Can you recall a time when someone assured you that something would happen, and eventually it did? Your mother assures you that continued misbehavior will result in punishment. Your friend claims that the Cleveland Browns will win the Super Bowl, and they do. Your doctor assures you that losing weight will bring down your cholesterol and sugar numbers, and so they drop.The women who went to the tomb that first Easter morning had a similar experience. Jesus had repeatedly promised He would be delivered in the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and on the third day rise. However certain the assurances are in the given examples above, they are only what is probable. Jesus gave a promise, and He kept it.
A Look at the Greek
Matthew tells us that the two Marys went to the tomb “toward the dawn.” While this English is not incorrect, the Greek brings out an interesting nuance. ἐπιφωσκούσῃ can be translated “as it began to dawn.” “Toward the dawn” could mean that it was still dark, where “as it began to dawn” suggests that the women arrived at the tomb while the sun was peeking through the darkness. Mark notes that this happened when the sun had risen, supporting “as it began to dawn.” Luke has “at early dawn” and John, “while it was still dark.” There is not contradiction here, as the variation in arrival time and exact location allow for all four.
The sabbath and Jesus' body
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. (Matthew 28:1)
It is interesting to note the Marys went to the tomb so early in the morning. From this we learn that, while they were conscientious about keeping the sabbath, they wanted nothing else to delay them from visiting the Lord. Mark adds that the women brought spices with them to anoint Jesus’ body. Out of respect for the Lord they were afraid his corpse would rot and produce an odor. We recall that Jesus’ body had already been applied with myrrh and aloes, brought by Nicodemus when He was taken down from the cross and prepared for burial.
The angel and Jesus' glory
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. (Matthew 28:2-3)
With the angel, having an appearance like lightning and clothing as snow, came a great earthquake. While this angel is not the Lord, its glorious appearance should take our minds back to the Transfiguration of our Lord on the mount prior to His descent into Jerusalem. The angel points to the glory of Jesus. Jesus is victorious. This must have been a moving sight-the brilliancy of the angel shining through the last vestiges of night.
The soldiers at the tomb
And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. (Matthew 28:4-5)
When the angel rolls the stone aside, it’s vital to note that the soldiers were still there. The fact of the stone and soldiers being present removes any notion that Jesus’ followers came in the night and stole the body. Even if a group of men had the physical strength to roll the stone aside, the soldiers would have prevented them. Understandably, given the appearance of the angel and the supernatural removal of the stone, the soldiers are afraid, being as Matthew notes, like dead men. This takes us back to the shepherds in the field keeping watch over their flock. Luke conveys that an angel of the Lord appeared. The Lord’s glory surrounded the shepherds, and they were filled with great fear.
With the shepherds in the field, the angel bids not to fear. Matthew notes the angel spoke this to the women, but not the soldiers. While we cannot be sure what was in the hearts of the soldiers, this distinction made by the angel is prophetic. For those who know the Lord in faith, His glory inspires joy. Fear is for those who have rejected Him. So, it will be on the day of our Lord’s return.
The invitation to see the empty tomb
He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 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.” (Matthew 28: 6-7)
Both Matthew and Mark include the angel’s invitation to come into the tomb and see the place where Jesus was laid. In mercy, the Lord uses the angel’s invitation to help the women make the connection between the death of Jesus and the resurrection. Come see! The exact place where they laid Jesus is now vacant. An enviable sight indeed! How compelling all of this must have been for the women who originally came to the tomb expecting Jesus to be dead. Today we are thankful to the Lord that He does not leave us doubting. His Holy Spirit assures us of the resurrection with His means of grace. Where our sinful minds are apt to question, the Word and Sacraments give us this very Jesus who has risen from the dead, forgiving our sins and strengthening our faltering faith.
Joy of the resurrection
So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:8-10)
Matthew tells us in verse eight that the women left the tomb with fear and joy. While the women continue to fear, it’s reasonable to assume that this fear has changed from terror to something more like respect. Where the soldiers experienced terror, the women now had the news of the Lord’s resurrection. As if to remove all doubt, Jesus meets the women. Matthew includes that, in the course of worshipping Him, they took hold of His feet. This is proof of the bodily resurrection. Jesus is not now a spirit, wafting through the air. Christ has won the victory over death. He rises bodily. Christ’s resurrection points to our own.
God used Matthew to record these events for us, that we would have the “great joy” that the women experienced, that we would have this peace not only on Easter day, but throughout the year.
Compare the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection with Jesus: A Study on the Words of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.