Lesson Focus: This lesson is about the fact Jesus was truly dead, rose from the grave, and is alive today.
Proof of a Guarded Tomb: Matthew 27:62-66.
 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate  and said, "Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’  Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first."  Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can."  So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. [ESV]
[62-63] In a paragraph peculiar to this Gospel Matthew turns now to the opposition; from what Jesus’ friends did to the activity of the enemy. The story of the guard at the tomb is often assailed as a fictitious invention of the early church, but we must bear in mind that from the earliest days of the church the resurrection of Jesus was at the center of the proclamation. Had the authorities been able to point to a body in the tomb where Jesus was placed on Good Friday, that preaching would have been shown to be ridiculous. Though they could not have known how central the preaching of the resurrection would be, there is nothing outrageous in the suggestion that the Jewish leaders would have taken precautions to see that the body of Jesus remained where it was buried. Matthew speaks of the next day and calls it after the day of Preparation, which was the day when people prepared for the Sabbath, that is, Friday. On this Sabbath, then, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate. There is no mention of the elders, so Matthew is not speaking of an official delegation from the Sanhedrin. But both the chief priests and the Pharisees were religious personages, and they may have been expected to be interested in what Jesus taught and how they might combat it. The word rendered gathered is often used to describe the coming together of assemblies, and it hints that there was something formal and solemn about this meeting with Pilate. We have seen that on a number of occasions Jesus had prophesied that he would rise from the dead. His disciples seem consistently to have misunderstood these prophecies, and there is no evidence that they had them in mind at this time. But His enemies did remember them, and they ascribed to Jesus’ followers better memories than they apparently had. These Jewish leaders did not anticipate a resurrection; they speak of Jesus as that impostor when they are referring to His predictions of His resurrection. But they recalled Jesus’ prophecies and feared that the disciples might attempt to stage a mock resurrection by causing Jesus’ body to disappear. They had taken notice of exactly what Jesus had said, they recalled the interval of three days that he had mentioned. They knew exactly what they were up against, even though it does not seem to have occurred to them that what Jesus had thus prophesied would in fact take place.
[64-66] They were probably uneasy that the body had been given to friends of Jesus for burial, so they wanted to make sure that no one removed the body from the tomb where it had been placed. Accordingly they asked Pilate to take steps to ensure that the body was not stolen. There was, of course, no reason why they should not have put some of the temple police there, but evidently they felt that some Roman soldiers would be preferable. In any case, once they had handed Jesus over to the Romans He would have been removed from their control and they might not have any rights at the sepulcher. Because of the prophecies they wanted a guard. They wanted the tomb to be made secure until the third day for that was the time specified in the prophecies, and if the disciples stole the body after that time they could point out that Jesus’ words had not been fulfilled. But if the body was stolen within that time, the disciples could claim that he has risen from the dead. Presumably they saw Jesus’ claim to messiahship as the first error and a claim to resurrection as a possible last fraud. They did not consider for a moment that there was any element of truth in what Jesus had said. Pilate tells them to go off and to make the tomb as secure as they can. With a free hand in this matter they would not be able to complain that Pilate had let them down if things went wrong. Matthew rounds off this section of his narrative with the Jewish leaders happy and secure. They went away from Pilate and proceeded to do as he had suggested. They made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. From their point of view, they had neatly defeated any attempt the disciples might make to empty the tomb and to start stories of a resurrection. But in doing this they did more than they knew. They ensured that there could be no nonsense about disciples stealing the body when in due course Jesus did rise from the dead. The precautions of His enemies would underline the truth of His resurrection. It is not without interest that, after all their precautions to ensure that the body was not stolen, in the event they themselves spread reports that that had indeed happened; they said that His disciples had stolen the body. Justin tells us that in the middle of the second century the Jews were still claiming that the disciples had stolen the body, despite the fact that the Jews themselves had made it clear that there was no possibility of the body of Jesus being stolen. On the third day the tomb was empty; the only question was how this came about. There is a delicious irony here. The authorities try to cover up the resurrection by advancing the very story that they had wanted to prevent! They posted a guard so no one would steal the body and say He had risen. Now they tell the guards to say they fell asleep and that the disciples stole the body [see Matt. 28:13-15]. In this way, they actually spread the story of the empty tomb. The authorities also demonstrate their depravity. Earlier, they had demanded that Jesus perform a sign that would let them believe. Jesus said they would get no sign but His resurrection [12:38-40]. Now they have the sign they sought, but instead of believing, they attempt to destroy the evidence.
