THE PASSION OF OUR LORD:
DETAILING THE EVENTS OF OUR LORD’S SUFFERING AND DEATH
Session #26 (Most quotes are NIV)
EASTER MORNING FEAR, APRIL 9, 30 A.D.
Isaiah 9:20: “They will flee to caverns in the rocks and to the overhanging crags from the fearful presence of the Lord and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth.”
Who was afraid this Easter morning? It would be easier to list who was not afraid! Matthew 28:2-4 sets the tone: “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.”
We are not given the angel’s name. He is “just an angel” (one of many) with a job to do; he rolls back the 1.5-ton stone easily, and then “sat on it.” The verb here is an imperfect—an on-going action. Therefore, it should read: “he began/continued to sit on it.” (He stayed there!)
The Greek says those who were scared to death were “those who were guarding.” These are Jewish Temple Guards (Gibbs wants to claim this is a Roman guard—although I am sure they too would have been in shock! See below for more on this subject.). Let’s set the stage: the guards are standing watch, guarding a sealed tomb with their lives. Dawn is starting to break. Suddenly an angel who looks like lightning rolls away the stone by himself, begins to sit on this behemoth pebble—all the while a massive earthquake hits, and they are scared out of their minds. Yes—I think that would qualify as a fulfillment of Isaiah!
As we now turn to the other Gospels, we can safely assume that the guards did not remain catatonic. When they regained enough sense to move, they must have run a 100-yard dash in record time, because they are no longer anywhere to be seen when the women arrive.
A careful comparison of the Gospels will show that this frightening angel, who looks like blinding lightning, sits on the giant stone, had caused an violent earthquake and presented himself in a petrifying manner, had done so for a purpose: this angel’s job was two-fold: 1) to roll that megalith away from the entrance so people could get in, and 2) to scare the guards away so that the women and others will have free access to the tomb.
In all the subsequent Easter stories at the tomb, the guards are gone! Thank you, angel!
LET’S FINISH OFF THE GUARDS!
Before we review the various stories of those who see the empty tomb on Easter morning and the angels’ announcement that He has risen, let’s dispose of the guards at the tomb.
Matthew doesn’t finish this story until later in chapter 28, verses 11-15, when he tells us that they took a bribe. “While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money,telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.”
In favor of the idea that these are Roman soldiers is verse 12, which refers to the guards as “strategoi”—a word normally used as a description of Roman soldiers.
Mitigating against the idea of Roman soliders are two points: 1) these guards report to the Chief Priests that the tomb is empty. Temple Guards are under the direct control of the Head Chief Priest. If they were Roman soldiers, they would only care about how to explain this to Pilate, but if they are Temple Guards their instinct would be to report up the chain of command 2) these guards accept a bribe! Roman soldiers who accept a bribe are not long for this world—and no kind words from a Jewish Chief Priest will placate Pilate. The Roman military takes rules, order and discipline very seriously. A bribe would be more than career-ending. It would be life-ending.
What the guards received was ἀργύρια ἱκανὰ , which doesn’t mean “money” but “enough silver” or “adequate silver.” This is important, not only because it draws attention to Judas and his betrayal for silver, but also that the Chief Priests (who had access to a nearly inexhaustible amount of money from the Temple treasury) thought that this amount—however much it was—would be enough for them to keep their mouths shut.
If the desire for money is there, is it ever “enough?” When I lived in the Midwest, there was an executive in Wichita Kansas who made the news: he was worth nearly a half-billion dollars but was caught embezzling from his company. I will never understand that; a half-billion isn’t enough? At any rate, in the case of these guards, the amount of money used for a bribe was not enough! Matt. 28:15 “And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” The amount they received was not enough to keep their mouths shut.
Where did Matthew get this information? He may have “heard the rumor,” or the Holy Spirit might have dictated the details, but I suspect that our Gospel writer spoke with one of the men who had guarded the tomb, took the bribe, and later told Matthew (his fellow Jew) even the smallest details about the conversation. Rumors are not as reliable as eye-witnesses!
CHRIST IS RISEN INDEED!
Mark’s Gospel is a bit easier to ponder, because Mark has only one Easter Morning story, Mark 16:1-8. By the time the women arrive at the tomb, a couple of things have changed: v. 2 tells us the sun is up, and v. 5 tells us that the only angel is now inside the tomb and appears as a “young man” rather than a “frightening, fire-breathing dragon” sitting outside to scare people away. Is this the same angel who sent the guards packing? We will never know.
It seems apparent from this and the other Gospels that Jesus rose from the dead while it was still dark, and that the stone was rolled away not to let Jesus OUT but to let other people IN, so that we could see that He had risen.
Mark 16:3-4 “…and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’ But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.” The NIV’s translation is smooth here, but misses some things. “They saw” is an important word in Greek—it refers not merely to “seeing” something, but to an eyewitness to something: “I saw it with my own eyes!” Then the words “which was very large” are more accurately rendered “it was large in the extreme!” To these women, that slab of rock in front of the tomb was an immovable object.
In Mark’s Gospel, the women do not get to see Jesus. They see a “young man” inside the tomb. James Voelz’ translation of Mark 16:6 is worth sharing: “And he PROCEEDS TO SAY to them, “Stop being worked up! You seek Jesus the Nazarene, the one who is (still in a) crucified (condition). He has risen. He is not here. See—the place where they placed him.” (This is precisely as his translation appears in Jim’s Vol. 2 Mark, p. 1195) Voelz points not only to the fact that our Lord is never NOT in a crucified condition, but that He appears to Thomas (in the Gospel of John) with the holes in His body from the crucifixion as support for this concept.
Mark concludes with the women running from the tomb, too scared to tell anyone about this because two factors summarize their condition, but how to translate. NIV says “trembling and bewildered.” ESV says “trembling and astonishment.” My choice is: “quivering with fear and ecstatic!” Fear and ecstasy are on the extreme ends of the emotional scale. (By the way, the Greek word is ἔκστασις—ekstasis.) They don’t know whether to laugh or to cry!
Why does Mark leave us hanging with no sight of Jesus Risen? As Jim Voelz points out, the Gospel of Mark was written to provide this challenge to his readers: are you going to believe the promises of Jesus Christ, or just keep staring at an empty tomb?