The Angel at the Tomb
Matthew Lesson #195
April 8, 2018
“Our Father, we’re thankful that we have lived in a country that has recognized that our freedoms, our rights are from You, that You have endowed us with these rights because we are created in Your image and likeness. As human beings we have inherent freedoms and responsibilities that do not derive from the government but are derived from the very nature of our creation.
“Father, we live in a world where there is true spiritual warfare. There is true opposition from the angelic quarter in terms of fallen angels and Satan and demons, and that opposition to Christianity and the truth of the Gospel continues to rear its ugly head, not only around the world where there are many who are persecuted, many who are martyrs, many who suffer and languish in jails or prison.
“Father, we pray that in this country, we will not see that, but that You will raise up men and women who will take a stand, who will be involved in the legal political process to make sure that the laws of this land are followed through.
“Ultimately we know that apart from Your grace and apart from believers who are not only getting involved in the political process but spiritually being involved in the ultimate solution, which is evangelism, engaging with those who are not saved in a manner that reflects love and grace and humility to explain the Gospel and to talk about the fact that only through Jesus Christ do we have eternal life, we have forgiveness of sin, we have meaning and purpose in our lives.
“Father, we pray for us today as we study Your Word that we might come to a greater understanding that the world in which we live, although it is ruled by the prince of the power of the air and the god of this age, it is ultimately Your world, and we are Your ambassadors and representatives here, and that our thinking must be reflective of, consistent with, and in line with the worldview that is expressed in Scripture that we call divine viewpoint.
“We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to Matthew 28. As a focal point of our study, I chose to just title the message “The Angel at the Tomb.” There’s a little more going on in this message, but we’re going to title it that, and begin to look at what takes place in Matthew 28:1–10; probably just get through verse 6 today.
Last week we had a flyover, a look at what happened on that first Resurrection Sunday, as it was discovered that the tomb was empty, as it was announced by the angel that He was risen, and that there were many witnesses to that fact, both willing and unwilling.
The guards at the tomb were unwilling witnesses, as they came out of their shock and their stupor, and reported that the grave was empty to the religious leaders. They were unwilling witnesses; whereas the others were willing witnesses. All of them had a difficult time believing what had happened, that He was alive, that Jesus had truly risen from the dead.
That’s one thing that comes across as you read through these accounts: the women did not go to the tomb expecting it to be empty. They were prepared to anoint His body. As many times as He had warned them, told them, and promised them that He would rise from the dead, they didn’t believe it.
When Peter and John ran there, they didn’t run there because they expected Him to have been risen from the dead. They did not believe it yet; it took time.
We see in Matthew 28:16–17, “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him—when He appeared to them in Galilee—they worshiped Him, but some doubted.”
They still doubted. I think what this isn’t saying is that they hadn’t believed it yet, but that they couldn’t believe it. It was just so astonishing.
We’re that way. We believe certain things are true, but we just can’t believe it. We have that tension because it just seems so unbelievable.
We’re going to begin to break some things down:
1. The days in the tomb
2. Earthquakes and angels
There’s a dimension to what’s going on here that I had not looked at in the past or really focused on.
3. The unsuspecting witnesses.
Matthew 28:1, “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.”
I think this is somewhat of a summary statement. I pointed out last time the comparable passage that we see in Mark 16 talks about what the women did the night before, that they went to get the spices to anoint the body.
The phraseology here “after the Sabbath” talks about when the Sabbath ends, which is roughly that year, about 7 PM. After that you have the first day of the week.
In fact, the literal idiom here that we see in the second phrase “as the first day of the week began to dawn …”, they didn’t have a name for that first day. They didn’t call it Sunday or some other term. It was the first day from the Sabbath, literally. It is a genitive construction; that’s how they would count it.
Then you have the second day from the Sabbath and the third. What’s the focal point of all those phrases? It’s the Sabbath: that’s the Holy Day, that’s the day to worship the Lord. Everything revolves around what would transpire on Shabbat every week, as your day of rest and your day to focus upon the Lord.
“… after the Sabbath …” There’s a lot to read about this phrase, there’s a lot that’s debated about it, but it basically indicates the Sabbath has ended, and it’s sometime that night.
The next phrase, “as the first day of the week began to dawn,” probably puts this at a different time frame—later on towards morning the next day—than Mark does. Mark clearly talks about them going to the shops to get the spices and things that they needed to anoint the body. That showed that they were expecting the body to be there.
This could have been later, could have been different, it’s really tough trying to correlate some of these things, but Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
They were watching the burial, they were watching the preparation of the body—all of that prior to dusk, sundown, on Friday. They were watching it because they wanted to make sure everything was done right and that He was buried, and then they left to observe Sabbath.
