“Look!” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20.
“there was a great earthquake.” On Nisan 18, Sunday morning, while it was still very dark, but getting close to early dawn, there was an earthquake and an angel rolled the stone away from the tomb door. We know this occurred in the dark but close to dawn because Mary Magdalene had not come to the tomb yet, and she came when it was dark (John 20:1), and also because the guards went back into the city and told the chief priests what had happened shortly after they had been frightened by the angel (Matt. 28:4, 11). Scripture says that the guards were still talking to the chief priests when the women (who had gone to the tomb with spices to bury Jesus with and had arrived at the tomb at dawn just after the sun rose; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1), had already seen both the angels and Jesus, and were on their way to tell the disciples what they had seen (Matt. 28:5-11). Thus, the angel rolling back the stone and scaring the guards could not have been too long before daybreak. However, it was early enough that the guards had left by the time Mary Magdalene arrived, and she had come alone to the tomb before the sun rose and thus before the group of women who came with the spices, who arrived after the sun had risen. The guards coming to their senses, discussing what to do, and then going to the chief priests and reporting to them what happened, would have likely taken no more than an hour, two at the most.
It is often taught that the resurrection occurred simultaneously with this earthquake. However, Scripture never says this. The actual event of the resurrection is not portrayed in Scripture. Furthermore, this was now Sunday, the first day of the week, which would have been the fourth day since Jesus was buried. But Jesus was only in the grave for three days and three nights (Matt. 12:40). Christ’s resurrection was “three days and three nights” after his burial, so the resurrection would have occurred on Saturday just before sunset.
If Jesus got up from the dead Saturday night around sunset, why would the angel wait until just before dawn to open the grave? The most likely reason is that God knew the disciples would start coming to the tomb Sunday morning, and did not want to have the tomb open all night without a guard lest people think that the most likely explanation for the missing body of Jesus was that people stole it (which is what people believed anyway; cp. Matt. 28:15). So likely not too long before sunrise Sunday morning (an hour or so would be enough), there was an earthquake. The earthquake and angel were not needed for Jesus to rise from the dead and leave the tomb, they were for a witness of the resurrection to people, and to clear the way for the disciples to get to the tomb without Roman interference. The angel rolled the stone away, doing it without human involvement, proving the tomb was empty. Then, when Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb before sunrise, the guard was already gone, and by the time the women who brought the spices to the tomb were going to tell the disciples what had happened to them, the guard was in the city reporting the event to the priests.
The fact that the earthquake and stone being moved in Matthew 28:2 comes after the women went to see the tomb (Matt. 28:1) is more confirmation that Matthew 28:1 occurred Saturday night, hours before the stone was rolled away by the angel (see commentary on Matt. 28:1)
“the Lord.” For more information on “the Lord” see commentary on Matthew 3:3.
“rolled away the stone.” The Greek is apokuliō (#617 ἀποκυλίω), to roll away. In this context, it seems that the stone was more than simply rolled back away from the entrance of the tomb, but rather rolled away from the tomb entirely. It would have been lying flat on the ground some distance from the grave to mark that fact that the grave was empty for all to see, and could not be closed again without a major effort requiring many men. The flat stone also provided a good seat for the angel, who sat on it in triumph of the resurrection.
Later Greek manuscripts added “from the door” for clarity, but the textual evidence shows that reading was not original. Nevertheless, it is in some Byzantine manuscripts and appears in the King James Version. Then other scribes added to that addition “of the sepulcher,” making the long reading, “rolled away the stone from the door of the sepulcher,” but the original reading was simply “rolled away the stone.”