Matthew 28:1-10

The Risen Christ and the Community of Disciples

Matthew 28:1-8     Women Disciples Witness the Opening of the Tomb

(Mk 16:1-8; Lk 24:1-12)
1 The Sabbath was well over.  
The first day of the week was dawning.  
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary
came to look at the tomb.

The women knew where they were going.  They had sat opposite the tomb on the Friday evening.

Matthew’s storyline was consistent.  The intention of the two Marys was not to anoint the body of Jesus.  They would not have been able to get access because Joseph of Arimathea had rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb.  Besides, a contingent of Roman soldiers had sealed the stone and mounted guard.  Furthermore, in Matthew’s mind, the anointing had been done already: Jesus had said of the unnamed woman at the house of Simon the leper in Bethany, by pouring (this) ointment on my body, she has prepared me for burial [26:12].

So the women went to the tomb to look – unlike the other disciples who “saw” nothing.  Matthew showed them to be open minded, contemplative and alert to the richness of reality, whatever it might be – but, like the disciples, not expecting resurrection.

2 Just then the earth shook,
for an angel of the Lord
came down from heaven,
drew near, rolled away the stone
and sat on it.  
3 He looked like lightning,
and his clothing was white like snow. 

Matthew’s description was deliberately apocalyptic.  His concern was not to recount historical events, beyond the empty tomb, but to alert his readers to mystery, to explain to them what, in fact, was totally beyond human comprehension – a whole other dimension of reality.  Resurrection was not resuscitation – as had been the experience of the daughter of a leader of a synagogue, whom Jesus had raised from the dead [9:25]: she simply resumed the life that she had been leading before.  Jesus was transformed, resurrected – still the same Jesus, but now living with an enriched and divinized humanity.

Matthew’s language drew on the kind of graphic imagery that was common in the literature.  Of the events marking Jesus’ death, he had said that the earth quaked, and the rocks were torn apart.  Tombs were opened, and many bodies of holy ones who were sleeping were raised.  After his resurrection, they came out of their tombs and went into the holy city and appeared to a number of people. [27:51-53].  In referring to Jesus' resurrection, he said the earth shook. By repeating the imagery of earthquake, he sought to make the point that Jesus’ death and resurrection constituted the one cosmic saving event.

Matthew inserted a further apocalyptic image: an angel. Already he had spoken of angels in his Infancy Narrative.  In the literature, angels served to reveal what was otherwise beyond the scope of human intelligence to know unaided – they revealed mystery … and the mind of God.

Like that of Jesus at his transfiguration [17:2], whose face shone like the sun, and [whose] garments became white like light, this angel’s appearance was like lightning and his clothing white like snow.  The angel came as an emissary with power:

  • it descended from heaven;
  • it rolled back the stone;
  • it sat on the stone.
4 The guards shook from fear,
and became like dead men.. 

The dead man (Jesus), inside, was now alive; the live men, outside, became like dead men.

5 Then the angel addressed the women,
and said, “You need not fear.  
I know that you are looking for Jesus,
the one who was crucified.

Like the guards, the women were afraid; unlike the guards, they did not shake or become like dead people.  Fear was an integral, and expected, element of apocalyptic imagery.  

With supernatural insight, the angel knew the women’s intentions.

6 He is not here,
for he has risen – just as he said.  
Come and see the place where he was laid. 

The angel’s message was brief and to the point.  The women did not see Jesus.  There was no explanation what resurrection might mean: essentially it lay beyond human comprehension.  What could be verified humanly was the fact of the empty tomb: they could see the place where he was laid.

Go quickly now and tell his disciples,
‘He has risen from the dead;
he is going before you into Galilee;
you will see him there’.
See, I have told you.”

The women were given a mission.  They were sent as apostles to the disciples to convey the message of resurrection. (The word “apostle” means “one sent”.)

The disciples were to meet Jesus in Galilee, where Jesus would go before them.  Obviously, though the point was not raised explicitly, the disciples, who had earlier denied and deserted Jesus, had not been disowned by Jesus.  Their role, once more, was to follow Jesus, who went ahead of them.

8 Immediately they left the tomb,
in awe and great joy,
and ran to tell his disciples.

Unlike Mark, Matthew had the women run (despite their fear) with great joy to tell the disciples.

At this stage, as elsewhere in his narrative, Matthew moved beyond his reliance on the text of Mark’s Gospel. 

Like Luke (who was writing his own Gospel at about the same time as Matthew), and John (who would write some time later), Matthew felt the need to make explicit the influence of the risen Christ, firstly, on the disciples and, later, on the Christian community after them.  He kept to his medium of story, rather than attempt to explain theologically what was, in fact, beyond explanation.

The early tradition was consistent that women were the first to hear the message of resurrection.  One of those women was Mary Magdalene – of whom nothing else had been said in Matthew’s Gospel before the account of Jesus’ passion.

Matthew 28:9-10     Jesus Meets the Women Disciples

9 And there was Jesus coming to meet them.  
He greeted them, saying, “Rejoice!”  
They came up to him,
gripped his feet and knelt before him.  
10 Then Jesus said to them, “Have no fear!
Go and tell my brothers
that they are to go back to Galilee,
and they will see me there.”

Not only were the women the first to hear the message of resurrection from an angel; for Matthew, they were the first, too, to see the risen Jesus.

Jesus’ greeting to them was low key – simply, Rejoice!

Their response was to kneel before – which was the fitting reaction of all who believed the glorified status of the risen Jesus.  (The same response had been recorded earlier in the narrative of various people, in anticipation, as it were, of what was properly Christian faith.)

Matthew included the detail that they gripped his feet.  This may have been his way of insisting that Jesus, who had been raised, was neither a spirit nor a visionary figure, but the same real Jesus whom they had known and loved before his death.

Jesus’ words developed the message given by the angel: Jesus called the former deserters his brothers.  That was the first and only time in the whole Gospel narrative that Jesus referred to the disciples in that intimate way.  Its inclusion reflected Matthew’s insight into the nature of the relationship between Jesus and all those who would become his followers.  With Jesus they could now share the risen life given to him by his Father - with him, sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus. The deserted and risen Jesus had no enemies.  His redemptive response to the sin of the world was forgiveness.  Jesus had learnt perfectly the heart of his Father.  His love excluded no one.

Next >> Matthew 28:11-15