Matthew 28:1 – Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
The four gospels each give us different details of the events surrounding the resurrection. For our study, we will limit ourselves to what has been recorded in the book of Matthew. However, for a fuller picture, you would need to read the other gospels as well.
Let’s take a few moments to remember how the ancient Jews mark time, because it is very different from the way we do it.
In our minds, a new day begins at 12:00 am, or midnight, and it lasts for 24 hours. According to our reckoning, three days means 72 hours.
In the Jewish calculation of time, days are marked by sunset. Specifically, a new day begins each time the sun goes down and it becomes dark. Further, it was the Jewish custom to count partial days as ‘a day’ or a full day when they were referring to blocks of time.
So by Jewish standards, Jesus did not necessarily have to be dead for 72 full hours to be considered dead for three days. He only needed to be dead for a portion of the first day, all of the second day (obviously) and a portion of the third day.
Is that what happened? Let’s take a look. Jesus died at 3 pm on the afternoon of Friday, and was buried shortly thereafter. According to Jewish reckoning, Friday counted as ‘one day’ of the three day time period, because he was dead from 3 pm until the sun set.
A new day began when the sun went down on Friday, and it lasted until the sun went down on Saturday. That was the second day. It was the Jewish Sabbath day.
Sundown on Saturday began the third day that Jesus was in the grave. So daybreak/sunrise on Sunday morning was actually midway through the third day that Jesus was dead. The fourth day would have begun at sundown on that Sunday.
Therefore we would expect Jesus to rise from the dead sometime before sundown on Sunday. Otherwise, he would be dead more than the three days that were prophesied to his followers.
Now, some of the devout women (Matthew names two, but Mark and Luke indicate there were also others) who were followers of Jesus left their houses before dawn on Sunday (the first day of the week), to see/visit the tomb.
What was their purpose in going to the tomb? According to the gospel of Luke, they went there to further embalm the body of Jesus with more spices (Luke 24:1). According to the gospel of John, they also went to mourn (John 11:31).
As you recall, Joseph of Arimathea arranged for an enormous stone to be rolled in front of the tomb to shut the door. The door had also been sealed by the Pharisees and chief priests, and it was guarded by Roman soldiers.
How did the woman expect to open the door? The gospel of Mark tells us that they really did not have a specific plan when they left to go to the tomb:
Mark 16:3 – And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher?
But God had a plan – he sent the women to the tomb before sunrise on the third day so they could find the tomb empty. This way, they are witnesses that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, just as prophesied.
According to some scholars, Jesus was likely in the tomb about 36-38 hours total.
Matthew Henry offers this interesting idea in his Whole Bible Commentary: “Christ, on the sixth day, finished his work; he said ‘It is finished’; on the seventh day he rested, and then on the first day of the next week did as it were, begin a new world and entered upon new work.”
What an amazing thought!
Matthew 28:2-3 – And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.
Before we go any further, let me ask you this: If you were planning the resurrection of Jesus, how would you do it?
Perhaps you would have placed a bright star over the tomb, similar to the one that was above the manger at his birth. Then hundreds of people could have made their way to the tomb. And after a big flash of lightening, the stone could have shattered into millions of pieces and Jesus could have walked out to the thunderous applause of everyone! But our ways are certainly not God’s ways, are they?
God has something much simpler and more profound planned. He first reveals his resurrection to the women, who faithfully stayed by Jesus during his death. They were the first ones to seek out his tomb. And God rewarded them fully. They saw Jesus before any of the disciples. In fact, they were given the privilege of sharing news of the resurrection with the eleven.
When the women first arrive at the tomb, they find an angel sitting upon the great stone, which has been rolled away from the entrance of the tomb. This should not surprise us. Angels frequently attended Jesus while he was on earth. They appeared at his birth, they ministered to him after his wilderness temptation, and again during his time in the garden. Now they are bearing witness of his resurrection.
The scripture specifically tells us that it was the angel who rolled back the stone from the door of the tomb. Why is that? Why didn’t Jesus do it himself?
Maybe Jesus was making a spiritual statement. In the court of heaven, he had been arrested, condemned and sentenced to death, because of our sin. To roll the stone away himself would imply that he illegally ‘broke out’ of confinement before his sentence was completed and his debt satisfied.
However, when a messenger of God rolls the stone away, it is symbolic of being released because his sentence had been completed. Jesus had paid the FULL price for our sin. Divine justice had been completely satisfied. Since heaven had ordered his release, a heavenly representative opened the door.
And because Jesus paid our debt, we too have been set free.
Isaiah 49:24-25 – Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? But thus says the LORD, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contends with you, and I will save your children.
Are you jumping for joy yet? You should be! We were lawful captives of sin and death. We had no hope of EVER being delivered from that bondage. But Jesus came and contended with Satan so that we could be set free!
Matthew 28:4 – And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.
