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Matthew 28:1-15 Commentary
April 21, 2019
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Why Some Choose to Believe Lies — Matthew 28

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L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.
Teaching the Truth in Love

Matthew 28:1-15
April 21, 2019

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“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”

(Matthew 28:2).

Some Reasons We Believe in Jesus
Three Easy-Print Bible Lessons in Three Easy-Read Formats

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Praying Through Matthew 28:1-15

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Matthew 28:1-15

(Matthew 28:1) After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

After the Sabbath, on Sundy morning, Jesus rose from the dead. This fact led to the disciples and early Christians meeting together weekly on Sunday, “the first day of the week” (see Mark 16:9; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). Each Sunday in early Christian worship, believers broke bread (perhaps meaning they celebrated the Lord’s Supper), perhaps received a collection of money or other gifts (for the widows, orphans, the poor, and to support apostles and missionaries), heard the scriptures read (probably including the Old Testament, gospel portions, and letters from the apostles), and taught or discussed the scriptures. Early in the morning, the women went to care for the entombed body of Jesus. They did not expect to see Him raised from the dead. The “other Mary” was probably the mother of James and John. If the “other Mary” were Jesus’ mother, Matthew most likely would have identified her as Jesus’ mother, who would be grieving.

(Matthew 28:2) And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.

The earthquake was explained by the coming of the angel to roll away the stone door in front of the tomb (a cave cut from rock) for the women to enter. The angel then sat on the stone, remaining at the tomb entrance. The angel did not come to let Jesus out of the tomb (as Jesus had the stone rolled away for Lazarus to come out of the tomb alive when He called Lazarus to come out). The women found the tomb empty. They did not see Jesus walk out of the tomb when the angel rolled away the stone. Jesus had passed through the solid stone; just as He would later pass through walls or a closed door to appear to His disciples who were fearfully hiding in a locked room (see John 20:19).

(Matthew 28:3) His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

The angel appeared to both the guards and the women. The women were not confused about where Jesus was buried or the location of His tomb (see Matthew 27:61). The guards reacted with fear, similar to the guards’ terrified response when Jesus died on the cross and there was an earthquake (see Matthew 27:54). The Bible says we can entertain angels unawares (see Hebrews 13:2). In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, both the guards and the women were aware of the angel coming to the tomb to open it, and they were overwhelmed at his appearing.

(Matthew 28:4) For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.

The Roman guards had both a physical and mental reaction to the angel. Rather than bravely standing their ground as they had been taught and challenging the angel over his interference, they shook with fear and fell to the ground. Perhaps they had learned from the guards at the crucifixion (or were they the same guards?) that Jesus was the Son of God, so they expected immediate execution from an angry God at the hands of the angel. The guards collapsed unconscious, and the women witnessed their response to the angel’s visitation. The women remained aware of all that was happening around them, and they would later report what they saw.

(Matthew 28:5) But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.

The angel disregarded the unconscious guards and sought to comfort the women who had come to honor Jesus by caring for His dead body (as they supposed) according to their burial practices. The angel reinforced the fact that Jesus had indeed been crucified; that in fact He had died, and He had been buried at that exact location where the angel appeared. The women were right to come there looking for Jesus, but they were not accurate in their thinking, because they expected to find Jesus still dead. They had not understood what Jesus had taught about His death and His resurrection from the dead.

(Matthew 28:6) He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

The angel corrected their thinking and invited them to become witnesses regarding the empty tomb. He declared that they would not find Jesus’ body, because Jesus had been raised (though at one time Jesus had been laid in the new empty tomb, in which no other body had ever been laid). Jesus’ resurrection had occurred sometime prior that morning, prior to the opening of the tomb by the angel and the earthquake. The angel’s perfect timing made it possible for the women to see the guards guarding the tomb, experience the earthquake, and see the stone rolled away before they entered the tomb. There could be no confusion or doubt about someone having come to the tomb earlier to remove Jesus’ body.

(Matthew 28:7) Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”

After the women saw where Jesus had been laid and the angel once again emphasized that Jesus had been dead and had been raised from the dead, the angel told them that Jesus also had the ability to travel to Galilee (He had not just been resuscitated, which would have required months of rehabilitation after being crucified and put into a tomb without proper medical treatment). To overcome His disciples’ unbelief, Jesus would later need to demonstrate His fully human resurrected glorified powers by appearing to them in a locked room to convince them that He was alive and well and that they should travel to Galilee to see Him again as He had told them.

(Matthew 28:8) So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

The women believed the angel because he was no ordinary man. His appearance was as lightning, his clothes were snow white, he had defeated the Roman guards, and miracles accompanied his appearing. They witnessed the guards fall in fear. They witnessed the empty tomb. They witnessed the earthquake and the earthquake’s perfect timing. They witnessed the angel roll the stone away without the help of other angels or people. Presumably, the disciples felt the great earthquake where they were in hiding, and the women could explain the cause of the earthquake. The women could give good and sufficient reasons for the disciples to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead, but the disciples were foolish and slow to believe (see Luke 24:25-26).

(Matthew 28:9) Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.

