach that the inevitable outflow of true faith was holiness of life (Romans 12:1, 2).
    5. They were to instruct believers that purification from sin and mortification of unlawful lust in this life would prepare them for the righteousness of the heavenly life (2 Peter 3:11-13; 1 John 3:1-6).
    6. Be prepared to give a defense in a clear and respectful manner of the reason for your hope of eternal life (1 Peter 3:13-17).
    7. Love one another. “And now I ask you, dear lady, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments” (2 John 5, 6).

C. Jesus’ authoritative command as Lord of heaven and earth is accompanied by the assurance of his presence even to the end of the age. Two observations I will make here: one, in all the challenges that come to those who obey this command, the Lord himself ordains those things for his own glory and his authority surrounds and is infused into them all so that one need never despair of the presence, power, and sovereign operations of the risen savior; two, this promise is not for one age only, and thus the relevance of the command, but will endure to “the end of the age.”

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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