Matthew 28:1-9 “Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. The guards shook from fear of him and became like dead men. And the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see Him; behold, I have told you.” And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report to His disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Rejoice!” And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him.”
The days had been grim for the women in this account. They had been grieving since the crucifixion of Jesus, unable to get to His body to prepare it for burial. Many scholars now believe that Jesus had been in the tomb since Thursday evening, meaning that the women had been waiting for 72 hours to perform the rituals that were normally done within no more than 24 hours.
The Jews know that the day of Passover, which is observed on the 15th of the month Nisan, is always a “Sabbath” day, no matter the day of the week on which it falls. In the year 30 AD, Friday the 15th of Nisan was a Sabbath, meaning two Sabbaths occurred— Friday and Saturday. Matthew seems to know this as he wrote that the women who visited Jesus’ tomb came early the morning “after the Sabbaths” (Matthew 28:1). In the Greek the word translated as “Sabbaths” is plural, not singular, and translations otherwise are not what the Greek has.
Later Christian tradition put Jesus’ last meal with his disciples on Thursday evening and his crucifixion on what we call today “Good Friday,” but it is likely that this is one day off. Jesus’ last meal was more likely on Wednesday night, and he was likely crucified on Thursday.
We now understand the early tradition that Jesus was in the tomb “three days and three nights,” as well as the chronology of the “Last Supper,” the Passover and Sabbaths, and festival days fit together that year. This chronology makes all the pieces fit from the Gospels.
It is easy to imagine the women that morning, with their heavy hearts and grim resignation as they rise early to get to the tomb to carry out their unpleasant work. Now imagine their great bewilderment as they arrive and find the body gone, the stone moved, and an angel with a strange bit of news about Jesus being risen from the dead.
Apparently, their response was one of fear and apprehension over these events mixed with joy over the thought of their friend and Lord being alive again! Matthew records that they “Left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report” the news. What a mix of emotions!
Why did the women have such great joy? The reasons likely included these:
- He was not dead after all but was risen as He said.
- He was on His way to Galilee to meet up with His followers, so they would see him again.
- Everything that was heaviness to them was gone in just a few seconds, replaced by the most joyful news they could have received.
The only things that could have made the joy even bigger was to see Jesus for themselves!
“And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Rejoice!” Jesus Himself appears to them as they are leaving the garden area. His words to them are not, “Hey, it’s me!” or even, “Hey, calm down a bit!” He greets them with one powerful word: “Rejoice!”
Rejoice. Why did Jesus tell women who were already filled with great joy to rejoice?
Perhaps the Savior was hinting at the coming revelations of what His resurrection would provide for them. They could not yet have understood the greater fullness of what they were gaining in His resurrection. The coming indwelling of the Holy Spirit, or the deep and life-changing fellowship they would have within the new church of Jesus Christ on earth. They could not yet grasp what it would be like to walk with the Holy Spirit every day. And of course, they did not yet understand fully the gift of eternal life.
There was much for which the women that morning were joyful. But the did not know the half of it! What they knew already had filled them with great joy. They had so much more to rejoice over, so much had yet to be revealed to them. My guess is that this discovery of the resurrected Savior was just the start of a long period of amazing revelations. What they would come to know over the next two months would make their heads spin and their hearts and lives overflow with joy.