From Terror to Adoration: Matthew 28:8–9

Terror to Adoration (2)

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d) Matt 28:8–9: After encountering the angel of the Lord at Christ’s empty tomb, the women followed his directions and ran to share the news of Jesus’s resurrection (Matt 28:1–7).

In these verses, they received conclusive evidence of the angel’s proclamation and responded in worship.

Matthew wrote, “And they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and they ran to give an account to his disciples. And, behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘Good morning!’”

Despite the angel’s admonition not to fear,[1] their alarm likely derived from the angel’s appearance, the urgency of their task, and the knowledge that the authorities who executed Jesus would not perceive this message as good news (Matt 27:62–66).[2]

At the same time, the women rejoiced in Christ’s victory over death.[3]



Notably, at the ending of the most reliable manuscripts of Mark’s gospel, the women experienced only fear (Mark 16). Manuscript evidence for Mark 16:9–20 does not exist prior to the fifth century.[4]

Experts remain divided over whether Mark 16:1–8 formed the original conclusion of that gospel or if,[5] coming at the end of a scroll, it was lost.[6]

The additional verses read like a composite of materials from the gospels and Acts (e.g. Acts 27:42–28:8). Given the abruptness of finishing at Mark 16:8, it appears that scribes formulated the two alternatives to provide a more satisfying ending.[7]



Contradicting the restrictions upon women giving testimony in that era,[8] the women in Matthew’s account went on their way to deliver (apangellō) an official proclamation imbued with sacred substance.[9]

Suddenly, Jesus himself met them. Given that the last time they saw Jesus they watched his burial (Matt 27:57–61), Matthew’s matter-of-fact description seems like an understatement.[10]

Christ simply greeted them as one would on any typical day (Matt 26:49).[11]

Chairete” (from cairō) carries a double meaning. In addition to “Hello” it can mean “Rejoice” (Matt 27:27–29; Phil 4:4).[12] Here, the term implies both nuances.[13]

Unlike the disciples on their way to Emmaus, the women immediately knew Jesus (Luke 24:13–18, 30–35). John provided a more detailed account in which Mary Magdalene recognized Christ when he spoke her name (John 20:11–16).[14]

Matthew reported, “And after coming to him, they held his feet and they worshiped him.”

The women did not encounter a mere vision.[15] Being able to grasp Jesus’s feet points to a physical resurrection (Luke 24:36–43; 1 Cor 15:42–55).[16]

They responded much like the gentile wise men had in the beginning of this gospel (Matt 2:1–2, 9–11).[17]



In that era, people expressed their loyalty and adoration to a ruler by clasping his feet (Cf. Luke 7:36–38).[18]

The Babylonian Talmud recounts the story of Rabbi Akiba, who spent twenty-four years away from home with his wife’s consent while he studied. It says:

 When he finally returned, he brought with him twenty-four thousand disciples. His wife heard [of his arrival] and went out to meet him…On approaching him she fell upon her face and kissed his feet. His attendants were about to thrust her aside, when [R. Akiba] cried to them, “Leave her alone, mine and yours are hers.”

Her father, on hearing that a great man had come to the town, said, “I shall go to him; perchance he will invalidate my vow.” When he came to him [R. Akiba] asked, “Would you have made your vow if you had known that he was a great man?”

“[Had he known]” the other replied, “[I would not have made the vow].” He then said to him, “I am the man.” The other fell upon his face and kissed his feet and also gave him half of his wealth.[19]



Similarly, the first century BC Roman historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus reported a woman saying this after her son returned from an absence of many years to conquer his own people:[20]

“If it is right and lawful for a woman to grovel at the feet of her son, even to this and every other posture and office of humility will I submit in order to save my country.” With these words, she threw herself upon the ground, and embracing the feet of Marcius with both hands, she kissed them.[21]



Matthew used the verb “worship” (proskuneō) to describe the women’s interaction with the risen Lord. The term connotes “prostrating oneself in total submission to a high-ranking figure in authority.”[22]

Jesus previously announced that people should worship only God. Therefore, Matthew’s positive portrayal of this act alludes to Christ’s divine status (Cf. Matt 4:9–10; Rev 22:8–9).[23]



John added some additional information in his gospel account regarding Mary holding Christ’s feet (John 20:17).

