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.
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. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.
But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.’
So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me’” (Matthew 28:1-10 ESV).
Can you imagine the women’s shock and excitement when the shining angel showed them the empty tomb where Jesus had been buried? And even more so when Jesus himself met them with a message for his disciples.
John’s gospel recounts that Jesus said to Mary Magdalene outside the tomb, “…say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (20:17b KJV).
Where did Jesus go before he showed himself to the disciples after his resurrection? What did he do? What does it mean that Jesus ascended unto his Father and our Father?
Fulfilling a Messianic prophecy in Psalm 68:18, Paul describes that “When he [Messiah] ascended on high, he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”
(In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all heavens, that he might fill all things)” (4:8-10).
God had a plan.
Jesus descended into the lowest parts of the earth, and he ascended far above all heavens, that he might fill all things. Colossians 1:18-20 says that Jesus is “…the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (ESV).
Jesus descended into the lowest parts of the earth, and he ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things and reconcile (bring together or put to rights) through himself all things, whether in earth or in heaven, making peace between God and mankind by the blood of his cross.
Paul continues in Ephesians 4:11-13, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds [pastors] and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (ESV).
These are the gifts Jesus gave to men and women, after he ascended on high. What could be the purpose of these gifts: evangelists, pastors, teachers, prophets, apostles? Where do we see these gifts manifesting today?
Paul wrote that “…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way unto him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16 ESV).
In Colossians 1:18, Paul wrote that Jesus is “…the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (ESV).
Jesus descended into the lowest parts of the earth and ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things and reconcile all things to himself by the blood of his cross; and when he returned – having conquered death - he gave gifts to men and women so that they might become evangelists, pastors, teachers, apostles, prophets – so that he would be preeminent in all things as the head of the body of Christ, which is the church.
The apostle Peter wrote, “…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5 ESV), describing the body of Christ as living stones built upon Christ who is the Chief Corner Stone, to become the church – God’s spiritual house on earth.
When Jesus reconciled all things to himself through the blood of his cross, he activated the template of the body of Christ which is the church. When he returned, he gave gifts to the church “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:12 ESV).
By the time Jesus appeared to his disciples in Galilee after his resurrection, he had already established the body of Christ and the church in reconciling all things unto himself by the blood of his cross, and would breathe life into his new creation fifty days later, at Pentecost (see Acts chapter 2).
At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus reassures his disciples and instructs them in the Great Commission, which would spread the good news of salvation throughout the world:
“And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (28:17-20 ESV).
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17 ESV).