“Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins.” We have here the general aspect of those who bear the name of Christ. The kingdom of heaven here implies a certain economy at a given point of time. “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps and went forth to meet the bridegroom” (ver. 1). “Their lamps” set forth the light of profession. They were witnesses for the Lord, and their calling was to meet the Saviour. That was to be the attitude of the Christian from the first, going forth to meet the Bridegroom. Christianity does not mean that its professors remain where they are, and so look for Christ, but that they leave everything in order to go out and meet the Bridegroom. Some of the early believers were Jews, and some were Gentiles; but they abandoned for Christ their previous connections, their position in the world, and all that they hitherto valued. They had a new object; they knew that the only blessed one in the sight of God was the Saviour; they were waiting for Him, who is in heaven, and they go out to meet Him who has promised to come again. This is the true expectation of the Christian. There ought to be no fixing of dates, but the certain hope that the Lord is coming — we know not when. The stronger such a hope is in our hearts, the more completely separated shall we be from the plans and projects of this world.
“And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.” The kingdom of heaven becomes a thing of profession. As in the case of the servants there was an evil as well as a faithful servant, so here we have five wise and five foolish virgins. “They that were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them.” They were persons who had the lamp of profession but no oil. Some have thought that they were Christians who failed in looking for the Lord to come. But I believe this to be false, because the foolish proved their folly in this — that they took no oil in their lamps. What does this imply? Oil is the type of the Holy Ghost. We read in 1 John 2 of an “unction from the Holy One.” Will anyone maintain that there are real Christians who have not this “unction “? The wise virgins set forth true believers, the foolish ones mere professors; these took the name of Christ, but there was nothing that could fit them for the presence of Christ. Our power of enjoying Christ is entirely by the Holy Ghost. The natural man may admire Christ, but only at a distance, and without an awakened or a purged conscience. There is no living link of relationship between the heart of the natural man and Christ; and therefore man crucified Him. These foolish virgins, having no oil in their lamps, showed that they possessed nothing that could enable them to welcome Christ. The Holy Ghost alone can fit men to stand in the confession of His name to do His work. The oil was that which fed the lamp, and these foolish virgins had none. “But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept” (vers. 4, 5). They all dropped practically the hope of Christ’s coming: there was no difference in that. There were true Christians and false, but all were in this respect asleep. Thus, while the original calling of Christians was to wait for Christ’s return, being united to Him by the Holy Ghost, yet was there to be a universal slumber as to expecting Christ. But the Lord adds, “At midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him” (ver. 6). Plainly, that cry was the movement of the Holy Ghost Himself. It was the power and grace of God which sent it out by the means that He saw fitting. We are not told how, but it plainly reveals a general movement among Christian professors — a revival of the truth of the coming of the Lord. “Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps” (ver. 7). The cry affected even those who had not the Holy Ghost dwelling in them.
But now comes out the solemn difference. “The foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out,” or rather, “are going out.” They had lit their wicks, but there was no oil. The light of mere nature burns soon and rapidly, but there is nothing that implies the Spirit of God — they had never had oil. “But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you; but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.” I need not say that the terms on which God sells and man buys the Holy Ghost are, “without money and without price “; but the great point is that every soul must have to do with God. The believer listens, and bows to God in this world; the unbeliever will quail before God in the next world. Grace compels souls to come in and to have to do with Him now, in this world; but if I refuse to face God about my sins here below, I shall find myself lost forever. Now is the day of salvation; and it is only a delusion of the devil to persuade the heart to defer it to a more convenient season. If I go to God about my sins, and because I believe that Jesus is a Saviour, I shall find, not merely Jesus the Son of God but the Holy Ghost given, by whom I shall be able to enjoy the Saviour. The wise had this oil, and they could await the coming of the Lord in peace. But the foolish ones are unacquainted with His grace. And to whom do they go? Not to those who sell without money and without price. “While they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.” Afterward, as we see in the painful picture of the foolish virgins, they come, saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore; for ye know neither the day nor the hour.”19
When the Lord is set forth as coming in the way of judgment, He is spoken of as Son of Man. Here He is represented as the Bridegroom; and if the words “Son of Man” were really to be read here, it would be hard indeed to account for them. How plain that you cannot add anything to Scripture without spoiling it! Our Lord here appears in an aspect of grace toward His saints; and this is one reason why you have no description of the judgment about to fall upon the foolish virgins. The displayed execution of divine vengeance would be incongruous with His title of Bridegroom. No doubt even here the door is shut; and our Lord tells the foolish virgins, when they appeal to Him to open, “I know you not”; but He thereon immediately turns the fact to the spiritual profit of His disciples: “Watch therefore; for ye know neither the day nor the hour” (ver. 13).
Then comes another parable. “For the kingdom of heaven is [or, literally, “It is] as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey” (vers. 14, 15). There our Lord is represented as leaving this world and going to a far country. This is a remarkable way in which our Lord is presented here. In Matthew His home is supposed to be on the earth, because He is the Messiah who came to His own, even if His own received Him not. As the rejected Messiah He leaves His home, and goes, the suffering but glorified Son of Man, to the far country, which is clearly heaven. And while He is gone there He has His servants to whom He has committed certain of His goods; and with these they are to labour “Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents” (ver. 16). Here we have another kind of ministry. It is not serving the household, and giving them meat in due season, as in Matt. 24:45. It is trading, or going out to others. This is a characteristic of Christianity. In Judaism there was no such thing as the Lord sending His servants here and there to gain souls; but when the Lord Jesus left this world and went up to heaven, He thus sent them out. He left them means to trade withal. It is the activity of grace that goes out to seek sinners, as well as spread the testimony of the truth of God among saints.
If the Lord calls to service He also gives according to our several ability. The character of the gift put at our disposal is suited, in the Giver’s wisdom, both to the object and the vessel. There is sovereignty, and all is wisely ordered. , How could it be otherwise, seeing that it is the Lord who calls? It is here too that Christendom has so largely failed. Were a man now to begin to preach and teach without some human sanction, many would regard it as a piece of assumption, if not presumption; whereas, in truth, if I look for authority from the churches to preach or serve the Lord, I shall be sinning against Christ. Any appointment by men for such a purpose is unauthorized by and opposed to the mind of Christ; and those whom they would consider acting irregularly are in reality in the lowly path of obedience, and will find their vindication in the great day. It is entirely a question between Christ and His own servants. He gives one to be a prophet, another an evangelist, another a pastor and teacher (Eph. 4). But there are two things in the servant — both of them of importance. He gave them gifts, but it was according to their several ability. The Lord does not call any one to special service who has not an ability for the trust committed to him. The servant must have certain natural and acquired qualifications, besides the power of the Spirit of God. He gave them talents — to one five, to another two, and to another one. Here you have the energy of the Holy Ghost — the power that the Lord gives from on high, over and above His choice of each man “according to his several ability.”
It is plain from this that there are certain qualities in the servant independent of the gift that the Lord puts into him. His natural powers are the vessel that contains the gift, and wherein the gift is to be exercised. If the Lord calls a man to be a preacher, there is supposed a natural aptitude for it. Again, the gift may be increased. First, there is the ability of the man before and when he is converted; next, the Lord gives him a gift that he never possessed before; thirdly, if. he does not stir up his gift, there may be a weakening, if not loss. He may become unfaithful, and may lose power. But if a man waits upon the Lord, there may, on the contrary, be increased power given to him. Many think that the one qualification of the servant of God is that of the. Spirit. This is, of course, essential, and most blessed; but it is not all. The truth is that Christ gives gifts; but He gives them “according to the ability” of the individual. The union of the two facts, the ability of the servant and the sovereignly-bestowed gift given him to trade with, is of all-importance to keep distinctly in view.
