The resurrection in Matthew.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 May
Matthew 28.1-10 KWL
1 After sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week,
Mary the Magdalene (and the other Mary) comes
to see the sepulcher.
2 Look, a great quake happens,
for the Lord’s angel, which comes down from heaven,
upon coming, rolls away the stone
and is sitting down upon it.
3 Its appearance is bright as lightning,
and its clothing white as snow.
4 The sepulcher guards shake in terror of it,
and become like the dead.
5 In reply the angel told the women, “Don’t fear, you two:
I knew you seek Jesus the crucified.
6 He’s not here. He’s risen, just as he said.
Come see the place where he was laid.
7 Go quickly; tell Jesus’s students
that he’s risen from the dead,
and look, he goes before you into the Galilee.
He will see you there. Mark what I tell you!”
 
8 The two, leaving the sepulcher quickly,
with fear and great joy,
run to report to Jesus’s students.
9 Look: Jesus meets them, saying, “Hello!”
They come to him, grasp his feet, and worship him.
10 Then Jesus tells them, “Don’t fear.
Go. Report to my brothers
so they can leave for the Galilee,
and there they will see me.”

Ordinarily in the synoptic gospels, if they share a story in common, Matthew and Luke typically use Mark as the main source of their information. It’s why the gospels sync up so well.

But in the resurrection stories, they don’t sync up very well at all. Oh, they get the basics right. Jesus rises before dawn, the women get there first, there’s an angelic explanation of what just happened, and everybody’s freaked out because they weren’t expecting it—even though Jesus totally foretold it.

The stories are all different because the writers of the gospels aren’t quoting one another anymore. They’re quoting four different people who were there. Tradition claims Mark gets its data from Simon Peter… though if that’s so, why didn’t Peter tell Mark about running to the sepulcher to see for himself? Lk 24.12, Jn 20.3-10 John of course is written by an eyewitness; we don’t know Matthew’s source (and no, it’s not the apostle Matthew; there are two Matthews); and we don’t know Luke’s.

What we do know is Matthew and Luke chose to go with their independent sources rather than Mark—probably because they figured they had a better account. More details, perhaps. Mark does after all end with the women being told Jesus was risen… then drops the story. Hence other endings were added. Endings which ancient Christians much preferred.

A little different from Mark.

In Matthew’s telling, there’s only two women, not three: Mary the Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James. Mk 16.1 No Salomé. Maybe she was there and Matthew didn’t know it; maybe she wasn’t and Mark didn’t know it. Whatever. Mark says they came to anoint the body; Matthew says they came just to see the sepulcher, probably to mourn.

Matthew alone includes the story of the sepulcher guard: The Judean senate had told Pontius Pilate the body might be stolen, and Pontius had given them a κουστωδία/kustodía, a team of Roman soldiers to guard it. Mt 27.62-66 Of course they were of no use at all against an angel. Angels tend to terrify humans, y’know. Mark’s angel was described as a young man, Mk 16.5 but this one could’ve looked like a winged serpent covered in eyes for all we know. The Romans freaked out and fainted in terror… whereas the women (who, unlike Roman pagans and today’s Christians, actually read their bibles and knew what angels look like!) were likewise frightened, but certainly not as frightened. Angels are scary, but when they appear to us, they typically bring good news.

And yep, that’s what happened. The angel rolled the stone away and sat on it. Jesus is alive, it told them; go tell the students he’ll see them in the Galilee!

Ever notice how a lot of the artistic depictions of the resurrection show the stone rolled away, and then Jesus strides out of his tomb? Yeah, that’s not what Matthew describes at all. Jesus is already not there. He appears to now have the ability to appear and disappear, regardless of whether there are locked doors, Jn 20.19 or massive stones with official Roman seals on them. The only reason the angel moved the stone aside was so the women could see he wasn’t there anymore.

So the women ran to the students with the good news… and here, unlike Mark, they actually ran into Jesus himself. Who tells them the same thing the angel did: Tell “my brothers” to go home; they’ll see him in the Galilee. Really.

Unlike Luke and John, where the menfolk simply refused to believe the women, Matthew has none of that; the students did go to the Galilee, and did see Jesus… and some of them couldn’t believe their eyes, but they did go. In the other gospels they took more convincing.