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MATTHEW 28:1-10 Biblical Commentary:
Matthew 28:1-10. THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS
Each of the four Gospels includes an account of the resurrection, and there are differences among the accounts. These differences do not discredit the scriptures, but simply suggest that the four accounts were written independently rather than collaboratively.
Matthew’s account is based on Mark 16:1-8, but Matthew adds the accounts of the earthquake (v. 2), the angel who rolled back the stone (v. 2), the guards becoming like dead men (v. 4), and the women’s encounter with the risen Christ (v. 9).
In Matthew’s day, the rumor-mill suggested that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body and the resurrection was not true. Matthew “wishes to certify the historical authenticity of the church’s preaching” by emphasizing tight security at the tomb, divine intervention, the women actually touching Jesus, the perfidy of the chief priests and elders, and bribed soldiers who lie (28:11-15) (Snow and Furnish, 3).
The resurrection is the central event of the Bible. The idea of resurrection has its roots in the Old Testament (Job 19:25-26; Psalm 49:15; Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2; Ezekiel 37), and the resurrection is emphasized in most New Testament books.
The first account of Jesus’ resurrection was not the Gospels, but 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. None of the accounts describes the resurrection itself—i.e., of Jesus opening his eyes, standing up, and leaving the tomb. What we know of the resurrection is from witnesses of the open tomb and the risen Christ rather than from witnesses of the resurrection-event.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation of our faith. “Without this reversal of the ignominy of the cross, Jesus’ death would have atoned for nothing. The resurrection demonstrates Christ’s vindication by God, who reestablishes him in heaven as Lord of the cosmos” (Blomberg).
If the resurrection is false, “we are of all men most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:19) because we have staked our faith on a lie. If the resurrection is true, it validates Jesus’ teachings and ministry as well as our faith. While there are a number of reasons to believe in the resurrection, we cannot prove it but can see it only through the eyes of faith.
Matthew’s account of Jesus’ resurrection includes a number of parallels to his account of the death and resurrection of the saints (27:51-53) (see Allison, 154):
• “Behold (kai idou) (27:51 and 28:2).
• An earthquake (27:51 and 28:2).
• Tombs opened (27:52 and 28:2).
• Fearful guards (27:54 and 28:4).
• People witness the resurrected saints (27:53) and the resurrected Jesus (28:9).
• The saints/guards go to the holy city (27:53 and 28:11).
Matthew 28:1. AS IT BEGAN TO DAWN ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK
1Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
“Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn on the first day of the week” (v. 1a). The resurrection takes place, not on the Sabbath (the seventh day of the week), but on a weekday (the first day). At creation, God sanctified the Sabbath—the last day of the week. At the resurrection, Jesus sanctifies the first day.
“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb” (v. 1b). The sabbath ended at sundown, but the women went at first light to the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, witnessed the crucifixion (27:56). Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (presumably the mother of James and Joseph) witnessed the burial (27:61), and now they become witnesses to the resurrection.
Deuteronomy 19:15 requires at least two witnesses in a legal proceeding, and Jewish practice admits only men as witnesses. During his ministry, Jesus broke with a number of traditions, and he breaks with another here. The Eleven, all men, are nowhere to be found, while two women serve as witnesses to the resurrection. The 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 listing of witnesses, written earlier than this Gospel, does not include Mary Magdalene, but does mention “brothers and sisters.”
Mark 16:1 says that the women came to anoint Jesus but, in Matthew’s Gospel, a woman with an alabaster jar of ointment anointed Jesus. Jesus said, “For in pouring this ointment on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial” (26:12). In this Gospel, the women come “to see the tomb” (v. 1) rather than to anoint Jesus. Anyone who has visited the graveside of a loved one can understand why they come.
Matthew 28:2-4. AN ANGEL OF THE LORD ROLLED AWAY THE STONE
2Behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from the sky, and came and rolled away 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.
“Behold, there was a great earthquake” (v. 2a). The earthquake, the angel with dazzling clothing, and the rolling away of the stone are eschatological symbols, telling us that God is ushering in a new age. They remind us of Israel’s encounter with God at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18). An earthquake also announced Jesus’ death (27:51). The angel’s appearance is reminiscent of the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9 and 10:6.
“an angel of the Lord” (v. 2b). Earlier in this Gospel, an angel appeared to Joseph to tell him to take Mary as his wife (1:20), to tell him to flee to Egypt (2:13), and to return to Israel (2:19-20).
The angel “rolled away the stone and sat on it” (v. 2c) as if to say, Fait accompli! “The stone at the tomb of Jesus was a pebble to the Rock of Ages inside” (Frederick Beck).