But to proceed: “After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained besides them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (vers. 19-21). In chapter 24 it was the “faithful and wise” servant, because, where it is a question of the household, wisdom is needed. But here it is “thou good and faithful servant.” Both are called “faithful”; but, in the exercise of the gifts which the Lord send,; out to the world with the message of grace, the goodness of God is characteristic. What is the source of all grace in the servant of the Lord? It is the appreciation of God’s goodness. This comes out by contrast in the case of the slothful servant. An unconverted man might have a gift from the Lord. The slothful servant was clearly one that never had the knowledge of God: proved in that he did not believe in the goodness of the Lord: he had no confidence in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. In this the evil servant showed what he was. He says, “I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strewed. And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strewed” (vers. 24-26). His lord takes him upon his own ground. If the servant judges him to be hard, On your own ground, he says, “Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.” According to his self-defence, he had utterly failed: and so it is always. The man who talks about the justice of God cannot for an instant stand before it; while he who casts himself humbly upon the grace of God will be found to walk soberly, righteously, godly, in this present evil world. The denier of the goodness of God is invariably a bad man himself.
So in the matter of our service: whether we have two talents or five, and use them for Him, the Lord will return it to our souls again, and in the day that is coming give us to hear those blessed words, “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”
We now come to a subject viewed, I apprehend, with much prejudice by many. It has been perverted, I grieve to say, even by those who love the Saviour and own both the general blessedness of those that belong to Him and the sure doom of those that despise Him. But though all Christians must be in the main agreed on these fundamental truths, when we come to inquire what the Lord intended us to gather from His taking His seat upon the throne of His glory; when we would ascertain who the parties are that the Lord has before Him in this scene, and what the special destiny of the blessed is, we meet with the most various opinions. The root of the difficulty may be traced generally to one thought — the anxiety, even of Christians, to find that which bears upon their own lot. Not being thoroughly at rest touching their acceptance with God, there is ordinarily a disposition to warp Scripture, partly to escape what they dread, and partly to gather comfort for their troubled souls. The greater part of God’s children are, more or less, in spirit under the law; and wherever such are honest in this condition, they must be miserable. Comparatively few know the fulness of deliverance in Christ; few know what it is to be dead to the law and married to another, even to Him who is risen from the dead. They may hear and repeat the words of Scripture, thinking they mean something good; but the real meaning and blessing of being dead to the law and united to a risen Saviour very few appreciate. This is the reason why so many are not in a state to understand the word of God. Not enjoying in peace their own position in Christ, they seize upon every promise, with small regard to the objects God had in view. Thus seeking assurance for their own souls, when the Lord speaks of certain Gentiles as “sheep,” they think it means us, because we are so called elsewhere, as in John 10. They find these are blessed of the Father, and thence conclude that it can be no other than our hope. Again, certain are here spoken of as “brethren” of the King; and they take it for granted it means ourselves — Christians. In this superficial way Scripture is misunderstood, and the very comfort that souls are grasping after as surely eludes them. Wherever we turn aside the edge of the word of God, and appropriate indiscriminately what is said of persons in a wholly different position, there is loss. God has so arranged everything that the best portion for us is what God has given. We cannot mend the counsels of God, nor add to the riches of His grace. If we know the love that God has to us in Christ, we know the best thing that we can find in earth or heaven. The moment we lay hold of this, and see how greatly we are blest, we cease from the anxiety that each good word of God should converge on ourselves; we see His infinitely greater object, even Christ, and we can delight in others being blest even in what we have not. This is most important practically — that we should be so satisfied with God’s love to us, and the portion He has given us in Christ as to rejoice in all that He is pleased to give to others. Are we not sure our Father withholds from us nothing but what would interfere with our blessing? So reading this parable, or prophetic description, we are under no constraint. We can examine it with other scriptures, and see whom the. Lord has in view, and inquire what their portion is to be.
“When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all nations” (vers. 31, 32). Here are proofs enough of what the time and circumstances are of which our Lord speaks. He is taking His seat upon His own throne as the Son of Man. He is gathering before Him all the nations. When will this be? Here, at least, it will not be contended that something past is in question. The Lord Jesus is not even yet seated upon His own throne. When on earth He had no throne; when He went to heaven, He sat down on His Father’s throne, as says Rev. 3:21: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne.” According to this promise, when it shall be fulfilled, He must have left His Father’s throne and sat down on His own throne. It is a future thing. Every scripture that touches on our Lord’s actual place shows that He is now seated on the Father’s throne. But Scripture also shows that He is to sit on His own throne; and this is what we have here. All things in heaven and in earth shall be put under the government of the Lord Jesus. He will be the head of all glory, heavenly and earthly. Of which does this portion speak? Are there any circumstances with which our Lord surrounds His throne that make the answer plain? “Before Him shall be gathered all nations.” Are nations in heaven? Clearly not. Who can imagine so gross a thing? When the boundary is crossed that separates the things seen from the unseen, no such earthly sight lowers or distracts the worship above. When men are risen from the dead, they will no longer be known as English or French: these national distinctions, for them, terminate. Their future lot is decided according to their reception or rejection of Jesus in the present life. This future throne of the Son of Man is accordingly connected with a time-state on the earth. The more every word is weighed, the more this will be evident to the unbiased.
If we compare it, in the next place, with a resurrection scene, their distinctiveness will be apparent. In Rev. 20:11, “I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.” There can be no question about this throne. It can have nothing to do with the earth, because the text itself tells us that the earth and heaven fled away. I learn at once the positive contrast between Matthew and Revelation. In the latter only do we hear a word about heaven and earth fleeing away; in the former only we have very plain indications that the Lord is taking His throne in the government of the earth and of men living on it — not judging the dead when the kingdom is about to be given up. Those gathered before Him here are “all the nations” — a term never used about the dead or the risen, but only applied to men here below, and indeed applied only to the Gentiles as distinct from the Jews. For we have already had the Jews in Matthew 24, and now we see the Gentiles; between these two are the parables applying to the Christian profession.
Thus nothing can be more orderly than the whole connection of this prophecy on the mount. The Jews came first, as indeed the disciples themselves still were such; then the parables of the house servant, the virgins, and the talents, which describe the Christian position, soon to be developed, when the Jews should reject the Holy Ghost’s testimony. Lastly, another section closes all: neither Jews nor Christians, but “all the nations,” or Gentiles, to whom the testimony of the kingdom is to be sent out,20 and among whom the Holy Ghost will work (Satan working too, lest they should be brought out of darkness into God’s marvellous light). In Rev. 20 We find a great white throne. “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand. . .” Thus you see the character of this throne at once. Not a living man is there in natural life, but the dead now raised are summoned for judgment before the great white throne. In Matt. 25 not a single dead man is spoken of; in Rev. 20 not a single living man. In Matthew the persons called before the throne are “all the Gentiles,” or nations; in Revelation, none but “the dead.” “And the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” When we come to look closely into Matt. 25, the principle of judgment is not according to works generally, but only a particular test is pressed upon them — faithful or unfaithful treatment of the king’s brethren. “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.” There is not a word about this in Matt. 25; and, indeed, the expression of “nations” involves, without a question, the inference that they were not risen from the dead. It is the judgment of those commonly called “the quick” — those living upon the earth at that time — and they are dealt with according to their behaviour to the messengers of the gospel of the kingdom. This will show it is a great error to suppose that all the judgments in the word of God mean one and the same thing. We must leave room for differences here as elsewhere. God indeed is able to meet every difficulty, and to bring out His own perfections in dealing with all that comes before Him.
