Would you please explain Matthew 28:1?


Some, in an attempt to teach a Sunday morning resurrection, have used Matthew 28:1 in support of such a teaching. We do know, however, that Jesus Christ was resurrected on Saturday afternoon, around sunset, after having been in the grave for three days and three nights. He was killed on a Wednesday, and placed in the grave on Wednesday afternoon, just around sunset.

We have set forth in detail the Biblical and historical proofs for a Wednesday crucifixion and a Saturday resurrection in our free booklet, “Jesus Christ — A Great Mystery.” In that booklet, we have also explained the correct understanding of Matthew 28:1, as follows:

“We read in Matthew 28:1-6 (Authorized Version): ‘In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it… And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for HE IS RISEN, AS HE SAID.’

“We note from the passage that Christ was already resurrected by the time the women came to the grave. We are told that they appeared ‘in the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week.’ Many commentaries point out that this phrase discusses the END of the SABBATH, that is, Saturday evening or late afternoon, and NOT Sunday morning.

“The Interlinear Literal Translation of the Greek New Testament renders this verse in this way: ‘Now late on Sabbath, as it was getting dusk toward (the) first (day) of (the) week, came Mary the Magdalene…’

“A.T. Robertson’s Harmony of the Gospel comments: ‘This phrase once gave much trouble, but the usage of the vernacular Koine Greek amply justifies the translation. The visit of the women to inspect the tomb was thus made before the Sabbath was over (before 6 p.m. on Saturday).’

“Cockrell states: ‘When does the Bible say that Jesus rose from the dead? The two Marys came to the tomb ‘in the end of the sabbath’ (Matth. 28:1). The Sabbath always ended at sunset: ‘From even unto even, shall ye celebrate your Sabbath’ (Lev. 23:32). Then they went to the tomb before sunset on Saturday. Jesus had risen from the dead before their arrival (Matth. 28:1-8)…’

“The Moffat Bible translates: ‘At the close of the Sabbath, when the first day was dawning…’

“The Elberfelder Bibel reads: ‘But late at the Sabbath, in the dawn of the first day.’ It comments: ‘Days started at sunset.’

“The Lamsa Bible states: ‘In the evening of the Sabbath, when the first day of the week began to dawn…’

“The revised Luther Bibel of 1984 translates: ‘When the Sabbath was over and the first day of the week began…’

“The Menge Bible renders this verse as follows: ‘But after the Sabbath, when the first day after the Sabbath was about to begin.’

“Finally, the revised Zürcher Bible of 1942 states: ‘After the Sabbath, when it was shining (lightening up) towards the first day of the week…’ It adds the following comments: ‘For the Jews a day began with sunset. The expression [in] Luke 23:54, “The Sabbath lightened up…” [The King James Bible states: ‘The Sabbath drew on’ or ‘drew near’] does not mean that the morning began, but that lights were kindled for the evening… Whether Matthew 28:1 likewise refers to the evening with which the Sabbath ended and the first day of the week began, is not clear.’

“However, based on the evidence presented herein, it is very clear that Matthew 28:1 refers to the end of the Sabbath, and NOT to Sunday morning.

“For instance, please note the following comments from ‘The Easter Sermons of Gregory of Nyssa,’ edited by Andreas Spira and Christoph Klock, 1981, pages 265, 266, and 269: ‘The only testimony about the time of resurrection is produced by Matthew 28:1: “Late on the sabbath”… That means, explains Gregory, it was already late in the evening (this evening being the beginning of the night before the first day of the week) when the angel came… Matthew alone remains testifying the hour of resurrection on Saturday evening… The time of resurrection is Saturday evening according to Matthew 28:1… The time of resurrection [was] “late on the Sabbath.”‘

“This fact is also established, when considering the meaning of the Greek word, translated in Matthew 28:1, as ‘in the end of the Sabbath.’ The Greek for ‘in the end of ‘ is ‘opse.’ It is defined as ‘late in the evening.’ It is not a reference to ‘early in the morning.’ Compare Mark 13:35 and Mark 11:19, where the word ‘opse’ is correctly rendered as ‘even’ or ‘evening.’

