The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 28:8-15

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 26, 2016

This post opens with a brief analysis of the entire chapter, followed by Fr. MacEvilly’s comments on verses 8-15. Text in red, if any, ae my additions.


In this chapter, the Evangelist gives an account of our Lord’s resurrection, on Easter morning, and of the wonderful occurrences that took place in connexion with it—the earthquake, the appearance of angels at the tomb, the terror and stupefaction that seized on the guards (1–4). The consoling assurances on this head, given to the pious women, who came early to the sepulchre, by the angel who also instructed them to go at once and inform His disciples of the fact. On their way home, our Lord Himself meets them, and dispels all their fears (5–10). The obstinate impenitence of the Chief Priests, and their determined resistance to the known truth, in bribing the soldiers, with a large sum of money, to tell an unmeaning lie, viz., that the disciples came while they were asleep, and stole away our Lord’s body (11–15). The apparition of our Lord to His Apostles on a mountain of Galilee, where He communicates to them the plenitude of His authority, armed with which they are commanded to go forth, as His legates, to preach the glad tidings of Redemption, to the end of time, to the entire world. He further promises them and their successors, to the end of the world, His never-ceasing, uninterrupted protection, to guard them against error and tenure them against failure, while engaged in their glorious work, of saving the world.

Mat 28:8 And they went out quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy, running to tell his disciples.

“With fear,” or rather, awe, produced by the appearance of the Angels at the sepulchre, and the announcement of the resurrection of their Lord, and anxiety lest these things might be spectral appearances, rather than realities. “And great joy,” caused by the joyous tidings they heard. They felt mingled sensations of awe and joy.

“Running to tell His disciples,” viz., “to the eleven, and to all the rest” (Luke 24:9). What they announced to the eleven, St. Matthew does not say, but St. Luke tells us, “they told all these things,” viz., the apparition of the Angels, and the taking away of our Lord’s body (John 20:2).

The apparent discrepancy between the account of what the women announced, as recorded in St. Luke (24), and St. John (20:2), is easily cleared up. The women being timid, and in doubt whether the whole thing was a reality or not, said nothing of it on their way back (Mark 16:8), and when they reached the Apostles, they informed them alternately of what they saw and heard, and of their own doubts and fears on the subject, which made them imagine our Lord’s body was taken away. This latter point, regarding their doubts, is recorded by St. John only (20:2), and omitted by the other Evangelists. The Apostles, too, in the first instance, regarded the women’s account “as an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11).

Here, we must insert what is described by St. John (20:2–19), in order to fill up the Gospel narrative, and remove the apparent discrepancies in the narratives of the Evangelists. Magdalen and her companions, in obedience to the Angels injunctions, hasten to Jerusalem from the sepulchre, to announce to the Apostles what they saw and heard (Luke 24:9). While doing this, they give expression to their own fears and doubts (John 20:2). (Some expositors hold that at her first visit Magdalen did not wait for the vision of Angels seen by the other women, she at once, on seeing the stone removed, hastened back to tell the Apostles. This opinion is not easily reconciled with Luke 24:9, 10.) Immediately, Peter and John hasten to the sepulchre, followed by Magdalen and her companions. Peter and John enter the sepulchre, and return home, wondering at what they saw. The companions of Magdalen also return, leaving Magdalen behind them, weeping from fear, and a desire to find the body of our Lord. While stooping down and looking into the sepulchre, she saw two Angels, who were exhibiting reverence to our Lord, who was standing behind Magdalen. On looking behind her, to see who it was that the Angels were reverencing, she saw our Lord, and mistook Him for the gardener in charge of the garden where the sepulchre was. But immediately after recognizing Him, from His usual tone of voice, when pronouncing her name, she would lay hold of His feet (verse 9), which in Scripture denotes a species of adoration; but this He would not allow. Magdalen was, then, the first to whom, according to the Gospel History, our Lord showed Himself after His resurrection (Mark 16:9). She merited this favour by her love and affection, owing to which she clung to the sepulchre where His sacred body had been deposited. After this, overtaking the other women on their way (verse 9), she had the privilege of seeing Him a second time, in company with these others. It is supposed by many, as a matter of congruity—although the Gospel makes no mention of it—that He appeared first of all to His Blessed Mother, on the day of His resurrection.

Mat 28:9 And behold, Jesus met them, saying: All hail. But they came up and took hold of his feet and adored him.

