Each of the four Gospels clearly affirms Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the grave, but no one Gospel gives all the details. In this article we will emphasize chapter 28 of Matthew’s account, but we will also consider the parallel accounts in Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20 for their complementary details.
The Vindication of Christ
Early on Sunday morning Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James went to look at the grave. Salome also went (Mark 16:1), as did Joanna and other women (Luke 24:10). The women took spices to anoint Jesus as an expression of their devotion.
The love and faithfulness of the women led to the opportunity to see the empty tomb. God had intervened by causing a great earthquake. He subsequently sent a majestic angel to roll away the stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb. The response to this divine intervention was one of paralyzing fear on the part of the guards.
The angel appeared in human form and wore a long, white robe (Mark 16:5). In Luke we read that there were two angels. Matthew focused attention on one of them. The angel’s message to the women was one of comfort. He knew their concern. The women’s response to the angel’s words of comfort was in contrast to the reaction of the strong Roman guards. Panic seized the men, but the women heard a message that brought joyful relief to their troubled hearts.
The women were told that the same Christ who had been crucified was now risen from the dead. This verbal message was confirmed by the undeniable visual evidence that the grave no longer contained Christ’s body. All this was in accord with his prophecy that He would both lay down His life and raise it up (John 10:18).
The empty tomb proclaims the message that Jesus is who He claimed to be. His resurrection declared His deity—that He is God’s unique Son (Rom. 1:4). The Bible is unequivocally clear on Jesus’ deity. He did works that only God can do, such as creating the world (John 1:3) and forgiving sins (Mark 2:1-12). Jesus is described as omnipotent (Matt. 28:18), eternal (Isa. 9:6), and unchanging (Heb. 13:8), all of which are ways only God can be described. Jesus was, is, and will be worshiped as God (John 20:28; Phil. 2:10-11).
Jesus claimed to be God (John 5:18; 8:58; 10:30; 14:9). More than any other miracle, the resurrection stands as the most decisive sign and confirmation that He is indeed the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
The Significance to Believers
The good news that Jesus has risen from the dead is too good to keep to oneself. The angel instructed the women to go tell Jesus’ disciples “quickly” (Matt. 28:7). The relevance and significance of the resurrection is such that faith in the risen Savior is to affect every moment of the believer’s life. Peter was singled out as one who especially needed to hear this comforting truth (Mark 16:7). He no doubt needed special assurance because of his open denial of Christ during His trial (cf. Luke 22:57-62).
The angelic announcement of the empty tomb provided hope of seeing the resurrected Christ. The women were told to inform the disciples that they were to meet Him in Galilee. Wickedness cannot extinguish the life and light of Christ.
The women instantly obeyed. They had been told to respond quickly, and they did so. Matthew 28:8 says the women departed in an attitude of “fear and great joy.” Mark 8:8 says they “trembled and were amazed.” The fearful Roman guards did not experience joy. The women’s fear was a God-focused reverence that contrasted with the self-centered fear of the Romans, who trembled in their guilt.
The disciples at first did not believe the women (Luke 24:11). Peter and John ran to the tomb for a firsthand look at the evidence (John 20:2-10).
The Gospel writers recorded a number of appearances of the resurrected Lord to His people before His ascension. Only in John’s Gospel do we find the details of Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene (cf. 20:11-18). Matthew alludes to another appearance by Jesus to the women as they were on their way to tell the disciples the good news of Christ’s resurrection (cf. 28:9-10).
The presence of the resurrected Christ inspired worship, calmed fears, and inspired continual obedience and hope. All these truths can be gleaned from Matthew 28:9-10.
The account clearly instructs us that God desires His people to know of the resurrection. He sent His angels to communicate the good news to His disciples through the women. Jesus Himself appeared to them to convince them of this truth.
The full significance of the event was inscriptureated in the New Testament so that all believers of every age could live in the light of this glorious truth. The validity of the Christian faith rests on the historical truth of the bodily resurrection of our crucified Lord.
If Christ had not risen from the grave, our faith in Him would be in vain (1 Cor. 15:17). The Christian faith arose out of the historical truth of the bodily resurrection of our crucified Lord.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is foundational to the believer’s justification (Rom. 4:25). It is the risen Christ in whom a person must place his faith in order to be declared righteous. It is the risen Christ to whom the believer becomes spiritually united through the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 6:1-14; 1 Cor. 12:13). The believer cannot be joined to a dead Christ, but only to our living Lord.
The resurrection of Christ opens up the opportunity for the believer to experience resurrection power in his life. This was a driving passion of the Apostle Paul (Phil. 3:10). This passion was not only for his own benefit but was his prayer for all other believers (Eph. 1:19-25). Paul fervently desired that all believers experience this power. To know resurrection power is to experience Christ’s power to live a new life (rom. 6:4). It is the power that enables one to live above the domination of sin (vss. 6, 11, 13).
