Matthew 28:1-10

Jesus resurrecting from tomb.

 "Jesus resurrecting from tomb." 
Reprinted from Icon: Visual Images for Every Sunday, copywrite© 2000 Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission.


The flurry of activity on the first Easter is unparalleled in the Gospels. Each evangelist gives his account. All are true. There was a great deal of activity, once it was known that Jesus rose from the dead. Some questions must be left unanswered in putting all these accounts together, but that neither amounts to contradiction nor to lack of historicity.

Fahling: If this chapter is not true, then all the rest might as well have been left unwritten. St. Paul says: 'If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.' 1 Corinthians 15:17.18. If the Christian religion applies only to this life, then its professors 'are of all men most miserable.' 1 Corinthians 15:19. Then the Christian religion would have value only as a philosophy of life, and a sorry one at that, as compared with a looser moral standard, which would make most out of the enjoyment of matterial things. 'But now is Christ risen from the dead.' 1 Corinthians 15:20. The most comforting 'but' in all Scripture. Upon it everything depends, our hope of heaven, and from it everything follows.

Every preacher and many laymen are aware of the massive attack by higher critics on the historicity of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. The critics are fools and liars, followed by many as educated men.

Matthew 28:1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

Bengel and Ylvisaker point out that, according to Greek idiom,  "on" can mean "after." Thus RSV, TEV, NIV, JB, AAT and NKJV. NASB is bewildering: "Now late on the Sabbath."  But, from what follows, NASB properly understands the text. We suggest NIV:  "After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week."  Note "sabbath" with different meanings. The first was according to Old Testament commandment, a sign of Christ and His coming rest, the second is the glorious introduction to the New Testament era.

Matthew mentions only two women, mentioned also at Matthew 27:56 and 61. They were with Jesus on Calvary, in the garden, and now come to the tomb. Matthew abbreviates. Mark and Luke give us more information at this point.

Matthew 28:2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.

LB, TEV and NEB translate "suddenly."  That is misleading. It makes it sound as if the women witnessed the earthquake. NASB has: "And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred."  There were two earthquakes, at His death and when the angel descended on Easter morning. The translation in NASB brings out the fact that it occurred before the women came. NIV, JB and NEB translate  "violent."  This does not mean that the angel caused the earthquake but that the earthquake was coincidental with the angel's descent.

Hendriksen: Scripture makes frequent mention of the occurrence of earthquakes. The earthquake means as much as 'Listen, the Lord is speaking!' See Exodus 19:18; Numbers 16:31; 1 Kings 19:11; Job 9:6; Psalm 18:7; 68:8; 77:18; Isaiah 5:25; 13:13; 24:18; 29:6; Jeremiah 10:10; 49:21; Joel 2:10; Nahum 1:5; Haggai 2:6; Revelation 6:12; 8:5; 11:13-19. Appropriately there had been an earthquake at the moment of Christ's death (Matthew 27:51).

Note that with reference to the angel we have two participles and two verbs. This makes the sentence very vivid. The Lord had already been raised from the dead when the angel rolled the stone away. Why say "sat on it"?

Bengel: So one could roll it back again to the sepulchre.

That may sound strange at first, but remember that everything in the Easter account is total victory. No one witnessed the actual resurrection of Jesus. He was suddenly quickened. 1 Peter 3:18.

Matthew 28:3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.

This verse is parenthetical. It speaks of the angel's appearance, his face, and his clothing. This description immediately reminds one of Jesus' transfiguration. There the splendor denoted Jesus' person. Here it's the glorified state that is meant.

Bengel: While heavenly messengers are not before this occurrence said to have appeared in this dress, they have done so however since. See Acts 1:10; 10:30.

With reference to this verse Hendriksen notes Daniel 7:9; Matthew 17:2; Revelation 1 :16; 10:1; 12:1; 20:11.

Matthew 28:4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

Until this point they had not been challenged and they thought they were fully in charge. God caused the earthquake. God struck terror into these guards because an angel appeared. By the way, evidently not even the guards witnessed Jesus' resurrection.

Bengel: Not even military daring endures the power of the inhabitants of heaven.

The guard was changed from soldiers to angels. The soldiers were bragging cowards who became liars. See verses 11-15. The angels were brave messengers from heaven. By the way, nothing is said about the women having knowledge either of the earthquake or of them noticing the guards lying there like corpses.

Matthew 28:5 The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.

"Said" here indicates "in response."  In response to what? See Mark 16:3. They had forgotten about the stone. Note that the angel addresses only the women, not the guards. Furthermore, the women came as mourners but left with assurance both from the angel and Jesus Himself. What contrasts! The resurrection of Jesus caused a change of guards and a great change in the attitude of the women.

The angel knew what the women expected, a dead man. The angel speaks of both the crucified and the risen Lord.

Matthew 28:6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.

This is an explanation. It gives the reason why He is not here.  "Exactly as He said" compare Matthew 12:40; 16:21; 17:23; 20:19. Now the angel enters the tomb and invites the women into the tomb.

Matthew 28:7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you." 

