Religious leaders bribe the guards – Matthew 28ff

20 Mar

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

The Great Commission

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [1]

28:11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.  Jesus’ resurrection was already causing a great stir in Jerusalem. A group of women was moving quickly through the streets, looking for the disciples to tell them the amazing news that Jesus was alive. At the same time, guards were on their way, not to Pilate, but to the chief priests. If these were Roman guards (see commentary on 27:65), under Roman law, they would have paid with their lives for falling asleep on the job (28:13). Since they were assigned to the Jewish authorities, they went to the religious leaders badly in need of a cover-up. They went to the chief priests, to tell them everything that had happened (at least up to the point where they fainted!).

28:12–15  When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”  The religious leaders’ worst fears had been realized (27:63–64)—Jesus’ body had disappeared from the tomb! Instead of even considering that Jesus’ claims had been true and that he truly was the Messiah risen from the dead, the chief priests and elders devised a plan and paid a bribe to the soldiers in order to explain away what had happened. What irony that the chief priests were forced to bribe the guards to spread the very lie that the chief priests had tried to prevent! This may have seemed like a logical explanation, but they didn’t think through the details. Why would Jesus’ disciples, who already had run off on him at his arrest, risk a return at night to a guarded and sealed tomb in an effort to steal a body—an offense that could incur the death penalty? If they had done so, would they have taken the time to unwrap the body and leave the graveclothes behind?

If this had occurred while the guards were asleep, how could the guards possibly have known that the disciples came during the night and stole the body? If this truly happened, why didn’t the religious leaders arrest the disciples in order to prosecute them? The story was full of holes and the guards would have to admit to negligence on their part, so getting them to spread this rumor required a large sum of money. If the governor (Pilate) were to hear the story, the Jewish leaders promised to intervene for the guards, satisfy Pilate with the made-up rumor, and keep the guards out of trouble. (Considering their treatment of Judas in 27:4, one ought to wonder at the sincerity of these words!) Nevertheless, the plan worked:  So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.  Apparently the sum of money paid was worth it, because the soldiers took it and did as they were instructed. The story circulated and many people believed the lie, also apparently not thinking through the information long enough to ask the obvious questions. The story was still being circulated in the days of Matthew’s writing this Gospel, and even in the days of Justin Martyr (a.d. 130–160).




First the religious leaders had to get false accusers to give false reports at Jesus’ kangaroo court. Then they had to invent false charges of treason against Roman authority. Here they developed an alibi for the guards, and, if necessary, they would lie to Pilate to protect the guards and themselves.

Lying leads to lying. If you start down that slide, there’s a gravity that keeps pulling you down. Invent one story, and you’ll have to invent another, sure thing.

•       Take a lesson from these sorry leaders. Tell the truth, and live free from the worry that your cover may be blown. At home, require the truth from your children, and give the truth to them. At work, be up-front and square. The bumps you may feel over the truth are nothing like the boulders you’ll have to climb by lying to protect yourself.




28:16–17 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  Jesus made several appearances to various people after his resurrection (see the chart “Jesus’ Appearances after His Resurrection” on page 577). “The eleven” refers to the remaining disciples after the death of Judas Iscariot. Although he first appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem, at his first appearance, Thomas had been absent. He doubted the story of the rest of the disciples, until Jesus appeared to him as well (John 20:24–31). They did go to Galilee, as Jesus had previously directed them (26:32; 28:10). At some point they returned to Jerusalem where Jesus ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9). “The mountain” referred to here in Galilee is unknown; however, mountains figured prominently in Matthew, for they are found sixteen times in connection with divine revelation (at the Temptation, Sermon on the Mount, Transfiguration, etc.).

In an effort to exclude the eleven disciples from having “doubted” Jesus, some scholars have suggested that they who saw him refers to more than just the eleven disciples—perhaps the “five hundred brothers” mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:6 nrsv. But the text doesn’t allow for this; among the eleven who saw Jesus there were some who doubted—which means, they had hesitations about believing in Jesus’ resurrection. Apparently on their walk from Jerusalem to Galilee, lengthy discussions were held. Matthew may have been reporting some of the doubts and concerns still lingering in the minds of the eleven chosen disciples. Of course, they would all eventually be fully convinced and believe.

This mountain at the conclusion of our Lord’s life corresponds to the mountain of temptation at the beginning. There he was offered the empire of the world, if only he would take the easy lower path; here he is acknowledged King of the world because he took the hard one of obedience unto death. F. B. Meyer




Matthew’s honesty is remarkable. Some of the disciples struggled with doubt.

No Christian grows in faith without some doubt. The five-year-olds who took in every Bible story will become the fifteen-year-olds who want to know how, what, why, when, and where. And they will grow, too, and press for deeper answers along the way.

