The Resurrection of Christ
Christ’s Resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is vital to Christianity because it is the proof that our sins are gone, and that God is satisfied with the work of Calvary. The Lord rose bodily from the dead, not merely in spirit, as some have taught through the ages. When Paul summed up the gospel that he preached, he said that he preached Christ who died, was buried, and had risen from the dead; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 17, Romans 10:9. When comparing Christianity to other religions we should ask ourselves: where is Confucius? Where is Buddha? Where is Muhammad? They are all dead. We have a Savior who was raised from among the dead – His tomb is empty. Christ’s suffering and death was the payment of our debt, but His resurrection is the receipt that proves our debt was paid; “raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). Not only is the resurrection critical to justification, but Paul shows that it is also critical to the resurrection of believers, because Christ is “risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Cor. 15:20). It is really a cornerstone of the Christian faith; “but if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). What would we have for our faith if the gospels said nothing of Christ’s resurrection?
- The Empty Tomb (vv.1-10)
- The Guards’ Report and the Cover-up (vv.11-15)
- The Lord Appears to the Eleven, The Great Commission (vv.16-20)
The Empty Tomb (vv.1-10)
A Synopsis of Events. By comparing all four gospels, we get a comprehensive outline of the events that unfolded surrounding the resurrection of Christ, the angelic appearances, and the appearances of Christ. Often these passages are picked at by infidel scoffers to undermine faith in the Divine record. When we study it, all the details fit together perfectly, and yet each gospel maintains its own slant. Following is a brief synopsis. On what was our Saturday evening, at “the dusk of the next day after sabbath”, the two Marys came to the sepulchre, and then went home (Matt. 28:1). Apparently, they brought spices with them (Mark 16:1), and left them there. Early the next morning “when it was still dark” (John 20:1), Mary Magdalene came and saw the stone removed and the body gone. She ran to tell Peter and John. Peter and John came to the tomb to investigate, but did not know the scripture, and therefore remained dumbfounded. They returned home. However, Mary remained by the tomb weeping. She stooped down to look in and saw two angels, one at the head and the other at the foot of where the Lord had lain (John 20:12). This was a special vision, which only Mary Magdalene saw. The two angels asked her why she was weeping. Then the Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden (although she didn’t recognize Him at first), and told her to go to the disciples and declare that He was about to ascend to His Father and their Father, to His God and their God. Mark 16:10 makes it clear that Jesus “appeared first to Mary of Magdala”. Then, after “the rising of the sun”, the other Mary and Salome arrived (the three are grouped together in the synoptic gospels). One angel was outside the tomb, which Matthew notes as saying “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” Mark speaks of the other angel (called a man) sitting at the right side of the place, who says “Behold the place where they laid him”. Both angels are accounted for. Mary the wife of Cleopas and Salome (Joanna) get a different message from Mary Magdalene; “But go, tell his disciples and Peter, he goes before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him, as he said to you” (Mark 16:7). Then other women arrived who had travelled from Galilee, grouped with the former three, but called “the others with them” (Luke 24:10). These women apparently brought more spices in addition to those brought by the women on the previous evening (Luke 24:1). These ones also stood dumbfounded for a moment, and then “two men suddenly stood by them in shining raiment” (Luke 24:4). It would be the same two angels, now together again. These other women receive still yet a different message; more of a rebuke for their not believing the Lord’s words. All the women went together to the eleven apostles (Luke 24:10). At first, they ran with the mixed emotions of fear and joy. But then Jesus met them on the way, saying “Hail” (rejoice), and “fear not” (Matt. 28:8-10). The women delivered their respective messages, but the eleven refused to believe them (Mark 16:11). Peter rose up, and perhaps a few others with him (Luke 24:24), and went to the tomb again, but was still bewildered; i.e. he “wondered at these things” (Luke 24:12). When Peter returned from his second visit, the Lord met him and had a private interview (Luke 24:34). After that, the Lord appeared to the two on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13-35), and then “that same day at evening” to the apostles gathered behind closed doors (John 20:19).
