Matthew 27:57–28:20. The Passion of Christ. Pt. III.
Key Notes: The guards reported. The Great Commission. Descended into Hell? Theories of the Resurrection.
In this relatively short segment, many questions arise, some of which are not covered by Matthew. After Jesus died, what happened to Him? Did He descend into Hell? What emerged from the tomb? Was it His body or just His soul? What did Jesus do then? Where is He now? The Harmony of the Gospels helps to answer some of these questions.
27:57–61 Joseph of Arimethea, one of Jesus’ disciples, asked Pilate for the body. It was Roman policy to leave crucified bodies to the vultures, but OT law ordered that a body hung on a tree be taken down the same day. (Deut.21:23). He prepared the body for burial, presumably washing off the blood and spittle, wrapping it in clean linen. He placed the body in his own tomb, newly cut into the limestone of a hill. He rolled a stone to cover the entrance. The two Marys watched.
27:62–66 The priests and Pharisees were aware of the prophecy of Jesus' resurrection and demanded that Pilate secure the tomb. Pilate said they should use their own guards. So they sealed the tomb and posted a Temple guard of soldiers. That was God's mercy. If they had been Roman soldiers, they would have been executed for derelection of duty.
28:1–10 The two Marys went at dawn on the day after Sabbath, “Sunday”, to inspect the tomb.
An earthquake shook the ground.
Like a flash of lightning, an angel came from Heaven, rolled away the stone and sat on it.
The guards were paralyzed with fear.
The angel spoke to the women:
Don’t be afraid.
I know that you are looking for Jesus
He is not here. He has risen, as He said.
Come and see. (And we suppose they did look into the tomb and saw it was empty.)
Then go tell His disciples that He has risen. He will meet you in Galilee
Then Jesus stood there and said “Greetings” or “Hello”. This common Greek word comes from the root for joy (“chairete” from "chara"). I suspect that that was the sweetest word those women ever heard and perhaps the happiest He ever said. They came up to Him and held His [tangible] feet, perhaps fearing that He would disappear. He told them not to be afraid, but to tell the disciples to go to Galilee. (What Jesus said, the angels said too.) This is the third time this instruction has been given. 26:32; 28:7, 10
28:11–15 Some of the guards went to the city and told the priests all that they had witnessed. They had witnessed the Resurrection, but were paid to say the disciples stole the body. Their information would be very damaging to the priests’ sense of security and their objectives. (“That Imposter” is alive and well!) How could they live with that awful truth? But the untruth that the disciples stole the body still circulates.
28:16–18 Eleven disciples gathered in Galilee on the mountain. When they saw Jesus, they worshiped, but some were skeptical. Jesus left them with their marching orders. We call this word “the Great Commission”.
*It is based on authority: ” All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me ….”
*It gives priority and direction: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations….”
*It spells out a process:
“…baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”
“...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
*It assures His support: “Behold, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The Church has followed this missionary mandate intermittently ever since Jesus left earth. Note that the contemporary Church is usually not doing as He specified. We disciple people for years, leaving baptism as an option for a second stage, often after a period of spiritual decline and recovery. The NT practice was to baptize up-front, on confession of faith.
When Jesus died, what happened to Him? The Apostle’s Creed, article 5, says “He descended into Hell.” There are five references cited to support that.
*“You will not leave my soul in Hell.” Acts.2:27. The OT word here translated Hell is Sheol, meaning the grave, and the intent is to say that God will not leave His Servant dead, His soul in the grave.
*“Who will descend into the abyss to bring Christ up?” Rom.10:7. The abyss in Revelation 20:1 is indeed Hell, but Paul in Romans goes on to explain “That is to say, to bring Christ up from the dead.” So here the “abyss” refers to the the place of the dead, the grave.
*“He...descended into the lower parts of the earth.” Eph.4:9, or to the lower, earthly regions. The passage is describing Jesus descent to the earth and into the grave and His ascension back to the Father.