Proof of an Empty Tomb: Matthew 28:5-8.
 But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you."  So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. [ESV]
The angel’s business was not with those irrelevant guards. He ignored them and addressed the women and responded to their situation. They had come to do something about burying a dead body and there was no dead body; there were guards, armed men, though they were trembling and afraid. The angel answered the women’s unexpressed fears with Do not be afraid. After calming their fears, the angel goes on to encourage them by assuring them that he knows all about their mission: for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here tells them that their search is a vain one; no more should they look in a tomb for Jesus. The angel goes on to say he has risen, as he said, which should remind them of the predictions that Jesus had made and that apparently none of His followers had taken as they were meant. But the predictions were important, and the angel draws their attention to them. They were not facing a situation in which Jesus had undergone a totally unexpected fate and had then experienced an unanticipated deliverance. He had prophesied both His death and His resurrection, and it was important that His followers should come to understand that the wonderful happening that had just taken place was in fact no more than what Jesus had prophesied during His lifetime. The angel backs up his statement that Jesus had been raised by inviting them to come, see the place where he lay. This might not perhaps give an infallible proof of what the angel had said, but at least it would make clear that there was no point in concentrating their attention on the tomb. They could see for themselves that Jesus was not there; then perhaps they would take to heart what the mighty angel had told them. From reassuring the women the angel then turns to commissioning them to do something. Go quickly, he says; the good news is not something to be hugged to oneself. They are to be the messengers to the disciples, which, while it refers to all who follow Jesus, in this place signifies particularly the eleven. We might have expected that the good news would be given first to Peter or John or some other member of the eleven. But God’s ways are not our ways, and the message was given first to a couple of women, people who did not rate highly in first-century estimation. These two women then were told that they should tell the disciples two things: first, that Jesus has been raised from the dead and, second, that He is going ahead of you into Galilee, a meeting that He had prophesied before His death [26:32]. This does not mean that He is even now on His way to Galilee, but is a prophecy that He is going to be in Galilee before them. This is the second time the angel has said that Jesus has been raised; it is important for the women to be clear on this. And it is of interest that he tells them to assure the disciples that he is going before you to Galilee. In Luke and John there are appearances of Jesus in and around Jerusalem, but of course John also has the story of the miraculous catch of fish, and that took place in Galilee. Matthew puts more emphasis on Galilee than does any of the other Evangelists. The angel completes his message with See, I have told you. He had done all he could for them. The rest was up to them. The women made haste to do what they were told. They left the tomb quickly, the place of death no longer had any meaning for them. That they went with fear indicates that they were in the grip of the awe that had been aroused in them by their contact with the angel. But they were not simply scared; they went with great joy. They had come to that place mourning the death of their great leader and dear friend; they went away knowing that He was dead no longer. They had been told to go quickly and tell the disciples, and they took the injunction literally. They ran to tell his disciples. Such good news should be spread abroad quickly, so they certainly made haste. His disciples is a general term and is broad enough to cover all those who had given Him their allegiance. While the news of the resurrection would in due time be conveyed to all His followers, in this place it appears that the term is used especially of the eleven. They were closest to Jesus, and it was important that they learn at the soonest possible moment that their Master had conquered death.
Proof of Eyewitness Account: Luke 24:13-16, 32-35.
 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,  and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened.
