By Peter Amsterdam
June 21, 2022
Each of the four Gospels (as well as the book of Acts) gives an account of Jesus’ appearances to His disciples (women and men) after His resurrection. In Matthew’s account, when some of the women disciples went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, they found the tomb empty. They were met by an angel who instructed them to go to the apostles and tell them that Jesus was alive and that He was going to Galilee, where they would see Him.1
The Gospel of Matthew tells us that after the angel had instructed them to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive, the women departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.2 It was important to inform the disciples (the eleven) as soon as possible that Jesus was alive. That the women departed with fear indicates that they were in awe of having been visited by a heavenly visitor. One author wrote: They had come to that place mourning the death of their great leader and dear friend; they went away knowing that he was dead no longer. Well might their emotion be great joy.3
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.”4
Having seen an angel and received a message to give to the disciples, the women were met on the road by the resurrected Jesus Himself. In the Gospel of Matthew, the women were present at all of the important events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. They were at the cross when He died, they were the first ones at His tomb, and they were the first to see the risen Lord. Having been told by the angel that Jesus was going to meet the disciples in Galilee, they were probably surprised to meet Him on their return from the tomb.
The women’s response was to fall at His feet, to hold Him and worship Him. It’s hard to imagine the joy and wonderment they felt at seeing the risen Jesus. In falling at His feet and worshiping Him, they showed that they understood that He was more than a mere man. It also shows that Jesus’ risen body was a real body; this wasn’t just a vision or an apparition. The women understood that He was divine.
Jesus repeated the angel’s command, Don’t be afraid, and also repeated the instructions that they should “go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”5 Most of Jesus’ ministry took place in Galilee, so it was natural that He would want to meet with His disciples there. Galilee was likely also a safer place for them to be and see Jesus.
At this point, the Gospel of Matthew moves from Jesus and the disciples to the Roman guards and the chief priests.
While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.6
While the women were on their way to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, some of the guards entered the city and told the chief priests what had happened. Normally the guards would go to their own officers to report events which had occurred, but Pontius Pilate had put the Roman guards at the disposal of the Jewish leadership, to whom they now reported.7 Perhaps the guards were somewhat relieved that they didn’t have to report to their Roman superiors, as they would have to confess that they had not prevented the removal of a body from a tomb that was under their watch. While Jesus’ body had not been stolen, it would have been difficult to explain to the Roman officials exactly what happened.
Upon hearing from the guards, the chief priests considered this matter important enough to counsel with the elders before making any decisions as to what to do. The chief priests and elders decided that the best course of action was to bribe the guards so that they would lie about what had happened. We read that they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers. Other Bible translations say they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers.8 In accepting the bribe, the soldiers agreed to lie about what had happened. Sleeping while on guard duty was a major dereliction of duty in the Roman army, so telling their superiors that the disciples came during the night while they slept and stole him away was quite risky, though for the large sum of money they were offered, they apparently decided it was worth the risk.
The story they were commissioned to tell was simple—the disciples came at night and stole His body while the soldiers were sleeping. The chief priests and the elders told the guards that if the news that Jesus’ body was not in the tomb became known to the governor, Pontius Pilate, the Jewish hierarchy would keep the guards out of trouble, probably by paying the governor a bribe. There was a good possibility that Pilate wouldn’t hear about any of this, as his residence was in Caesarea and he would be heading there when the feast ended.
So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.9
The soldiers readily agreed to take money and to say that Jesus’ disciples stole His body. This solution likely seemed a good one to both the religious leadership and the soldiers. At the time the Gospel of Matthew was written (probably sometime after AD 70), the false story that the disciples had come in the night and stolen His body from the tomb while the guards slept would have been circulating for about 35 years.
The Gospel of Mark tells us that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so that they could anoint Jesus’ body.10 When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe (an angel) sitting on the right side.11 The angel instructed them to tell the disciples that Jesus was going to Galilee and that they would see Him there.12 We’re then told that they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.13 It seems that the women were overwhelmed at seeing and receiving a message from an angel, so they fled from the tomb. The account stops before we find out if they carried out the angel’s instruction to tell the disciples.
In the Gospel of John, two angels were in Jesus’ tomb, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.14 They asked Mary why she was weeping.
She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.15
Mary explains why she was crying—she assumed that someone had come and removed Jesus’ body—then she turned around. We’re not told why she turned; perhaps she heard some movement behind her, or the angels may have indicated that she should.
When she turned, she saw Jesus, but for some reason she didn’t recognize Him. We don’t know why she didn’t recognize Him, but there are at least two other situations after His resurrection in which His disciples also didn’t recognize Him. In the Gospel of Luke we read:
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.16
In the Gospel of John we’re told that Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.17
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”18
Jesus repeated the question the angels asked earlier, Why are you weeping? but He adds another question, Whom are you seeking? Mary thought Jesus was the gardener, perhaps because it was early, and who else would have been at the tomb at that time? Or, perhaps in some way He looked different. She also concluded that this gardener might have taken the body of Jesus away. So she asked that if he had, could he tell her where Jesus was, so that she could take the body.
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”19
Mary hadn’t recognized Jesus; however, upon hearing Him speak her name, she knew it was Him. She then called Him “Rabboni,” teacher. One author explains: Rabboni is often regarded as a more personal and affectionate title than “Rabbi.”20
Jesus told her not to hold on to Him because He hadn’t ascended to the Father. One author explains: The present imperative with the negative means “Stop doing something” rather than “Don’t start something.” Here it will mean “Stop clinging to me” and not, “Do not begin to touch me.” Evidently, Mary in her joy at seeing the Lord had laid hold on Him, possibly in the same way and for the same purpose as the women of whom Matthew wrote that they took hold of his feet and worshiped him.21
Up until now, Jesus’ “brothers” and His “disciples” were two different groups. Earlier in the book of John we read: After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples.22 Now, Jesus referred to His disciples as brothers.
“Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”23
He referred to His Father as also being their Father, as the natural follow-up of calling them brothers.
In the book of John, we’re told that Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.24 In the Gospel of Mark, Mary Magdalene went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.25 In the Gospel of Luke we read:
Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles.26
(To be continued.)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Matthew 28:6–7. See Jesus—His Life and Message: The Resurrection (Part 1).
2 Matthew 28:8.
3 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 738.
4 Matthew 28:9–10.
5 Matthew 28:10.
6 Matthew 28:11–15.
7 Matthew 27:65.
8 NAS, NAU, NIV, NKJV.
9 Matthew 28:15.
10 Mark 16:1.
11 See Jesus—His Life and Message: The Resurrection (Part 1).
12 Mark 16:7.
13 Mark 16:8.
14 John 20:12.
15 John 20:13–14.
16 Luke 24:13–16.
17 John 21:4.
18 John 20:15.
19 John 20:16–17.
20 Michaels, The Gospel of John, 1000.
21 Matthew 28:9.
22 John 2:12.
23 John 20:17.
24 John 20:18.
25 Mark 16:10–11.
26 Luke 24:10.