Three Witnesses to The Resurrection
The British minister, W. E. Sangster, began to lose his voice and mobility in the mid-1950s. He had a disease that caused progressive muscular atrophy. He recognized the end was near, so he threw himself into writing and praying. In the midst of his suffering he pleaded, “Let me stay in the struggle, Lord. I don’t mind if I can no longer be a general, but give me just a regiment to lead.”
Sangster’s voice eventually failed completely, and his legs became useless. On Easter morning just a few weeks before his death, he took a pen and shakily wrote his daughter a letter. In it he said, “It is terrible to wake up on Easter morning and have no voice with which to shout, ‘He is risen!’—but it would be still more terrible to have a voice and not want to shout.”
The Women (vv. 1-10)
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. 2 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. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.
(v. 1) “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb” – “the verb means to behold, as a spectacle; They designed also, if it should appear practicable and appropriate, to ‘anoint him’ (Mark 16:1), and brought with them spices (Luke 24:1) which they had provided the evening before, when the Sabbath was past (Mark). As they went (Mark 16:3) they were concerned about the question, “Who will roll the stone away?” for they knew from the internment that “it was exceedingly great.”
Sometime before the women’s arrival an angel “descended from heaven,” rolled the stone away, and was sitting on it when they arrived. Accompanying the angel’s descent was an earthquake. And their appearance “like lightning, and his clothing white as snow” and arrival “earthquake and descending from heaven” caused the Roman soldiers who stood guard to passed out from fear. It says, “the guards trembled” – It has the same Greek root as earthquake. The ground shook, and the soldiers shook.
Cornelius Lapide says, “The earth, which trembled with sorrow at the Death of Christ as it were leaped for joy at His Resurrection.”
5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 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.”
(v. 6) “He is not here,” We are not given any details about the resurrection itself, only that by the time the women arrived, Jesus was not there. “The stone was not rolled aside to let Jesus out but to let the women in.” How Jesus escaped we don’t know.
(v. 7) “he is going before you to Galilee” – This does not mean that they will not see him before Galilee, but “that on a certain mountain in Galilee was to be the great meeting, where many disciples should receive the Great Commission,” Even at the tomb, this is not the end of Jesus’ ministry. He is still pointing people toward redemption, salvation, and purpose.
Matthew 26:32 “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”
People respond in different ways to angels and their messages. John the Baptist’s father when approached by an angel doubted, In Luke 1:18-20 “And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” But the women believe what the angel says, because it matches up with what Jesus had already told them, and they depart quickly.
8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 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.”
The women departed with their instructions to tell what they had seen and experienced and it was “with fear and great joy.” We will see that when we draw close to things of God, there will be a combination of fear and joy. They had the greatest news that was possible to have. To them “anything seemed possible now.”
It was while they were hurrying to honor the Savior and bring joy to his disciples, that they met Jesus. If we want to have an encounter with Jesus, then we should run to do good to others and bring joy to the body of Christ.
(v. 9) “took hold of his feet and worshiped him” – “held him, literally seized him or grasped, showing great humility and veneration.”
The angel says, “tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead,” but Jesus says, “go and tell my brothers” – this is a distinct difference between mankind and angels. While we were made “a little lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:7),” we are “co-heirs with Christ”, and they are not (Romans 8:17). Jesus calls those who have denied Him, abandoned Him, and forsaken Him for dead, “brothers.” Jesus as the Creator of everything, gives His life for His creation so that we may be together as family.
God described Himself to us as Father, Jesus reveals Himself to us as brother, Paul uses the Greek word for love “Philadelphia” as the love that Christians have for each other (brothers and sisters in Christ). God created the world and established the family, Paul establishes the church family, and at the end of time we will be gathered to heaven and live together in eternity with our heavenly Father as a family.
The angel tells them to go to Galilee, Jesus himself says to go to Galilee – something very important is going to happen at Galilee.
The Guard (vv. 11-15)
11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.
The soldiers saw with their own eyes the angel descend and roll away the stone, and even before they collapsed in fear may have even seen the risen Lord. Then they give an accurate account to the chief priests, who seem to believe the account as well. Then they assembled the elders, who believe it as well. It’s important to understand that each of these groups believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead.
But the consequence of this truth was too much to take – so they sought to cover it up.
Earlier in Matthew, Jesus and Pharisees were arguing over following the law regarding the Sabbath. A man had a deformed arm was suffering, so Matthew 12:13 “Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.” The Pharisees knew Jesus performed miracles, and now they know He rose from the dead – but what is the consequence to them? What do you do with Jesus?