“Other passages confirm that Christ was resurrected long before Sunday morning. We read that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb on the first day of the week, when it was still dark, and Jesus was already resurrected by that time (John 20:1). This means, Christ was not resurrected on Sunday morning, at sunrise, but He had already been resurrected, ‘while it was still dark.’ In addition, John 20:1 might not even be talking about events that occurred Sunday morning, ‘while it was still dark,’ but it might be talking about events on Saturday evening, when it was getting darker. In the Greek, the word translated as ‘still’ [or ‘yet’ in other translations] is ‘eti.’ It can also be translated as ‘more,’ ‘yet more,’ or, ‘still more,’ as was done in Revelation 9:12 (‘Behold, still two more woes are coming after these things.’ Compare New International Version: ‘two other woes are yet to come’; and New Jerusalem Bible: ‘there are still two more to come’). In addition, Hebrews 11:32 states: ‘”What more shall I say?”‘ This could mean that John’s account is telling us that the women came to the grave when it was getting ‘even more’ dark-or ‘darker,’ after they had begun their walk to the grave when it was getting dark, at sunset. This would then also refer to events on Saturday night, not on Sunday morning.

“A similar explanation can be given for a passage in Luke 24:1, stating: ‘Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they and certain other women with them, came to the tomb, bringing the spices which they had prepared.’ This passage may not be talking about events on Sunday morning, but it could refer to events occurring Saturday night. Word Studies in the New Testament by Martin Vincent, Volume 1, page 433, explains the correct meaning of the phrase, ‘very early in the morning’: ‘Literally, “at deep dawn, or the dawn being deep.”… Plutarch says of Alexander that he supped “at deep evening,” i.e. late at night.’ In any event, Luke 24:1 does not address the time of the resurrection, but the arrival of certain women at the grave, when the stone was already rolled away from the grave (Luke 24:2)…

“However, there is one Scripture, Mark 16:2, which clearly talks about events that took place on Sunday morning, at sunrise. It does not address the time of the resurrection, but rather the time of the women’s arrival at the grave. We read: ‘Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.’

“Since we know from other passages that some of the women visited the grave Saturday evening, and we know that Mark 16:2 describes the arrival of some women at the grave early Sunday morning, we must conclude that these Biblical accounts describe several different trips to the grave by various women. In other words, they did not all happen at the same time. This is also supported by the fact that the purposes of the trips to the grave were different. Matthew 28:1 tells us that women came to see the grave. Mark 16:1 and Luke 24:1 tell us that certain women came to anoint Christ. We also note that it is not always the same women that are mentioned. While Matthew 28:1 mentions Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, Mark 16:1 mentions the two Marys and Salome. Luke 24:1 does not identify the women, but implies that quite a number of women went, at certain times, to the grave (compare Luke 23:55). John 20:1 and Mark 16:9 only mention Mary Magdalene.”

In addition to these quotes from our booklet, “Jesus Christ — A Great Mystery!”, we would like to point out that, as mentioned in those quotes above, A.T. Robertson, in “A Harmony of the Gospel,” likewise teaches that Matthew 28:1 refers to “late Saturday afternoon and early evening.” This Commentary was used as a classroom text at Ambassador College (AC), an institution of education of the Worldwide Church of God, under the late Herbert W. Armstrong. Although Robertson has a few errors in his harmony, which were pointed out at AC, the fact that Matthew 28:1 describes events occurring on Saturday evening, was not one of these mistakes, but it was correctly taught at AC, under Mr. Armstrong.

