Matthew 28:11-20 Part 1


As you can see, Matthew (who writes, primarily, with the Jewish Christians in mind) considers it especially important that he record this whole event concerning the report of the guards and the instructions that the Sanhedrin gave to them (verses eleven through fifteen).

This is a very important incident in the Revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And for that reason I would like to use (at least) the first part of this Sunday’s preaching for a review.

As the text here suggests, the priests of Israel and the scribal doctors of law, and the elders of the twelve tribes of Israel met in formal session (The Seventy… the Sanhedrin… the leadership of Judaism and the nation).  And they formally passed a resolution which included 1) treacherous bribery of the Roman soldiers, and 2) the spreading of false testimony to the people of Israel regarding God’s Messiah!  (This is certainly the “epitome” of ninth Commandment violation!)

Now (by way of review), much has been said, during the course of our preaching through Matthew’s Gospel, about the wretched condition of the nation of Israel and its leadership at the time of Christ.  As prophesied in Isaiah thirty-five (and many other places) God’s Messiah would come to the beast-infested wilderness (called Zion).  He would come with vengeance and recompense upon all those who had “laid waste” God’s land… and they who had feasted (as ravenous wolves) upon God’s people.

As Isaiah said,


“…this is a people robbed and stripped; they are all of them snared in holes, and they are hid in prison houses; they are for a prey, and none delivers….”


But, Isaiah says...


“He will come… and save you”, he says to the elect remnant of Israel.  Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf be unstopped.  Then shall the lame leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing; for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert… and the ransomed of the Lord will come to Zion with songs… and joy….”  And… “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young….”


Those who were to be the “shepherds” of Israel, who were to teach the covenant and lead the people with justice, who were to be examples of holiness, and who were to point the nation to the coming Messiah of God…?


“His watchmen are blind; they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber.  Yea, they are greedy dogs who can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand; they all look to their own way, every one for his gain – from every quarter….”  “They are all beasts – come to devour.”  (Isaiah fifty-six)


Although God had preserved a “remnant” for Himself…who had not bowed the knee to false gods, for centuries the “ravenous wolves” of Israel, drunk with power and self-serving, had laid this nation ”waste” (the making of a wilderness) – refusing to lead the people in God’s righteous covenant.

And the nation was “sick”; and the people imprisoned in blindness; and they were ruled by pagan, Gentile nations (one after the other); and they were economically distressed, lame, deaf, crooked, full of leprosy and other terrible diseases… and “sighing” in their oppression.

The leadership for centuries had turned God’s Law upside down for their own benefits; and there were many divorcees and widows and orphans… families cast off their land by false justice, because the Law was used unlawfully by unrighteous priests and elders and pharisees.

And the nation languished.

The Word of God had been added to, and subtracted from, and falsely interpreted, and REPLACED by the words of men.  And the prophets who God had sent (requiring the nation’s repentance) had been ignored, humiliated, mistreated and killed!

And, as in every case in which a people rebels against God, Israel, at the time of Christ, was a demon-infested, perverted nation… led by self-serving hypocrites.  And (also in every case) every ill befitting their perversion was manifested among its people.

Now.  We’ve seen these things (and discussed them) many times during our course through Matthew.  This was just a short review… leading up to what we see in the text this morning.

But before we’re through reviewing I want to look at this awful situation in Israel a bit more… from a different direction (maybe move around to the side and get another angle at it).  I think this will be an important perspective for us as we come to the Great Commission – then approach the Acts of the Apostles – the revelation of St. John.

So, while we’re reviewing, let’s just take a quick look at Israel’s degenerate condition from the historical perspective of worship – and the Church.

In Leviticus chapter twenty-three God’s Law prescribes a “sacred assembly” on the Sabbath.  There was to be a “cessation of work”, a “sacred assembly”, and it was to occur “wherever you live in the land”.

So the Law of God at Sinai prescribes a local assembly of the people of God – congregation – meeting on the weekly day of rest.  As we glean from the rest of Scripture, the assembly was for the reading and explication of Scripture, prayer, praise and tithes-and-offerings.

And every community in Israel, no matter how small, was to “gather” on the Sabbath – the Lord’s Day of Rest.  And, over time, it came to be known as “the Gathering”, or the congregation, or the assembly.  And the Hebrew word for “gathering” is sunagogue.  As we anglicize it, it becomes synagogue!

The sunagogue system in Israel was to become the decentralized, localized place of assembly and worship of the One True God.  And the community was to revolve around “the Gathering; for the worship of God and the teaching of the Covenant of God were to be the foundation of the individual, the family and the society!  For without God’s Word… without the teaching of God’s Covenant… all levels of government (beginning with self-government) disintegrate!  The local assembly was to look toward the temple for there was the anticipation of the coming one-time Sacrifice!

