NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
There is an interesting story in another Jewish document where Rabbis are discussing whether or not the resurrection can be proven by reading the Torah, that is, the five books of Moses. The Sadducees say there will be no resurrection, but the Pharisees and others say there will be. On one occasion, these Rabbis had a conversation with Queen Cleopatra. If this is the Cleopatra of Anthony, then this conversation took place in Alexandria, Egypt, where a large Jewish enclave flourished. However, most Jewish scholars believe it was the corruption of the Aramaic name of the Patriarch of the Samaritans.
In either case, the Patriarch asked Rabbi Meir: “I know that the dead will revive, for it is written, ‘And the righteous will blossom forth out of Jerusalem like the grass of the earth.’1 But when they arise, will they arise nude or dressed in garments?’ — He replied, ‘You may deduce by an a fortiori2 argument the answer from a grain of wheat: if a grain of wheat, which is buried naked, sprouts in many robes, how much more so the righteous, who are buried in their raiment!’”3 In other words, think of a person’s body much like a dead seed that is buried in the ground and sprouts up to produce a living plant from that seed.
But that’s not all, the narrative goes on. On another occasion, we read: “An emperor said to Rabban Gamaliel: ‘You maintain that the dead will revive, but they turn to dust, so can dust come to life?’ Thereupon the emperor’s daughter said to the Rabbi: ‘Let me answer him: In our town there are two potters; one fashions his products from water,1 and the other from clay: who is the more praiseworthy?’ ‘He who fashions them from water,’ he replied. ‘If God can fashion man from water, surely He can do so from clay!’”2
Also, Jewish historian Josephus made it clear that, with the exception of the Sadducees, this was the prevailing view of all Jews. He wrote:
This is the discourse concerning Hades, wherein the souls of all men are confined until a proper season, which God has determined, when He will make a resurrection of all men from the dead, not procuring a transmigration of souls from one body to another, but raising again those very bodies, which you Greeks, seeing as dissolved, do not believe [their resurrection]. But learn not to disbelieve it; for while you believe that the soul is created, and yet is made immortal by God, according to the doctrine of Plato, and this in time, be not incredulous; but believe that God is able, when He has raised to life that body which was made as a compound of the same elements, to make it immortal; for it must never be said of God, that He is able to do some things and unable to do others. We have therefore believed that the body will be raised again; for although it be dissolved, it does not perish; for the earth receives its remains, and preserves them; and while they are like seed and are mixed among the more fruitful soil, they flourish, and what is sown is indeed sown bare grain, but at the mighty sound of God the Creator, it will sprout up, and be raised in a clothed and glorious condition, though not before it has been dissolved, and mixed [with the earth]. So that we have not rashly believed the resurrection of the body; for although it be dissolved for a time on account of the original transgression, it exists still, and is cast into the earth as into a potter’s furnace, in order to be formed again, not in order to rise again such as it was before, but in a state of purity, and so as never to be destroyed any more. And to every body shall its own soul be restored. And when it has clothed itself with that body, it will not be subject to misery, but, being itself pure, it will continue with its pure body, and rejoice with it, with which it having walked righteously now in this world, and never having had it as a snare, it will receive it again with great gladness. But as for the unjust, they will receive their bodies not changed, not freed from diseases or distemper, nor made glorious, but with the same diseases wherein they died; and such as they were in their unbelief, the same shall they be when they shall be faithfully judged.6
This discourse sounds very familiar to what was written by one of the early church scholars in the third century.1 Therefore, being raised by God from the dead was not foreign to the Jews, even as their own literature states: “Those who fear the Lord shall rise to everlasting life, and their life is in the light of the Lord and shall never end.”2 It’s clear from this, that the women who saw Jesus entombed already believed in being resurrected with a new body, but did not expect to see Jesus exit the tomb that way on this day.
And now Matthew moves on to the angels who were involved. Angels have always been classified as messengers or carrier’s of communication, but not the originators of the same. This angel is no exception. He carried a message sent from someone higher than himself. Could it have been the Son of God who left this message with the angel before His own planned departure to Galilee? The likelihood is more for, than against. But to make sure that they did not question the veracity of the message or the messenger, the angel reminds them of another subject matter Jesus had given them, and that was His assurance that He would be raised from the dead.
Then the angel, by authority of Jesus, invited them to see the empty tomb for themselves. Even though we have no specific evidence that the same angel who spoke to Daniel in his vision is the same as the one speaking to the women here, his words sound very similar. We read in Daniel, “Then the man in the vision started talking again. He said, ‘Daniel, do not be afraid. From the very first day you decided to get wisdom and to be humble in front of God, He has been listening to your prayers. I came to you because you have been praying.”9
It would not surprise me if these women had been praying all night and all day, asking God to make the words spoken to them by their Master that He would rise from death in three days, come to pass. But the message the angel gave them sparked, even more, excitement and urgency. The angel did not tell them to take their time, but to carry this message back to the disciples as soon as possible. And Matthew tells us they lost no time in getting underway to carry out the mission given them. But they were in for an even bigger surprise.
Verses 8-10: So the women turned to leave the tomb quickly. They were afraid, but they were also very happy. As they started to hurry off to tell His followers what had happened, suddenly, Jesus was standing there in front of them. He said, “Hello!” The women ran to Him, and bowing down before Him they held on to His feet. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go tell my followers to go to Galilee. They are to meet me there.”
There is little doubt that when we see Jesus for the first time, our reaction will be similar to that of the women here. Sometimes English words that convey several meanings tend to cloud the text from what the original language implies. To most English speaking believers, especially those in America, when we use the word “worship” it is connotative of what we do during our services in church. But what the word “worship” used here implies in the original Greek, means to fall down on one’s knees in front of a holy person, grab their hand and apply it to the forehead or put one’s forehead on their feet.
This helps explain why the women took hold of Jesus feet. Even so, our Lord is worthy of all praise and honor and glory and majesty, even falling down before Him on our knees in worship. This verse has caused some confusion because of the rendering Christ’s words from Aramaic, especially by John.10 Using the New International Version we see that Matthew has written, “Do not be afraid”; but John records Jesus as saying: “Do not hold on to me!” One seems to be a greeting of peace, the other appears to be a request for patience.
1 Psalm 72:16
2 A fortiori is Latin, meaning: With stronger reason. This phrase is used in logic to denote an argument to the effect that because one ascertained fact exists, therefore another which is included in it or analogous to it yet less unlikely, unusual, or surprising must also exist.
3 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Sanhedrin, folio 90b
4 Most scholars believe this is a reference to glass, which looked like water to the emperor’s daughter,.
5 Babylonian Talmud, Masekhet Sanhedrin, folio 91a
6 Josephus’s Discourse to the Greeks Concerning Hades, Trans. By William Whiston, Para. 5
7 Against Plato, on the Cause of the Universe by Hippolytus, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5, pp. 549-552
8 Psalms of Solomon, 3:12
9 Ibid. 10:12
10 John 20:17