In addition, although Mr. Armstrong was somewhat inconsistent over the years, in two different booklets, as to when the event in Matthew 28:1 occurred, he did write the following in his booklet, “Which Day is the Sabbath of the New Testament?” in 1952: “In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre [Matthew 28:1]… This is the first place in the Bible where the first day of the week is mentioned. Matthew wrote these words, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, six years after the New Testament church came into being. The text says that late on the Sabbath day it was drawing TOWARD the first day of the week.” Mr. Armstrong had these statements republished in his booklet, “Which Day is the Christian Sabbath?, in 1962, 1964, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1972, and 1976. [In his booklet, “The Resurrection was not on Sunday,” copyrighted 1952, 1971, and 1972, Mr. Armstrong seems to be saying that the events in Matthew 28:1 occurred on Sunday morning. At best, we have an inconsistency here. Those who claim that we must follow every word uttered or written by Mr. Armstrong must decide which of his words they want to follow, and which of his words they must reject. The answer is, of course, we must follow every word written in God’s Holy Scriptures. A different approach borders on blasphemy].

Some have said that the word “dawn” in Matthew 28:1 can only mean, “morning.” First of all, this is false. Any good dictionary will tell you that the word “dawn” can also mean, “beginning,” as for example in “dawn of civilization.” In addition, it is somewhat immaterial what the word “dawn” means in English, if it does not convey correctly the original Greek. [The idea that ANY translation is inspired is, of course, false. We have always understood that NO translation is inspired, although some translations are more reliable than others. ONLY the original Hebrew and Greek texts are inspired, NOT ANY translations, which have been produced by unconverted men]. As we pointed out, the Greek expression means, translated word for word, “…as it was getting DUSK toward (the) first (day) of (the) week.” Compare, too, the Interlinear Translation of the Greek New Testament, by Berry. Note that it was getting dusk TOWARD the first [day] of the week. The Greek word for “toward” is “eis,” and means here “toward,” “to” or “into”, according to Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible.

Again, if one wants to be honest with the Scriptures, there is no way to say that this refers to Sunday MORNING. According to the Hebrew calendar, days start and end with sunset. The Sabbath ends with sunset, and the first day of the week begins at sunset. Matthew 28:1 CLEARLY states that the Sabbath was ending and it was getting dark, as the first day of the week began (AT SUNSET).

The New Bible Commentary concedes that it is possible that the women appeared first on Saturday evening, stating: “It may mean late on Saturday evening as the Sabbath was giving place at sunset to the first day of the week, which began at that hour by Jewish reckoning… see Luke 23 v 54.”

Some have wondered why the women — especially Mary Magdalene — would return on Sunday morning to the grave, as Mark 16:2, states, if they already had seen previously, on Saturday evening, that the tomb was empty, as Matthew 28:1 and other passages explain. They have concluded that therefore, all passages in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John must refer to the same identical occurrence on Sunday morning — that they all address the same identical moment in time, when the women arrived at the grave.

However, that explanation is erroneous.

First, please notice the obvious distinctions in the four accounts.

Matthew 28:1 tells us that late on the Sabbath, when it began to dawn [or, getting dusk] toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary come to SEE the sepulcher. We read about ONE angel who rolls the stone away, sits on it, and talks to the women, while the watchers become as dead men (verses 2-4). When the women return from the grave, Jesus appears to them, and they worship Him (verse 8-9).

John 20:1 mentions that Mary Magdalene appears ALONE, when it was yet dark (or, as mentioned above, when it was getting darker), and she sees that the stone is already taken away. She runs back to tell the disciples, and Simon Peter and John run to the sepulcher and find it empty (verses 2-10). NO angel is mentioned in this episode, until verse 11. In verse 11, Mary stands outside the sepulcher, weeping, and she sees TWO angels WITHIN the sepulcher (not ONE, sitting outside on the stone). Then, in verse 14, she sees Jesus, thinking that He is the gardener. When she recognizes Him, He tells her not to touch Him (verses 15-17). Verse 18 reports that Mary Magdalene went back to the disciples to tell them that she had spoken with Christ.