C. S. Lewis once said, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [that is, Christ]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse…. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
The soldiers were given an assignment to guard the tomb. “According to Roman discipline, they were liable to very severe punishment for losing what they guarded.” (v. 14) “And if this comes to the governor’s ears” – So they say, “spread this false rumor, take this money, and we will make sure that no harm comes to you.”
The soldier’s account fails on two points, 1) if they were asleep, how do they know it was the disciples that stole the body? Sleeping people don’t make very good eyewitnesses. Also, if one of them awoke, why was not an alarm sounded and the disciples arrested? 2) Why would a Roman soldier go around admitting to doing a bad job?
The soldiers were persuaded to spread a lie they knew not to be true, and to pretend that Jesus did not rise from the dead for money. Money kept them from repenting and giving their lives to what they knew to be true.
How much evidence is enough? If your heart is set against the things of God, and the Holy Spirit is not drawing a person, there is no amount of evidence that will change a person’s heart. They will even believe a lie that is harder to believe than the truth itself.
The Disciples (vv. 16-20)
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(v. 16) “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee” – Why were there only 11? Judas had betrayed Jesus and had hung himself. The disciples had time to replace him with another to complete the 12 – why had they not replaced Judas? Because there was no point, the Jesus movement was dead.
The church father Jerome said, “Their doubting increases our faith.” Some found it hard to believe that the person a far off (it was in a group of 500) before them was the resurrected Christ. “And Jesus came (near) . . .” When Jesus is close we begin to understand the power and truth of the resurrection. When you draw near to Jesus, He will make things clear. He has no desire to be the far-off God, he wants to be the close-up God of your life. In the Garden of Eden in Genesis God would come close to Adam and Eve, “in the cool of the day,” but sin caused that relationship between mankind and God to be distanced. Christ’s death and resurrection brings us back close to God.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” – Satan and all his dominion poured out all the hate, the vile, and blasphemy he could aim at Jesus the Son. Then all of the Father’s wrath was poured upon Jesus on the Roman cross for the salvation of the world. He was scourged and beaten beyond recognition. He was raised on the cross, pierced for our iniquities.
He was laid in the tomb, dead – and now upon the resurrection ,the crown of thorns is removed, the rod used to beat him and then placed in his hand as a scepter is gone, and the mocking robe laid over him by the Roman soldiers is removed – Jesus the Son, now sits victorious at the right hand of the Father, having “All authority” – there is nothing that exists that is not under his reign.
Jesus then gives the disciples what is known as the Great Commission. (v. 19) “Go therefore” – Don’t miss the therefore; We are to make disciples of this resurrected Jesus. We who are Jesus’ disciples know that our Jesus sits with authority over all of creation as King, Supreme Ruler, all bow before Him. There is no one who will not have to give an account to Him.
We go under His authority, to speak and act as His representatives, his ambassadors, his children – but He is the resurrected Lord, therefore, He alone is worthy to be praised, worshipped, honored. Therefore, we tell the world about Him. Therefore, we share His gospel.
This is “the most sublime enterprise that ever human beings have been called upon to accomplish.” Every nation should be discipled to be under His lordship, to keep His commandments.
“baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – baptism, as a disciple, follows one’s salvation because it “symbolizes burial and resurrection, the actual burial and resurrection of Christ, and the spiritual death and resurrection of the believer in union with Christ (Rom. 6:3).”
“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” – While baptism is an act of obedience, done one time – observing Christ’s commands is an ongoing act, that we seek to follow Christ’s teachings every day. As a disciple maker learning Christ’s commands is not enough – a disciple maker must teach the disciple how to follow that teachings as a well. “to observe all . . .” There are no sections of Jesus’ teachings that have become antiquated, irrelevant, or untrue.
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” – The word “behold” is used in many places throughout the Bible to signal to the reader something spectacular. Jesus promises to be with us, always. How spectacular is that – this resurrected God, who died for the sins of the world, who has ultimate authority or all of space and time is with us – enabling us to carry out this “Great Commission.”
 Seismo egeneto megas, Robertson, 240.
 Matthew 27:55-56 “There were also many women there [at Jesus’ death on the cross], looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, 56 among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.”
 John A Broadus, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania; Judson Press, 1950) 584.
 Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press, 1930) 242.
 Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew All Authority in Heaven and on Earth (Wheaton, Illinois; Crossway Publsihing, 2013) 901.
 Broadus, 586.
 Robertson, 242.
 Broadus, 586.
 “The absurd and blasphemous medieval Jewish legend called “Toldoth Jeshu” expands this allegation.” Broadus, 588.
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
 Frank E. Gabaelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8 (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan Publishing, 1984) 591.
 Broadus, 592.
 Ibid, 596.