by Sam E. Stone
The death, burial and resurrection of Christ are the heart of the gospel message (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4). Christians find ample reasons for their faith in the resurrection.
The Angel’s Message/Matthew 28:1-7
The Jewish Sabbath ended at sundown on Saturday evening. Then the women could bring spices to anoint Christ’s body. It was still dark when they started for the tomb (John 20:1) very early in the morning on the first day of the week. Later this became known as the Lord’s Day. The earliest Christians assembled on Sunday to worship (see 1 Corinthians 16:2).
An earthquake had occurred, perhaps while the women were en route to the tomb. An angel . . . rolled back the stone. A heavy stone had been put in place by the Roman guards to seal the tomb shut. The angel did not remove the stone to let Jesus out, however, but to let the women in. They had been wondering how they could move the heavy stone, even as they went to the grave (Mark 16:3).
The angel’s appearance was like lightning. His whole body shone with a bright, heavenly light. His clothes were white as snow. Angels are often seen clothed in white (Acts 1:10). Their presence immediately struck fear into all who saw them. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.” The greeting “Do not be afraid” is typical of heavenly messengers when they are sent to godly people (Luke 1:13, 30). “He has risen, just as he said.” Jesus foretold what would happen (Matthew 17:23). The angel’s invitation, “Come and see,” provided the women personal, firsthand evidence of the empty tomb. Now they could go and tell his disciples what had happened.
The Women’s Response/Matthew 28:8-10
Matthew sums up the conflicting emotions in the hearts of the women as “afraid yet filled with joy.” Suddenly Jesus met them. What a thrilling experience for these women! Jesus simply said, “Greetings.” He used an ordinary salutation at this extraordinary moment. “Do not be afraid.” Knowing their hearts, Jesus put them at ease immediately. “Go and tell my brothers.” This warm recognition of his kinship with them must have thrilled the disciples when they heard it. “Tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” We don’t know where or when Jesus had specified the place they would meet in Galilee, only that he had done so (28:16).
The Guards’ Report/Matthew 28:11-15
The chief priests and Pharisees had asked that Pilate assign guards to watch the tomb (27:62-66). After the resurrection, the guards returned to the chief priests to report what had happened. Unmoved by the fact that the person they killed was alive again, the religious leaders plotted a cover-up. They saw only one way out—bribery.
They gave the soldiers a large sum of money. This “hush money” was intended to keep the guards from telling what they knew was true. They were to tell people, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” The problem with this is obvious. How could they know who stole the body if they were asleep? Furthermore, how could they still be alive to tell about it? If a Roman soldier allowed his prisoner to escape, he could be executed for neglect of duty. The Jewish leaders assured the soldiers that they would keep them out of trouble with Pilate, if they would tell this lie. Years after the resurrection when Matthew wrote his Gospel, some people still repeated this implausible explanation for the empty tomb.
The Disciples’ Witness/Matthew 28:16-20
Somewhere in the northern region of Galilee, the disciples assembled. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. It may be that this was the occasion described by Paul in which more than 500 people saw the risen Christ at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6). The Lord began by affirming his absolute right to rule, confirmed now by his resurrection. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Revelation 5:13 makes clear that Jesus (the Lamb) has eternal power with God the Father.
His instructions to the apostles can be summed up in four commands—”Go, preach, baptize, teach.” This Great Commission remains the marching orders for the church today. The closing words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel remind us that even after he returned to Heaven, he is still by our side until his second coming.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.