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Matthew 28:1-15 – The Resurrection of Jesus the Messiah

Summary

As the first day of the week dawns, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are coming to see the tomb. An angel from heaven arrives, accompanied by a great earthquake, and rolls back the stone. The guards at the tomb become like dead men, while the angel announces to the women that Jesus has been raised and instructs them to go and tell the disciples that they should meet him in Galilee. While the women are on the way, Jesus himself appears to them and repeats the angel's instruction. While they are going the leaders arrange to pay money to the guards to say that during the night Jesus' disciples came and stole the body while they were sleeping.

Analysis

Mark's narrative of the resurrection is very brief, including only the women at the tomb, the quick announcement of the resurrection, and then the report that the women flee from the tomb in fear and trembling and say nothing to anyone (Mark 16:1-8). This is clearly unsatisfactory to Matthew, whose narrative goes beyond Mark with what amounts almost to a play-by-play account of the divine action that accompanies the resurrection and a series of doubled motifs that are intended to confirm its verity.

Twice we are told that an angel is the agent of the resurrection and its announcement (28:2, 5). In addition to the angel's appearance, his origin is doubly confirmed as being "of the Lord" and "from heaven." (28:2). Divine action is seen in the earthquake that accompanies the rolling back of the stone, just as it has accompanied the death of Jesus. There is a clearer announcement of the resurrection-first in the explicit report that it is "Jesus who was crucified" (28:5) and then in the doubled announcement of the angel that "he has been raised," which frames the invitation to come and see the place where the body lay and then go and tell his disciples that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee (28:6-7).

When the women leave the tomb, their obedient and purposive response to the angel's command is immediately clear. Matthew's "fear and great joy" as they "ran to tell the disciples" (28:8) seems a deliberate rewrite of Mark's women who "fled…for fear and amazement…and they said nothing to anyone" (Mark 16:8). But now the command is doubled and reinforced by the words of Jesus himself. He meets them on the way, greets them with his familiar, "Do not be afraid," and repeats the command to go and tell. Significantly, however, Jesus describes this new community no longer as disciples, but as "brothers" (28:10; see 5:22 and 12:46-50; 18:15, 21; 23:8; 25:40-"brother" is sometimes poorly translated as "member" or "student" in English versions). And when in Matthew's narrative Jesus actually meets these "brothers" in Galilee (28:16-20), we thus have two actual appearances of the risen Jesus coupled with the clear fulfillment of the twofold promise that he will meet them in Galilee, where they will see him (28:7, 10, 16-20).

Matthew's unique narrative of the attempts by the leaders to counter the story of the resurrection by paying off the guards at the tomb with a manufactured story of disciple thievery is puny and almost humorous by comparison (28:11-15). Its rhetorical effect is only to compound the proof of the resurrection narrative for the reader. It underscores for Matthew's disciple community the lengths to which some will go to make sure that this marvelous story is undercut.

Matthew 28:1-15

The Resurrection of Jesus

28After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he* lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead,* and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

The Report of the Guard

11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12After the priests* had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13telling them, ‘You must say, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” 14If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ 15So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

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10 February 2011

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