*“He went and preached to souls in prison who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark.” IPet.3:18–20. This is a difficult passage that is interpreted by some to mean that Jesus preached to living, disobedient, spiritually bound people at the time of Noah. It is unlikely to mean that He preached to souls in Hell because we cannot think of a reason for doing that. We do not believe there is a second chance for salvation after we die. (Heb.9:27)
*“For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead, that though judged in the flesh like men, they might live in the spirit like God. (IPet.4:6). We understand Peter to say that the gospel was preached to those who are now dead, "judged in the flesh".
The most compelling evidence against the “descent into Hell” is Jesus’ word to the thief on the cross ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Lk.23:43
However, it was pointed out that Jesus on the cross cried out “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me?’ Separation from God is Hell. Jesus suffered this separation from God on the Cross, if only for a moment. However, He could finally say before He died “Into Thy hands I commit My Spirit,” indicating that His relationship to the Father had been restored. Lk.23:46
What really happened at the resurrection? Various theories have been proposed to explain away this most important miracle.
THEORIES OF THE RESURRECTION:
*It is a myth. It is outside of history as we know it. It must be taken on faith.
It is true that we take it on faith. However, everything up to this point in Matthew’s account of the death of Christ has been easily understood, politically, and physically. Then all at once we must hit the “myth” button when a miracle is described? If we deny the truth of the resurrection, our faith is in vain. ICor.15:12–19
*He did not die, but another man who looked like Him died. (A Moslem view)
But His mother stood at the cross and Jesus transferred her care to John, the beloved disciple. standing next to her. (Jn.19:26). Do we think His own mother and John, Jesus' closest disciple, did not know Jesus, whom their eyes were fixed upon?
*He did not die. The cold slab revived Him and He overcame the guards to escape into the city.
This is the “swoon theory”. It is absurd to think that a crucified victim could stand up with those foot wounds, bloodied back, with a hole in his chest, much less push over a heavy stone and overwhelm a squad of soldiers. That is absurd.
*The women went to the wrong tomb.
How long would that mistake survive? Joseph of Arimethea knows his own property.
*The disciples stole the body.
That is the lie that Matthew exposes for us. It is ridiculous to think that these skeptical disciples would risk their lives to tell everyone a flat lie, a blatant falsehood. And what of the squad of soldiers? Would they let unarmed men overcome them?
*Vision theory. The disciples were suggestible and thought they saw something. The spirit of the dead person is supposed to linger around for three days and that is what they saw. But the Temple guard “reported all that had happened” so unbelieving men witnessed the Resurrection. Mat.28:11
* It was His soul that was raised. Was it His body or only His soul that was raised? Here we get help from the other three Gospels. It was His body, looking very much as it was before He died.
He pointed out that He was “flesh and bone”.The women at the tomb clutched His feet. He invited Thomas to put his hand into the wounds. (Jn.20:27). He ate some fish as a demonstration. (Lk.24:42). He told the disciples where to catch fish. (Jn.21:6). He even cooked fish for them. Jn.21:9
However, His body now had powers that He did not exhibit during His earthly life. He could live and function easily in spite of mortal wounds. He could appear and disappear. (Jn.20:14,26; Lk.24:31). He rose up from the world and disappeared into the clouds in the sight of the disciples. Acts1:11
With our resurrection bodies, we will also have powers to transcend the earthly limitations of mind and body.
What plan did Jesus have for the disciples during these 40 days before the Ascension?
*He went through the OT explaining all the Scriptures about Himself (Lk.24:27), opening their minds to understand the Scriptures. (Lk.24:45). He "spoke of things concerning the Kingdom." Acts 1:3
*He disciplined and reconciled Peter. Jn.21:15–23
*He gave them their marching orders, the Great Commission (Matt.28:18–20), and specifically told them to stay in Jerusalem until they were empowered by the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:8
*He ascended visibly away from them and they heard the angel promise that He would return in the same way. (Acts 1:11). This made a clear closure to His earthly life, so that the disciples were not left in doubt about His situation or theirs. They must wait for God’s next move, the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Praise God for His great victory in Christ, saving us from our sins, energizing us by the Holy Spirit to serve Him and giving us hope of a Resurrection with Him at the end of the Age.