Lectionary Year A
March 31, 2002
Step IV: Context
A. Primitive Christianity
(JFC) The Gospel parallels indicate that this account was recorded with some differences. For example, Mark and Luke report that the women brought spices to the tomb and they omit the earthquake and the angel who rolled the stone from the cave's opening. Mark has the women asking who will roll away the stone and Luke has them going into the tomb and not finding the body they anticipated. Then Luke identifies the women and said that the disciples found their story unbelievable. The Gospel of John describes that Mary Magdalene alone came to the tomb at daybreak and finding the stone rolled away went to tell Simon Peter and the disciple "whom Jesus loved" that "they have taken away His body . . ." Next John has the two disciples running to the tomb and going in and finding only the grave cloths, so they returned to the city. Mary, in John's Gospel, stays at the tomb, weeping, and converses there with two angels & the Risen Lord. And, Revelation 1:17 describes the visionary's falling down as if dead upon the sight of the Risen Christ, similar to the guards' reactions in our text's verse 4. Such a reaction seems quite understandably common. The Mark 16:9-11 ending portrays scenes of Christ's resurrection appearances, as do many other passages, which were, doubtlessly, of supreme importance to the early Christians. Many other such passages find, especially Jesus advising against fearing and even I John 4:18 contends "love casts out fear". Furthermore, Hebrews 9:28 anticipates a Christ's appearance and calls it a "second time". From the earliest times, the New Testament Church believed in and emphasized Jesus' resurrection. I Corinthians 15:3f and Romans 10:9 say personal salvation depends on confessing Jesus' Lordship which depends on His resurrection.
B. Old Testament and Judaism
(JFC) The angel described in our text's third verse appears like the celestial being
Daniel sees in 10:6 and, to a lesser extent, 7:9. Generally, though, the Old Testament knows nothing of resurrection until Daniel 12:2, prophesying the faithful dead arising, at the end times. The early CE Jewish literature describes heavenly costumes resembling the angel's in our text's third verse, too; see, for example Joseph and Aseneth 5g and 14q. Furthermore, tomb guards (like those in Matthew 28:4) are mentioned, rather matter-of-factly, in the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah 3:14. They must have been ordinarily so engaged. And, Aseneth rejoiced greatly at Joseph's blessing (in 9:1) and with much fear and trembling as the guards do in our text's eighth verse. Who wouldn't react so?
C. Hellenistic World
(JFC) These thinkers would likely appreciate the women's obeying the angel's instruction to go and tell the disciples of Jesus' resurrection. They would approve of such compliance by the women to follow the orders of their "superiors". They encouraged people to accept responsibilities that would contribute to the betterment of their culture. Of course, the angel's obedience is notable in this pericope as well. The Hellenists' ethical emphasis would get stimulated by these submissions. They could fruitfully discuss these relationships and accomplishments. Since this passage makes no direct reference to Jesus' divinity, these Greek philosophers would probably have no trouble with more than one person in the Godhead here. However, the "seeing" of the risen Jesus might give them some cause to wonder. Nevertheless, wondering was most likely one of their favorite indoor sports in those days.
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