Gathering up the contrast of Rev. 20, let us turn to the closing scene in Matt. 25. The title “Son of Man” at once prepares you for a judgment connected with the earth and with persons living there. No doubt the Son of Man comes in the clouds of heaven, but He comes to judge the world and the people on it. It may be even said of churches or assemblies, as in Rev. 1; but whatever the object of the judgment, it is the Lord judging persons still alive upon the earth, and not the dead.
“And before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.” It is a careful and divine discrimination — not a mere act of vengeance which deals with masses, in which all might be overwhelmed in common ruin. He separates them one from another. At the great white throne, where the dead stand to be judged, there is no need of separating them there. But here there is a mingled company. Such a mixture is never found in heaven or hell, but only on the earth. Thus every clause gives proof that our Lord speaks of a judgment of the living on the earth. He separates them “as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.” It follows that the persons meant by “the sheep” and “the goats” are respectively the righteous and the ungodly among the nations then living on the earth, when our Lord comes to judge in His quality of Son of Man. It is not now what we have seen in Matthew 24, where He shines suddenly like lightning. Here it is the calm, but most solemn judgment, with everlasting results, according to the discrimination which the Lord makes between individuals. When the judgment of the dead takes place before the great white throne, the heavens and earth are fled away; so that the Lord must have come before then, or there would be no earth as it is now to come to, as we all confess He shall come.
Our Lord, then, is here separating the godly from among the ungodly in those living nations. He disposes of them thus: “Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (ver. 34). However blessed they are, He does not describe them as children of their Father. I do not deny that they are children of God; but He says, “children of My Father.” No doubt the words said to them are very precious; but do they reach up to the height of the blessing the grace of God has given us in Christ now? There is nothing here about “blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” They are called to inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. When God laid the foundations of the earth, He was looking onward to this blessed time. Satan’s getting power over man was only a fearful interruption, but not one whose consequences the Lord could not overmaster and purge out: He means to do it; and to have this world the scene of incomparably greater blessedness than its present misery is through Satan’s work. God means to give the kingdom of this world to His Son — yea, He will have the whole universe put under Christ. Our Lord had a right in His own glory to everything; but He humbled Himself, and laid down His life to deliver us and creation out of Satan’s hand, and establish a new and righteous title over all, and bring it back to God.
Again, let it be noted that there is not a word about His bride here. He speaks as “the King,” and He is never spoken of as such in His relation to the Church. In Revelation 15 the expression “King of saints” should be “King of nations,” quoted from the words of Jeremiah. It is a title we can rejoice in, but it is not His relationship to us. We are called by grace to be members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. Here, in His capacity of King, the Lord severs the righteous Gentiles from their unrighteous fellows — “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Ephesians 1 speaks of our being “chosen in Him before the foundation of the world;” it is a choice independent of the scene of creation, in connection with which these blessed Gentiles have their portion. Our place may be rather said to be with Him who created all. The world may disappear; but our blessing is identified with Himself. The thief on the cross asked, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom.” But our Lord says, “Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” To be with Christ is better than the kingdom — which we also shall inherit. Christ Himself is far beyond all the glory displayed in and to the world. His love ever goes beyond our faith, giving more than we ask of Him.
The blessing given to these godly ones from among the Gentiles, is the inheritance of the kingdom prepared for them by the Father from the foundation of the world. It showed they were possessors of eternal life: “I was a hungered, and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in: naked, and ye clothed Me: I was sick, and ye visited Me: I was in prison, and ye came unto Me” (vers. 35, 36). Observe what they answer: “Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord. when saw we Thee a hungered, and fed Thee? or thirsty, and gave Thee drink?” Could a Christian say such a thing in heaven, where we shall know even as we are known? But these godly Gentiles are evidently in their natural bodies still. And the Lord is instructing them even after He appears in glory. However blessed this scene may be, still it is the Lord as Son of Man judging all nations and blessing the righteous from among them, who, up to that moment, were ignorant that in showing acts of love and kindness towards Christ’s messengers, it was so much done towards Christ Himself. Their last lesson was the first that Paul learned on the road to Damascus — the truth that startled his soul: “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” Paul was taught of the Lord that to persecute the saints living on the earth was to persecute Christ in heaven: they and Christ are one. It is evident that these Gentile sheep set forth men still in the condition that requires and receives instruction from Christ.
“And the king shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me” (ver. 40). Who are “these my brethren?” We have had the sheep and goats — the righteous and the unrighteous Gentiles; but who are the King’s brethren? Those whom the Lord will send out before He comes in the glory of the kingdom; men sent to announce that He is coming in His kingdom. The sheep showed them love — care — sympathy in their sorrows. So that these brethren of the King must have been exposed to tribulation before the King appears. The conclusion is obvious that, in that day, the ground on which He will deal with the nations will be this, -”How did you behave to My messengers?” The King’s messengers, immediately before He appears in glory, will go forth preaching the gospel of the kingdom everywhere; and when the King takes His throne, those that received the gospel of the kingdom among the nations are recognized as “sheep,” and the despisers perish as “goats.” Those that honour the message treat the messengers well — caring for them, and identifying themselves with them — “companions of them that were so used.” The Lord remembers this, and counts what was done to His messengers as done to Himself. It will be as truly the work of the Holy Spirit as our entrance into the far fuller testimony of His love now. Their astonishment before His throne at having done anything to Him in the person of His brethren, proves that they were not in the Christian position, though truly believers.
But who were these “brethren?” From general principles of Scripture and the special teaching of this prophetical discourse, there call be little doubt that the King’s brethren will be godly Israelites, employed by the Lord, after the Church has been caught up to heaven, to be the heralds of the coming King and kingdom. We know that the Church is to be taken away before the time of the last great tribulation. “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world to try them that dwell upon the earth.” But here there are saints found on the earth — not kept from the hour of temptation, but living on the earth during it, and preaching this gospel of the kingdom. And according to the way in which they are received, the nations will be cursed or blessed. There was no gospel of the kingdom preached before or after the flood, and it is the gospel of the grace of God that is being preached now. The gospel of the kingdom is often confounded with this. I have no doubt, therefore, that the King’s brethren are a class, godly Israelites, whom Christ will own as His brethren. There are some blessings the Jewish saints will have that neither you nor I will possess; there are others we shall have that they will not enjoy.
But there is a very solemn back-ground to the blessed entrance into the kingdom: “Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (ver. 41). Observe, He does not say, Cursed of My Father, answering to “Blessed of My Father.” God hates putting away. So when the awful moment comes for the curse to be pronounced on these wicked Gentiles, it is “Depart from Me, ye cursed.” I believe it is the deepest sorrow to God, and throws all the onus of destruction on those whose own sin it was, who rejected His love and holiness and glory in rejecting His Son. “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” In the other case the kingdom was said to be “prepared for you:” not so when speaking about the curse. Hell was not prepared for poor guilty man. He deserves it; but it was prepared for the devil and his angels. Where the souls rejected the testimony, he does pronounce them cursed. He is the King, the judge. But whether it be the great white throne, or this earthly throne, it is “everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” There was no hope of deliverance for these fallen angels — no redemption for them. They wilfully and without a tempter departed from God. Man was tempted by an enemy; and God feels for guilty man, drawn away by a mightier, if not more guilty, rebel than himself. How solemn to think that it was prepared for others, and that men share it with these rebellious spirits? It was not in the heart of God to make a hell for miserable man: it was prepared for the devil and his angels. But there were those who preferred the devil to God; and to such He says, “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” The same test is applied to them as to the godly before — the treatment of the King and of His messengers, or rather of Him in them.