“And Jesus met them saying,” &c. This occurred on their second return from the sepulchre, after the Apostles had left, Mary Magdalen remaining alone after them at the tomb. That it could not refer to the first time they ran back in haste to inform the Apostles of what they saw and heard, expressing at the same time their anxious doubts about His sacred body, appears clear from the fact, that from SS. Mark and John, it is certain that our Lord appeared to Magdalen first, early on the morning of His resurrection, and that at the tomb, not on the road. Moreover, the women said nothing of our Lord appearing to them, when first they announced these things to the Apostles (John 20:2; Luke 24:9, &c. 23, 24). It was on their return, after the Apostles had examined the tomb, that this apparition occurred to the women, and to Mary Magdalen, who had overtaken them, after having seen Him already alone at the sepulchre.

Maldonatus, quoting the authority of St. Athanasius, holds, that the apparition referred to is the same as that in Mark (16:9; John 20:16), which was made to Magdalen only; and that Magdalen alone is mentioned by St. Mark as having been first favoured with the apparition of our Lord, not in opposition to the other women, but to the Apostles; or, that she was the first among them who saw Him, and to her alone did He speak; and that she is spoken of alone out of the rest, because she was the most prominent among them for her love and deep affection for Him.

“All hail”— the Greek χαιρετε (chaire)—is a common Hebrew form of salutation, expressive of peace, and embracing all blessings. It means, rejoice at the glad event, which has thrown open the gates of heaven, after the triumph over death and hell, and has reversed the malediction entailed by the first woman. Hence, as death commenced with the female sex, it was congruous, that the message of the resurrection—the triumph over death—should be first announced to the same (St. Hilary).

“They came up,” after recognizing Him, “and took hold of His feet,” out of modesty and reverence; they decline embracing His person. Among the Jews, it was a kind of reverence and adoration, particularly on the part of women towards men, to touch their feet (Exod. 4:25); also the case of the woman of Sunamis (4 Kings 4:27; also Luke 7:38; John 11:32). The women here touch His feet, with the view of adoring Him, which is afterwards explained. “And adored Him.” It is said, that He forbade Magdalen on the occasion of His first apparition (John 20:17) to touch Him. Whether He did so here, and that the women, in the excess of their love, still touched Him, thinking they were doing Him honour, as in the case of the blind men in the Gospel, who proclaimed His goodness, nothwithstanding His prohibition (9:30, 31), is not mentioned by the Evangelist. Neither does St. John say whether Magdalen touched Him or not. St. John tells us, He told Magdalen not to touch Him; whether she actually did so or not, he does not say. St. Matthew tells us here, that the other women actually took hold of His feet; whether they were prohibited from doing so or not, is not mentioned by him.

Mat 28:10 Then Jesus said to them: Fear not. Go, tell my brethren that they go into Galilee. There they shall see me.

Whilst they were engaged in reverently and affectionately adoring their Lord with mingled feelings of awe and affection, “Jesus said to them: Fear not.” The presence of spiritual and supernatural beings is calculated to inspire mortal man with awe and terror. Hence, the awe and fear which the women felt at the presence of their Lord risen from the tomb. Most likely, also, their fears arose from the apprehension, as in the case of the Angels, lest what they saw might be a phantom rather than a reality. Our Redeemer, addressing them, dispels their fears, from whatever cause proceeding, and tells them:

“Go, tell My brethren that they go into Galilee,” &c. By “His brethren,” are meant all His Apostles, including those who were nearly allied to Him by kindred. Our Redeemer is supposed here to allude to the words of the Psalm (21:23), “Narrabo nomen tuum fratribus meis,” quoted by St. Paul (Heb. 2:12). During His mortal life, He called them His disciples and friends; now, risen glorious and immortal from the dead, He designates them by the tender and endearing appellation of “brethren,” to assuage their grief for His death, strengthen their minds, and inspire them with confidence; to show, that, although He is now glorious, still He participates in the same human nature; and also to suggest to them, that while He is the natural Son of God, the first-born among many brethren, they are the adoptive sons of God, heirs of God, and co-heirs of Christ. He transmits the same message, that had been already given by the Angels (verse 7) to confirm the testimony of the Angels, and to show that His words and theirs perfectly agreed.

“There they shall see Me” (verse 7). He manifested Himself to them shortly after this in Jerusalem, but it was only in a passing, transient way: whereas, in Galilee He remained many days, freely conversing with them on all matters pertaining to the future government of His Church, &c.

Our Redeemer manifested Himself several times in Judea. On the day of His resurrection, He showed Himself five different times—1st, to Magdalen (Mark 16:9; John 20:16)—most probably, before all, He appeared to His Virgin Mother; 2nd, to the women (verse 9); 3rd, to Peter (Luke 24:34); 4th, to the disciples going to Emmaus (Luke 24:36); 5th, to the ten assembled disciples, after the return of the two from Emmaus (Luke 24:36), Thomas being absent.

