Why did Jesus rise from the dead? Each Gospel author answers this question differently. In this post we’ll look at Matthew’s account.
To understand his account of the resurrection, we must understand Matthew’s purpose in writing. Peter has previously addressed this, but here’s a brief summary. Matthew wrote to convince his audience that Jesus was the king of the Jews. He spends much of his book explaining the kingdom of heaven and its subjects.
More immediately, we need to consider Matthew 27 if we’re to understand Matthew 28. Chapter 27 describes Jesus’s encounter with Pilate, his mockery by the soldiers, his crucifixion, and his death (among other events). Since Matthew is concerned with Jesus’s identity, let’s pay special attention to the titles Matthew uses.
Jesus is called “King of the Jews” or the “King of Israel” four times in this chapter (Matthew 27:11; 27:29; 27:37; 27:42). Pilate refers to “Jesus who is called Christ” twice (Matthew 27:17; 27:22). Finally, we read the title “Son of God” three times in this chapter—twice by mockers (Matthew 27:40; 27:43) and once by a now-convinced centurion (Matthew 27:54).
Though we don’t have the space to explore this thoroughly, these three titles are connected. Take a look at 2 Samuel 7:14 to see the relationship between the King of Israel and the Son of God, and read Psalm 2 to see the connection between the Anointed One (“Messiah” or “Christ”), the Son of God, and the King.
Matthew 27 describes the final rejection of Jesus as the King of Israel. The political leaders, religious leaders, and crowds delight in Jesus’s death. He will trouble them no more (so they think).
Jesus is the Risen King
As Matthew 28 begins, we see Mary Magdelene and “the other Mary” coming to look at Jesus’s grave. They were present when the stone was rolled in front of the tomb (Matthew 27:60–61) and, remembering Jesus’s promise to rise (Matthew 16:21), they came back. I imagine they were not prepared for what they saw.
An “angel of the Lord” had rolled the stone away, causing a “severe earthquake” (Matthew 28:2). The soldiers guarding the tomb also quaked, and they were as good as dead (Matthew 28:4). If you saw an angel like this (Matthew 28:3), you’d probably pass out too!
The angel comforted the women and answered their (unspoken) questions plainly: Jesus is not here, he is risen.
Note how the angel speaks about the resurrection to the women. He invites them to see the empty tomb. He also reminds them that Jesus had predicted this himself (Matthew 28:6). Given that Matthew highlights Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, this is not a surprise.
The angel dispatches the women to announce the resurrection to the disciples, and Jesus meets the women on the road. His encounter with them is the key to this passage.
So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:8–10)
Notice their response upon meeting Jesus: they worshiped at his feet. They didn’t run or scream or question him or embrace him—they worshiped. Matthew communicates his purpose in telling this story through the women’s reaction: Jesus is the risen king!
Jesus is a Gracious King
Jesus was alive, and this proved his kingship. And this is world-rocking news! But Matthew had more to tell.
It’s astonishing to read about the disappearance of the disciples in Matthew’s Gospel. After Jesus is arrested, “all the disciples left him and fled” (Matthew 26:56). After the story of Peter’s denial (Matthew 26:69–75) and Judas’s suicide (Matthew 27:3–10), none of the disciples are mentioned in chapter 27. They really have abandoned him—his close friends were not there to carry his cross (Matthew 27:32), offer him a drink (Matthew 27:48), request his body (Matthew 27:58), or place him in the grave (Matthew 27:59–60).
And yet, Jesus refers to the disciples as his brothers. Don’t miss this! Jesus embraced these men who abandoned him. He wants the women to bring the news of his resurrection to the disciples and to assure them he will meet them in Galilee (Matthew 28:10).
Understanding the purpose and themes of Matthew, and working through this passage carefully, we’re ready for the main point. The risen Jesus is the gracious king of the Jews, the Messiah.
There are ten thousand implications for us. We must recognize Jesus’s authority as the risen king and worship at his feet. We must accept his gracious offer to meet us. And as we meet with Jesus, we will be comforted, assured of his authority, commissioned, and encouraged by his ongoing presence with us (Matthew 28:16–20).