He wrote, “Jesus said to her, ‘Stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father and my God and your God.”’”

Scholars debate whether Christ referred to an immediate rising to and returning from the Father in one day,[24] or if he wanted Mary to let go of him and run to share the good news with his disciples that he would ascend into heaven forty days later (Acts 1:1–3; Heb 10:11–17).[25]

In one view, Jesus invited Thomas to touch him because he failed to believe that Christ had indeed risen from death (John 20:19–29).[26]

Others hold that ascending immediately to the Father comprised an important aspect of Jesus’s saving work (Heb 9:11–14). John’s gospel equates the news of the ascension with Matthew’s announcement of the resurrection. They assert that by the time Christ met Thomas a week later, his interim journey to heaven had ended.[27]



In either case, Matthew’s account indicates that the women saw the Lord whom they loved after he rose from the grave. This transformed their terror into adoration.[28]

Most of Christ’s other disciples experienced the same reaction after they followed the directive to meet Jesus in Galilee (Matt 28:16–17). A polite response to someone who rises from death seems inadequate.[29]

Christ’s resurrection exonerated him of any wrongdoing and pointed to what all his people can anticipate in the age to come (John 2:13–22; 1 Cor 15:20–23).[30]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Matt 28:8–9. Why were the women simultaneously afraid and joyful when they left the angel? When did they recognize Jesus? What did grasping someone’s feet mean in their culture? What are the implications of Christ accepting the women’s worship? Do you believe that John 20:17 refers to an immediate ascension of Jesus or to the one which occurred forty days later? Why?








Go to A Restoration of Status (Matt 28:10)

[Related posts include A New Dawn (Matt 28:1); Rolling Away the Stone (Matt 28:2–4); Apostles to the Apostles (Matt 28:5–7); A Restoration of Status (Matt 28:10); Dead in Adam but Alive in Christ (1 Cor 15:20–23); Perishable Flesh and Blood (1 Cor 15:50); We Shall Be Changed (1 Cor 15:51–52); Victory over Death (1 Cor 15:53–55); Obtaining Eternal Redemption (Heb 9:11–14); Modern Scholars’ View of 1 Pet 3:19–20; and New Testament Textual Criticism]

[Click here to go to Women and Marriage Throughout Redemptive History or here for Chapter 7: The Seed of the Serpent and the Seed of the Woman (Genesis 3:14–15)]


[1]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 873.

[2]Wilkins, Matthew, 940.

[3]France, The Gospel of Matthew, 1101.

[4]Eberhard Nestle and Erwin Nestle, Nestle-Aland: NTG Apparatus Criticus, 28. Revidierte Auflage (ed. Barbara Aland, et al.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgeschellschaft, 2012), 175–6.

[5]Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27–16:20 (WBC; Dallas: Word, 2001), 545.

[6]France, The Gospel of Matthew, 1102.

[7]David E. Garland, Mark (NAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 616–7.

[8]Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 7027

[9]Julius Schniewind, “ἀπαγγελλω” (apangellō), TDNT 1:64–7, 65–6.

[10]France, The Gospel of Matthew, 1102.

[11]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 874.

[12]Davies and Allison, Matthew 19–28, 669.

[13]Osborne, Matthew, 1068.

[14]Davies and Allison, Matthew 19–28, 669.

[15]Wilkins, Matthew, 940.

[16]Davies and Allison, Matthew 19–28, 669.

[17]Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 703.

[18]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 874.

[19]b. Kethubot 63a,

[20]Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, Vol. 5 (trans. Earnest Cary and Edward Spelman; LCL; Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press; Heinemann, 1945), 8.51.1–4, 151,

[21]Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities Vol.5, 8.53.4–54.1, 157,

[22]Arndt et. al, “προσκυνεω” (proskuneō), BDAG, 882.

[23]Osborne, Matthew, 1069.

[24]Beasley-Murray, John, 376.

[25]Morris, The Gospel according to John, 743.

[26]Carson, The Gospel according to John, 644–5.

[27]Beasley-Murray, John, 377.

[28]Wilkins, Matthew, 940.

[29]France, The Gospel of Matthew, 1102.

[30]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 874–5.