The First Visit at Dusk: Two Mary’s Come to the Sepulcher (v.1)
¶ Now late on sabbath, as it was the dusk of the next day after sabbath, came Mary of Magdala and the other Mary to look at the sepulchre. v.1 The same two women that sat opposite the sepulchre in the previous chapter now travel back after the Sabbath day was ended, as soon as the Law permitted them to travel (Luke 23:56). The devotedness of these dear women is thus presented. Last to leave on Friday evening, they are first to arrive Saturday evening. There has been some confusion about the timing of this verse. The “dusk of the next day” refers to the evening hours after the Sabbath. We must remember that, according to the Jewish mind, evening commenced the new day (Gen. 1:5). A similar phrase referring to the previous twilight occurs in Luke 23:54, making the meaning of v.1 evident. The fact that Jesus lay in the grave all day on the Sabbath is full of symbolic meaning. The whole system of Judaism was being set aside. The resurrection day was the following day; the first day of a new week. It symbolizes a new beginning in the ways of God.
The Two Visits of the Women Distinguished. After the first twilight visit to “look” at the tomb (v.1), the women evidently went home. If we compare with other gospels, we clearly see a second visit to bring spices, etc. “on the morrow of the sabbath, very early indeed in the morning” (Luke 24:1-2) which corresponds with our v.5. At that time “the sun was risen” (Mark 16:2), and on that visit Salome was with the two Marys. It is important that the two visits of the women should be separated by one nighttime. On their first visit, the Lord was in the grave and the stone sealed. On their second visit just hours later, the Lord was risen and the stone rolled away. It was complete and utter proof of His resurrection!
The Stone Rolled Back, the Great Earthquake (vv.2-4)
¶ 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending out of heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. v.2 The event of v.1 is not necessarily linked to the earthquake, etc. of v.2. In other words, the earthquake took place in the night hours between the two visits. Only the soldiers witnesses the stone being rolled back. The angel, earthquake, and removal of the stone were important for the soldiers to see, because it was by their own hands that the tomb was sealed. The stone was not “rolled away” to allow Jesus out of the tomb… a stone was no impediment to His glorified body. Rather it was rolled away to show the world that He was risen from the dead! Just as the death of Christ was marked with an earthquake, so His resurrection is marked with “a great earthquake”! The angel sat upon the stone, a position of repose and victory, as if to identify those events as an act of God, and not man.
3 And his look was as lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became as dead men. vv.3-4 The angel’s appearance was like lightning; i.e. blindingly bright. His clothing represented perfect purity. The guards were really the representatives of the Jewish authorities that had tried to suppress the testimony of God in resurrection. They became totally incapacitated by an authority far higher than they.
The Second Visit in the Morning (vv.5-8)
How many angels were there? By comparing all four gospels we see that there were two angels. The soldiers saw only one angel in the night. Mary Magdalene saw two angels “while it was yet dark” (John 20:1). After sunrise, the other Mary and Salome saw one angel outside the tomb saying “Come, see the place…” (Matt. 28:6) and another inside saying “Behold the place” (Mark 16:6). The other women saw two angels after they arrived (Luke 24:4). How many angels were there? Two. However, the two are not always mentioned together.
5 And the angel answering said to the women, Fear not “ye”, for I know that ye seek Jesus the crucified one. 6 He is not here, for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. vv.5-6 The angel’s first words are words of peace. Peace is the abiding result of the resurrection of Christ; see Rom. 4:25 – 5:1. If Jesus has conquered sin, there is nothing for us to fear. It is the victory of victories! They sought the body of a dead Christ; “Jesus the crucified one”. But Jesus was no longer dead, He was risen! The proof was in the opened sepulcher; “Come, see the place where the Lord lay”. The resurrection of Christ is the greatest display of power that this world has ever seen. Notice that the angel speaks of Jesus as “the Lord”. The man of God’s counsels lay under the sentence of death, and was raised by the power of God.
7 And go quickly and say to his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and behold, he goes before you into Galilee, there shall ye see him. Behold, I have told you. 8 And going out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, they ran to bring his disciples word. vv.7-8 They had to “come and see” before they could “go and tell”. It is the Christian’s great privilege to tell the world of not only a “crucified One” but a “risen One”. The message they were to bring to the disciples was twofold: that Jesus was indeed risen from the dead, that He would meet them in Galilee. The Lord had already told the disciples to meet Him there; “After I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee” (Matthew 26:32). The angelic message was needed to ensure they would be there, and even then the Lord appeared to them (vv.9-10) with the same message. The scene in the closed room in Jerusalem (Luke 24:33-39; John 20:19-23) is not mentioned in Matthew at all. The focus in Luke centers around Jerusalem, but in Matthew (the Jewish gospel) the focus centers around Galilee, which was the sphere of Christ’s labors during His public ministry. It pictures the Messiah seeking to renew His relationships with the faithful remnant on resurrection ground, with a new commission. The “great joy” of Israel was to have Jehovah in their midst. These women wanted nothing more!