Jesus became the second and ultimate witness that He had been raised from the dead. The Bible teaches the need for two witnesses in case of a trial. Two witnesses to an event should be believed if they are known to be trustworthy. Faithful Jews feared God, and they knew that witnesses would be held accountable by God for bearing false witness or lying. In addition to the events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection, both the angel and the living, resurrected Lord Jesus bore witness to the fact that Jesus had been raised from the dead. At this point in time, the women worshiped Jesus as would all those in the early Christian church. Jesus received their worship as was His right as the Son of God. Angels and apostles (no matter what miracles they worked) always refused the worship of those they impressed; saying only God deserved and should be worshiped. Jesus did not refuse to be worshiped. He willingly received the worship of others as God, because He is God—One God in Three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

(Matthew 28:10) Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

This was the second time that the women were told not to be afraid. Though Jesus is the Son of God, He called His disciples “brothers” (see also Hebrews 2:11). He reaffirmed what the angel told the women. Again, the women now have two witnesses to the command that the disciples are to go to Galilee where they will see Jesus alive. The command was given to them twice by two different persons (the angel and Jesus). Obedience to this command would become a test for the disciples, and they failed the test by refusing to believe and remaining in the locked room until Jesus appeared to them to convince them He was raised from the dead—which also gives us more good reasons to believe that the facts presented regarding Jesus’ resurrection are true. The disciples were hard to convince, and only seeing Jesus alive would convince them that He had been raised from the dead.

(Matthew 28:11) While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened.

The women went to reveal the good news of Jesus’ resurrection to His disciples as He commanded. The guards went to reveal the “bad news” (from their perspective) to the people responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion and death. They felt the earthquake, and presumably so did the chief priests and the Roman authorities, for the earthquake was great. The guards saw the angel and the empty tomb, and they reported all of this to the religious authorities. The religious authorities were given the facts, but they chose to ignore the facts and began to spread a lie about Jesus and His disciples. Beginning with the preaching of the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, their lies were easily refuted and thousands came to believe in Jesus the Messiah.

(Matthew 28:12) After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers,

The elders of the people were convinced by the facts the soldiers presented to them, but just as they had lied and borne false witness to crucify Jesus, one who was innocent, so they bribed and implicated the guards in bearing false witness regarding His resurrection. To avoid being held responsible by the people for the death of the Son of God, and for other reasons, they bribed the soldiers (another crime by the religious leaders) to join in their lying schemes.

(Matthew 28:13) telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’

The lie that the religious leaders devised is highly implausible. The disciples’ hopes were crushed when Jesus died. They went into hiding. They would not venture out of hiding for fear of those who had crucified their leader. But the women did go to Jesus’ grave. The disciples were hiding in fear that they would be found and crucified too, as rebels, to satisfy the blood lust of the religious leaders. The women went to embalm Jesus’ body. None of Jesus’ followers had any reason to steal His body or try to concoct a fraud that would lead to their certain deaths. Jesus’ dead body could not have protected them if they had stolen His body. Everything the Bible teaches about Jesus’ death and resurrection and the response of the religious leaders and the disciples is plausible and consistent with the Old Testament prophecies, Jesus’ prophecies, and the teaching and miracles that Jesus performed during His ministry. Jesus’ disciples certainly would not have had the courage to steal Jesus’ body or fight armed Roman guards to steal a body. They would never have taken the chance of awakening the Roman guards while they slept as they tried to quietly roll away a heavy stone from the door of the tomb. How could the Roman guards have stayed asleep while a stone was rolled away? They also knew that if they slept, they would be killed by the Romans for failure to do their duty (see Acts 16:27).

(Matthew 28:14) If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”

Everyone knew that Roman guards are punished for failure to do their duty. Their excuse should have resulted in their execution. So, the religious leaders determined to accomplish their scheme by plotting with the governor or lying to him to keep the guards alive and lying. Still, everyone would have known that the guards should have been executed. Why weren’t they executed, people might ask. The guards needed the leaders to protect them as they lied about the disappearance of Jesus’ body for them. If they had not been bribed and protected by the Jewish leaders, to try to escape punishment for dereliction of duty the guards would have had to tell the truth about the angel at the tomb, which would not have been believed.

(Matthew 28:15) So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

Even today, various atheists and other religious teachers promote the story concocted by these religious leaders (or some variation of the story) in their efforts to deny the fact of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. This is another Bible prophecy that has been fulfilled. For almost 2,000 years since the gospel of Matthew was written “this story is still told among the Jews to this day.”

Questions for Discussion and Thinking Further

1. Give some of the reasons you personally believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

2. What is the most compelling reason you can think of for believing in the resurrection of Jesus from these verses in Matthew 28?

3. What other reasons can you give for believing in the resurrection of Jesus, either from other parts of the Bible, the experience of others, or your own personal experience?

4. The Bible, along with an old hymn, teach that Jesus lives within our hearts. What difference does Jesus make when He comes to live within our hearts?

5. Why is the resurrection of Jesus important as part of the good news?

Some Reasons We Believe in Jesus

“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” (Matthew 28:2).

Matthew reported two earthquakes in his gospel. The first occurred the moment Jesus died on the cross. Matthew wrote, “The earth shook and the rocks were split.” He also reported, “Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (Matthew 27:51, 54). Matthew described the second earthquake as “a great earthquake,” which occurred the moment an angel descended and rolled back the stone that sealed Jesus’ tomb. The angel and the earthquake terrified these Roman guards also. Perhaps God timed the earthquakes so people could easily remember and report the times of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Probably everyone in and near Jerusalem felt these earthquakes, and Jesus’ disciples could easily explain the reasons for their timing. The angel descended and opened the tomb so the women could see that Jesus’ tomb was empty—not to let Jesus out of the tomb, as Jesus had the tomb of Lazarus opened before He called him forth alive. Jesus’ resurrection transfigured His body so He could pass through solid stonewalls or appear in a locked room to His disciples. When Jesus rose from the dead, He was the first person with a human body to die and then rise with an imperishable body. After forty days, He ascended to heaven in glory and power. The Apostle Paul also saw the risen Savior, and he wrote that those who follow Jesus will receive a spiritual body like Jesus’ body (1 Corinthians 15:42-58). — LG Parkhurst Jr.

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