And even to this day, some orthodox Jewish children call the Synagogue – “shul” (Yiddish – more modern word, but…).  You’ll recognize how close that is to our word “school”.  The synagogue was to be the place of learning and the place of hope for the redemption of mankind.

Now.  Before the Law of the local assembly was given to Israel at Sinai, God had given Moses the sacrificial and ceremonial Law, and the Law of the Tabernacle and the priesthood.  And the whole corpus of this Law had to do with centralized worship!

It all revolved around (first) the tabernacles… and then, of course, the temple – which was to be built by Solomon on the dome of the rock in Jerusalem.  In Deuteronomy chapter twelve Moses writes,


“Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.”

“…when you cross the Jordan and dwell in the land… then there will be the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His Name abide.  There you shall bring what I command you; your burnt offering, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, and all the choice offerings which you vow to the Lord.”


Then Moses writes that God forbade any of these things to be done outside that central location (the temple).  Nothing is to be added or taken away from the Law of the sacrifices.  No sacrifice is to be made, of any kind, at any location… ever (except in the place God prescribed)… the temple in Jerusalem.

Of course we know that the temple constructed on the “dome” of the Rock (and the tabernacle before it) were hand-made replicas of the Glory-cloud/Throne-room of God above the firmament of His creation.  And the sacrificial/ceremonial liturgy (followed to the letter of the Law) figured and foreshadowed the one, coming, efficacious sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  For there is no access to the Holy of Holies except by Him!

Now, as the Scriptures make so clear, after Israel settled Canaan and the temple was built, a number of things began to happen almost immediately.  The people of the local synagogues began to make sacrifices in other places – against the explicit Word of God Who forbade it.  And the worship practices and “high places’ and sacrifices of the pagan Canaanites were incorporated into the synagogues (false worship).  And the pharisee “doctors of Law” (scribes) began to build up a “wall” around the Torah – wall of oral tradition and additions and subtractions to God’s Word.  And, soon, the writings of the scribes and Levitical priests gained equal, and even more, authority than the Word of God.

And similar things were happening at the temple in Jerusalem.  A “caste” system soon developed wherein the priests and pharisees were the “upper class” of society; and the rest were poor, ignorant creatures.  The writings and oral traditions of the priest and scribes was the law of the land; and it was all twisted and re-interpreted for their own benefits.

Anything that wasn’t pure-blood Jewish was scorned and pitied; and even pure-blood Jews who weren’t priests and pharisees were “dumb creatures”.  They had nothing for them except contempt.  (Jesus was the true Levite – teaching and healing the people with compassion; whereas Israel’s Levitical priesthood harassed them and left them helpless and without true shepherds.)

As Jesus once said, the priests and pharisees loved to adorn themselves and put on their phylacteries, and go out on the street corner and pray, and make a show of tithing – all in order that the “common people” could adore them.  Jesus called them “whitewashed tombs” because they were beautiful on the outside – but rotten on the inside!  The people of Israel were to be used rather than shepherded!

And the very place of centralized worship – the temple itself – became a “den of thieves”, because the entire ceremonial, sacrificial system (foreshadowing the Christ) had degenerated into a religion in and of itself and a means of holding power over the people and making money for the priests.  This is why God had said, through the prophets, that He “hated” their abominable sacrifices.  Their sacrifices had nothing to do with the One, blood-shedding, atoning death of the Lamb of God for the sin of the world!  The ceremonial system became a religion – rather than an anticipation of.

It’s important to point out here that the eschatological hope of these men was for the resurrection of Israel and Jerusalem to world-wide prominence – even greater than the glory in Solomonic times!  God would send a great man – a messiah – who would be confirmed by the priests and who would be installed as King.  And he would lead Israel out from under pagan oppression and into dominion over the world!  (Needless to say they did not like it when a “carpenter’s son” from Nazareth – in Galilee of all places – proclaimed Himself God’s Messiah!)

Now, one of the results of all this, as I said, was the “exclusivity” of this “purely Jewish” religion… Judaism (which again, was a total perversion of the Covenant of God).  Wherein the local synagogues were supposed to be assemblies – not only where Jews could worship and learn – but also where pagan strangers could come and hear about the One True God… and then go back and establish places of worship; instead, the synagogues (and the temple) became places of control and power and money – and where Gentiles and half-breeds were dirt and trash… they were “unclean” and had no part in the superior, exclusive, Jewish religion! (Judaism)

Now, it was Jesus’ pattern, on the Sabbath (as He fulfilled the Law concerning the local “gathering”), to attend synagogue.  Early on in His three years of ministry, Jesus attended synagogue in Nazareth.  And He stood to read and speak.  And He was well-received until He proclaimed Himself God’s Messiah, and that God purposed to save the Gentiles!  And from that point on, that was the defining issue in the conflict with the leadership of Israel that led to His crucifixion!