Resurrection power is also the power that can bring victory in the midst of apparent defeat. When Jesus was in the grave, it appeared that the enemies of righteousness had triumphed. In the midst of this apparent defeat, however, God own His marvelous victory over sin and death and gave hope in the midst of despair.
By trusting in the risen Christ, the believer can experience victory in the midst of his apparent defeats. In times of severe trials and great challenges he can experience the power of the resurrection. Today is the day that God wants you to have this power by faith in Christ.
The resurrection provides the believer with a wonderfully victorious and loving Head for the church (Eph. 1:22-33). The church is not merely a human organization. It is headed by the risen Lord, who is its ultimate authority. No power or person is able to defeat Him (Rom. 8:31)!
Unlike many people in the world who wander through life without a definite goal, the believer in Christ has sense of purpose as he seeks to be guided by Christ. Our Lord’s purpose was to glorify His Father, and as the believer seeks to fit into Christ’s purposes, his own life becomes meaningful.
The believer’s purpose in life is grounded in God’s eternal purposes. All over the world, believers live under special pressures and in some cases endure intense persecution. The sufferings of believers in this present world can be understood only as we see them in the light of eternity (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17-18; 1 Pet. 1:6-7).
The fact of Christ’s resurrection gives the believer a sure basis for hope, for he knows that the final enemy—death—has been conquered. The same God who raised Jesus will raise us (2 Cor. 4:14). Our present physical bodies have not been redeemed, but we await the prospect of receiving redeemed bodies (Rom. 8:23). Death is no to be feared (Matt. 10:28), for our focus as Christians is on our inner life, no our present body.
Christ’s resurrection provides us with the peace that comes from knowing Him as our sympathetic High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16). The believer is in a spiritual battle. At no place in our earthly pilgrimage does the conflict cease, but we can experience rest and victory in the midst of this conflict because of Christ.
It is not a sin to be tempted. Christ was sinless, but He experienced more intense temptation than any of us ever will (Heb. 4:15). He is able to come to our aid and help us in the midst of any temptation (2:18). A dead Christ could not help us, but a risen, living Christ is able to provide for us today.
The believer is invited to boldly approach God’s throne of grace when in need and when tempted (Heb. 4:16). How do you come boldly when you are thinking the wrong things and have the wrong attitude? The key is to know what is meant by the word “boldly.” This term means we are to come to God in openness and honesty.
Regardless of your temptation, you can enter into open, honest conversations with God. If you do this, you are walking in the light before God (1 John 1:7). In the resurrected Christ, the believer can find pardon, power, purpose, and peace.
The Significance to a Doubting World
The guards reported to the chief priests what had taken place (Matt. 28:11). This led to a meeting of the Sanhedrin, which agreed to bribe the guards to fabricate a story that the disciples had stolen the body (vss. 12-13). The world still seeks to extinguish the light of the resurrected Christ. But the risen Christ will always triumph and accomplish His purpose in the midst of this opposition.
Elsewhere in the Gospels we read of an appearance by the resurrected Christ to two individuals on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-32). Later this pair reported the appearance to the eleven disciples (Luke 24:33-35). Christ continues today to bolster the faith of His people, who are all too easily influenced by the doubts of the world.
The account of an appearance by Jesus to ten disciples is found in Mark 16:14, Luke 24:36-43, and John 20:19-25. He sought to assure, enable, and orient them to their purpose of announcing the truth of His resurrection to the world.
Christ next appeared to the same group of disciples, but with Thomas present (John 20:26-31). Our Lord sought to assure and provoke the faith of Thomas. A further appearance by Christ to seven of His disciples is recorded in John 21:1-2. This occasion provided special assurance and affirmation to Peter.
God has chosen to work through His people to reach a dark and doubting world. Christ’s appearances to His disciples strengthened them and prepared them to receive His final commission before His ascension.
Jesus appeared to the disciples at a prearranged location in Galilee (Matt. 28:16). The response to His presence was worship. The observation that “some doubted” (vs. 17) probably did not refer to the truth of His resurrection but rather to uncertainty about what was ahead for the disciples. Jesus addressed this doubt by giving assurance of His authority and presence (vss. 18, 20). He also provided the disciples with clear guidance.
Christ directed them to disciple, or to teach, the nations. This involved going and proclaiming the good news of the risen Christ to every person. It meant baptizing and identifying the believers with the great Triune God who revealed Himself in Christ. It also meant a life of instructing believers to obey the Lord’s liberating commands.
Jesus is now building His church in the midst of a doubting world (Matt. 16:18). He continually seeks to assure and encourage His people to believe Him and be used by Him to announce the truth of the risen Christ to the world. One day God will righteously judge the world through the risen Christ (Acts 17:31). The church is God’s instrument to help others find salvation in Christ and thus be prepared for this judgment. Are you prepared? Have you trusted God’s Son?