To us, although the same principle is involved, yet, in one way, what is yet deeper comes in. All turns upon — What think ye of Christ? Do you believe on the Son of God? “He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5). The sinner is obliged to face the person of the Son of God, and it becomes an urgent, all-absorbing, eternal question that must be decided by the soul — Do I prefer Christ to the world? Do I prefer Christ or self? The Lord grant that we may be wise, and know how to find in Christ both the salvation and the power of God. For the same blessed One who gave us life gives us power for every practical difficulty. “This the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”
The Lord had rendered His testimony, as the Faithful Witness, in deeds as well as words. He had finished all the sayings which proclaimed Him to be the Prophet like unto Moses, as prophesied by him (Deut. 18:15), but incomparably greater withal, and who was henceforth to be heard on peril of eternal ruin. And now the hour approached, the solemn hour of His sufferings; and Jesus passes into it in spirit, with the calm dignity suited to Himself alone.
The religious guides were resolved on His death. The chief priests, the scribes, the elders, all of one mind in this, assembled at the high priest’s palace. They consulted, they plotted; but after all, if they consummated their infamy, they unwittingly accomplished the words of Christ to His disciples, rather than their own plan of wickedness. They said to each other, “Not on the feast-day, lest there be an uproar among the people” (ver. 5); but He said to His disciples, “Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of Man is betrayed to be crucified” (ver. 2). Did they wish to kill Him? They must do it then. Man has his wickedness, and God has His way. But little did either the friends or the foes of Jesus know how the determinate counsel of God was to be brought to pass. A traitor from within the innermost circle, fit instrument for Satan’s scheming malice, must lift up his heel against the Saviour, the leader of that adulterous and now apostate generation into the pit of perdition. The enemy degrades morally his victims — ever the consequence of evil — and the beautiful offering of love (fruit of the Holy Ghost in her who poured the very precious ointment from the alabaster box on the head of Jesus) gave occasion to the basest motives in Judas, and the final success of the tempter over a soul, spite of the constant seeing and hearing of Christ, long inured to secret guilt (vers. 6-16).
I am compelled through circumstances to glance but cursorily at these final and affecting scenes. Yet let us not fail to observe, first for our warning, how easy it is for eleven good men to be led astray by the fair pretences of one bad man, who was influenced by evil feelings unknown to them. Alas! the flesh, even in the regenerate, remains ever the same hateful thing, and there is no good for the believer save where Christ is the object and controls the heart. Next, for our joy, how sweet to find that love to Christ is surely vindicated of Him and has the Spirit’s guidance in the weakest one, spite of the murmurs of those who seem ever so high and strong! Thirdly, if a saint manifested her estimate of Jesus — so lavishly in the judgment of utilitarian unbelief — what was His value in the eyes of the bribing priests and of the betrayer? “And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver” (ver. is). A slave’s price was enough for the despised Lord of all! (Compare Ex. 21:32; Zech. 11:12, 13.)
Still, in the face of all, the Lord pursues His path of love and holy calm; and when the disciples inquire His pleasure as to the place for eating the paschal feast, He speaks as the conscious Messiah, let Him be ever so rejected: “Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with My disciples” (ver. 18). As the twelve were eating, He tells out the grief of His heart: “Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray Me” (ver. 21) — which fails not to elicit the reality of their affections and their deep grief. If Judas imitated their inquiry of innocence, fearful that his own silence would detect him, and, it may be, counting on ignorance because of the Lord’s generality of expression (“one of you”), he only thereby hears his doom brought personally home. Prophecy was accomplished, “but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.”
Nothing, however, arrests the flow of Christ’s love. “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body. And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is My blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (vers. 26-28). The bread, but especially the cup, set forth the Messiah, not alive on earth, but rejected and slain. The broad truth is given here, as by Mark, in “This is My body,” without dwelling on the grace which gave it; it is the truth in itself without accessories seen elsewhere. Stress is laid on “My blood of the new covenant which is shed for many,” because the refusal of the Messiah by Israel, and His death, opened the way for others outside — for Gentiles; and it was important for our Evangelist to note this. Luke has it, “shed for you” (i.e., for the believers in Jesus); Matthew adds, “for the remission of sins,” in contrast with the blood of the old covenant, which held forth its penal sanction: for the blood in Ex. 24 sealed on the people their promise of obedience to the law under menace of death: here, in the Saviour’s blood, they drink the witness of their sins blotted out and gone. “But,” adds He, “I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (ver. 29). He is henceforth separated from joy with them till the Father’s kingdom come: then He will resume His association with delight in His people here below., The godly drink His blood with thankful praise now: by and by He will drink the wine of joy new with us in the Father’s kingdom. Till then He is the heavenly Nazarite; and so, consequently, should we be in spirit.
After the supper they sang a hymn — how blessed at such a time! — and repaired to Olivet (ver. 30). With ineffable grace the Lord lets them know the trial which should befall and shake them all that very night, and this according to the written Word, even as that which He had shown concerning Himself. (Compare vers. 24 and 31.) The flesh had proved itself and its worth in the “goodly price” it set on Jesus; it was also to prove the value of its self-confidence and of its boasted courage on His behalf — “All ye shall be offended because of Me,” etc. Peter, who most trusted His own love for the Saviour, proved it bitterly for himself and glaringly to others (vers. 32-35). Thus the end of the trials would be to confirm their faith and deepen their distrust of self, making Christ their all in everything; and He, risen, would go before them into Galilee, resuming in resurrection-power the relationship which He had with them there in the days of His flesh.
The next scene, in the garden, equally perfect in its display of Jesus, and most humbling in its exhibition of the choicest of the apostles, shows us the picture, not of holy calm in the full knowledge of all that awaited Himself and His disciples, but of anguish to the uttermost, and of death realized in all its horrors as before God (vers. 36-46). What an insight Gethsemane gives us of Him, Jehovah-Messiah though He was, as the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief! Who ever saw affliction as He? Not only had Jesus to know the depths of the cross in atonement as none other could; bow His head under the full, unsparing judgment of God when made sin for us; but He underwent beyond all others the anticipative pressure of death on His soul as the power of Satan, feeling it perfectly, and the more deeply by taking it from His Father’s and not from the enemy’s hand. It was the “strong crying and tears” to His Father now, as afterward to God as such when it was a question of actual sin-bearing on the tree. “And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith He unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with Me” (vers. 37, 38). When the cross came, there was no such call to disciples to watch with Him. He was alone, absolutely, essentially, for us — that is, for our sins — with none of men or angels in any way or measure near Him (morally speaking) — alone, when God forsook and hid His face from Him on whose head met all our iniquities. Here, in Gethsemane, it was pleading as a Son with His Father, when “He went a little farther, and fell on His face [prostrate in His earnestness], and prayed, saying, O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (ver. 39). He watched, and prayed, and entered not into temptation, though tempted to the uttermost. But He finds the disciples asleep: they could not watch with Him one hour. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”; and so it was again and again with them, till He bade them sleep, but warned them that the hour was at hand, as the traitor drew near.
But the same flesh which drags down to sleep when the Lord called to watch and pray is zealous enough with carnal weapons when Judas came with his deceitful kiss and a multitude following (vers. 47, etc,), though it preserved not from, but rather led into, either forsaking the Master or denying Him. Jesus, past the conflict at Gethsemane, in all dignity and peace before man, goes forward to meet God’s will at their wicked hands; in meekest words (vers. 50-54) laying bare the base evil of Judas, the rash weakness of His inconsiderate defender, and points to His approaching death, spite of His title to command legions of angels in His behalf — who withal speaks worlds into existence and annuls the wicked by His word. But He was a prisoner for the will of God, not of man’s power.
