Online Sunday School. The Gospel of Matthew, God With Us, Kerygma materials, Chapter 14, Matthew Chapters 26 to 28. Matthew’s Easter Resurrection Narrative.

The four gospels, as well as Paul in 1st Corinthians 15 which is thought to be the earliest surviving account, have different descriptions of the resurrection appearances of Jesus.

 

Matthew’s gospel appears to have been written for Christian Jews. It argues that Jesus is the fulfillment of Jewish scriptures and the heir to Moses, David and the prophets. Thus Matthew has frequent references to the Hebrew Bible, and echoes of significant Old Testament stories like the slaughter of children, the departure from Egypt and the Sermon on the Mount, reminiscent of Moses.

 

Matthew spends much time on the efforts of the chief priests and Pharisees to explain away the resurrection by claiming that Jesus’ followers stole his body. In today’s terms these can be seen as “spin control” or “damage control.” The priests and Pharisees first go to Pilate and persuade him to assign soldiers to guard Jesus’ tomb. Some of Jesus’ female followers watch as disciple Joseph of Arimathea gets Jesus’ body from Pilate, places it in a tomb hewn from a rock, and rolls a large stone in front of it. On Easter morning, these women return to the tomb to anoint Jesus. All four gospels have various details where women, including Mary Magdalene, discover the empty tomb and encounter angelic figures who tell them that Jesus has risen and they are to tell the disciples. These women are the first evangelists of the risen Christ.

 

In Matthew an angel descends from heaven in an earthquake (echoing the one that happened when Jesus died) rolls away the stone and sits on it, terrifying the guards who “become as dead men.” After the angel instructs the women to tell the women to go to Galilee to see Jesus, Mathew has Jesus himself appear to the women, tell them not to be afraid and again instruct them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee.

 

Matthew then has the priests and Pharisees pay the guards to say that the disciples stole the body, and promise to keep them out of trouble for doing so. This a reminder of them paying Judas to betray Jesus and generally is how these people of power operate in the world. We are told that their story was still being told among the Jews at the time the gospel was written. Again conflicting stories, fake news and the like are not new.

 

While Jesus’ resurrection appearances in the gospels are only to those who already are following him after experiencing his words and deeds (Paul’s later conversion experience being different), in Matthew at Jesus’ death “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.” So while the visions of the resurrected Jesus may have been limited to his disciples, a glimpse of resurrection was part of significant signs that accompanied the death of Jesus.

Matthew’s resurrection appearances are comparatively simple and matter of fact. People recognize the risen Jesus when they see him and there are no discussions of his wounds or his eating and similar issues, nor sudden appearances in locked rooms, such as are found in other gospels.

Matthew’s Gospel concludes with the “Great Commission”. Jesus earthly ministry in Matthew ends as it began, on a mountain.  “16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. [another possible translation is “hesitated” or “wavered”.] 18 And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ ”

 

  1. What does the “great commission” say to you? How is Jesus with us 2000 years later?
  2. What does it mean to you that Jesus’ resurrection appearances are to his followers, rather than to say Pilate, Caiaphas or Caesar, or the crowds in Jerusalem?
  3. What does it mean to you that Jesus’ first resurrection appearances are to women?
  4. Imagine you had become a follower of Jesus that he was killed by authorities and then you heard he was resurrected. How much doubt, hesitation and wavering would you have approached this experience with?
  5. What is most important to your Christian faith, and why?
    1. Jesus’ teaching on how to live, loving God and neighbor?
    2. Jesus miraculous works of power and healing?
    3. Jesus interaction with the people around him?
    4. Jesus death as atonement for our sins?
    5. Jesus’ resurrection?
    6. The promise that Jesus will come again to judge humankind?
    7. Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and second person of the Trinity?
    8. Jesus’ claims about himself, particularly in John’s gospel?
    9. Jesus is the culmination of Old Testament prophecy?
  6. Compare the resurrection appearances in the various gospels. Many of them have magical or mystical features. People don’t recognize Jesus until he does something to cause them to. Consider also people raised from the dead by Jesus (the synagogue leader’s daughter; Lazarus). What do these stories say to you, particularly about death?