Matthew 28:1-15 – The Resurrection of Jesus the Messiah
SummaryAs 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.
AnalysisMark'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.