Before Caiaphas (vers. 57-68) He is counted guilty of death — not because the falsehood of the witnesses succeeded, but because of His own confession of the truth. He, the Son of God, come in fulness of grace and truth as He was, they should henceforth see Him, the Son of Man, sitting on the right hand of Power, and coming in the clouds of heaven — His present position and His manifestation when He comes in power and glory.
Yet, in the midst of His rejection and contumely at the hands of high and low among His own outward people, Jesus causes His mighty word to be remembered by poor Peter, bold now in denying Him with cursing and swearing (vers. 69-75). “And he went out and wept bitterly.” Oh, what a servant! what a Lord!
All through this Gospel the Holy Ghost bears in mind very particularly our Lord’s relations with Israel. Hence, in the preceding chapters, where we had the destruction of Jerusalem foretold, care was taken to bring out also the preservation of a godly remnant of Israel — a fact which would be of special comfort to His own people. And, just as we have seen in that prophetic testimony, so in the narrative of the crucifixion, what comes out peculiarly in Matthew’s Gospel is the part which Israel took in that solemn act, in their accomplishment of what was written in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, touching their rejection of their own Messiah. Our Evangelist wrote with express view to the Jews, and hence it was of the greatest importance to convince them that God had accomplished the promises in the sending of the Messiah, whom Israel’s unbelief had refused and crucified by Gentile hands on the tree. What would be the special value of quoting from the Law and the Prophets to Gentiles? The Old Testament Scriptures formed a book of which the heathen had the scantiest knowledge. We do find references to these Scriptures in Luke, just enough to give a link, but that is all. But Matthew, while written for all surely, has Israel especially in view. Hence it is that the Lord is so distinctly and care fully presented as Messiah in this Gospel; but from the first enough is intimated to show His rejection. In the subsequent details we see not only broad predictions accomplished, but the progress and development of that enmity. The guilt of the religious leaders is prominent, and their religious evil works, which are especially offensive to God; the devil bringing in the name of God to give effect to and to sanction what is done by man.
Hence the activity of evil here is by the priests. “When the morning was come” — they rise early to accomplish their design. And mark, it is said, “all the chief priests,” etc. This shows the utter ruin and blindness of the nation. It was a most startling fact, and a capital one for a Jew to understand (for a Jew knew that the priesthood was instituted and ordered of God), that those who ought to have been the sure guides of the people were their misleaders in the greatest of all sins. Were not the sons of Aaron divinely chosen? Were not these their successors? Were not the Jews a people called out from the rest of the world to own the true God and His law? All most true surely; but what were they and their leaders now about? Taking counsel and planning to destroy their Messiah! And these were the men who had the best light of any nation! All the use man made of the light possessed was to become more hardened and bitter in rejecting the Son of God! “And when they had bound Him, they led Him away, and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor” (ver. 2). Whatever part the Gentiles take in it, God takes care to point out that the Jews were not only the instigators but the open prosecutors in the awful deed.
“Then Judas, which had betrayed Him, repented himself. . . . saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood” (vers. 3, 4). Awful picture of what Satan brings about in a wretched human heart! Only the farther from Jesus morally because he was the nearer externally. Most of all guilty are those who have the greatest outward privileges while the truth of God does not govern the soul. We see, too, the mockery of Satan — the way in which he cheats his victims. Manifestly Judas did not expect such an end for Jesus. He had known the Lord in imminent peril before; he had seen Him, when the people took up stones to cast at Him, hiding Himself, going through the midst of them, and passing on His way. He knew how Jesus could walk on the sea — how He could conquer all the obstacles of nature; and why not the raging storm of human passion and violence? But Judas was deceived, whatever his calculations may have been; he yielded to covetousness; he bargained for the blood of Jesus. To his horror, he found it but too true. And Satan, who had led him on by his love of money, leaves him without hope — in black despair. He goes to the priests, who heartlessly turn away from a miserable, despairing soul. Alas, confession of sin without confidence in God for His grace, is worthless — fruitless of any good. Cleave to God, my soul! and give Him credit for what He is in Christ. But there is no faith where Jesus is not loved; and Judas had neither. All the outward nearness he had enjoyed before was only a greater weight upon his lost soul now. What a thing is the end of sin even in this world, sin against Jesus!
Judas brings the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders with the confession, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.” They could not deny the truth of this; but with utter heartlessness, more hardened if possible than Judas’ own heart, they say, “What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself” (vers. 4, 5). Many a one sells Jesus virtually, if not literally. Let every soul look to it that his sin be not in some way akin to that of Judas. If God is calling sinners to a knowledge of His Son, and of His grace by Him, it is an awful thing to reject Him; it is selling Jesus for some object in this world which either we seek to attain or love too well to part with. In Judas this came out in its worst form; but perdition is not confined to him who is the son of perdition.
“And the chief priests took the silver pieces,” etc. Conscience would have told them that theirs was the guilt of bribing Judas to betray Jesus, but it had long been seared as with a hot iron, and now was utterly dead toward God, as it shows itself heartlessly cruel toward Judas. Religion without Christ only serves as the means to cheat the soul. They said, “It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood.” Here was religion; but where was conscience in giving the money for Jesus? “And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day” (vers. 7, 8). The memory of their guilt is thus perpetuated to their own condemnation. And this is a picture of what the people had become — the chief priests as the pattern of what the nation was. A field of blood that land remains to this day; a field “to bury strangers in.” Israel being cast out of their own land, it is left to others, if only to be buried there.21
But it is not the chief priests and elders, nor the wretched condition of Judas, nor the perpetuation of Israel’s wickedness, foretold by the prophet, that occupies us now. It is our Lord Himself, standing before the governor. He acknowledges the power of the world when Pilate asks Him, “Art Thou the King of the Jews?” To the chief priests and elders He answers nothing. Pilate, struck by the silence and moral dignity of his prisoner, desires His release, sees through the malice of the people, and proposes to them a choice, such as was the governor’s custom: “Whom will ye that I release unto you?” But he had to find out the hatred with which men regarded Jesus: there is no person or thing the malice of man does not prefer to Him. God takes care, too, that there should be a home testimony to the conscience of the governor. His wife sent a message, saying, “Have thou nothing to do with that just man; for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of Him” (ver. 19). This, which is recorded only in Matthew, disturbed Pilate the more. All of it God ordered that man’s iniquity in rejecting Jesus should be evident and without excuse. Then observe the solemn lesson: “The chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus” (ver. 20). The greater the moral advantages, where there is not simple faith in God, the greater the hatred of Jesus. The reception or rejection of Jesus now is the same thing in principle, though, no doubt, the circumstances of the world are changed.
Persons may know just enough of Jesus for their souls’ salvation, and experience little of the world’s rejection; but if I really cling to a crucified and now glorified Christ, I must know what it is to have the scorn and ill-will of the world. If the world rejected Him, I must be prepared for the same thing. We cannot make both heaven and earth our object any more than we can serve God and mammon. The cross and the glory go together. The Lord presented hopes of blessing on the earth to Israel if they had received Him; but they refused, and this brought in the cross of Jesus. God knew it was inevitable, because of man’s wickedness; it was the occasion of bringing in His purpose as to the Church and heavenly glory; but we must prepare for as much as man chooses to do in the present state of society. It is a lie of Satan that man is altered for the better during the last eighteen hundred years; the natural man’s heart is always the same, though there may be times when it comes to a crisis. The very people, who “wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth,” the same day sought to cast Jesus down headlong. And what was it that brought out their enmity? The assertion of man’s evil and God’s true grace. Man cannot endure the thought that his salvation depends upon God’s mercy, and is for the worst of sinners, as for any other. “Is it possible,” he says, “that I, who have tried to serve God for so many years, should be treated like a drunkard, a swindler, or a harlot?” He turns round on God, and becomes His open enemy. But, after all, it is not a question of justice to man in the salvation of a sinner. It must be grace, if God saves any; and this He delights to show. Nor is it a partial remedy, for there is no case so desperate that His grace cannot reach.
“Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus who is called Christ? They all say unto Him, Let Him be crucified.” Here we see the bitter unrighteousness of these religious men; and if Pilate seemed too sensible at first to act thus, we shall also see what his righteousness amounts to. He asks, “Why, what evil hath He done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let Him be crucified. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water,” etc. (vers. 23, 24). This is what the world’s righteousness amounts to, whether in the chief priests or in the Roman. True righteousness is only found where God governs. One alone in this scene is found in the patience, goodness, wisdom of God — perfect in every way. When it was the time to speak, His word is spoken; when it was the time to be silent, He holds His peace. He was God upon earth, and all His ways perfect. But this is not the great point here. As John’s Gospel specially develops the deity of our Lord, and Luke His humanity, in Matthew we see Him as Messiah; therefore Pilate asks Him here, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” When Pilate had “washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it” (as if that could relieve him of the fearful crime he was perpetrating), all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us, and on our children” and there the dark, fatal stain abides to this day. “When he (Pilate) had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.” And this is the righteousness of the judge! This was he who had just before called Jesus a just man. Then come the soldiers. They too, and all, are proved guilty. Not a class or condition of man but evinces its hatred of God in the person of His Son — shown, too, in that which was their pride. For what base cowardice is that which tramples down one who suffers unresistingly! “And they stripped Him, and put on Him a scarlet robe. And when they had plaited a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head; . . . and they spat upon Him, and took the reed, and smote Him on the head,” etc. (vers. 28-30). The soldiers’ tyranny comes out in this connection: they compel one in nowise implicated to do a service which they would not do — “As they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear His cross.”
At the cross “they gave Him vinegar to drink mingled with gall” (ver. 34). We must not confound this circumstance with that mentioned in John where the Lord says, “I thirst.” In Matthew’s narrative it was the stupefying draft administered to prisoners before they suffered; and this the Lord would not drink. Whereas in John, the Lord, while on the cross, fulfils a scripture. In John He is regarded, not as One who did not suffer, but withal as the absolute Master over all circumstances. Alive therefore to the honour of Scripture, and in fulfilment of a word which had not as yet received its accomplishment, He says, “I thirst.” “And they filled a sponge with vinegar. . . . and put it to His mouth.” He did drink the vinegar then. But here in Matthew, on the contrary, “when He had tasted thereof, He would not drink” (ver. 34) — He wished for no alleviation from man. “And they crucified Him, and parted His garments, casting lots.”
The superscription differs in the various Gospels. We must remember that Pilate wrote it in three different languages, and it may not, therefore, have been exactly the same in each. One Gospel (Mark) does not profess to give anything but the substance of what was written, the accusation, or charge, against Him; in the others the Holy Ghost gives the words. And what appropriateness is here! “This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (ver. 37). The great thing for the Jew is the identifying of their Messiah and King with Jesus. In Luke the word “Jesus” ought to be omitted, as in the best authorities. It is really, “The King of the Jews, this!” and means, “this fellow” — a term of contempt. The object there is to show that “He is despised and rejected of men “: here, “He came to His own, and His own received Him not because, though the Gentile shares the guilt, it is the Jew who leads Pilate to condemn Him to death. In John we have, characteristically, the fullest form of all — “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.” The reason is, it unites two things in our Lord not anywhere else so brought into juxtaposition — the most complete humiliation and the highest glory. He by whom all things were made, God Himself, was a man of “Nazareth.” The beauty of this must appear to any spiritual mind. Throughout John’s Gospel the Lord is both higher and lower than anywhere else.
“The thieves also, which were crucified with Him, cast the same in His teeth” (ver. 44). They found time to revile Jesus too, venting their bodily anguish in mockery of the Son of God. Oh, beloved friends, was there ever such a scene?
We have briefly looked at man’s part, but what was God doing there? “About the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (ver. 46.) We have full evidence that this was not the exhaustion of nature. And “when He had cried again with a loud voice, He yielded up the ghost” (ver. 50). Our Lord died a willing victim. Man might will His death, and be the instrument of it. A man He became, that as a man He might die: but in every circumstance it is so marked as to show that He was there who could as easily have swept away a world as of old He laid the foundations of heaven and earth by His word. He “yielded up the ghost; and, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent” (vers. 50, 51). Nature was made to yield its testimony above and below; and the darkness over the land was no mere eclipse. The Jewish system, too, yielded its solemn witness in the rent veil — the shadows were passing away: the fulfilment of them, the great Reality, had come. Unrent, it had been the symbol that man could not draw near to God. Under the law it could never be. God dwelt then in the thick darkness. But in the death of Jesus fulness of grace has come. God and man may now meet face to face. The blood is sprinkled upon and before the mercy-seat, and man is invited to draw near with holy boldness. It is due to that precious blood. God in Him had come down from heaven to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. For every soul that believes, it is done. The Jewish system might linger on, like a corpse waiting so many days for burial; but the rending of the veil was the soul severed from the body. Thus there was witness on every hand — from the earth, the heaven, the law, and the unseen world. Jesus has the keys of hades and of death. The very graves were unlocked when Jesus died, if the bodies of the saints did not rise till after the resurrection. He was Himself the first-fruits, and the power of life was brought in through His resurrection. What testimony could be more complete? The centurion set for the watch, heathen as he was, no doubt, “feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.”
“And many women were there beholding afar off.” But where were the disciples? Oh, what withering condemnation of all boasted courage! They had forsaken Jesus and fled; but here were these women, contrary to their natural timidity, “out of weakness made strong,” beholding, even though afar off. In Joseph of Arimathea we see a man who had a great deal to lose: a rich man and a counselor, and withal a secret disciple of Jesus. Now God brings him to a point when you might least expect it. With the death of Jesus on the cross — “numbered with the transgressors” — he goes to Pilate, begs His body, and having laid it in his own new tomb, rolls a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, unwittingly fulfilling Isa. 53:9 — “with the rich in His death.” If apostles and disciples fled, God can, and does, raise up testimony for His name’s sake.
We have traced the history of self in this chapter. If we had all the riches, the learning, the power, of this world, none, nor all, of these could make us happy. Jesus can, and does. But let us remember that we are in the enemy’s country, which has shown its treachery to our Master. If we do not feel that we are passing through the camp of those who crucified Jesus, we are in danger of falling into some ambuscade of the enemy. The Lord grant us that calmness of faith which is not occupied with self, but with Him who His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree!
The special purpose of this Gospel appears in the account of the Lord’s death and resurrection as plainly as elsewhere. Hardly any portion, indeed, more strikingly illustrates it than the chapter before us. Thus we have no mention of our Lord’s ascension. If we had only Matt. 28, we should not have known as a fact that the Lord went up to heaven at all. It is impossible without a special purpose that the apostle could have omitted an event so glorious and interesting. Not that this omission is a defect in Matthew’s narrative; on the contrary, it is a part and proof of its perfection, when the scope is understood. Were the ascension scene introduced here, it would be out of keeping with the history that closes in our chapter. Yet even now it is one of the points that learned men stumble over. Neglecting the evidence of design, they reason a priori, and consequently cannot understand why such an event should be left out by our Evangelist. Evidently they do not believe, in any full sense, that God wrote these Gospels; else they would conclude that the fault lay in their ignorance and misreasoning. A simple-hearted believer, though he may not understand why, rests satisfied that the omission in Matthew is as perfect as the insertion of it in Luke; everything is as it should be in the word of God, as He wrote it. And the notion that something is now wanting, which Matthew once wrote as a conclusion, is contrary to all evidence, external and internal.
