All the Way to Glory: Two Reactions

A woman, Mary of Magdala, was the first to see the risen Savior. Matthew tells us the next to see Him was a group of women (28:9-10),1  who then rushed to the disciples to share the exciting news. Meanwhile, the religious leaders in Israel received the same report of the Lord Jesus’ empty tomb from some of the soldiers who were guarding it. Their response was altogether different from that of the women. Matthew 28:9-15 records two reactions to the resurrection: the women and their worship, the leaders and their lie.

The Women and Their Worship

The angel instructed the women to “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” (v7).2 They likely expected no one to see Him until they arrived there. But they obeyed the angel’s words, running to tell the others. “And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them” (v9). What a reward for their obedience! And what a surprise, not having to wait until they arrived in Galilee to see their blessed Savior.

He met them with a greeting – “All hail.” The Greek word is chairō and can mean “rejoice” (NKJV, NASB2020). If ever there were a reason to rejoice, it was then. It was one thing to hear it from the angel but quite another to be witnesses to such a dramatic reality. Then Matthew says, “And they came,” implying that when the women saw Christ, there was some distance between them, which they, in turn, quickly eliminated. When they arrived, they kneeled on the ground before Him and “took hold of his feet.”3 It was an act of homage, confirmed by the next statement that they “worshipped him.” Matthew probably means by this that they regarded Him as divine. How could He not be, having displayed such exceptional power?

After His initial greeting, Christ calmed them with the words “Be not afraid,” a phrase He had used often during His public ministry. The women had just witnessed a spectacular appearance of the angel of the Lord, and now a Man they had watched die stood alive before them. It’s natural to be somewhat frightened by the supernatural, thus the Savior’s exhortation, “Be not afraid.”

Jesus proceeded to reinforce the instructions of the angel: “Go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me” (v10), but He uses a word the angel does not – “brethren.” As pointed out in the previous article, in John 20:17 the Lord was not referring to His brothers in the flesh but to His disciples. And what a beautiful, gracious term it is. “The ‘family’ metaphor shows much love and

patience, since the disciples have just run away from home, as it were, when they deserted Jesus. But Jesus welcomes the prodigals back.”4 His instruction is that His brethren “go into Galilee.” There is a notable absence of the mention of Jerusalem since the Lord’s lament in Matthew 23:37.5  But most of Christ’s public ministry had taken place in Galilee and it was fitting that His disciples should go there, where they received this promise from their Lord: “There shall they see me.”

With this commission from the risen Savior, the women departed to inform the disciples. Thus, the first reaction to Christ’s resurrection in this section of Matthew is entirely fitting. The women respond with joy, worship and obedience. Any other response falls far short, which Matthew proceeds to present.

The Leaders and Their Lie

“Now when they [the women] were going, behold, some6 of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done” (v11). While Christ’s followers were rejoicing, worshipping Him and sharing the news, His enemies began to plot a massive lie. The chief priests received troubling information from some of the soldiers charged with guarding the Lord’s tomb. We cannot be certain how comprehensive Matthew’s use of the word “all” is here (they “shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done”), but at a minimum, their report included the absence of Jesus’ body, which presented a serious problem for these Roman guards. The tomb’s seal had been broken, the stone was rolled away, and the body of Christ was missing. These facts would combine to make the soldiers guilty of dereliction of duty, an offense punishable by death. But rather than reporting to Pilate or to their superior officers, they shrewdly decided to report to the Jewish chief priests, whom they knew were just as anxious to cover up the resurrection story as the guards themselves. Thus, the big lie was concocted.

“And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, Saying, Say ye, his disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept” (vv12-13). Interestingly, the proposed lie still incriminated the soldiers, who would be admitting to falling asleep on their watch and failing in their duty to guard the tomb. The lie also didn’t make sense. How could the soldiers know the disciples stole the body if they were asleep when it happened? But two things made them willing to cooperate. The first was money, and plenty of it, with the KJV capturing the meaning of the phrase well – “large money” (or a large amount of money). This was not the first payoff by the religious leaders over the past few days, but was likely a considerably larger sum than paid to the traitor Judas.

The other factor that persuaded the guards to lie was a word of assurance from the Jewish leaders – “And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you” (v14). If they could pay off the soldiers with a bribe, they could probably do the same with the governor Pilate. The irony of it all is that the same men who predicted deceit about the resurrection (27:63-64) ended up committing deceit themselves. The Jewish authorities “had feared that the body might be stolen and resurrection stories circulate on the basis of an empty tomb. They were now ensuring that precisely those stories were circulated, the only difference being that behind the stories was a risen body instead of a stolen body.”7

The guards complied and received their pay. “So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day” (v15). Matthew wants his readers to know that this story was not invented some time later. It was a common report, circulated among the Jewish people when it occurred.8

These two reactions to Christ’s resurrection could not be more opposite. A group of women believed and worshipped, experiencing joy and purpose. A group of men refused to believe the obvious truth and slipped further into their darkness, deceit and eternal danger. One’s response to the resurrection of Christ has eternal consequences. How have you responded?

1 Paul makes no mention of these women in his list of witnesses to the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, noting Cephas (Peter), the twelve, the 500, James, all the apostles (presumably including the twelve) and Paul himself. It is possible that by the time Paul wrote this letter, belief in Jesus’ resurrection was being rejected because women were reportedly the primary witnesses and their witness would be considered invalid by many. Paul wants to emphasize that there were many male witnesses also.

2 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.

3 This phrase, along with John 20:17 (“stop clinging to me”), emphasizes the physical reality of the risen Lord.

4 David L. Turner, Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 682.

5 Before the Lord’s lament, Jerusalem is noted 11 times in Matthew, but not once afterward. In contrast, Luke’s Gospel mentions Jerusalem 14 times after the Lord’s lament in 13:34, and figures prominently after the resurrection (24:13,18,33,47,49,52).

6 We might wonder what happened to the other guards.

7 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1992), 741-2.

8 Such stories were still being disseminated in the days of Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 150). See his Dialogue with Trypho 108.2.