God was not, in their opinion, going to save any Gentiles; and they were not about to install a common carpenter from Galilee as Israel’s Messiah/King!!!

And even if He came into Jerusalem (at Passover, 30 AD) with thousands of Jews and half-breeds and pagan Gentiles following Him; and even if there were many who claimed to be healed of diseases and demons; and even if there were claims of a man being raised form death – even if all these things were the signs of the coming Messiah (as prophesied), the priests and scribes and elders of Israel would not have this Man contesting their authority and staging an overthrow of their government!  He was doing all the things the Shepherd of Israel was supposed to be doing – and that they were not doing!  And they would not have this Man rule over them!

Should that occur, the Roman government would be alarmed and begin oppressive measures; there would be chaos and disorder; they would lose their positions and their power; and Jerusalem would never attain the glory of its destiny!  (Which, in their opinions was their eschatological hope!)

So they would do everything in their power – no matter what – to eliminate Him.  Murder and deception and false witness and bribery – nothing was beyond them in their zeal to destroy Him.

And thus they did… (they thought).

Jesus informed His disciples, over and over, that He was going into Jerusalem to suffer at the hands of the priests and scribes and elders, and to be crucified, and to be raised on the third day.  And that He had the power to lay down His Own life; and the power to take it up again.

And thus He did.

And the entire ceremonial/sacrificial Law, including the temple itself, became obsolete.  He was crucified with it; and He was buried with it; and He arose as the New Temple.  He ascended to the Glory-cloud and sat down at the right of the Father where He received Power and Glory and a Kingdom.

And what remains is a Sabbath for the Lord’s people:  The “synagogue of Christ” – the New Jerusalem – the New Israel – The Church.  It is made up of men and women and children from everywhere – Jews and Gentiles alike – who would worship God in Spirit and in Truth… all those “little children” (newborns) of His who are “rebirthed” into His body, and who are “living stones’ in His New Temple.

But even after His resurrection the treachery of Israel’s leadership continued.  As the text says, at verse eleven, certain ones of the Roman guard came back to report to the priests.  They didn’t go back to Pilate… Pilate had given them to the Sanhedrin, and the Sanhedrin had sealed the tomb and placed the guard there.  So that’s where they came back to report.

And they told the priests everything that had happened (all they could remember!).  That would have (at least) included a great earthquake; and the appearance of the angel of God (who would have appeared, you remember, “as lightning”); and it would have included the rolled away stone and the empty tomb (we don’t know what else).  But isn’t it awesome that the high priests of Israel heard the first Gospel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ!  And Gentile, Roman guards were the first to carry that message!

But the words of the text imply that there was called a formal session of the Sanhedrin in order to deal with this.  It was crisis time; and the thousands who had followed Jesus into Jerusalem were still here!  I’ll say more about this later; but the Sanhedrin passed a resolution to bribe the guards and spread false witness concerning God’s Messiah!

The Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was presented to them… (all the “evidences” of the resurrection of God’s Messiah), and in their treacherous, devious, hardened condition they devised a false testimony to the nation of Israel concerning the Savior of the World!  And they reached into the treasury of the temple (the tithes of the people) and presented the guards with “ample” silver – enough to persuade them to go through with the deception!

And then, to protect the soldiers from further inquiry by Pilate (should there be a “hearing” on it), the “scheme” included some kind of manipulation of the Roman governor (probably lying and bribery!)

So the soldiers, with all kinds of “perks” and guarantees, accepted the money and spread the lies!  And, as Matthew says in verse fifteen, “this word was proclaimed among the Jews until the present”.  Matthew wrote this Gospel several years later, so the deception was still being spread even then.

And it’s so telling… of the false shepherds of Israel, that Matthew uses the term “Logos” in verse fifteen.  “This word.”  O Logos is The Word of God – the “Fullness” of which is Jesus Christ.


“In the beginning was O Logos – The Word.  And the Word was with God; and the Word was God.  And without Him nothing was made that was made.”


The Lord Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh.  He is Way, Truth and Life; and no man comes to the Father except by Him.  By His one, vicarious sacrifice man is redeemed from his “deadness”.

And yet, by comparison, the word of the perverted leaders of Israel was at complete cross-purposes with God.  Their “word” was false and dishonorable and perverted.  It was “pseudo-revelation”.  And their deception served to so further blind the nation of Israel that the wrath of Almighty God was completely justified in the 70 AD annihilation of the old covenant nation in “The Day of The Lord” – the Parousia of Christ.

I’ll have some more remarks to make about this event next Lord’s Day; and then we’ll proceed to the great commission.  Now let the “synagogue of Christ” – the gathering – having heard the Word of God read and preached, come together to confess its sin.