Matt. 28:1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
Matt. 28:2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.
Matt. 28:3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.
Matt. 28:4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.
Matt. 28:5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.
Matt. 28:6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
When these women went to the tomb, they meant business. They were carrying about 70 pounds of embalming salts and taking a great personal risk by going out in the dark to a tomb. They had no rights in court, so any bandit or thief could come and do whatever he wanted to them.
If they saw the guards posted around the tomb, the risk increases that much more. They were typically corrupt men who made an extra living off of extracting bribes and harassing the local Jews. For these women to walk up as these men were guarding the tomb would have been exceedingly bold.
This angel of the Lord shows up and takes care of the guards and the heavy stone doorway.
His appearance was like lightning and his clothes were white as snow. The guards’ reaction was to pass out like dead men. The women stood there and watched.
Take that in for a minute. There were two parties there.
Soldiers hired to prevent the deception of disciples coming to steal a dead body.
Women coming to usher a deceased friend’s body into the dust to which God promised it would return.
We don’t know about those guards. We don’t know if they knew this was the legendary Jesus of Nazareth or if they were some of the same guys that hung Him on the cross a few days earlier. It does say that for fear of the angel, they fell back like dead men.
The women did not.
Their fear was a different kind of fear. Their fear wasn’t doom, it was anticipatory. It was what is going to happen next? kind of fear.
When the angel told them not to be afraid, they knew, in that split-second way you anticipate what someone is going to say— that he was going to put them at ease. He was going to say something that would justify their early morning trip with 70 pounds of salt.
And he did.
Those guards are only mentioned passively later on when the Pharisees find out that Jesus rose from the dead. At some point they woke up and crept off. They weren’t seen by Peter and John when they came running to the tomb later.