He is risen!
(That’s where you say, “he is risen, indeed!” It works better face-to-face…)
This week we continue our reading notes on Matthew’s Passion narrative, looking at the resurrection.
Matt 28:1-101 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” 8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Although each of the four Gospels contains the resurrection of Jesus, they each tell it in a different way. Some of Matthew’s distinctives:
- Unlike in Mark’s account, Matthew doesn’t just tell us of the women’s fear, but also of their great joy and eagerness to pass on the news to the other disciples.
- Unlike Luke and John, Matthew doesn’t mention the other resurrection appearances in and around Jerusalem.
- Instead, Matthew focuses on the fulfilment of Jesus’ words about meeting them again in Galilee. That sets the scene for the Great Commission at the end of this Gospel.
It’s not easy to make the four accounts fit together. (If you’re keen, try drawing up a timeline of events of the first Easter Sunday, based on Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 21.) It’s possible, but messy. But it actually counts in favour of the Christian belief in the resurrection – they read exactly as you’d expect written accounts based on multiple eyewitness testimonies to read, and not like a neat, clean fabrication.
It’s also unlikely that the early Christian community would have invented a story that relied on women as the first witnesses of the resurrection, given the low value that women’s testimony had at the time. Women weren’t allowed to give testimony in court as they were too “giddy and impetuous,” according to the historian Josephus.
In verse 2, the angel rolls back the stone – presumably Jesus was perfectly capable of getting out without help, so this is probably to allow the women in. He’s wearing standard-issue angelwear. The guards get freaked out and become “like dead men.” Ironic, as the power that overwhelms them is the power of God that has raised Jesus to life and opened the tomb!
In verse 5, the angel says “Don’t you be afraid…” (with the emphasis in Greek on the you). This is in contrast with the guards who have every reason to be afraid!
One of the themes in this section is the fulfilment of Jesus’ predictions about his resurrection. The angels remind the women that Jesus is risen “just as he said.” We only have to look back to the closing verses of the previous chapter to see the chief priests reminding Pilate of this prediction (27:63).
The emphasis the empty tomb (“the place where he lay”) makes it clear that Matthew (and the other Gospel writers) are testifying to an event that involved the physical body of Jesus. It wasn’t just a series of visions and “appearances” that dotted Graeco-Roman superstition, but a hard cold case of a missing body.
The words about the reunion of Jesus and his disciples in Galilee echo the prediction of Jesus a couple of chapters back:Matt 26:31-32 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
The reunion in Galilee (which we read of tomorrow) is a reversal of the ‘scattering’ of the flock at the crucifixion. Here, the journey back to Galilee is probably be a reversal of the journey south from Galilee to the cross. It’s a new journey in which Jesus is once again going ahead of his disciples, and this time they are to follow him.
Matthew is the only writer who describes their response (verse 8) as being great joy along with being afraid. The meeting with Jesus (verse 9) on the way back to the disciples is also unique to Matthew. Jesus’ greeting (literally, ‘Be glad!’) affirms the women’s joy, and his next words, “Do not be afraid,” respond to their fear.
Taking hold of Jesus’ feet is an act of homage, recognising his kingship (like bowing before a king). The fact that Matthew uses the word “worship” is immensely significant. Since Jews believed in only one God – the only right object of worship – this says something important about the women’s view of Jesus. His resurrection has demonstrated his divinity; as God, he is worthy of worship.
Jesus then (verse 10) echoes the words of the angel, but replace “his disciples” with “my brothers.” This hints at the restoration that’s about to take place, despite their desertion of him at his arrest, trial, and crucifixion.
To think about
Why were the women, having met with an angel who told them Jesus was alive, both fearful and joyful?
In what sense should we have a similar response to the risen Jesus today?
It’s like C.S. Lewis’s famous description of the lion Aslan, the Christ-figure in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”… “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”