Summary: Matthew’s account of the resurrection. Matthew’s narrative of e Galilean encounter with the disciples is a culmination to the gospel which accentuates the Trinitarian nature of God and the mission of the believer.
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.