This looks to me like this may be subsequent to buying the spices. It’s later in the evening, what we would call Saturday evening, and they’re going just to observe the tomb. Otherwise, poor Mary’s running back and forth across Jerusalem the whole time.
Some people correlate it in that way. They look at John 20, and they see Mary coming before dawn, then she goes somewhere else, and then she comes back again for Matthew 28:1. I think that has her just running all over Jerusalem too much. Poor girl didn’t know what was going on.
It’s going to be on this third day. What’s happened on the Jewish calendar here is you’ve had three significant days back to back. You’ve had Passover—Pesach. That, I believe, began Thursday at sundown and ended Friday at sundown.
Then you had the first day of Unleavened Bread, which began Friday night at sundown and ended on Saturday night at sundown.
Then you had a third day: Saturday night at sundown until Sunday night at sundown, which is the Feast of the First Fruits. That is the day that Christ is raised from the dead on that Feast of the First Fruits. We will talk about that in coming lessons.
When we get to this and start talking about the timeframe, questions come up. I know questions come up in the minds of some of you. I taught on this a little bit two weeks ago when I was in Tucson, and of course we opened it up for questions at the end.
The first question was “What day was Jesus crucified on? You think Jesus was crucified on Wednesday? What about Thursday?” That question always seems to come up, and I thought this was an appropriate time to address this.
The reason this question comes up is because of what Jesus said in Matthew 12:40. In the midst of the passage dealing with the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit when the Pharisees and the Sadducees reject Jesus’ claim as Messiah, claiming that He’s casting out demons in the power of Satan, Jesus rebukes them, announces this condemnation, and He says that this sign will come:
Matthew 12:40, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
A couple things I want to comment on here. First of all, “For three days and three nights in the belly of the fish” is a quote from the Hebrew from Jonah.
That tells us immediately that this phrase is a Hebrew idiom; it is a Hebrew phrase. It’s not to be interpreted from a Greco-Roman 20th century way of telling time and counting days.
This is an idiom that grows out of Hebrew, and the way in which the Jews and Middle Easterners counted time isn’t the way that you and I do. We count the first year of somebody’s presidency from the first day they are inaugurated until 365 days later, but the Jews and many Middle Easterners counted the reign of a king in terms of part of the year.
In the Mishnah it says that if the year began with Nissan, that was the ceremonial year—which is roughly March or April on our calendar—and the king begins to reign at the end of the year—what we would say is January—then that whole year is counted as a year, even if it’s only been a few days.
We would say, “Well, that’s not right. How would you say he ruled the whole year or reigned the whole year, if he’s only reigned for one day of that year?” That’s how they counted; that’s not how we count. We have to understand that as part of the background; we have to learn to count as Jesus counted.
Every time we get into this discussion on what day of the week was Jesus crucified on, this verse comes up. I know that for two reasons:
- I know it because I’m always asked it and that’s always what’s brought up.
- For many years, until probably about eight or nine years ago, I firmly believed in a Wednesday crucifixion, and that was the first thing I would bring up.
I’m going to point out why this is a problem.
When we look at all of the time terms that are used in the Gospels, they all have to mean the same thing. In Matthew 26:61—this is when the Pharisees are talking to Pilate about putting a guard on the tomb—saying, “This fellow said,”—talking about Jesus—“ ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’” That’s less than 72 hours.
What typically happens is when people look at the Jonah passage, they say three days and three nights means three full days, three full nights. That’s got to be a minimum of 72 hours. That would also mean that if He is resurrected after that, that He is resurrected on the fourth day, not the third day.
Here they quote Jesus as having said it would be in three days or on the third day.
Matthew 27:63, “saying, ‘Sir, we remember while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, “After three days …” ’ ”
Wait a minute. Is it in three days or after three days? The terms are synonymous. “After three days” is only used by the religious leaders here and by Mark in the Gospel of Mark.
The other Gospels say “on the third day” or “in three days,” which mean the same thing. Either everybody’s confused or all these terms have to mean the same thing. It’s just how language works; it’s just the idiom.
Mark 14:58, they’re quoted as saying, “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days ...’ ” This is less than 72 hours again.
Matthew 16:21, “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.” Not after the third day but on the third day.
Matthew 17:23, “and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.” This is less than 72 hours.
My point is that all of these, whether it’s “after the third day,” “on the third day,” “the third day,” they’re all talking about the same period of time.