Luke 24:1 tells us that women, who are first NOT specified, come very early in the morning to the sepulcher to ANOINT Christ’s body. They did not come just to SEE the body (as we are told in Matthew 28:1), but to anoint Him. Mark 16:1 explains to us that Marry Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome BOUGHT (not: HAD bought) spices PRIOR to the annual Sabbath — which was a Thursday. They rested during the annual Sabbath, prepared the spices on Friday, rested on the weekly Sabbath, and came to the sepulcher “early… the first day of the week… at the rising of the sun” (Mark 16:2). Luke 24:1 does not mention that this happened “at the rising of the sun,” and the women mentioned in Luke 24:1 probably included additional women, as Luke 24:55-56; 24:1 says: “And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre… and they returned… now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came… and certain others with them.” Some of the women are later identified as “Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James and other women that were with them” (Luke 24:10). They ALL told the apostles (not just Mary Magdalene, as we read in the book of John), but nobody believed (verse 11). Then Peter arose and ran to the sepulcher (John is not mentioned!) (verse 12).

Even these two accounts in the books of Mark and Luke — when women appear to ANOINT the body of Christ — may not be describing the same event. In both accounts the stone was already rolled away. But in Luke, we read about two angels (Luke 24:4), while Mark only mentions one angel (Mark 16:5). The most important distinction is, too, that while Luke reports that the women ran to the disciples to tell them, prompting Peter to run to the sepulcher, Mark 16:8 records that they did not tell anyone about this incident at that time. Only later, in Mark 16:9-10, we read that Mary Magdalene told the eleven, after Christ had appeared to her.

Why, then, do we find these discrepancies? Are we really to believe that all these records report about the same identical occurrence, all happening at the very same time, involving identical persons, although they record many inconsistencies that cannot be harmonized — if one really wants to be honest with the Scriptures? The answer is, every record is inspired, but they do not all talk about the same event. For instance, there were not only three women who prepared spices, but more. They did not all come to the grave at the same time. Some came just to see the grave, not for the purpose of anointing the body of Christ. On one occasion, the women told the others, but on another occasion they did not tell anybody. In one case, only one angel was there; in another case, two were there. In one case, the angel (s) was (were) inside the grave; in another case, he was sitting outside the grave on the rock. In one case, the women saw the angel rolling away the stone; in other cases, the stone was already rolled away when the women appeared [If one wants to insist that all the events took place on Sunday morning, one would also have this inconsistency to explain: That is, when the women in John’s account appeared at the grave, while it was yet dark (as the reasoning goes), the stone was already rolled way, while in Matthew’s account (following the reasoning of a Sunday morning description), the women arrived at dawn — that would not be “yet dark” anymore — and SAW the stone being rolled away by the angel.]

But let us now ask and answer this question:

Why did Mary Magdalene and the other women wonder, on Sunday morning, who would roll the stone away from the grave (Mark 16:3), if Mary Magdalene and the other Mary saw already on Saturday evening, how the stone was rolled away (Matthew 28:1-5)?

The answer is actually quite simple, when we realize the state of mind the women (and the apostles) were in, when these events took place. Matthew 28:8, 10 states that they were afraid. Mark 16:8 tells us that they trembled and were amazed. Mark 16:11 tells us that the apostles did not believe. Luke 24:4 said that the women were perplexed, and John 20:11 tells us that Mary stood outside the open tomb, weeping. They were going through traumatic times, thinking their whole life with Jesus had been in vain — that everything was over. They did not know whether they were sleeping and dreaming, or whether they were actually experiencing reality. Later, Peter would have a similar experience in Acts 12, when he was imprisoned. When the angel appeared to him and freed him, he “did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision” (verse 9). Only after Peter “had come to himself,” he realized that what he had experienced was real (verse 11). The other disciples did not first believe it, either — they thought an angel had appeared to them, instead of Peter (verse 15).

Even though the women saw (in Matthew 28) how the stone was rolled away Saturday evening — after a traumatic week during which they had witnessed how Jesus Christ had died a horrible death — it appears that they did not believe that this had actually happened (as Peter later likewise doubted that his rescue from prison was real), rather thinking that they had somehow dreamed this — and so they were wondering on their next visit who would roll the stone away for them. In any event, when we want to be honest with the Scriptures and when we believe in the infallible inspiration of the Scriptures in their original writings, we must conclude that the women came to the grave more than once, on different occasions, and that the first visit took place at the end of the Sabbath, as it was dawning toward the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1), that is, right after sunset, when the first day of the week BEGAN.

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