He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.
The gospels each relate the account of the resurrection according to their own purpose, consequently there are considerable differences between the Gospels (refer to the recent bulletin insert for a harmonization of those events), but with all the obvious differences there are several things in common to all the Gospels – the empty tomb, the announcement of the resurrection to the women, and the meeting of the disciples with Jesus. Beyond this, each of the gospels record some additional information about the encounters with the resurrected Christ.
Matthew’s account of the resurrection includes stories of the chief priests securing a Roman guard from Pilate to keep the disciples from stealing the body, the earthquake, the women’s encounter with an angel and the sudden appearance of Jesus to the women. Matthew’s narrative of the Galilean encounter with the disciples is a culmination to the gospel which accentuates the Trinitarian nature of God and the mission of the believer.
As with the other gospels, Matthew begins his narrative of the resurrection with an appearance of Jesus to some women going to see the tomb (Mark and Luke indicate the reason for their visit was to anoint his body with additional spices cp. John 19.39). Their coming to the tomb is contrasted with the Roman guard posted to “protect” the body (keep the disciples from stealing it). In Mark 16.3 one reads that the women inquired among themselves, Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb? The question is answered in Matthew 28.2 wherein he informs the reader that a violent earthquake removed the stone. This was apparently accomplished by an angel of the Lord sent from heaven for this purpose. Opening the entrance to the grave was not for the purpose of releasing Jesus but that there might be nothing to hinder one from peering into the now empty chamber. The purpose of this frightening (Matthew 28.3) angelic visitation appears to have had several purposes. First, it was a heavenly testimony of the reality of the resurrection. Second, the angel gave instructions to the women and, through them, to the disciples as to what they were to do next. Finally, there was a startling contrast between the relationship of the Roman guard to the angel and that of the women. While both groups were fearful in his presence, only the women were comforted in their fear.
The angel’s business, however, is not with the guards, but the women. He assures them that Jesus’ prophesy about his resurrection has in fact come to pass. The reality of this prophetic truth is confirmed by the empty tomb - they can see for themselves that he is not there. While Jesus had clearly prophesied both his death and his resurrection his followers had not comprehended the full magnitude of what he had said. The angel is reinforcing that Jesus should be taken at his word and this event therefore ought to be no surprise.
After reassuring the women the angel assigns them the task of quickly informing the disciples that Jesus has been raised from the dead and that he is going ahead of them into Galilee (cp. 26.32). This does not mean that Jesus will next meet the disciples there, only that they are to go to Galilee for a meeting with Jesus. It is not without significance that Jesus first appeared to the women who comprised a significant part of the coterie of his disciples. One might reasonably expect that Jesus would appear first to Peter, John or one of the eleven. It is evident that the Christian message cut across the accepted cultural customs. John and Luke emphasize the Jerusalem appearances of Jesus and although John mentions the story of the miraculous catch of fish which took place in Galilee, Matthew put more emphasis on the Galilee post-resurrection appearance than any of the other Evangelists.
THE GUARDS REPORT & A FALSE STORY
As the women hurried away to do the bidding of the angel Jesus meets them (interestingly, what doubt is recorded about the resurrection stems from the disciples not the women). At his greeting, lit. be glad, they take hold of his feet to pay him homage – thus acknowledging that Jesus was more than a mere man. It is clear that Matthew desires to convey to his reader that the resurrected body of Christ is not an apparition which cannot be touched. Jesus is Divine and He is corporeal. Jesus accepts their worship but it is not his intent to spend much time with the women. He reassures them with the don’t be afraid viz. of all these events but go and tell the disciples to meet me in Galilee.
Matthew now shifts his focus to the problem of the rumor that had been spreading around the region that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus, a point which is ludicrous for any thinking person. Imagine fishermen and businessmen overcoming a Roman guard to steal the body of a man whom they had deserted in his hour of greatest need. However, Matthew gives an account of the chief priests’ deceitful behavior. While the women were on their way to inform the disciples the soldiers went to the chief priests and related the things which happened. It is reasonable that they went to the Jewish authorities rather than to their military supervisors, as it was they who had persuaded Pilate to assign them to this guard duty. We are not certain how much the Romans saw of the events (they were as dead men) however, it is clear that something extraordinary had happened. The chief priests devised a plan which involved bribing the guards to say that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus while they had fallen asleep on duty. Considering the consequences for a Roman soldier’s dereliction of duty it must have been a considerable bribe. Moreover, the chief priests assured them of their intercession on their behalf should it come to the governors attention that Jesus’ tomb was empty. It is no small irony that the Jewish authorities themselves were now circulating the very story they had sought to prevent by having the guards to be set around the tomb.