The normal way that they counted is demonstrated in Scripture. We see Jesus use it this way Luke 13:32,
“Go tell that fox (Herod Antipas) ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.’ ”
Notice how He is counting time. Today is the first day, tomorrow is the second day, and then the third day. That’s how you would normally count things. Today would be day one, tomorrow is day two, and then the day after would be the third day.
We have some illustrations of this from the Old Testament. The Old Testament is important because remember the key phrase comes out of Jonah, it’s an Old Testament book, and we’re talking about Old Testament Hebrew idiom. It doesn’t matter what Roman idiom is, it doesn’t matter what the Greek idiom is; we’re dealing with Hebrew idiom.
Leviticus 19:5–6, “If you offer a sacrifice of the peace offering to the Lord, you shall offer it of your own free will. It shall be eaten the same day you offer it, and on the next day. And if any remains until the third day, it shall be burned in the fire.”
See what he has done? Today is day one, tomorrow is day two, followed by the third day.
You see the same thing in Exodus 19:10–11, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.’ ”
So today is one day, tomorrow’s the second day, and then you have the third day.
Why have I emphasized that?
Because when we come to Luke 24:21, we see a reverse process—we understand that if we count today as day 1, tomorrow is day 2, the next day is day 3. Jesus is talking to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and they don’t know who He is; He has cloaked His identity so He can talk to them about what has happened. “Explain to Me what has happened? What’s going on?”
They are amazed. “Where have You been? All these things that been going on in Jerusalem, You don’t know? There was this man, Jesus, “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today …” Now about what day are they talking?
This is Jesus’ appearance to these two disciples late in the afternoon of Sunday. Doesn’t matter whether you’re Roman, whether you’re Greek, whether you’re Hebrew, whatever you are, if they’re talking on Sunday afternoon and they’re Jewish, when they say, “today is the third day,” when did that day begin?
It began at sundown Saturday. What ended at sundown Saturday? The second day. If Sunday afternoon is the third day, the second day ended at sundown on Saturday.
When did that second day begin? It began on sundown on Friday night.
What ended at sundown Friday night? The first day.
When did the first day begin? The first day began on Thursday night at sundown. So from Thursday night to Friday night is the first day.
Jesus is crucified on the first day, and when they’re talking to Jesus on the road to Emmaus, they’re talking about all these things that happened. They’re talking about the crucifixion. All those events that transpired, happened after Thursday sundown.
They had the Last Supper—we talked about the Lord’s Table—after sundown Thursday. After midnight they went to Gethsemane, He’s arrested, you have the trials, all of that happens on the first day.
Then the second day is Saturday and the third day is on Sunday. That’s the only way you can understand this: today is the third day since these things happened.
It follows just what I’ve explained already, that today’s the first day, tomorrow’s the second day, then we have the third day.
There is a footnote in the Babylonian Talmud that states, “When the time is undefined part of the day is reckoned as the whole day.”
I’ve heard that from every Hebrew or Jewish-Christian scholar that I’ve known, from Arnold Fruchtenbaum and many, many others. That’s what first got me thinking about this—if these three days and three nights meant three literal days and three literal nights or 72 hours, then why is it that I can’t find a Jewish-Christian scholar that would affirm that that’s an important issue?
Every one of them argues for a Friday crucifixion. Another term is a day of preparation, that’s preparation for the Sabbath. We have more confirmation from the Old Testament.
In Esther 4:16, Esther has come to a realization that Haman (at that point y’all are supposed to boo and hiss; that’s what happens at the plays that they put on in Purim) is the bad guy. He’s anti-Semitic. He has convinced Ahasuerus to give one day when every Persian can kill as many Jews as they want to. It would’ve been a major Holocaust from that time.
As Esther has discovered this, she has to go into the presence of Ahasuerus, and if he doesn’t recognize her and let her come forward, it’s off with her head, she’s dead. She is gathering her close friends together.
Esther 4:16, “Go gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day.”
That’s about as close to three days and three nights as you can get. But how is this applied? Look at Esther 5:1. It happened on the third day.
Now “on the third day …” just like in Jesus’ time, means before the third night. I’ve tried to figure this out if there’s any other way around it, and you can’t get it. The third night follows the third day. It’s just how you count; so it happened on the third day.
Here you have a phrase “three days, night or day” does not include the third night. That establishes this as an idiom of how they counted time.
We see an earlier example in Genesis 42:17 with Joseph. He takes his brothers and he puts them all together in prison for three days.
Genesis 42:18, “Then Joseph said to them …” The Hebrew doesn’t include the preposition in English translations, but in the Hebrew it says ‘on’ or ‘in’ the third day. Again it’s before the full 72 hours is completed.
