“And they departed quickly from the tomb in fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples. And behold! Jesus met them saying, ‘Rejoice!’ And they grasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘ Do not fear; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee — there they will see me.’”
“And coming out, they fled from the tomb for trembling and astonishment had seized them. So they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.”
At first glance, one might think that these two accounts are contradictory, which is why verses 9 and 10 from Matthew are helpful. The women see the tomb that is empty and they witness the angels. The angels command them to return and tell the disciples. That much is clear. Yet, we need to take into account the human element. What would be the normal response to a situation as extraordinary as this? Fear? Excitement? Joy? Amazement? Confusion? The bottom line is that the human response would be to be overwhelmed by all of these emotions and more.
In addition, as they ran back to the city, another response would have very naturally set in: denial. How often, when we face a series of events that are altogether too extraordinary to explain that we begin to doubt our senses, our memories, and even our reason. Could it just have been a vision? Could I have been going crazy? Maybe I imagined the whole thing. Maybe I shouldn’t say anything…
Remember too, that there are multiple women here. Mark could be focused more on the overall general response of these women while Matthew is focusing on the faithful response of Mary. There are a lot of pieces of the puzzle which Matthew helps us to put together by informing us that after the women fled but before they reached the place where the Apostles were staying, Jesus met them on the road — and they worshipped. Here, Jesus confirms that there is no dream, no figment of imagination, and no mind-tricks being played. He is risen from the dead. And here he reminds them to go and tell the “brothers” — a reminder of the intimate relationship that Jesus has with his disciples. And from that point on, they go out with a more focused aim — they are not going to remain silent, but are going to tell the brothers that Jesus is risen.
For Mark’s Gospel, this makes for the end of his account…at least in the oldest manuscripts. We will include the language that comes from some of the other manuscript evidence for completeness, but know that it is doubtful that Mark himself actually wrote the verses that follow verse 8.
We’ve already discussed the importance of their brief return to Galilee prior to coming back for training and Pentecost, but again, notice the importance that Jesus places on the disciples actually seeing his resurrected person. At the very heart of the Gospel is not just a dogmatic belief that Jesus rose from the dead, but a dogmatic belief that is based on eyewitness accounts that Jesus rose from the dead. In fact, Paul makes it clear that you cannot be saved without holding to this belief (Romans 10:9) and that if we lose this doctrine that we are to be pitied above all others (1 Corinthians 15:16-19). It is important stuff.