Read the Passage: Matthew 28:1-15
The Empty Tomb (28:1–4)
After Jesus died on the cross on Friday evening, His body was placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (cf. Matt. 27:57–60). At Dawn on Sunday Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (Matt. 28:1) went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with burial spices (cf. Luke 24:1). Salome was present (cf. Mark 16:1), as was Joanna (cf. Luke 24:10). Mary Magdalene was the one from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons (cf. Luke 8:2) and “the other Mary” was Mary the mother of James (cf. Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10), who was at the cross with Mary Magdalene, along with Mary the mother of Jesus (cf. John 19:25–26). Note that there are six people named “Mary” in the New Testament: Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and wife of Clopas, Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, Mary the mother of John Mark, and Mary of Rome.
When Jesus died there was a great earthquake that tore the temple veil in two and caused many of the ancient tombs to be opened (cf. Matt. 27:51–53). When the women arrived at the tomb there was a second earthquake, likely caused by an angel who descended from heaven in order to roll the stone away from Jesus’ tomb. From reading all four Gospel narratives, we learn that the women did not immediately enter the tomb, but ran to tell Peter and John (cf. John 20:1–10). The removal of the stone was not so that Jesus could escape, but rather to communicate to the women the fact that Jesus had arisen from the dead and to invite the disciples to enter the tomb and to verify it was empty. Ironically, while the living soldiers who stood guard at the tomb “shook for fear of him, and became like dead men” (Matt. 28:4), the dead man whom they were guarding came to life.
Jesus Appears (28:5–10)
Understandably, the appearance of an angel scared the women as well as the guards; but, the angel comforted the women, reminding them that Jesus himself had predicted his own resurrection–which He had done on many occassions (cf. Matt. 12:40; 16:21; 17:23; 20:19). After inviting them to see the place where Jesus had lain, the angel commanded the women to depart to Galilee where, he said, they would see the Lord. As the women left rejoicing over the angel’s good news of Jesus’ resurrection, Christ himself appeared to the women and He encouraged them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee. Note that this is the first of ten post-resurrection visits of Jesus that are recorded in the New Testament. Christ appeared to:
- Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (cf. Matt. 28:9–10; Mark 16:9; John 20:11–18)
- Two disciples on the road to Emmaus (cf. Luke 24:13–32)
- Peter (cf. Luke 24:34)
- Ten of the apostles (cf. Luke 24:36–43; Mark 16:14; John 20:19–25)
- Eleven of the apostles (cf. John 20:26–31)
- Seven disciples who were fishing (cf. John 21:1–25)
- More than five hundred disciples (cf. 1 Cor. 15:6)
- James (cf. 1 Cor. 15:7)
- Eleven of the apostles (cf. Acts 1:3–11)
- Paul (cf. Acts 9:1–6; 18:9–10; 22:1–8; 23:11; 26:12–18; 1 Cor. 15:8)
Note that Jesus was not the first, nor the last, individual who was raised from the dead in Scripture. Others include: the widow of Zarephath’s son (cf. 1 Ki. 17:17-24), the Shunammite’s child (cf. 2 Ki. 4:32-37), the dead man who touched Elisha’s bones (cf. 2 Ki. 13:21), Jairus’ daughter (cf. Matt. 9:18–26; Mark 5:21–43; Luke 8:40–56), the widow of Nain’s son (cf. Luke 7:11-16), Lazarus (cf. John 11:1–44), certain unnamed saints (cf. Matt. 27:52–53), Dorcas (cf. Acts 9:36-41); and Eutychus (cf. Acts 20:9–12).
Guards Bribed (28:11–15)
In Matt. 28:11–15 we read of some of the events that transpired following Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Upon learning of the resurrection of Christ the religious leaders bribed the guards with “a large sum of money” (Matt. 28:12), and a promise of security, to say that they had fallen asleep and that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus. This falsehood was not even a good lie, for the soldiers could not possibly have known what happened to the body of Jesus if they were asleep. This false resurrection theory is just one of many that have been proposed since the first century, including: (1) the stolen body theory, (2) the unknown tomb theory, (3) the wrong tomb theory, (4) the swoon theory, (5) the mass hallucination theory, (6) the imposter or twin theory, (7) the spiritual resurrection theory, (8) the existential resurrection theory, and (9) the legend theory, among many others.
- How important is the doctrine of the resurrection for Christianity? What is the purpose of Jesus’ resurrection? What do most people celebrate on Easter?
- How do we explain the seeming discrepancies between the four Gospel accounts of the events that surrounded Jesus’ resurrection?
- Why did Jesus only appear to believers after His resurrection? Would appearances to the lost have resulted in their salvation (cf. Luke 16:31)?
- Marshalling proof for Christianity is the field of apologetics. What value is there is apologetics? Does it serve the lost world, the church, or both?
- Can someone deny the resurrection and still be a Christian (cf. John 11:25)? What are the fundamental beliefs of Christianity?