A second command. In verse 6 the angel had said "come, see" and now he says "go, tell."  By the way, it has often been said that the angel was the first preacher of the Easter message.

Note that here the eleven are called Jesus' disciples. Not so in verse 10. Here we have direct discourse. The angel uses the words "and behold" calling their attention to something Jesus had said at Matthew 26:32, at a very sad moment. Read that passage. See also John 16:16.22.

Lenski thinks that Jesus is referring to the meeting mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:6, one of the great proofs of Jesus' resurrection. The last three words of verse 7 are interesting. TEV: "Remember what I have told you."  NIV, JB and AAT: "Now I have told you."  NEB: "That is what I had told you." 

Lenski: It tends to remove any trace of doubt.

By the way, these last three words are not part of the message to the disciples. They are for the women.

Matthew 28:8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

They been told to go quickly. They did. Note their utter obedience.

In verse 8 JB has  "filled with awe and great joy"  and NEB has "in awe and great joy."  There is a difference between the "fear" of the guards and the women, unbelievers compared with believers. However, we must remember that these women were sinners. They stood in the presence of a holy angel. They heard that the crucified Savior was raised. That caused fear. Their joy was greater than their fear. That they were obedient and believed is clearly brought out by the words: "They ran to announce to His disciples." 

Matthew 28:9 Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings,"  he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.

"Suddenly" again introduces something exceptional. Note that we've had it twice in verses 2 and 7. Actually, it is more than  "suddenly."  It is more than that. They were only going to carry a message. They did not expect what was about to happen. This verse does not mean that Jesus was waiting for them. It denotes His mode of presence after His resurrection.

The Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Art. VII, Lord's Supper, par. 98-100, Tappert 586: The one body of Christ has three different modes or all three modes, of being at any given place. 1) The comprehensible, corporeal mode of presence, as when he walked bodily on earth and vacated or occupied space according to his size. He can still employ this mode of presence when he wills to do so, as he did after his resurrection and as he will do on the Last Day. 2) There is, secondly, the incomprehensible, spiritual mode of presence according to which he neither occupies nor vacates space but penetrates every creature, wherever he wills. . . . He employed this mode of presence when he left the closed grave and came through locked doors.

The person of Christ and the communication of attributes is the deepest of all mysteries. In the glorified state His human nature makes full use of the attributes of the divine nature. After His resurrection He appears and disappears.

AAT and LB translate "greetings" as "Good morning."  Jesus used an ordinary greeting when He met the women. It is very simple. Jesus does not befuddle people. He is very human and speaks to people in a very ordinary way.

In verse 8 we have a show of their obedience to the command of the angel. Here we have a show of their confidence and trust in Jesus. And that they grasped His feet and worshipped Him shows how deeply they loved Him. Jesus' disciples never prostrated themselves before Him in this way.

By the way, only Matthew reports this appearance of Jesus to the women. Why did Jesus appear to the women before He appeared to the disciples? Lenski quotes Gerhard who gives five reasons:

  1. God chooses the weak;

  2. Because they were overwhelmed most by the sorrow they are to be first in the joy;

  3. The presence of the women at the tomb silences the Jewish falsehood that the disciples stole the body;

  4. As death came by woman, so salvation and life are to be announced by her;

  5. God wanted to reward woman's active love.
Lenski: But why wander so far afield? The women alone went out to the tomb on Sunday morning, the women, none of the men, not even John. Thus they were honored by being made the messengers to the men. If the eleven had gone out, too, the story would have been different. The love of these women receives its fitting reward.

The courage of these women is remarkable. They were on Calvary, Matthew 27:56, at the burial, verse 61, and at the tomb, 28:1. Meanwhile the disciples were behind locked doors.

Matthew 28:10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me." 

But though the women had courage they had to be told twice, here and in verse 5, not to be afraid. So with us. Mid all our apparent courage we must still listen to Him Who says: "Do not fear."  Sinners constantly need hear that. Jesus virtually repeats the message of the angel. Jesus calls them His brothers, not His disciples. That is remarkable.

Bengel: After the resurrection He calls them 'disciples' and 'brothers.'
Luther: If, now, Christ is our brother, I should like to know what we still lack? Brethren in the flesh have common possessions, have together one father, one inheritance otherwise they would not be brethren; so we have common possessions with Christ and have together one Father and one inheritance which does not grow less when divided, but whoever has one part of the spiritual inheritance has it all.

Read Hebrews 2:14-18, a very comforting passage.

Note the word "brother" in verse 17. Despite my many, many sins He gives me all and calls me His brother. I am His co-heir, Romans 8:17.

Ylvisaker: So, then, Christ has been delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification (Romans 4:25), and He is declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). The resurrection is the Father's Amen to the words of the Son on the cross: 'It is finished' The blood of the sacrificial Lamb was accepted by the Father as a efficacious atonement. But it was for us Christ had paid on the cross. Therefore, His resurrection is the judgment of acquittal for the world (Romans 5:l6ff.), and Christ has become the first fruits of them that slept (1 Corinthians 15:20).


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1980, pp. 82-85. Used with permission.

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