Family Study: Matthew 28:16-20


Appearance of Jesus to the Women, 28:1-10

The resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week is detailed in all four gospels (Mk 16:1-14; Lk 24:1-49; Jn 20:1-23). The probable order of events was as follows:

1. Appearance to Mary Magdalene when she returned after a preliminary visit of the women to the tomb (Mk 16:9-11; Jn 20:11-18)

2. Appearance to the women who had been to the tomb and were bearers of the message of the angels (Mt 28:8-10)

3. Appearance to Peter on the afternoon of the resurrection day (Lk 24:34; 1 Co 15:5)

4. Appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Mk 16:12; Lk 24:13-32)

5. Appearance to the ten disciples on the evening of the resurrection day, Thomas being absent (Lk 24:36-43; Jn 20:19-25)

6. Appearance a week later to the eleven, Thomas being present (Jn 20:26-31; 1 Co 15:5)

7. Appearance to seven of the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee (Jn 21:1-14)

8. Appearance to about five hundred brethren as well as the apostles (Mt 28:16-20; Mk 16:15-18; 1 Co 15:6)

9. Appearance to James, the half brother of Jesus (1 Co 15:7)

10. Appearance on the day of ascension from the Mount of Olives (Mk 16:19-20; Lk 24:44-53; Ac 1:3-12)

Matthew records that “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” came “to see the sepulchre” (28:1) early that resurrection morning. There were other women, however, including Salome (Mk 16:1). The women were the same group that had beheld the burial of Jesus and therefore knew where the tomb was. Mary, the mother of Jesus, apparently was not with them.

Mark 16:3 records their question, as they approached the tomb, concerning who would roll away the stone. Upon arrival at the scene, there was a great earthquake, and an angel descended from heaven and rolled back the stone. Matthew describes him, “His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow” (28:3).

The Roman soldiers were paralyzed with fear, but the angel said to the women, “Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you” (vv. 5-7). Luke 24:1-8 gives further details on the message of the angel and indicates that the women entered into the tomb, but the body of the Lord was gone. Matthew records, “They departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word” (28:8).

The account concerning Mary Magdalene would indicate that she saw the stone rolled away but did not linger long enough to understand the full meaning of it, and informed Peter and John simply that the tomb was empty. It was on her second visit to the tomb that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene. She, who sought Jesus most earnestly, was honored to be the first to see the resurrected Christ. Matthew records the second appearance to the other women as they also had left the tomb in order to tell the disciples, and records that the women “held him by the feet, and worshipped him” (v. 9). Jesus instructed them, as the angel had also mentioned in verse 7, to tell the brethren to go into Galilee, where they would see Jesus. However, He appeared to them that evening and apparently again a week later before the Galilee appearances occurred. For Matthew, the Galilean appearance was the climax of Jesus’ ministry. It was there that Christ witnessed to many outside of Judaism, an anticipation of His worldwide witness.

Report of the Soldiers, 28:11-15

Just as Matthew alone records the request of the priests and Pharisees, the watch by the soldiers at the tomb, so Matthew alone records the outcome following the resurrection of Christ. Some of those guarding the tomb went to the chief priests and reported what had happened. It is astounding, as Lenski points out, that the chief priests heard of the resurrection of Jesus before the disciples. The result was that they gave a bribe, described by Matthew as “large money,” to the soldiers and instructed them to report that the disciples had stolen the body by night while the soldiers slept. They also promised the soldiers that if it reached the Roman governor’s ears that they would protect them and persuade the governor not to punish them.

Under Roman law, the soldiers could be put to death for failure to do their duty, as was done to the soldiers who were watching Peter (Ac 12:19). The soldiers, glad both for the money and for the protection, did as they were instructed and started the rumor among the Jews that the body of Jesus had been stolen.

The dishonesty and lack of integrity on the part of the scribes and Pharisees, when confronted with the fact of the resurrection of Jesus, all too frequently are found in other forms of unbelief. Liberal scholarship today shows the same incredible blindness to the facts and tends to give credence to any criticism of the scriptural record more than to the Scriptures themselves. The unbelief of the scribes and Pharisees is shown here in all its stark wickedness, and their stooping to bribery and lies shows the extremity into which they fell. As Lenski notes, the very soldiers who were ordered to prevent the fulfillment of the prophecy of Christ’s resurrection were the first witnesses of it.165 It is possible that some were beneficially influenced and may be numbered among those who did come to Jesus in the early days of the church, as recorded in Acts.

The story of the soldiers, of course, was obviously false. How could they know that the disciples stole the body if they were actually asleep? So often the truth is more reasonable than the theories seeking to contradict the truth. The three thousand at Pentecost who believed Peter’s message concerning the death and the resurrection of Christ no doubt had investigated the story, had seen the empty tomb, and were fully persuaded that the facts as presented by Peter were the truth. The story served to bolster those, however, who, for various reasons, did not want to believe in Jesus, and Matthew reports the story was still common at the time he wrote the gospel.


Matthew 28:1-15 Breakdown

The Resurrection 1Now after the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

Where are all of the men? When men refuse to lead, women will take up the slack.

2Suddenly there was a severe earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descending from heaven came and rolled away the stone and sat on it.

This was an unusual earthquake which was created and controlled by God. This would surely wake up any sleeping guards. And an angel came down from heaven and rolled the 4,000 pound stone away. Yet they heard nothing.

3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.

The angel was brightly covered, possibly reflecting the Shekinah Glory of God.

4The guards were shaken and became like dead men because they were so afraid of him.

The Roman guards were known for their courage, but they had never seen anything like this during their military service.

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

The angel ignores the soldiers and speaks softly to the women. Women were the first to hear the good news of the resurrection.

6He is not here, for he has been raised, just as he said. Come and see the place where he was lying.

Jesus predicted that He would be raised from the dead after three days.

7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead. He is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there.’ Listen, I have told you!”

Jesus told the disciples to meet Him in Galilee after His resurrection (Matt 26:32). He sent the women back to remind them of this appointment.

8 So they left the tomb quickly, with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

The women were scared, but joyous. Their Savior was alive.

9 But Jesus met them, saying, “Greetings!” They came to him, held on to his feet and worshiped him.

The women worshiped Jesus as God. Angels do not allow others to worship them.

10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee. They will see me there.”

This Galilee appointment was mentioned for the third time.

The Guards’ Report 11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened.

The sixteen guards and the chief priests possessed the truth about Jesus. What would they do with the truth?

12After they had assembled with the elders and formed a plan, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came at night and stole his body while we were asleep.’

The total and depraved man hates God so much, that he will resist the truth, suppress it, and even deceive others. The sleeping guards’ argument was ridiculous, but the elders were desperate. For this argument to be true, the disciples would have to tip toe through sixteen soldiers, break the seal, move a 4000 pound rock, and then steal the wrapped body of Jesus out of a dark burial cave without waking up the soldiers.

14If this matter is heard before the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”

Guards sleeping on duty was a capital offense in Rome. The Jewish leaders would have to wield their political power to save the life of the guards. They would have to bribe them to keep them quiet.

15So they took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story is told among the Jews to this day.

The soldiers sold out the truth about God for money. Many people still sell out God for money. This story was spreading during the days that Matthew wrote and circulated his historical gospel.

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