 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.  But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?"  And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together,  saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!"  Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. [ESV]
The appearance of Jesus on the Emmaus road is one of Luke’s most vivid and dramatic accounts about Jesus, and he tells the event with great skill and drama. Luke’s reader knows more than the travelers and can more easily see the unit’s many themes. (1) The gradual revelation of Jesus contains irony: the empty tomb has not yet created an ecstatic change of view; in fact, the travelers lament that Jesus has not been seen even though the tomb is empty. (2) As Jesus demonstrates His resurrection in a direct appearance, tragedy turns to triumph when it becomes clear who has instructed them about (3) the fulfillment of Scripture and God’s plan. (4) The raised Jesus sits in table fellowship with His disciples. He is in the midst of His people even when they are not aware of it. Failure becomes fulfillment. The account has a four-part structure: the meeting [13-16], the conversation about recent events [17-27], the meal with its startling revelation [28-32], and the return to report the event [33-35]. The major point surfaces in the contrast between the travelers’ report of recent events [19-24] versus Jesus’ teaching about what must take place [25-27]. The travelers were deeply disappointed by Jesus’ death, which they initially viewed as a severe setback. Through this appearance, God reversed in dramatic style the thinking of Cleopas and his companion. They would never be the same as they learned that death could be overcome and that God’s plan had moved ahead. Jesus was alive, and as a result their hope was renewed. This appearance is the third evidence of Jesus’ resurrection (the other two were the empty tomb and the angelic announcement). For Luke, appearances are the most decisive proof, since they remove all doubt about resurrection.
[13-16] Meeting. Luke introduces a second event that occurred on resurrection day. Luke’s reference to two of them is an allusion to the group of disciples mentioned in 24:9: all the rest. That the apostles are not meant is clear from the name Cleopas , who is not one of the Eleven. The two men are probably headed home to Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. The two men are engaged in an intense discussion with one another. It had been an unusual few days, and they are reviewing what had transpired. Cleopas’ summary in 19-24 probably indicates the general content of their discussion. The conversation was intense as they discussed what had happened. During this time of discussion, a third traveler catches up to the pair. Jesus apparently has a form of resurrection body that they could not recognize as He travels with them and engages them in conversation. They probably think that He is another worshiper returning home from Jerusalem. Luke makes it clear that the two travelers do not have the total picture: their eyes were kept from recognizing Jesus. There would come a time when the disciples would clearly see, but in their current uncertainty God still had things to teach them. The veil will be lifted in verse 31. Such concealing is often noted by Luke [see 9:45 and 18:34]. The lack of recognition of the raised Jesus occurs elsewhere [John 20:14-15; 21:4]. One purpose of verse 24:16 is to show the reality of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Part of the drama of this event is when and how the two disciples will realize who their discussion partner is.
[32-35] Report to Disciples. The travelers are anxious to pass on the news of what they have discovered. The disappointment that the disciples had not seen Jesus has been reversed by Jesus Himself. So they return to Jerusalem. Upon arriving in Jerusalem, they find the Eleven gathered together. With the Eleven are an unspecified number of other disciples who had stayed behind in Jerusalem. The Emmaus travelers are ready to give their good news, but another report comes before they have the chance. There is good reason for the disciples’ excitement: Jesus has appeared to Simon Peter. The report shows that Jesus is really among them, no matter where they are. It shows the surprising comprehensive way in which the appearances came. Not only did Jesus provide evidence for His resurrection on the road; He did it in Jerusalem too. The excitement is so great that one report is interrupted by another. These reports bring reassurance that Jesus was indeed raised and had indeed appeared. Also significant is the remark that the Lord is risen. This use of the title Lord emphasizes the risen Jesus’ authority. He is not only alive, He bears authority. The second account of the travelers follows. Luke thus gives two sets of witnesses to the resurrection. One can imagine the thoughts in the room during these discussions. What is God going to do next?
Questions for Discussion:
1. Why has the historical resurrection of Jesus always been at the center of the church’s proclamation of the gospel [see, for example, Rom. 1:4; 1 Cor. 15]? What difference does Jesus’ resurrection make to your life and the way you respond to your circumstances?
2. How are those religious leaders today who deny the historical reality of the bodily resurrection just like the chief priests and Pharisees of Jesus’ day? This is a perfect example of how one’s interpretation of Scripture is affected by a naturalistic world view that claims that the natural order is a closed system where no miracles can take place.
3. How did the two women react to the angel’s message that Jesus has risen from the dead [see 28:8]? Is this the way every believer should react? How does fear and great joy go together?
4. Note how both Luke and Paul [see 1 Cor. 15:3-8] emphasize the appearances of the risen Christ to His disciples as the decisive proof of the resurrection.
The Gospel of Matthew, R. T. France, NICNT, Eerdmans.
The Gospel of Matthew, Leon Morris, Pillar, Eerdmans.
Matthew, Daniel Doriani, REC, P&R Publishing.
Luke, Darrell Bock, BECNT, Baker.
Luke, Robert Stein, NAC, Broadman.