When you doubt, don’t be discouraged. It’s not a sin nor a failure. It’s a normal part of spiritual growth. Keep talking with thoughtful Christian friends and teachers, keep studying and praying, keep serving the Lord, and keep asking questions and looking for answers. God gave you a mind to discover his truth. Don’t let anyone tell you that discovery is wrong.

28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” N When someone is dying or leaving us, we pay close attention to his or her last words. Jesus left the disciples with these last words of instruction:

  • They were under his authority.
  • They were to make more disciples.
  • They were to baptize and teach these new disciples to obey Christ.
  • They would have Christ with them always.


1. Mary Magdalene


Mark 16:9–11; John 20:10–18


2. The other women at the tomb


Matthew 28:8–10


3. Peter in Jerusalem


Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5


4. The two travelers on the road


Mark 16:12–13; Luke 24:13–35


5. Ten disciples behind closed doors


Luke 24:36–43; John 20:19–25


6. All eleven disciples (including Thomas)


Mark 16:14; John 20:26–31; 1 Corinthians 15:5


7. Seven disciples while fishing on the Sea of Galilee


John 21:1–14


8. Eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee


Matthew 28:16–20; Mark 16:15–18


9. A crowd of 500


1 Corinthians 15:6
10. Jesus’ brother James


1 Corinthians 15:7


11. Those who watched Jesus ascend to heaven


Mark 16:19–20; Luke 24:50–53; Acts 1:3–9


God gave Jesus authority over heaven and earth, a sweeping concept that implies divine status. He has “all authority”—that is, nothing is outside of his sovereign control. The major message here and in 28:20 is that Jesus, the one raised from the dead, has the authority of God himself. During Satan’s temptation of Jesus, Satan had offered “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” (4:8 nrsv). Jesus resisted the tempter, obeyed God to the point of horrible death, and was raised again in victory to receive all authority over heaven and earth—something Satan could never have given because it was never his in the first place.

28:19–20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.  On the basis of his authority, Jesus told his disciples to go and make disciples as they preached, baptized, and taught. “Making disciples” means instructing new believers on how to follow Jesus, to submit to Jesus’ lordship, and to take up his mission of compassionate service. To be a disciple means entering a relationship of learner to Master (Teacher) with Jesus. The church must not merely evangelize, but it also must show new converts how to obey Jesus’ commands. Discipleship must be stressed without neglecting evangelism. “Baptism” is important because it unites a believer with Jesus Christ in his or her death to sin and resurrection to new life. Baptism symbolizes submission to Christ, a willingness to live God’s way, and identification with God’s covenant people. To baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit affirms the reality of the Trinity, the concept coming directly from Jesus himself. He did not say baptize them into the “names,” but into the “name” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While the word “Trinity” does not occur in Scripture, it well describes the three-in-one existence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (See also Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 12:4–6; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 4:4–6; 2 Thessalonians 2:13.)

Whereas in previous missions Jesus had sent his disciples only to the Jews (10:5–6), their mission from here forward would be to go to all the nations. This is called the Great Commission. The disciples had been trained well, and they had seen the risen Lord. They were ready to teach people all over the world to observe all things that Jesus had commanded them. This also showed the disciples that there would be a lapse of time between Jesus’ resurrection and his second coming. During that time, Jesus’ followers had jobs to do—evangelize, baptize, and teach people about Jesus so that they, in turn, could do the same. The good news of the gospel was to go forth to all the nations.

With this same authority, Jesus still commands us to tell others the Good News and make them disciples for the kingdom. We are to go—whether it is next door or to another country—and make disciples. It is not an option, but a command to all who call Jesus “Lord.” We are not all evangelists in the formal sense, but we have all received gifts that we can use to help fulfill the Great Commission. As we obey, we have comfort in the knowledge that Jesus is always with us. “Always” literally means “all the days” and refers to the presence of Christ with each believer every moment. This would occur through the Holy Spirit’s presence in believers’ lives. The Holy Spirit would be Jesus’ presence that would never leave them (John 14:26; Acts 1:4–5). Jesus continues to be with us today through his Spirit. As this Gospel began, so it ends—Immanuel, “God with us” (1:23).

The Old Testament prophecies and genealogies in the book of Matthew present Jesus’ credentials for being King of the world—not a military or political leader, as the disciples had originally hoped, but a spiritual King who can overcome all evil and rule in the heart of every person. If we refuse to serve the King faithfully, we are disloyal subjects. We must make Jesus King of our lives and worship him as our Savior, King, and Lord.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 28:11–20.

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Posted by on March 20, 2023 in 1 Corinthians, Resurrection


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