Summary: Seismic activity; angelic visitation; dead men living; living men "as dead men". Fear not: Jesus is risen from the dead! Do not be afraid: He is risen indeed!
We noted on Palm Sunday that there was an ongoing spiritual shakedown taking place in Jerusalem, signified by the whole city (meaning the people in it) being ‘moved’ by the events of Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:10). It was also seen straight afterwards in the cleansing of the Temple (Matthew 21:12), and in the cursing of the fig tree (Matthew 21:19). We also observed, in passing, how this fits in with the idea of the whole creation groaning, waiting for the revelation of the children of God (Romans 8:19-22).
The seismic phenomena during the latter part of holy week were also an indication of the spiritual upheaval. ‘The curtain in the Temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom’ (an act of God). ‘The earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened’ - and certain individuals were raised from the dead (Matthew 27:51-54)!
On resurrection morning the women came to see the sepulchre (Matthew 28:1), and found an angel sitting on the stone which had sealed the tomb of Jesus (Matthew 28:2). As far as I can tell it was the angel who had moved the stone, compelling the earth to surrender Jesus’ already risen body. Then there was another earthquake.
Matthew describes the angel (Matthew 28:3), and how the keepers ‘quaked’ for fear of him (Matthew 28:4). What a morning! Jesus rose from the dead (Matthew 28:5-6) - but the living became ‘as dead men’ (Matthew 28:4)!
The angel specifically instructed the women: “Fear not ye” (Matthew 28:5). Not that they had the dread fear of the angel indicated in the demeanour of the guards: but rather they were concerned for the body of Jesus. Hence the “answer” of the angel (Matthew 28:5).
One orthodox church near where I live is attended by people of several European nationalities. On Easter morning the celebrant walks in and out amongst the congregation, audibly sharing the momentous news in the language of each nation group: ‘The Lord is risen!’ Each nation group replies in their own language: ‘He is risen indeed!’
The words of the angel to the women must have thrilled their hearts. “He is not here: for He is risen.” If this was not enough, he offered them the evidence: “Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matthew 28:6).
Remember the account of the siege of Samaria, when some lepers living outside the city were the first to discover that the enemy had withdrawn? For a while they fed themselves to the fill, and gathered loot from the deserted enemy camp, oblivious to the privations of those within the besieged city. Then, mercifully, their collective conscience was awakened - ‘We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace… now therefore come, that we may go and tell’ (2 Kings 7:9).
Wonderful news is meant for sharing: so the women were next instructed to “go quickly, and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead” (Matthew 28:7). Their report might well be met with unbelief (Mark 16:11), but they were not to let that deter them. They might well be subjected to ridicule for saying such a thing (Luke 24:11), but they were to “fear not” (Matthew 28:5).
The women departed “with fear and great joy… to bring His disciples word” (Matthew 28:8) - but they met the risen Lord Jesus on the way. At His greeting, Matthew tells us, “they held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him” (Matthew 28:9). Jesus said, “Be not afraid” (Matthew 28:10).
Both the angel (Matthew 28:7), and Jesus (Matthew 28:10), spoke of Galilee, where it had all begun. There at last Peter and the disciples would understand that their calling was not to be fishers of fish (John 21:3), but fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). We may not keep the good news of the gospel to ourselves, but must without fear proclaim it in accordance with the commission of Jesus (Matthew 28:19).