5. Who moved the Stone?

Mt 28:2   There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. I have been reading the Bible for over forty years and I am amazed that forty years on I still see things that I have never ‘seen’ before. For that reason I no longer get stressed when those looking to pull the Bible to pieces come out with silly comments which show that they have either never read the Bible or at least large parts of it, or that they have read it but only in a surface way and have not taken in the truth of what they have read.  The reason I say this about my own reading is that it has only been recently that I have noticed something about the earthquake and the women. What is it?
   
Simply that the earthquake did not coincide with the arrival of the women! It happened before they arrived. If you read this part of Matthew on a few verses you will see, “The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.” (v.4) In other words so far there is no mention of the women. It was only the guards who saw the angel and the stone being rolled away. It must have been they who told about the ‘earthquake’. This was an encounter that scared the life out of these men. According to how Matthew wrote it, the sense of an earthquake was because of the arrival of the messenger from heaven who came with such power that the very earth shook.
   
But note that it wasn’t the earthquake that rolled back the stone, it was the angel who went over to the stone and effortlessly rolled it away and then sat on it as if on guard or at least laying claim to it!  Put it like that, it seems as if God saw the women coming to the tomb, and saw them talking: “they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mk 16:3). To save them the trouble He sends an angel to roll it back for them to see that Jesus has risen. Now later on we will find that it seems like Jesus had the ability to be ‘solid’ but also to pass through solid materials with his resurrected body. It would seem therefore, that the risen Jesus didn’t need the stone rolling away; he could pass through the rock. The removal of the stone was for the benefit of those coming to examine the tomb!
   
It was only once he had rolled it away that the women arrived. When they turn up they encounter the angel who seems to have put off some of his glory, presumably not to frighten them. He is now a simple messenger for the people of God. Mark tells us that he is now inside the tomb waiting for them and he is there to point out to them that this was where Jesus had been, but he’s now gone. Matthew’s account is much briefer; he simply tells of the angel speaking to them but doesn’t say where. Matthew we suggested was possibly used to using his own shorthand notes which by their very nature were brief. He tends sometimes to be very brief in his reporting, even though he may be using the same source sometimes as Mark. We clearly don’t have the exact words spoken here and one or  other of them must have put it in his own words. Matthew records the angel as saying, “Do not be afraid.” Mark has him saying, “Don’t be alarmed.” Different word, same meaning. In Mark the angel continues, “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here.”(Mk 16:6). Matthew is briefer omitting the words, the Nazarene, and reverses order of the last two sentences.
   
Now some may be wondering why we bother to dissect these passages like this and the answer is for the sake of those who do have questions about this. Surely say the intelligent critics, this can’t be inspired by God, these accounts are different, maybe not in substance but certainly in order of what actually happened. For those who like to think of God dictating to the Gospel writers what they should write, this becomes a major problem. The answer has got to be that when we speak about Scripture being inspired, we must mean that God motivated or energized these men to write, using (a) the resources that they had open to them, and (b) with the wisdom to decide what should be included and what should be omitted, and (c) within the cultural norms of the day. As we have already commented the culture of the day was concerned with truth but not so much with specific detail.When we look at the words of the angel as we have seen, the intent is identical but the words used to convey it are different. Now some of that may be down to the translators for of course it was not written in English, but it is actually that it was simply the different writers applying their own style to it. What also arises in this and many cases in the Synoptic Gospels is that either one copied the meaning from the other or they both used a common source, but what is significant in either case is that they come up with slightly different words. Why? For the reasons we’ve just given. As they copied it down, they put it into the form that flowed most naturally with them as an individual.
    
Let’s put this in a more formal way. Theologians refer to the inerrancy of Scripture which is usually taken to mean that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact, i.e. the Bible always tells the truth about everything it talks about. About the nature of the verses we are considering, such a definition requires us to note that in the original Greek writing, quotation marks were never used and as far as the writers were concerned an accurate citation of another person or being needed to only include a correct representation of the content of what the person said and did not expect to cite each word exactly. We call this a ‘free quotation’ which, although it runs counter to our modern tendency to require exact wording, was very common at that time of writing.
   
So what have we seen?  A group of the women who had followed Jesus, now go out in the early morning to go to the tomb. Before they arrive the guards are shaken and almost scared out of their lives when an angel appears accompanied by what appears as an earthquake, a complete shaking of the earth. The angel goes over and rolls back the stone and simply sits on it as if on guard or taking possession, at which point the guards flee! When they have gone, the angel steps down and into the cave and awaits the arrival of the women. When they come and see the open cave, some of them at least step down into it and encounter the angel who seeks to put them at ease and shows them where Jesus had in fact laid, and points out that he has now gone. He is risen!
   
We have here, as so often in the Bible, a combination of very ordinary events – women coming to do what they hearts tell them to do – and supernatural events – an angel turning up. When we encounter God, that is exactly how life is, a blend of the very ordinary and the supernatural. In the way we have sought to consider this passage in this particular meditation we have sought to show that that is also how the Scriptures comes to be written.  Be confident in them, and be confident in what you believe.
   

4 thoughts on “5. Who moved the Stone?

    • The only significance is that it was a very large stone that sealed the tomb and it had been guarded by guards put there to prevent potential grave robbers who might them claim that Jesus was risen. The stone was clearly sufficiently large that the women could not envisage moving it. When the earthquake moved it, the guards fled and so the way was open for the women who arrived shortly afterwards to look in and see the body was no longer there. Thank you for asking.

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