There are a lot of other details you can go into to substantiate a crucifixion on Friday, a resurrection on Sunday, but this pretty much satisfies it. The only objection to that biblically has always been that three days and three nights from Matthew 12, and yet what we see here is that that has to be understood idiomatically and their support for that from Old Testament usage.
The next question is, why is the third day important? Was there some significance to that? If you were Jewish, would you have thought of something? There is a passage in the Old Testament. It’s a prophetic passage; it’s not going to be fulfilled until Jesus comes to establish His kingdom—that’s the ultimate referent point.
Hosea 6:1–2, the prophet says, “Come and let us return to the LORD; for He has torn, but He will heal us;”—talking about God’s announcement that He will divorce Israel and bring divine discipline on her—“He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.”
If you exegete and interpret that passage correctly, it’s talking about what will happen at the end of the Tribulation period when Israel calls upon the Lord to deliver them. But in Second Temple Judaism, this phrase “the third day” had come to be an idiom for when you realized the forgiveness of God: the finalization of redemption and the arrival of God’s forgiveness and redemption.
That’s interesting. If you were Jewish, that’s what you were taught: the third day is when you will realize God’s redemption. I think there’s a significance to why Jesus was in the tomb for those three days and three nights.
Back to the beginning of our passage, Matthew 28:1, “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.”
Then we’re told that something happened. It is interesting to look at the chronology here and to read carefully.
Matthew 28:2, “And behold, there was a great earthquake; …” That’s the first thing that’s pointed out, but other things are happening at the same time. The next word is the Greek word GAR which indicates an explanation of this earthquake—“for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat on it.”
If you read that too quickly, you’ll think that the earthquake caused the stone to roll away, but that’s not what the text says. The text says that the angel rolled it away. There’s a great earthquake, and the explanation for this earthquake is that the angel rolls the stone away.
If you want to put this in geologic terms, when there is a fault line, there’s an incredible amount of pressure that comes to bear at these different points; then something happens physically that triggers an earthquake.
That’s all fine and good if you believe in a closed universe, but we don’t believe in a closed universe. We believe that there’s an open universe. It’s open to God.
This is a problem I’ve pointed out with those who interpret everything from economics to politics from a closed system is that God actually intervenes in human history. So physical trigger points aren’t the only kind of trigger points; there are spiritual trigger points.
This points out and what I’m going to show is how this fits within the structure of biblical revelation: that there is an intersection between the material and the immaterial, between the visible and the invisible, between the physical and the spiritual that is not open to investigation through empiricism or rationalism. We can only know about it through revelation.
We see here that there is something going on physically, but what triggers the earthquake is something spiritual: the angel moves the stone. When the angel moves the stone, it has this impact on the physical creation, and there is not just a little rumbling. The text says that there was a great earthquake.
It could be that this is an aftershock from the great earthquake that occurred when Jesus died on the Cross, but that too shows an intersection of the spiritual with the physical that we can’t investigate in the science classroom.
Let’s fit this within a pattern in Scripture. We can go back to Genesis 19 and see that there are two angels and God who come to visit Abraham. Then we have this interchange as God tells Abraham that He is going to bring judgment on the cities of the plain, and He’s going to bring judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah and the other cities for their sinfulness.
Then Abraham pleads with God to rescue the righteous, which is “righteous Lot” as he’s called by Peter. The two angels go to warn Lot and his family to “get out of Dodge”, otherwise known as Sodom.
1. Lot, the angels and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19:22.
Because Sodom and Gomorrah are about to be completely incinerated by fire and brimstone, the angel makes an interesting statement to Lot: “For I cannot do anything until you arrive there.”
Lot said just before this, “Let me get out of here. There’s a little town over here called Zoar. Let me go stay there.” The angel said, “Okay, we won’t destroy Zoar. You go there, but I can’t do anything until you arrive there.”
After Lot gets there, Genesis 19:24, “Then the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah.” Isn’t that interesting? There’s a trigger point that’s spiritual, but then there’s a physical thing that happens.
2. We see it happened sometime later on Mount Sinai, Exodus 19:18,
“Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.”
You have this massive earthquake because of the presence of God on the mountain. It’s triggered by a spiritual reality.
What else we know from this is that angels were present. We know that from Galatians 3:19, where Paul tells us in that last line, “and it was appointed—that is, the Law—was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.”
Angels are not talked about in Exodus, but Paul tells us that angels were present on Mount Sinai.
3. We see it again with Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11.
He has fled south to Horeb, which was another name for Mount Sinai, and while he was there having this little pity party, God is going to give him a little biblical counseling and is going to reveal Himself through these different events to teach Elijah a few things.