THE GREAT COMMISSION
Only Matthew gives us this account of Jesus’ instruction to the disciples in Galilee although all the gospels have something approximating a great commission (Luke 24.47; Mk 16.15; John 20.21 cp. Acts 1.8). There is no other section of the Bible that has so inspired Christians to missions than these few verses. How can it be that a few men on a hillside in Galilee listening to the words of their beloved Rabbi could become so charged with energy as to change the course of civilization? What brought about this dramatic change? It is no accident that Matthew has constructed his gospel in such a fashion that the reader is now confronted with the great commission which embodies in its kerygma (preaching of the gospel of Christ in the early church) the death and resurrection of Christ. We know who Jesus is: namely, the descendant of Abraham and David; that he is born of a virgin, that his ministry fulfills Old Testament prophecy in a great variety of ways (cp. Isaiah 7.14; 9.1-2; 42.1-4; 53.4; Hosea 11.1; Ps 78.2; Zech 9.9 etc.). We know Jesus has called to himself men and women from all walks of life to be his disciples and much of the gospel focuses on what it means to be a true disciple (4.18-22; 16.23). Matthew makes more references to disciples than any of the other Evangelists. The thrust of all this is of course the call to missions (Mt 9.37; 10.6; 28.16-20).
In contrast to the disbelief of the chief priests the eleven disciples went to Galilee to meet Jesus at the designated spot (unknown to us). When the women saw Jesus they worshipped him (28.9). However, when the disciples saw him some worshipped him and some hesitated. Why did they not all immediately worship the risen Christ? Perhaps they were not certain that it was really Jesus. Remember that even though Jesus had prophesied his resurrection no one believed he was going to literally rise from the dead. Luke and John both record doubt (Thomas in John 20.25) and the inability to recognize Jesus at first glance (Celopas in Luke 24.16; cp. John 21.4). Matthew is reflecting the same, strong Jewish aversion to offering obeisance to any save Yahweh alone, consequently he reflects a true account of their hesitancy in meeting Jesus whom they do not immediately recognize. Morris’ commentary is worth noting here:
It is difficult to think that the hesitation was coming from the eleven, considering all that had happened to them during the recent past. It may well be that others than the eleven were present, perhaps even the group of more than 500 of whom Paul writes (1 Cor. 15:6). This would give more scope for people who believed and people who doubted than if the group had been limited to the eleven who had been closest to Jesus. France argues strongly that only the eleven were preset, but it is not easy to see how the hesitators could have been some of the eleven after the dramatic removal of Thomas’s doubts (John 20.24-29). (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 745)
That Jesus claims to have all authority means that the time of his being the man of sorrows has come to an end. There are no limitations to his dominion over heaven and earth. The therefore is the introduction to why he came to earth in the first place: go and make disciples. Recall that in the first century a disciple of a particular philosophy or religion did not enroll in a school for study rather, they attached themselves to an individual. That is precisely what Jesus is asking of his disciples – to proclaim the gospel to men and women of all nations baptizing and teaching them all that they had learned from Jesus.
Jesus says they are to baptize these new disciples in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The church from the first day at Pentecost has always marked its members by their identity with Christ through baptism (Acts 2.38). That the convert is baptized into the name of the Trinitarian God is not as much formulistic as it is descriptive of what baptism accomplishes. There is no question but that the early Christians thought of God as triune (Rom 8.11; 1Cor 12.4-6; 2Cor 13.14; Gal 4.6; Eph 4.4-6; 2Thess 2.13 etc.). Observe that the disciple is to be baptized in the name, not names, of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “D. Wenham remarks, the Trinitarian tendencies of the early church are most easily explained if they go back to Jesus Himself.
Baptism is that event in the believer’s life which consciously and dramatically links him to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul captures this thought in Romans 6.3-4. However, it is an idea which permeates the book of Acts and the Paul’s epistles. Consider, for example, Colossians chapters two and three. Note, beginning in verse 2.6, how frequently Paul alludes to the death - resurrection motif of baptism. Thus it is not surprising that Matthew brings his gospel to a climax with the promise that Jesus will never leave or forsake his disciple for he is with him now and to the very end of the age