After the day of His resurrection, He appeared five other times before His ascension—1st. After eight days, when Thomas was present (John 20:26). 2nd. When the seven disciples were fishing on the Sea of Tiberias (John 21:2). 3rd. To the eleven on a mountain of Galilee, generally supposed to be Thabor (Matt. 28:16). Most likely, this is the apparition referred to by St. Paul (1 Cor. 15:6), where “He was seen by more than five hundred brethren at once.” The Evangelist only makes mention of the eleven, who saw Him by appointment; he does not, however, say by how many more He was seen, on that occasion. 4th. He appeared to St. James (1 Cor. 15:7); this is not mentioned in the Gospel. 5th. To all the Apostles and others, on Mount Olivet, at His Ascension (Acts 1:9). He appeared to St. Paul afterwards (Acts 9:3; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8).

The apparition of our Lord at the Sea of Tiberias, is called by St. John (21:14), the “third;” but, this probably means, the third public appearance, in an assembly of His disciples, or, it may refer to the number of the days He appeared. He appeared, first, on the day of His resurrection, to several persons; secondly, eight days afterwards; and then on a third day, referred to here by St. John.

Mat 28:11 Who when they were departed, behold, some of the guards came into the city and told the chief priests all things that had been done.

“Who when they were departed.” This, according to some (Jansenius, &c.) refers to the first departure of the women to announce to Peter and the Apostles the vision of Angels, the absence of the body, &c., although recorded after the second departure of the women, when the Apostles had returned home, on seeing the truth of the accounts given by the women.

“Some of the guards came into the city,” &c. These, most likely, proceeded in the name of the entire, to announce what they witnessed about the vision of Angels, the earthquake, &c. It is most likely, however, that it refers to the second return, or departure of the women after the Apostles had been at the tomb. It was only after the Apostles had departed, and the women followed them, that the terror which the soldiers conceived from the appearance of the Angels had left them, God so arranging it, that they were, as it were, kept spell-bound, during the entire time, so that they would not interfere with the Apostles, any more than they had done with the women, on their first approach, at early dawn, and would be in a position to give unquestionable testimony regarding all the circumstances, which placed beyond doubt, the truth of the resurrection. It was when the women and the Apostles departed, and the terror of the soldiers was removed, that “some of the guards” went to announce all they saw to the Chief Priests, by whom they were appointed, with Pilate’s sanction, to guard the sepulchre. “Some of them,” but not all, as otherwise they would have violated the duty of watching the sepulchre till the end of the third day, the morning of which had then arrived. They “told, the Chief Priests all the things that had been done,” already narrated by the Evangelists, regarding the vision of Angels, the earthquake, the removal of the stone, the absence of the body, &c., all which, very likely, they themselves, before leaving, most closely examined and ascertained. This they did, for two reasons—1st, to render an account of their own duty, lest they might be accused of neglect, or perfidy, or corruption before the Governor; and, 2ndly, to give the Chief Priests, &c., an opportunity of devising by what means they could prevent the rumour, relative to the resurrection, from being circulated among the people.

Mat 28:12 And they being assembled together with the ancients, taking counsel, gave a great sum of money to the soldiers,

“Together with the ancients.” The Scribes also were there assembled, as one of the three orders which composed the Chief Council among the Jews. They adopted the wicked design of bribing the soldiers into falsehood. “A great sum of money,” such a sum as would exceed that promised for guarding the sepulchre, and would tell on the avaricious minds of the soldiery. “To the soldiers,” all the soldiers who were stationed at the tomb, were witnesses of the truth of the things related by those who came to the High Priests. These princes of the Jewish nation, persisting in their malice, refused to turn to God, and wished to persuade the world that Jesus was not risen; and sacrificed to the purposes of falsehood, the money given for the use of the temple. As they gave Judas thirty pieces of silver to betray his Master, so they now offer a large sum of money to suppress a truth so useful and so necessary for man (St. Jerome).

Mat 28:13 Saying: Say you, His disciples came by night and stole him away when we were asleep.

