- Main Text: Matthew 28:1-15
- Accompanying text: Psalm 118:19-24
What the passage means to us
“Various strange outlandish theories have been put forward to try to explain away the empty tomb, but they are all based on nonsense. One theory has it that Jesus was drugged, revived, and secretly smuggled out of the tomb, and that subsequently he led a revolt against the Romans and ultimately perished fighting. Another amusing theory is that Jesus put himself into a death-like trance, was revived, got married, and sired children in Galilee before trekking off into India. Archaeology and history cannot prove or disprove the possibility that Jesus’s body was smuggled out by persons unknown, but this is a matter of speculation. The reality is that there is no historical explanation for the empty tomb, other than if we adopt a theological one, i.e. the resurrection. I leave it up to the reader to make up his own mind” .
One notable hostile Jewish leader did later make up his own mind, and that was Saul, who changed his name and became Paul the Apostle. He wrote, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).
In his gospel account Matthew had noted on several occasions that Jesus would be raised from the dead (Matthew 16:21,17:9, 20:19), and, in his description of the events surrounding the crucifixion, he wrote that some holy people were resurrected bodily at the time of Christ’s resurrection (Matthew 27:52). In a certain sense all Christians were resurrected with Christ at his resurrection, as is attested to in the sacrament of Baptism (Romans 6:4; Colossians 3:1). As for those saints who were raised at the time of the resurrection, in all probability they had died in recent memory and thus would have been able to witness credibly to the local residents that Jesus is the risen Son of God, and theirs was a temporary physical resurrection, as in the instances of Lazarus and of the daughter of Jairus.
“But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee”, Christ had told his disciples (Matthew 26:32), and the angel tells the women, who were “afraid yet filled with joy” (Matthew 28:8) to go there and tell the disciples of the resurrection. Matthew alone records that on their way Jesus meets them: “Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him” (Matthew 28:9). The concept of tangibly clasping the feet in submission reflects the homage that would have been shown to a king (see Psalm 2:11-12). It is noteworthy that Jesus never refused any mark of reverence shown to him. Jesus accepts the worship. He is, after all the Son of God, God with us. Matthew recorded how the wise men worshipped Jesus (Matthew 2:11), how “those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” (Matthew 14:33), how the women worshipped him when Jesus met them, and how one of the last acts of the eleven disciples was to worship him, even though some doubted (Matthew 28:17). “Perhaps it is best to conclude that, especially if the ‘some’ refers not to the Eleven but to other followers, the move from unbelief and fear to faith and joy was for them a ‘hesitant’ one…Jesus’ resurrection did not instantly transform men of little faith and faltering understanding into spiritual giants” . Nevertheless, Matthew’s thinking is clear: Jesus the King is to be worshipped.
The Apostle Peter summarizes the impact on us of Christ’s resurrection: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
Context and Story-line
“In Jesus’s time, people shared a deep fear of being buried alive and therefore made very specific arrangements to ensure that this could never happen… Indeed, the visits made to the tomb of Lazarus by Mary, on the one hand, and to the tomb of Jesus by a number of women, on the other, was definitely not a matter of chance. They were there to check the situation of the deceased after three days or more… Owing to the state of medicine in the first century it is conceivable that the phenomenon of people waking up in tombs inevitably led to stories of people being raised from the dead” .
As the women approached the tomb in the shadowy hours of the morning, they would have been apprehensive, and ill-prepared for what they found. After Jesus had been taken down from the cross one of the members of the Sanhedrin remembered that Christ said he would be raised from the dead, and, therefore, the chief priests asked Pilate to supply a guard of Roman soldiers to set a watch over the tomb in case some of the disciples try to steal Christ’s body. Accordingly, Pilate arranged for the tomb to be sealed and for it to be guarded (Matthew 27:62-66).
When the angel appears and rolls back the tomb to reveal that it’s empty, the watching guards appear to faint in consternation, but a short time later, “while the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day” (Matthew 28:11-15).
In the meantime, Peter witnessed the reality of the Risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:5), of which he would speak later on the Day of Pentecost: “Seeing what was to come, he (i.e. King David in the Psalms) spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he (Jesus) was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it” (Acts 2:31-32).
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-28
- Romans 6:1-14
Other GCI resources
Footnotes and references
- Shimon Gibson, The Final Days of Jesus (Oxford, UK: Lion Hudson, 2009). 165.
- Frank E Gaebelein (General Editor), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Volume 8 (Michigan, USA: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984). Matthew 28:18-20, D A Carson.
- Shimon Gibson, The Final Days of Jesus (Oxford, UK: Lion Hudson, 2009). 30.