Monday, April 25, 2011

Matthew's Testimony Concerning the Empty Tomb

Alice C. Linsley

The Gospel according to Matthew tells us that the events of Jesus' passion, death and resurrection fulfilled the prophecy concerning the Son of God that was preserved through the priestly lines descending from Abraham and his ancestors. Matthew stresses that the ancient prophecies were fulfilled in the divine Person of Jesus, the Messiah.

Matthew is writing for a Jewish audience and his tone is both apologetic and polemic. He casts doubt on some of the rabbinic interpretations of the messianic prophesies, such as Matthew 2:15: “…that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called my Son.” The Jews interpreted this as a reference to the Exodus, making Israel God’s son. Matthew clearly believes that this interpretation is wrong. The prophecy concerns the true Son of God, the expectation of whom originated in the Nile region. In this sense the prophecy functions on at least two levels. The expectation of the Son of God originated in the Nile region and was spread across the Levant, Arabia and Mesopotamia by Horite priests. And as an historical fact, Jesus was brought out of Egypt to Nazareth.

This would have been especially important to Matthew because he was of the priestly line of Mattai (Mattan/Matthew) which was associated with the Horite settlement of Bethlehem. This was the priestly line of Joseph, who married Mary. This was why he was required to go to Bethlehem for the census during the reign of Caesar Augustus (B.C. 30-A.D. 14).

The connection between Bethlehem and the Horite priesthood is evident in the Micah prophecy: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephrath, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” Ephrath was the wife of Caleb and the mother of Hur (I Chronicles 2:19 and 50). Hur is another spelling for Hor or Har. Likely priests of the Horite lines who lived in Bethlehem were called Harim-Mathea, that is to say, priests of the Matthean line. This is important as we consider the enigma of Joseph of Arimathea. The H is apparent in the Aramaic, as in Harun (Aaron).

The priests of Jesus’ day served at the temple in Jerusalem on a rotating basis. The most prominent of these men maintained homes in the Temple precinct. Other priests stayed with relatives while fulfilling their time of service in Jerusalem (usually 1 week). Because the priests were dispersed throughout Palestine there would have been no consensus among them as to who Jesus was. Jesus did not pose as great a threat to these priests as to the rulers who comprised what Luke calls the “Council” (Sanhedrin).


Jewish Leaders Divided Over Jesus

It is clear from reading the New Testament that the priests were divided over Jesus and what to do with Him. Gamaliel, a leading member of the Sanhedrin thought that Jesus should be ignored. Here are his words: “And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.” (Acts 5:38)

It is difficult to know how deeply the Temple authorities investigated Jesus. It doesn’t appear that they wanted to know whether He was the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy concerning salvation of His people. When Jesus stood before them, the questions they ask are not to discern, but only to use Jesus’ words against Him.

What makes this even more tragic is the fact that the men who condemned Jesus were his brethren since the priestly lines exclusively intermarried. Jesus is of the priestly line of Mattai (Matt. 1:15, 16), the same line to which some members of the Sanhedrin belonged. Joseph of Hari-Mathea is an example. He and Nicodemus were righteous men who wanted to do right by Jesus, which would have put them in an increasingly difficult position.

Evidently, some Jewish leaders believed that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah based on the signs that corresponded to the pattern that they investigated. Matthew's Gospel is especially relevant in exposing this division among the religious leaders. He tells us that a member of the ruler-priest caste defied his brothers when he buried Jesus in a Jerusalem tomb. We are also told that Joseph witnessed the attempts of the Jewish authorities to cover up the greatest event of history. Here is Matthew's account of the empty tomb and the cover-up (Matt. 28:1-15):

1 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.

2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.

3 His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:

4 And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.

5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

6 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.

8 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

9 And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.

10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.

11 Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.

12 And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,

13 Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.

14 And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.

15 So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.


Joseph of Arimathea

What is the significance of Joseph of Arimathea in this narrative? Luke 23:15 tells us that Joseph was a member of the Council (Sanhedrin) and that he had not consented to what the others had planned and carried out. Arimathea should be spelled “Harimathea” and the correct spelling provides a clue as to Joseph’s importance. Supposedly, Arimathea was an “unknown” city of Judea, but all the evidence points to Bethlehem. The name is as much a title as a place. It refers to a line of priests.

Priests were dispersed throughout Palestine. Sometimes the settlements took their names from the priestly division that resided there. For example, Nazareth was the home of the eighteenth priestly division, ha•pi•TSETS, so Nazareth is Happizzez in 1 Chron. 24:15. This explains how Bethlehem would have been known among the Temple authorities was Harimathea. The evangelist Matthew would have known this and probably assumed that his Jewish audience also knew it.

So, Matthew’s Gospel reveals a clear division among the Jewish leaders over Jesus. That division would set brother against brother and eventually lead to the expulsion of many righteous Jews from their synagogues. We should pay close attention to what Matthew tells us about the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. His lineage and position among the Jews make his witness exceptional. He tells us that there was division among the Jewish leaders over Jesus. He tells us that those who were most threatened among them took action to kill Him and to cover up His resurrection. And he tells us that a member of the Sanhedrin from Hari-mathea (probably Bethlehem) buried Jesus in a Jerusalem tomb which had never been used.


Related reading:  The Significance of Galilee in Matthew's Gospel; Who Were the Horites?; The Kenite-Horite Connection; Shepherd Priests; The Empty Tomb; Jesus: From Lamb to Ram

2 comments:

Ron said...

Arimathea is not a place but a title.

How do you account for Luke 23:51, "He was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews"?

Alice C. Linsley said...

A blessed Bright Week to you, Ron!

Luke tells us that Joseph was a member of the Council (Sanhedrin) and that he had not consented to what the others had planned and carried out. There was indeed a Harimathea, an unknown city of Judea, but the name itself refers to a line of priests. The priests were dispersed throughout Palestine. For example, Nazareth was the home of the eighteenth priestly division, ha·pi·TSETS (Happizzez - 1 Chron. 24:15) to do their rotation in Jerusalem. Sometimes the settlements took their names from the priestly division that resided there.