Before closing, I shall endeavour to show how its presence here would be incongruous and detract from the beauty of the picture God was supplying: on the other hand, its presence where it does occur elsewhere is, I need hardly add, equally beautiful and necessary. Events are selected in connection with the immediate subject. Taking the chapter as it comes, we see that the Holy Ghost here confines Himself to a Messiah risen from the dead, who meets His disciples in Galilee, outside the rebellious city. In other parts of this Gospel the ascension is implied or assumed, as in Matthew 13:41; Matthew 16:27, 28; Matthew 22:44; Matthew 24; Matthew 25; and, above all, Matthew 26:64. It was therefore not omitted ignorantly, nor has any accident robbed us of it in the original. I only say this as entirely refuting the foolish and irreverent reasoning of men, chiefly moderns.
“In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn, etc. (ver. 1) This was not the morning of the resurrection-day, but the evening previous to it. We, with our western reckonings of time, might think only of the early twilight; but it means simply that the week was drawing to its close. We must remember that to a Jewish mind evening twilight commenced the new day.22 An exactly similar phrase occurs in Luke 23:54, where the Jewish sense cannot be doubted. The Holy Ghost does not continue the description of this visit of the women to the sepulchre. There is no real ground for connecting the circumstances of the first three verses of this chapter.23 The first merely presents the devotedness of these holy women. When the disciples had gone to their own homes, these women, spite of natural fears at such a place and time, could not stay away. They had prepared spices for embalming the body, but rested the sabbath-day (as we read in Luke), according to the commandment. “It was just getting dusk” is the true thought here. It was the twilight after the sabbath. Their hearts took them to the grave, being bound up with Jesus, as soon as the sabbath-law permitted.
“And, behold, there was a great earthquake,” etc. This was an after-occurrence; how long after is not said. We have simply a narrative of events one after another, in these early verses, without defining the intervals of time. We rnust not confound the visit of the women here (in verse 1) with their visit on the morning of the first day mentioned by Mark and in our verse 5, etc. The Lord was not on this last occasion in the sepulchre, and the angel, descending and rolling away the stone, had nothing directly to do with the Lord’s rising. No such interposition was in any way necessary to Him. God raised Him, and He Himself rose — taking up His life as He had laid it down. Such is the scriptural doctrine of the resurrection. This angelic action was, I suppose, to call the attention of men to the Divine act in the resurrection of Jesus, and the more fully to set aside the deceits or the reasonings of enemies.24 So the angel’s word is, “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”
One remarkable consequence of the resurrection is always pressed: the angel says, “Fear not ye.” That mighty act of God is intended forever to dispel the alarm of those who believe in Jesus, by giving them the certainty of His intervention on their behalf. Up to the advent and resurrection of Jesus there was a measure of darkness and uncertainty, however great the kindness and mercy shown by the Lord. The resurrection left all the world apparently undisturbed; but what was the great resulting truth and blessing for the people of God? To faith it is the triumph of God over the last efforts of sin and the power of Satan. No doubt death is still in the world, pursuing its ravages. And what is the resurrection to you? says the caviller. Everything, if Christ is my life. I am entitled to have the comfort of it; my soul is welcome to drink into the joy of it, though my body does not yet share the deliverance. God has shown me in the cross of Christ the perfect witness of suffering for sin. Man believes not that He is the Son.. and cannot understand how God could allow His best-beloved to suffer. Others too had cried to God; and, spite of all their faults, they had been heard; yet, in the extremity of Christ’s sufferings, and spite of His grace and glory, and of the Father’s love to Him, He cried and was not heard! For truly, in all His life He was the beloved One over whom the heavens opened with delight. But upon the cross the crisis is come, and all js changed. It might have seemed to the world that all was over with the claims of Jesus. He had died on the cross, and by His own confession was forsaken of God. Was all now as man or the devil desired? On the third day God interferes: Jesus rose from the dead, and all the power of earth and hell was shaken to its. centre. Resurrection settled everything in peace for the believer. Every cause for fear and unbelieving sorrow was buried in the grave of Christ. Every blessing overflows in Him risen. How much is made of this in the Epistles! Nothing is more fundamental or more insisted on. Vague thoughts of God’s goodness, love, etc., would not be enough for the solid comfort of God’s people. Full, settled peace is founded on the solid basis to which God points — the death and resurrection of Jesus. If His death meets all my evil, His resurrection is the spring and pattern of the new life and acceptance — beyond sin, and death, and judgment. Our life, our peace, our new place before God, are now to be associated with Jesus risen.
The course of the world was not interrupted by the Lord’s resurrection. Men slept as usual, and rose as if nothing had happened. Yet was it the greatest work of power that God had ever wrought; yea (founded on the deepest suffering that ever was endured), it was the greatest work He ever will do; and I say this looking on to the day when everything shall be made new according to His glory. These are the consequences of Christ’s resurrection, the applications of the power put forth therein. But if the world was indifferent to it, what should it be to us? Say not it is a little thing because it is as yet a matter of faith. Into the midst of this scene of weakness and death the mighty power of God has entered, and has been put forth here in the resurrection of Christ. No more could God do, nor needs to do, to blot out sin: it has been put away by the sacrifice of Christ. Jesus was treated as if He were covered with it, as if it were all His own. If it was to be removed, He must bear it thoroughly: He did so, and now it is gone; and we rest upon what God tells us of Him and it. This is what tests the soul’s confidence in God. Am I willing to trust God, when I cannot trust myself? Sin brought in distrust of God; but the gift, death and resurrection of Christ more than restore what was lost, and establish the soul in such a knowledge of God as no angel ever did or can possess. What my soul wants is, not that God should be so merciful as not to destroy me because of my sins, but a full deliverance with a full judgment of sin (Rom. 8:1, 3). We can not have fellowship with God except on the ground of sin being taken away righteously. Jesus crucified has abolished sin before God for those who believe. To believe God about the death of His Son because of our sin is to take God’s part against ourselves. Before Him to acknowledge ourselves lost sinners is repentance toward God, and inseparable from faith.
Perfect love is in God, and comes out of the depth of His own holy being. God became a man that He might go through the whole moral question of sin: that done in Christ is the triumph of grace. No wonder then that the angel could say, “Fear not ye.” The resurrection shows every hindrance gone. The angel acknowledges Him as Lord (“Come and see the place where the Lord lay”); but what a blessing to be able to say our Lord! What a joy thus to own that risen One who was crucified as entitled in everything to command! No doubt, what made His work of value was that He was God Himself — One who, while He was a man, was infinitely above man — a daysman — One who could lay His hand upon both. The angel intimates this, that in the presence of a risen Saviour there was nothing for the most timid believer to fear. On the other hand, Acts 17:31 says: “He [God] hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men in that He hath raised Him from the dead.” If I do not trust to a risen Saviour for the deliverance of my soul, I participate in the guilt of His death. If I have not fled for refuge to Him, I belong to the same firm, as it were, that crucified Him. But by faith in Him I am washed from this guilt by His blood. How just that the provision of grace which signs the believer’s deliverance should, if despised, become the dead weight that sinks the world! If I believe Him, I know it was man that crucified Jesus; and not merely profane man; for the guilt pervades all. And there is one only door of deliverance for any, and this is Jesus crucified. “Fear not ye.” There is no need of alarm, for He is risen. “I know that ye seek Jesus,” etc. It was the heart set upon Jesus that was valued. It had ever been in the mind of God to blot out sin; but now it was all gone; and God was waiting for this to declare the glad tidings. He who was full of holy love in giving Jesus to die, now raised Him up from the dead, and gave Him glory, that our faith and hope might be in God. If my faith and hope are in God, my delight is in Christ; if in myself, Christ becomes to me a cipher, and I justly perish forever. If I have not Christ for my rest and delight, for my Saviour and Lord, here, I must by and by quail before Him as my judge.