Jesus Himself Appears to the Women (vv.9-10)
9 And as they went to bring his disciples word, behold also, Jesus met them, saying, Hail! And they coming up took him by the feet, and did him homage. 10 Then Jesus says to them, Fear not; go, bring word to my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there they shall see me. vv.9-10 When the women left the tomb to tell the disciples, at first they ran with the mixed emotions of “fear and great joy”. But quickly Jesus met them in the way, saying “Hail” (rejoice), and “fear not”. How precious that Jesus would want them to proceed without fear, and only great joy! They “took Him by the feet”… those feet that were pierced and wounded for them. They not only saw the Lord, but touched His body as well. In John 20, when Mary Magdalene merely thought about the Lord, He said “Touch me not”. These women hold His feet and are not rebuked. Why the difference? In John, the Lord speaks extensively of His going away to the Father, and being absent from the disciples for a time. By telling Mary “touch me not” Jesus was showing that the Jews could not have Him in the same way as they had looked for Him. The kingdom was postponed, and Jesus was going to the Father, and His disciples were brought into new relationships. But in Matthew the Lord is presented as the Messiah. Though rejected by the nation, He maintains His relationship with the faithful remnant. This is why the reunion in Galilee is emphasized. Galilee pictures “the poor of the flock” (Zech. 11:11). But this worship involves touching. They were not in the full Christian position; it was not yet worship “in spirit” (John 4).
The Guards’ Report and the Cover-up (vv.11-15)
¶ 11 And as they went, behold, some of the watch went into the city, and brought word to the chief priests of all that had taken place. 12 And having assembled with the elders, and having taken counsel, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 saying, Say that his disciples coming by night stole him while we were sleeping. vv.11-13 We now pass from a scene of “great joy” to one of darkness and deception. Now the chief priests’ worst nightmare was coming true. The soldiers came into the city and told them “all that had taken place”; i.e. the angel, the earthquake, the stone rolled away, and the empty tomb. Now these leaders were face to face with the indisputable proof that all Jesus had said of Himself was true. What would they do? The priests according to the Law were responsible to uphold righteousness, and to speak truth to the people; “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge” (Mal. 2:7). Now they undertake to deceive the people about this important event. As the world says, “There is no problem so great that money can’t solve”. Sadly, it had cost them “thirty pieces of silver” to put Christ to death, but now it would cost them “large money” to suppress the truth of His resurrection. The lie these soldiers were paid to tell was that they had fallen asleep on duty, and that the disciples came and stole the body. This story is problematic for a number of reasons. First, if they were sleeping, how did they know the disciples had stolen the body? Second, what kind of soldiers were they if they fell asleep after just a few hours? Third, how could the disciples remove the stone without waking the soldiers? It doesn’t add up.
14 And if this should come to the hearing of the governor, “we” will persuade him, and save “you” from all anxiety. v.14 The more pressing matter for the soldiers was their failure to secure the tomb. Remember that the soldiers had been stationed by the sepulcher because the priests feared that the disciples would come. Now the story they were asked to propagate was one of sleeping on duty. Their own necks would be in danger if Pilate heard about it. The priests were adept at political maneuvering, and say, as it were “we’ll cover your back”. The path of the unjust is a like digging yourself a hole. It just gets deeper and deeper.