In the middle of it, there’s a “… strong wind … and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not the fire and after the fire still small voice.”
The point that I’m making here is that God shows up and there’s an earthquake. It is that intersection, and we see it from Genesis all the way through the Old Testament.
Then we go and jump ahead to the future to Revelation, and we see in Revelation 8:5, which is between the trumpet judgments, “Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.”
An angel does something, and it triggers an earthquake.
Same thing in Revelation 11:13, “In the same hour there is a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell.”
Revelation 11:19, you see another earthquake.
Revelation 16:17, the seventh bowl judgment, “Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl …”
Revelation 16:18, “And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake ...”
All the way through Scripture are these events where God shows up and there are various manifestations, one of which is often an earthquake because the creation of God and the holiness of God impacting His fallen creation seems to create this environment. There is a trigger point that is spiritual and not physical.
Of course, the ultimate one is the prediction in Zechariah 14:4. We do know that there is a fault that runs right through the Mount of Olives, and that pressure is building all the time. But the trigger is going to be the foot of the Lord Jesus Christ when He comes to the Mount of Olives.
There will be a massive earthquake and the Mount of Olives will split in half, which will allow for the Jews who are under persecution in Jerusalem to escape through the Mount of Olives.
When we read about this great earthquake, this isn’t just some little tangential thing that happened. It is integral to understanding that God has shown up here and is doing something, and it fits a pattern that goes from Genesis to Revelation. We can’t just come in and say, “Oh, this is some sort of made-up apocalyptic scenario.” It fits everything that we know in Scripture.
A result of this is that the women—I’ve called them unsuspecting witnesses, they weren’t planning to be witnesses of the resurrection—were going there that day to anoint the body. They were not thinking anything about resurrection whatsoever. When they show up, it describes the angel, Matthew 28:3, “his countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow.”
This is language that is often used to describe God, to describe the throne room of God, and it describes Moses after he’s been in the presence of God. It is a reflection of God’s glory.
It is so brilliant that the guards shook for fear. The same word is used there for “shake with fear” as for an earthquake. There’s a little pun going on here, a play on words in the Greek text:
- the angel came and it shook the ground, but it also shook up the guards;
- and whereas Jesus was supposed to be dead, He’s alive, but they fall down, as if they are dead.
It’s a little humor in the story.
Matthew 28:5–6, the angel answers and says to the women, “Do not be afraid.”
Remember on Tuesday night [Samuel], we talked about whenever God shows up, people are afraid, all the way through Scripture. That’s what’s happening here; they’re afraid.
So the angel said, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here for He is risen, as He said. Come and see the place where the Lord lay.”
They are to be witnesses, so there is going to be a show-and-tell moment, so that they can see and be witnesses of the empty tomb and then go tell people about it. They weren’t planning to be witnesses. This isn’t something that was made up. We see this all the way through the episode.
We will talk about it again with Peter and John, with the other disciples. This is the last thing they expected, and they don’t necessarily come willingly to accept the fact that there is a resurrection. There has to be many convincing proofs, as Luke puts it in Acts 1, before they stop doubting.
Matthew 28:7, “And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee.”
We will come back to that next time. But the point is that they were not planning to be witnesses. They were unsuspecting witnesses, but they become the first to be witnesses that Jesus has risen from the dead.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to look into Your Word, to examine what You have revealed: to see the patterns there that are so important; to reinforce in our minds the accuracy, the historicity, the veracity of the text—that this is what happened. It bears the mark of authenticity, that this is how You have worked in history and will work in the future.
“Father, we pray that whoever is listening to or reading this message, whether they are here or whether they are watching on the Internet or later on, that if there are any that have never trusted in Christ as Savior, that they would come to understand that we are all fallen. We are all under condemnation.
“None of us are perfect. Scripture says all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God: the essence of God, all that You are. The only solution is for You to provide the solution, which You did through Jesus Christ. His resurrection is sort of the stamp of approval on that crucifixion, on what He did by dying for our sins—His acceptance by You.
“Father, the reality is that it’s to give us real life, new life, and that we have that only because our sins are paid for. But we need to believe in Jesus, to trust in Him and Him alone because Jesus is the full and total solution. But we have to trust in Him and Him alone for that to be applied.
“We pray that any listening now who have never trusted in Christ would do so, would believe that this is true: that Jesus is who He claimed to be, He is the Messiah, the Son of God, He died on the Cross for our sins, and that by believing, we may have life in His name.
“We pray for the rest of us that we will be challenged with a greater conviction of the truth of Scripture, the accuracy of Scripture, and that we should have a passion to know Your Word and to know You.
“We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”