“His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow” (v. 3). The angel’s appearance makes it clear that the angel is no ordinary being and this is no ordinary moment in history. Jesus has risen to inaugurate a new era in salvation history. The angel’s appearance is reminiscent of Moses’ shining face after his encounter with God at Sinai (Exodus 34:29) and Jesus’ shining face and dazzling white clothes at the Transfiguration (17:2). The angel’s appearance both reflects God’s glory and authenticates the angel’s heavenly origins.
“For fear of him the guards shook (eseisthesan) and became like dead men” (v. 4). The guards are scared to death! The earth quakes (seismos), and the guards quake too (eseisthesan—from the same root as seismos). Jesus, who is supposed to be dead, is alive. The guards, who are supposed to be alive and guarding Jesus’ body, become like dead men (France, 1100). They were prepared for Jesus’ disciples, but not for the angel.
Matthew 28:5-6. HE IS NOT HERE, FOR HE HAS RISEN, JUST LIKE HE SAID
5The angel answered the women, “Don’t be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus, who has been crucified. 6He is not here, for he has risen, just like he said. Come, see the place where the Lord was lying.
“The angel answered the women, ‘Don’t be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus, who has been crucified” (v. 5). The women must have feared harassment by the Roman guards, but went to the tomb anyway. Then the earthquake and the angel’s dazzling appearance must have frightened them. They must have feared that someone had played mischief with Jesus’ body. However, it is difficult for faith to dwell with fear, and the angel comes to restore faith.
• “Don’t be afraid.” These are the words that the angel spoke to Joseph concerning his pregnant fiancée (1:20).
• Jesus taught, “Therefore don’t be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows”(10:31).
• When he came across the stormy sea to the disciples, he said, “It is I! Don’t be afraid” (14:27).
• At the transfiguration, he reassured the disciples, “Get up, and don’t be afraid” (17:7).
• Now the angel says to the women, “Do not be afraid.” It is a gracious moment in which God’s messenger acknowledges the women’s natural fear and helps them past it.
The angel rolls the stone back (v. 2), not to let Jesus out, but to let the women in. The resurrection is history—has already taken place. There were no human witnesses to the actual resurrection. These women witnessed Jesus’ death and his burial. Now they witness the fact that, in spite of Rome’s best efforts, Jesus is gone. The angels assure the women that Jesus has been raised (passive voice—the raising is God’s action) just as Jesus had predicted.
“He is not here, for he has risen, just like he said” (v. 6a). The Good News is not just that Jesus’ spirit lives, but that he has been raised bodily to new life. For a full doctrine of the resurrection, we must turn to Paul, who tells us that Jesus is the “first fruits of those who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20)—that the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection leads to the Good News of our own resurrection—that the resurrected body is somehow transformed into a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44)—but that it is a true body nevertheless. The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus’ resurrected body allows him to enter a locked room without a key (John 20:19, 26), but he nevertheless presents his wounded hands and body to Thomas for inspection (John 20:27) (see Bruner, 1077).
“Come, see the place where the Lord was lying” (v. 6b). The angel invites the women to see, not the risen Christ, but the empty tomb.
The angel gives these women four imperatives: “Come” (v. 6b), “see” (v. 6b), “go” (v. 7a), and “tell” (v. 7a) (Boice, 640-642). These could easily be the main points of a sermon.
Matthew 28:7. GO QUICKLY AND TELL HIS DISCIPLES
7Go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead, and behold, he goes before you into Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.”
“Go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead'” (v. 7a). The angel commissions the women to tell the disciples, making them the first to proclaim the Good News of the resurrection. If Matthew were trying to concoct a believable story, Jesus would appear first to Peter or one of the other men. But just as Jesus breaks the mold by choosing women to be the first witnesses, he again breaks the mold by choosing them to be the first preachers. Their first sermon is “to the choir,” as it were—to the disciples—to those who should need no convincing but sometimes do. In this case, the “choir” has lost faith and desperately needs the word that these women bring.
“behold, he goes before you into Galilee” (v. 7b). Prior to the crucifixion, Jesus told the disciples that he will “go ahead of you to Galilee” (26:32). “Galilee is for Matthew not mere geography, but theology, ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ (cf. 4:12-17), the appropriate setting for the Great Commission to all nations (28:16-20)” (Boring, 499). It is also Jesus’ home and the place where he has done most of his work.
“there you will see him” (v. 7c). The promise is that these disciples will see, not just the open tomb, but the risen Christ.
Matthew 28:8-10. BEHOLD, JESUS MET THEM
8They departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring his disciples word. 9As they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” (Greek: chairete) They came and took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go tell my brothers that they should go into Galilee, and there they will see me.”
“They departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring his disciples word” (v. 8). The women run to tell the disciples. Not only are they obeying a direct order from the angel, but also they are obeying their human impulse to share good news. In spite of the angel’s reassurance, they are afraid, the natural response to wildly unusual events. But they are also joyful, because the angel promised that Jesus is alive.
“Behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘Rejoice!'” (chairete) (v. 9a). Jesus meets them and says, “Rejoice!” He would have spoken Aramaic, but Matthew is writing in Greek. The Greek word, chairete(from the root word, chairo), is a common greeting, and means “Rejoice!”
Joy and rejoicing are common themes throughout both Old and New Testaments. A man could rejoice in the wife of his youth (Proverbs 5:18)—or for the prospect of salvation (Psalm 51:12). Women sang songs of joy when David returned from a victory over the Philistines (1 Samuel 18:6-7). The people could rejoice at the prospect of Yahweh breaking the rod of their oppressor (Isaiah 9:3).
We first encounter this word chairo in the response of the Magi to seeing the star stop above the house where Mary was taking care of the baby Jesus. They “rejoiced with exceedingly great joy”—a literal translation would be “they were overjoyed (chairo) beyond measure” (Matthew 2:10). So from the beginning of Jesus’ life to his resurrection appearances, rejoicing was an important part of this Gospel (see also 5:12; 13:20, 44; 18:13; 25:21, 23)
“They came and took hold of his feet, and worshiped him” (v. 9b). The women immediately recognize Jesus, unlike the accounts in Luke 24:16 and John 20:14, and come to him. They take hold of Jesus’ feet, their act bearing witness to Jesus’ bodily resurrection. They worship him. This is one of only three occasions in the Gospels where people worship Jesus (see 2:11; John 9:38).
“Don’t be afraid” (v. 10a). Jesus repeats the angel’s reassurance. He also repeats the angel’s command to go and tell the disciples, but with a significant difference. He says, “Go tell my brothers that they should go into Galilee” (v. 10b). Brother-brother is a more intimate relationship than disciple-master. Another gracious moment! Jesus promised to confess before the Father anyone who confesses Jesus before people, but warned that he will deny anyone who denies him (10:32-33). The disciples have deserted Jesus (26:56), and Peter has denied him (26:69-75). Justice demands that Jesus reciprocate, but love demands that he forgive.
The eleven disciples go to Galilee (28:16)—”Galilee of the Gentiles” (4:15)—where they hear Jesus tell them to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (28:19). This is not the first time that Jesus includes Gentiles in his ministry. The Magi (2:1-12) introduced Gentiles at the story’s beginning. Jesus healed a Centurion’s servant (8:5-13) and a Canaanite woman’s daughter (15:21-28). Now the Great Commission formalizes ministry to those outside the Jewish nation.
Matthew 28:11-15. THE GUARD WENT INTO THE CITY
11 Now while they were going, behold, some of the guards came into the city, and told the chief priests all the things that had happened. 12 When they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave a large amount of silver to the soldiers, 13 saying, “Say that his disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. 14 If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him and make you free of worry.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were told. This saying was spread abroad among the Jews, and continues until this day.
These verses are not part of the lectionary reading, but belong with it.
Even though the guards are frightened at the earthquake and dazzled by the angel, they do not become disciples. They are hirelings (see John 10:13) whose remain loyal to their paymasters. Having been bought, they stay bought!
Matthew is writing this account, in part, to counter the rumor that the disciples stole Jesus’ body from the tomb. These verses tell how that rumor got started. The soldiers report the early morning events to the chief priests, who bribe them to say that the disciples have stolen Jesus’ body from the tomb. Matthew notes, “This saying was spread abroad among the Jews, and continues until this day” (28:15).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Allison, Dale C., in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The Third Readings: The Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001)
Barclay, William, Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2 (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1957)
Bergent, Dianne and Fragomeni, Richard, Preaching the New Lectionary, Year A (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2001)
Blomberg , Craig L., New American Commentary: Matthew, Vol. 22 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)
Boring, M. Eugene, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995)
Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R. and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year A (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)
Bruner, Frederick Dale, Matthew: Volume 2, The Churchbook, Matthew 13-28 (Dallas: Word, 1990)
Craddock, Fred R.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year A (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1992)
Gardner, Richard B., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Matthew (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1990)
Hare, Douglas R. A., Interpretation: Matthew (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993)
Johnson, Sherman E. and Buttrick, George A., The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1951)
Long, Thomas G., Westminster Bible Companion: Matthew (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997)
MacArthur, John, Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 24-28 (Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1989)
Morris, Leon, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1992)
Pilch, John J., The Cultural World of Jesus: Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1995)
Senior, Donald, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Matthew (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998)
Snow, John H. and Furnish, Victor P., Proclamation: Easter, Series A (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974)
Soards, Marion; Dozeman, Thomas; McCabe, Kendall, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Lent-Easter, Year A (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993)
Vawter, Bruce and Carl, William J. III, Proclamation 2: Easter, Series A (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981)
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