Nothing can more clearly demonstrate the blind and inexcusable perversity of the Jewish princes, than their conduct in reference to the soldiers; whose testimony was irrefragable, and beyond all suspicion; and, yet, far from yielding, they oppose the known truth, and wilfully endeavour to corrupt the minds of the soldiery, to testify to what they knew to be false. Moreover, they exhibit, in the clearest light, their own stupid folly. They prevail on the soldiers to testify to what, according to their own admission, they were in a condition to know nothing of, “Testes dormientes adhibes?” (“You use sleeping witnesses) jeeringly exclaims St. Augustine, in a tone of merited scorn, “vere tu ipse obdormisti, qui scrutando talia defecisti,” in Psalm 63 (But in truth you yourselves slept by failing to search out these things). The whole story of the soldiers was most absurd, and carried with it its own refutation, and, in truth, furnished an additional argument of our Redeemer’s resurrection. It shows the utter desperation the Jewish princes must have been reduced to, when they had recourse to so ridiculous a device. If the Priests themselves were not convinced of the fact, would they not, instead of bribing the soldiers to dissemble, have accused them before Pilate of a breach of military duty? It is preposterous to suppose, that weak, timid men, who dared not defend their Master, nay, who deserted Him while alive, would come, in defiance of an armed soldiery, to steal away His body, and remove the stone, which it required a good many hands to remove; and this with the foolish view of causelessly perpetuating an impudent fraud of which themselves would have been, in the supposition made, the deluded victims. Why not steal away His body on Friday night, before the guards were set to watch it on Saturday? The mouth of the sepulchre was also sealed. Why not take away the clothes which St. Peter saw lying in the sepulchre, and avoid the delay of taking off His clothes and the napkin that bound His head? The removal of these clothes, particularly as they must have adhered to His body, which was anointed, would cause much delay and danger to themselves.

The story of the soldiers, so clumsily invented, only rendered the fact of the resurrection the more certain; for, it admitted the body was not in the tomb. Hence, the fears and doubts of the disciples, joined to the foolish story of the soldiers, demonstrate most clearly, that the whole affair of the stealing of the body was a clumsy, unmeaning invention. Moreover, how could it be possible that Roman soldiers would all have slept, when their lives were in danger? and even, had they slept, that they would not be roused by the noise which the removal of the stone must have caused? Avarice blinded the soldiers to give circulation to this absurd story, as it had blinded the unhappy Judas, “avaritia illa quæ captivavit discipulum, comitem Christi, captivavit et militem custodem sepulchri” (But that covetousness which possessed the disciple that was the companion of Christ, blinded also the soldiers that were the guards of His sepulcher~St. Augustine).

It is likely, the princes of the Jews persuaded them, that, although our Lord had risen, still it was to a spiritual mode of living; that He would no more appear in His natural form; and, hence, there was no fear of their story being contradicted by His future appearance among the people.

Mat 28:14 And if the governor shall hear of this, we will persuade him and secure you.

They promised them security, in case of any investigation as to their dereliction of duty. Most likely, the Governor who had shown such weakness in condemning Jesus, whom he knew to be innocent, would be easily prevailed upon by the same influences to pardon the soldiers, in case any question were raised on the subject. But, that the soldiers secretly told the entire truth to Pilate, and testified to the truth of our Lord’s resurrection, and that Pilate informed Tiberius of the whole affair, who, therefore, wished to have Christ enrolled among the gods, is expressly stated by Hegesippus, in Anaceph. It is also stated by Tertullian (in Apologet. c. 5), and by Eusebius (in Chronico A. Christi. 38, Histor. Liber. ii., c. 2), that Pilate informed Tiberius of the matter, who threatened the accusers of the Christians with death, although, by a decree of the Fathers, it was fixed that the Christians should be driven from the city.

Mat 28:15 So they taking the money, did as they were taught: and this word was spread abroad among the Jews even unto this day.

The soldiers, taking the money, did as the High Priests told them, viz., they declared that the body was stolen while they were asleep.

“And this word,” this ridiculous story about the stealing of the body of our Lord by His disciples, while the guard were asleep, which was put into the mouths of the soldiers, “was spread abroad among the Jews,” believed by most of them. He opposes “the Jews,” the unbelieving mass of the Jewish people, to the Christians converted from Judaism, and who were comparatively few. “Even unto this day,” nearly eight years after our Lord’s resurrection, when St. Matthew’s Gospel was written. The Jews, blinded by their passions, continued still in their obstinacy. Having refused to acknowledge the Divinity of our Lord, they denied the truth of His resurrection; and this blindness and hardness of heart shall continue among that accursed race, until the end of the world, when, according to the general belief, the veil shall be removed from their eyes, and the remnant of Israel shall be saved—“There shall come out of Sion He that shall deliver, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” (Rom. 11:26).

Others, by “this word,” understand, not the foolish tale regarding the stealing of our Lord’s body, but, the rumour about the bribing of the soldiers with money, to induce them to tell a lie regarding the stealing of our Redeemer’s body (Maldonatus).

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