And now, returning to the women, they were to go and tell His disciples that Jesus was risen from the dead, and was going before them into Galilee. In Luke there is no notice of Galilee, but there He joins the two disciples going to Emmaus; and when they returned to Jerusalem the same evening, they “found the eleven gathered together. . . . saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.” Jesus Himself appears in their midst. All circumstances there have Jerusalem as their centre. In Matthew the great point pressed is the meeting-place assigned in Galilee. And why? Is it not remarkable on the face of it that one should give the meeting of Jesus with His disciples in Jerusalem, the other in Galilee? Has not God some truth to teach me hereby,? We are apt to measure the importance of a truth by its results to ourselves; but the true standard is its bearing on the glory of God. The way in which God gives us His truth, after all, is also the best for us. Throughout the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is found in Galilee. Jerusalem refuses Him, was troubled at His birth, and cast Him out unto death, even the death of the cross. “We did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted,” exactly describes their feeling. They looked in the Messiah for something suited to their earthly idea; they vented their disappointment in the rejection of the Son of God. In accordance with this, then, Matthew records that the scene of His living labours, as also where He manifested Himself as risen after the house of Israel rejected Him, was Galilee — the place of Jewish scorn. He shows Himself anew in despised Galilee of the Gentiles, when all power is given to Him in heaven and earth; and there He gives the godly remnant from His ancient people their great commission.
“And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them,” etc. In John, where Mary recovers her beloved Lord, as she thinks, He says, “Touch Me not.” How comes it that here, when the women came and held Him by the feet, our Lord does not forbid it? A totally different truth is thus set forth by these acts. The great hope of Israel was to have Christ in their midst. But to us the absence of Christ on high, while we go through our time of trial, is just as characteristic as His presence will be to them. John speaks fully of our Lord’s going away: another scene of glory entirely distinct from this world is brought out there. Hence the teaching implied is, as it were, You may have been looking as Jews for a scene where I shall be personally present; but instead of this, I tell you of My present place on high, and the many mansions that I go to prepare for you in My Father’s house. He reveals to them a heavenly hope totally distinct from His reigning over His people in this world: therefore in John the Lord says to Mary, “Touch Me not, for . . . I ascend,” etc. But in Matthew we are shown Jesus rejected by Jerusalem, yet found in Galilee, even after His resurrection. Whatever His power and glory now, and the comfort and blessing to His own, He is still, as regards the Jews and Jerusalem, the rejected and despised Messiah. Hence it is that on this occasion He confirms the message of the angel, saying to the women, “Be not afraid: go tell My brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see Me” (ver. 10).
The governor wielded the power of the Roman kingdom; but who were they that secretly instigated him? The false religionists of their day — the priests, utterly blinded of the devil. Always without simplicity of heart, they assembled together with the elders and took counsel; and those who bribed a treacherous disciple with “thirty pieces of silver” to put Christ to death, gave “large money” now to deny the truth of His resurrection. Such is man, such is the world; and, solemn to say, such is its highest and proudest phase. Such it was then: is the moral complexion altered now? If we read the Bible aright, we shall find in it not only the record of the past, but the divine lesson-book of the present and the future. May we read it for our own souls! Certain it is that the Jews, and especially the religious chiefs, took the lead in evil and in opposition to God before Christ’s death (Matt. 26, 27), while He lay in the grave (Matt. 27:62-66), and after He rose again (Matt. 28:11-15). But unbelief is after all as weak against God as faith is mighty with and by Him. Their own guard became the clearest, most unwitting and least suspected witness of the resurrection. What a testimony was the alarm of the soldiers, added to the doubts of His own disciples! It became more than unbelief now; it was a deliberate, wilful lie; and there are the Jews “until this day.” Their fears were, without their meaning it, a sure testimony to Jesus; but their enmity leads them on now to reject What they knew was the truth, even if they perished everlastingly.
“Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted” (vers. 16, 17). “Some doubted” — and these were disciples. How good is God! how above the thoughts of man! Man would have held back the fact. Why say that some of His disciples doubted? Would it not stumble others? but it is profitable to know the depth of our unbelieving hearts — to see that even in the presence of a risen Jesus “some doubted.” No matter what His love to His children, God never hides their sins, nor makes light of them.
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. . . . And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Now it appears to me that with such a word as this the ascension scene would be incongruous. He had said, “Lo, I am with you alway”; and there the curtain drops — the unbroken blessedness of this promise rings on the heart! Thus the keeping out of view His departure seems to me to crown the beauty of the parting promise, and of the whole Gospel.
And why not here “repentance and remission of sins”? why not “preach the gospel to every creature “? What is the peculiar fitness of this conclusion of Matthew? The Lord, rejected as the Jewish Messiah, opens out fresh dealings of God with men. Before, they were not to go even to Samaritans; but here an entirely new sphere is opened. It is no longer God having His peculiar dwelling-place in one nation; it is now this larger thought — “Go ye therefore, and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (ver. 19).25 Baptism is here in contrast with circumcision, and the fuller revelation of the Godhead is contrasted with the name Jehovah by which God was known to Israel. “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” This falls in with the sermon on the mount, where the Lord says, in contrast with them of old time, “But I say unto you.” He was the Prophet like unto Moses whom God had promised to raise up, and to whom they were bound to harken. What special guidance was this for Jewish disciples! They were to teach all things that Jesus had commanded. He was the beloved Son of God who now was to be heard pre-eminently. It was not a question of putting the Gentiles under the law — which has been the ruin of Christendom, the denial of Christianity, and the deep dishonour of Christ Himself.
And here all closes. The disciples were about to enter on a troubled scene; but, “Lo, I [Jesus] am with you all the days, unto the consummation of the age.” And this was and is enough for faith. The Lord grant that we may confide our souls, both for this age and forever, to that Word which shall stand when heaven and earth pass away!
19 The words “wherein the Son of Man cometh” have no substantial manuscript authority in this verse. This is no particular view of mine, but it is the judgment of every competent person who has examined the original testimonies.
20 This also corresponds with the last three parables of the 13th chapter, as we saw. — [Ed.
21 This rather applies to the Jews themselves. Cast out of their own land on account of the blood of the Just One, of which they maid, “His blood be on us, and on our children,” they have been “strangers” among all nations in the world since — where they have their graves, but not their home. — [Ed.
22 This is according to Gen. 1:5: “And the evening and the morning were the first day.” So vers. 8, 13, etc.: to this the Jewish reckoning conformed. If we believe that Gen. 1 has also a symbolical application, as others have clearly shown, the omission of “evening and morning” on the seventh day very significantly points to God’s rest (and ours with Him) in new creation, where sin shall not enter, and His rest shall not be broken. — [Ed.
23 This is quite in keeping with what we have found in Matthew elsewhere. The reader can compare
καὶ ἰδ ού (“and behold”) in Matthew 8:2 with the same in Matthew 28:2. The true connection is in the object of the narrator, not in mere time, There is no ground to suppose the women witnessed the earthquake: the soldiers, I believe, alone did.
24 Perhaps more especially for the comfort and assurance of the sorrowing disciples, as well as the announcement to them of the resurrection of Jesus. Ed.
25 It is still “the kingdom,” but no longer confined to Israel. — [Ed.