What?! These were experienced, hardened soldiers. Their assignment was a ‘piece of cake’… all they had to do was keep a dead man in his grave. How hard could it be? No doubt, they were completely full of self confidence as they stood guard that night. The only resistance they expected was a small group feeble and fearful disciples.
But instead they are confronted with power, authority and might that is far beyond anything they knew existed – and this was only an angel, a mere servant to the Son of God! One glimpse of an angel of the Lord struck them with terror, and they fell to the ground, helpless and powerless.
The soldiers are not the only ones to see the angel. The women are about to see him too, but their experience will be far different than that of the soldiers.
Matthew 28:5 – But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.
Let’s look at it from the women’s perspective for a moment. They were in a state of grief and sorrow. When they left home, it was still dark outside. They were probably outside when the earthquake hit, and that would put them on edge. As they reach the tomb (finally!), what do they find? The stone rolled away and a supernatural, radiant being sitting on it!
There is no way they would not have had a sudden stab of fear. But the angel’s very first action is to tell the women ‘fear not’.
Why shouldn’t they fear? Because they were seeking Jesus. The scriptures assure us that when we seek after or pursue interaction with our Lord, we will find him.
Hebrews 11:6 – … God …is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
In fact, God is so interested in having a relationship with you, that he comes knocking on your heart’s door, waiting for an invitation to come in and fellowship with you.
Revelation 3:20 – Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him and will eat with him, and he with me.
We note that the resurrection of Christ brings joy and peace to the believer (the women), but terror and confusion to his enemies (the soldiers).
We also note that the women had lots of excuses to turn back from pursing Jesus at the tomb:
- It was dark.
- They were grief stricken and tired.
- There was no one to open the door for them.
- The earthquake was dangerous.
- There were guards.
- Tomorrow was another day.
But despite all these obstacles, the women continued on. They didn’t let anything distract them from their search for Jesus. How much more remarkable are their actions when we consider that all they expected to find was the corpse of their Lord!
What distracts us from seeking the living presence of our Savior? Do our excuses seem feeble in light of what these women did?
Matthew 28:6 – He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
The women receive the news that Jesus is not the dead body they were expecting. He is alive, because he had risen! God was faithful to his promise.
They are invited to come and examine the empty tomb. John tells us that the grave clothing was still there (John 20:5-6), but Jesus was gone. The women remembered what they had heard (that Jesus would rise again on the third day), and they matched it up with what they saw (the empty grave/the burial cloth), and so they believed.
They are the first ones to hear about the miracle of the resurrection.
Matthew 28:7-8 – Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
It might have been tempting to stay at the tomb for a while, communing with the angel and rejoicing in their new found knowledge that Jesus was risen. But it’s time to move on. God has appointed a special task to them. They must go and spread the word of his glorious resurrection to the disciples.
This news would be a tremendous and much needed comfort to the eleven. Right at that moment, they were in the midst of horrible grief, profound uncertainty and heavy guilt. To hear the news that their Lord was again alive, would have astonished them, and given them a lifeline of hope!
Here is something to carefully consider: The eleven did not immediately believe the news based on the word of the women. However, their testimony caused the disciples snap out of their despair and move into action. They felt a need to search out this matter and see whether or not it was true.
The disciples will come to faith in the resurrection by a gradual means. They had heard about it, long before it happened. That was like a seed planted in their heart. They had seen his death, the beginning of the mystery. That was like the seed sprouting up in their soul. Now, they hear testimony of the resurrection. This was like a life giving ray of sun beating down upon their understanding. This will result in them going to the tomb themselves. It will result in them traveling to Galilee expecting to meet their risen Lord and Savior. Eventually, after Pentecost, this ‘gradual work’ would bear much fruit for the kingdom of heaven by heading up the formation of the church.
So…what ‘gradual discoveries’ is Jesus trying to work out in your life?
Has God given you dreams during the night or visions during the day? You should not consider that an unusual or impossible thing. That concept has been explained to you in scripture. Hopefully, your dreams have spurred you to action – to seek out the interpretation of what you have seen. The interpretation of the dream should move you into further action, to bring about the plans and purposes of God in your life. As you take the first step, he will reveal the next. What are you waiting for?
Has God captured your attention and intrigued you with the thought that there is additional power and anointing available to you through the Holy Spirit? That too, has already been taught in the scriptures. Is God calling you to search the scriptures? To speak to others who have obvious signs of power in their lives? What is he trying to tell you about supernatural gifts that the Holy Spirit wants to operate through you? Will you search out the matter and see if there is something there for you?
Has God given you a tiny seed of an idea for a business or some new discovery that will benefit mankind? Are you ignoring that idea as something that could never work? Do you think that if it were true, someone else would have already done it? Don’t be so sure. God is a revealer of mysteries. He may have one just waiting there, with your name on it. Why not take the time to follow up on it and see where it leads?
Don’t miss your chance! Take the time to search out the matter. If nothing comes of it, what have you lost? But if it truly is of God, then he will further reveal himself to you.
