Rolling Away the Stone

rolling away stone (2)

b) Matt 28:2–4: Matthew continued his account of Easter morning by noting a series of spectacular signs (Matt 28:1).

By employing the conjunction “for” (gar), Matthew emphasized the apocalyptic nature of this event.[1]

He wrote, “And behold, a great earthquake occurred, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, and he moved to and rolled away the stone, and he was sitting on top of it.”

It remains unclear whether this earthquake refers to an after-shock of the one described in Matt 27:51–54 or to an entirely separate cataclysm.[2]

He cited the angel’s activity as the primary cause of the upheaval (Cf. Rev 8:5; Rev 16:17–19).[3]

Just as “an angel of the Lord” announced Christ’s birth, here one proclaimed his resurrection, book-ending Matthew’s gospel (Matt 1:18–25).[4]

Archaeological evidence reveals that Jerusalem’s graveyard of that era contained numerous tombs carved in soft rock, trees and plants, and pathways leading to the individual burial sites.[5]

By the first century BC, prominent Jewish people constructed large, elaborate tombs to convey their familial authority and grandeur. This practice continued into the first century AD, even after they no longer wielded political power under Rome’s domination.[6]

Two styles of rock-hewn graves predominated in Jerusalem during that era. Some, called arcsolias, consisted of one room with three arches, each surrounding a shelf large enough to hold one body.[7]

More commonly, Jewish families created tombs called loculi, which permitted them to remain together while buried individually.[8] Such graves could hold up to a dozen corpses, each with its own room.[9]

A large wheel covered the entrance to Jesus’s tomb (Matt 27:57–60). These stones typically rested in a track, allowing those attending to the body to push the wheel aside and wedge it in place to keep the entrance open. Removing the wedge closed the door.[10]

Possibly by means of the earthquake,[11] in an act of supernatural triumph, the angel rolled the enormous stone to the side and sat upon it.[12]

However, neither the stone nor the seal kept Christ inside (Cf. John 20:19–20).[13] The angel rolled it away to enable the women to see that Jesus had already departed.[14]

Regarding the angel, Matthew reported, “His appearance was like lightning and his clothing [was] white like snow.”

This description typically applies to visions of God and the glorified Christ (Cf. Dan 7:9–10, 13–14; Dan 10:4–6; Matt 17:1–2; Rev 1:12–18).[15] The angel’s appearance reflected that of the resurrected Lord.[16]

Lightning and the color white symbolized power and holiness.[17]

When the soldiers at the cross experienced miraculous darkness and a great earthquake, they had responded in faith (Matt 27:45–54).[18]

The military men whom Pontius Pilate posted at the tomb reacted very differently (Matt 27:62–66).

Using the verb related to the term for the earthquake (seismos), Matthew noted, “but from the fear of him, the guards shook (seiō) and they became like dead men.”

Despite belonging to the Roman Army—one of the most effective military forces on earth—nothing equipped these soldiers to face such a terrifying entity.[19]

The men tasked with protecting a dead man fell to the ground like corpses.[20] However, even after that encounter, they failed to believe (Luke 16:19–31; Matt 28:11–15).[21]

Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

Read Matt 28:2–4. What spectacular signs occurred on Easter morning? Why were the soldiers so terrified? What effect did that experience have upon them? How do you think you would have reacted?

 

 

 

 

Go to Apostles to the Apostles (Matt 28:5–7)

 

[Related posts include A Most Cruel and Ignominious Punishment (Matt 27:26–37); Forsaken (Matt 27:38–49); The Death of God (John 19:28–30); God Rends the Barrier (Matt 27:50–51); Conversion of an Executioner (Matt 27:54); A New Dawn (Matt 28:1); Apostles to the Apostles (Matt 28:5–7); From Terror to Adoration (Matt 28:8–9); A Restoration of Status (Matt 28:10); and The First Good News (Gen 3:15)]

 

[Click here to go to Chapter 7: The Seed of the Serpent and the Seed of the Woman (Genesis 3:14–15)]

 

[1]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 869.

[2]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 869.

[3]France, The Gospel of Matthew, 1099.

[4]Wilkins, Matthew, 937.

[5]Rachel Hachlili, “Burials: Ancient Jewish,” ABD 1:789–94, 789.

[6]Andrea M. Berlin, “Power and Its Afterlife Tombs in Hellenistic Palestine,” NEA 65, no. 2 (1 April 2002):138–48, 147, Https://www.academia.edu/381520/Power_and_Its_Afterlife_Tombs_In_Hellenistic_Palestine.

[7]Byron R. McCane, “Burial Practices: Jewish,” DNTB, 173–175, 174.

[8]Hachlili, “Burials: Ancient Jewish,” 1:793.

[9]McCane, “Burial Practices: Jewish,” 174.

[10]George W. Buchanan and Pheme Perkins, “Tomb of Jesus,” HBD, 1058.

[11]Osborne, Matthew, 1066.

[12]Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 701.

[13]France, The Gospel of Matthew, 1097–8.

[14]Wilkins, Matthew, 937.

[15]France, The Gospel of Matthew, 1100.

[16]Osborne, Matthew, 1066.

[17]Wilkins, Matthew, 938.

[18]Davies and Allison, Matthew 19–28, 666.

[19]Wilkins, Matthew, 938.

[20]France, The Gospel of Matthew, 1100.

[21]Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 701