15 And they took the money and did as they had been taught. And this report is current among the Jews until this day. v.15 Motivated by the love of money, which “is the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10), the soldiers took the bribe and “did as they had been taught”. But even this backfired on the Jews! The story of the bribery got out, and became well-known among the Jews. At the time of Matthew writing the gospel, which was either A.D. 41 or 64, the story was commonly reported. How did the story get out? We are not told. One possibility is that some of the priests might have told the story. We read in Acts that shortly thereafter “the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
The Lord Appears to the Eleven, The Great Commission (vv.16-20)
¶ 16 But the eleven disciples went into Galilee to the mountain which Jesus had appointed them. 17 And when they saw him, they did homage to him: but some doubted. vv.16-17 The disciples obeyed the Divine instructions, and went north to Galilee to a pre-appointed meeting place. The appearance scene in Jerusalem and the ascension scene at the Mount of Olives are not recorded. Galilee, the place where the Messiah was prophesied to appear to Israel according to Isaiah 8-9, is very much in focus. The mountain scene in Galilee is a reset to the Lord’s early ministry in Galilee where “many mighty works were done”, and where He taught the principles of the kingdom of heaven, as in the Sermon on the Mount. There are seven occasions in Matthew where we find the Lord on a mountain, and this is the final occasion (Matt. 4:8; 5:1; 14:23; 15:29; 17:1; 24:3; 28:16). They all worshiped Him there, but some doubted. How could it be, that after worshiping the resurrected Christ, some could still doubt? The Greek word is ‘edistasan’, and it literally means ‘hesitated’. They wanted to believe, but then again it was “too good to be true”. They were at a loss for what to think. It was perhaps here in Galilee that Jesus appeared to a large company of believers in addition to the eleven; “above five hundred brethren at once” (1 Cor. 15:6).
18 And Jesus coming up spoke to them, saying, All power has been given me in heaven and upon earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; 20 teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have enjoined you. And behold, “I” am with you all the days, until the completion of the age. vv.18-20 The Commission. All power “in heaven and upon earth” had been given to the Lord now risen. That power was now put forth as the support and strength of the disciples in their new commission.
- A New Commission. The commission given to the disciples was to go to “all the nations”. The kingdom of heaven was not to be restricted to Israel. In their previous commission, the Lord had told them “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not” (Matt. 10:5). Now this commission was extended to the whole world. They were to “make disciples” through two things: baptism and teaching. The baptism was a water baptism of a new order. Not the baptism “unto repentance for the remission of sins” (John’s baptism), but Christian baptism; “to the name [singular] of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. The full revelation of the Godhead is implicated in this baptism. He was bringing them off of Jewish ground onto kingdom ground. What were they to teach? It wasn’t to be the law of Moses now, but the teachings of Jesus; e.g. the Sermon on the Mount. They were not responsible to circumcise, but to baptize.
- A Kingdom Commission. The Lord speaks to them as messengers of the gospel of the kingdom, given the task to go to the whole world and make disciples of all nations. The commission is different from what we have in John 20:21-23 and Luke 24:36-49. It falls short of the full truth of Christianity. The gospel Paul preached was heaven-focused. The gospel of the kingdom is earth-focused. Paul did preach the kingdom of God, but he went beyond that to unfold “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Baptism is really connected with the kingdom, not the Church. Although baptism has much deeper meaning for believers who are sealed with the Spirit of God, it is the same baptism that the Lord commissioned here in Matt. 28.
- When will it be accomplished? The twelve did not accomplish this commission. As far as the Divine record is concerned, the twelve focused their efforts largely on Jerusalem and the nearby areas. They may have travelled afterward, but we do not read of it in scripture, only generally; “And they, going forth, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs following” (Mark 16:20). A Jerusalem-focused ministry was fitting for the early days of the Church, while the provisional offer of pardon was held out to Israel. But when those days were closed (Acts 7), there arose “a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1). The apostles did not rise up to this commission. The commission to the uncircumcision was formally transferred to the Apostle Paul in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:9). The gospel Paul preached among the Gentiles was a higher gospel than the so-called great commission; “make disciples, baptizing them”. Paul preached the gospel of the grace and glory of God! When will the kingdom-commission be fulfilled? When the Church period closes, the faithful remnant of the Jews will take up this commission once again, and bring the gospel of the kingdom to the whole world. This will occur in “the completion of the age”. The Lord will judge the Gentiles at His appearing based on how these messengers are received (Matt. 25:31). This in no way excuses us, members of the body of Christ, from obeying this command, although we carry with us a far higher truth than the remnant will preach.
Conclusion. The curtain closes with this scene in Galilee. The ascension of the Lord is left out, not by accident (such an important detail could not be forgotten) but with intention… because the Jewish hope was for a Messiah on earth. Matthew traces the various proofs given to the Jews that Jesus is their Messiah – as the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies. It also establishes Israel’s guilt in rejecting their Messiah, and unfolds the great change in the dispensational ways of God, consequent on Israel’s failure, although it does not take us into Christian position (Luke, typically) or Christian doctrine (John). Matthew leaves us on earth, as disciples in the kingdom of heaven, with a commission to make disciples of all nations.