You will find a greater and deeper revelation of who God is, and what he has in store for your life, if you take that first step of faith.
So without any delay or preparation or excuses, the women set out to do as they were commanded. They are exercising their faith. Therefore, we would expect them to experience a greater revelation regarding the resurrection of Christ. Let’s see if that happens.
Psalms 119:60 – I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments.
They left to bring joy and comfort to those who were hurting. When you know someone who is suffering, and you have some comfort to offer (a prayer, a hug, a testimony, food, etc) don’t delay! Let us do good as swiftly as possible!
Matthew 28:9 – And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.
These ladies not only heard the first good tidings of his resurrection, they got the first meeting with the risen Christ!
Did you notice that as they walk in obedience to what they had been told (go tell the disciples), they find greater wisdom and knowledge – Jesus is revealed to them in a new way. Why is that?
When we are in obedience to Christ, our thoughts and actions are in harmony with him. Because we are focused on him, his desires become our desires. We will automatically consult him for assistance and guidance, and we will listen close enough to hear his voice. As we work together with him, he reveals himself in experiential ways. So when we are operating in obedience to Jesus, we are much more likely to see him, hear him, and find greater revelations of him.
The scripture says that Jesus verbally greeted them and in response they ‘came up’ to him. Can you imagine the emotion that must have manifested during that reunion? Can’t you just picture their overwhelming joy and astonishment as they realize it is Jesus? I imagine that all the weariness that had enveloped them over the last few days was instantly gone. I imagine that it was replaced by a surge of hopeful energy; all those who wait upon the Lord renew their strength.
Although they spoke no words to him (what words would have been adequate?), their actions revealed the contents of their hearts. They came (ran?), fell at his feet and worshiped him.
Our translation says they ‘took hold’ of his feet, but the original word means to ‘fall prostate before’. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they grabbed his feet, only that they humbled themselves by bowing before him.
Matthew 28:10 – Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
I have never had an angel reveal his presence to me. However, in the scriptures, it is clear that when people come across divine beings, they are commonly struck with fear and a great sense of unworthiness. Thus, we saw the women experienced fear when they first saw the angel.
How much greater is Jesus than that angel! How magnified is their sense of fear/alarm and unworthiness! Accordingly, Jesus tells them not to be afraid.
He the reiterates his invitation – the disciples are to meet him in Galilee.
Galilee is about 80 miles from Jerusalem. Why do you suppose Jesus wanted to meet with them there? If they were all in Jerusalem already, why take that kind of a trip?
It was a peaceful place compared to Jerusalem where the vindictive religious leaders and heathen rulers were on high alert. The city was probably still in tumult from the Passover. The Romans were short on patience, waiting for the visitors to leave. So Galilee represented a place of rest where the disciples did not have to be in fear.
In addition, Jesus had many followers in that region. Perhaps he wanted to visit them too.
Jesus calls the disciples ‘brothers’ for the first time here. This assures them of the love and goodwill that Jesus has for them, despite the way they abandoned him a few days earlier.
In fact, now that Jesus has instituted the New Covenant, we can all be a part of the family of God.
Hebrews 2:11-12 – For both he that sanctifies and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare your name unto my brethren, in the midst of the congregation will I sing praise unto you.
As in the case of the disciples, our entrance into the family of God is not hindered by our past mistakes or failures. If we turn to Christ, he will freely forgive all our sin and wash us white as snow!
Let me offer you some encouragement, some relief and some strength:
The women heard Jesus speaking to them. Does that make you jealous? Do you want to hear Jesus too? If so, I have some good news for you. God speaks to each and every one of us, and the bible is very clear that we can hear him speaking:
John 10:27 – My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
God wants to speak with you about every aspect of your life – physical and spiritual. He speaks to you because he loves you and he wants a relationship with you. Think about it – don’t all true relationships contain a strong element of communication? Since that is the case, it only makes sense that God wants to communicate with us.
Now, wouldn’t it be silly if God were talking to us, but we had no way to hear him? That would mean that God was speaking in vain, or without purpose. It would mean that his words had no power. And we know that cannot be true!
So the problem can’t be that God isn’t speaking. Neither can the problem be the ability to hear him, for the scriptures declare that we CAN hear him (John 10).
The problem is that we lack training and discipline.
I encourage you to practice hearing/listening the voice of God. Here are some simple steps to get you started. Begin by spending some time in worship. This gets your mind focused on the Lord. It shuts out other thoughts that will distract you.
Then, read a portion of his word. The bible is the living word of God; he speaks to all of us through his word and ask yourself this: What is God saying to me about my life/situation through this portion of scripture? Write down what you feel God is saying to you.
If you follow these steps regularly/daily, you will soon begin to hear and recognize his voice. This, however, is just the beginning; so you will want to search out other materials that assist you in hearing the voice of God. So don’t delay – get started now!