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. 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. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 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.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 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
Early on Sunday morning, Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Salome made their way to the tomb where the body of Jesus had been placed. In his gospel, Mark dispels any thought that they expected to find an empty tomb and a risen Lord. He indicates that they had “bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him” (Mark 16:1 ESV). In the frenetic moments after Jesus’ death, no one had been able to properly prepare His body for burial. So, these women made their way to the tomb with that end in mind. And they even discussed who they could get to roll away the stone so they could access the body of Jesus. They were fully expecting to find a dead man, not a risen Savior.
But they were in for a surprise. When they arrived at the tomb, they would witness a life-altering, world-changing event of truly epic proportions. And their sober and somber expectations would be radically realigned by what they saw.
As they walked up to the tomb, burial spices in hand, the ground shook violently, and an angel descended from heaven. This divine emissary promptly rolled away the massive stone that had sealed the tomb’s entrance, breaking the seal placed on it by Pilate (Matthew 27:64-66).
The angel’s supernatural strength and dazzling appearance left the guards in a state of shock. Matthew describes them as becoming ‘“like dead men.” They had been tasked with preventing the followers of Jesus from stealing His body, something the Jewish religious leaders feared they would do so that they might claim He had raised from the dead. But rather than a rag-tag group of Galilean disciples, these battle-hardened soldiers were confronted by an agent of God Almighty.
The three women, having witnessed this remarkable event, still made their way into the tomb and were perplexed to find it empty (Luke 24:3-4). The body was gone. Luke records that the angel who rolled away the stone was accompanied by a second angel. And these two heavenly beings confronted the women, asking them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5 ESV). But they didn’t wait for an answer. Instead, they informed the women, “He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:6 ESV).
They had come seeking and expecting to find a dead man. But, to their shock and surprise, they were informed that the one they sought was alive. This entire encounter must have left the women dealing with a strange mixture of elation and confusion. Could it be true? Was Jesus really alive? For Mary, this news must have been too good to be true. But the angels didn’t give the women time to dwell on the shocking nature of the news. They commanded them, “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” (Matthew 28:7 ESV).
And they did as they were told, and Matthew reports that they did so “with fear and great joy” (Matthew 28:8 ESV).
As if this news was not enough to elevate their endorphin levels and raise their heart rates, their journey to tell the disciples was interrupted by a personal encounter with Jesus Himself. Matthew records that “Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’” (Matthew 28:9 ESV). This totally unexpected reunion with their formerly deceased friend and master was too much for them. All they could do was bow down and worship Him. And Jesus calmed their fears, telling them to take the news of His resurrection to His disciples and to request that they meet Him in Galilee.
When reading the various gospel accounts of this event, there seem to be contradictions. Was there one angel or two? Did Mary arrive at the tomb on her own or with the other two women? But by piecing the various gospel accounts together, you arrive at a credible chronology that provides an accurate accounting of the order of events.
First, Luke records that Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome started for the tomb (Luke 23:55-24:1). When they arrived, they found the stone rolled away (Luke 24:2-9). According to John’s account, Mary Magdaline was the first to arrive at the tomb and find it empty. She ran to tell the disciples the news (John 20:1-2). It was Mary, the mother of James, who arrived next and encountered the angel (Matthew 28:1-2). She ran back to tell the other women who were bringing the spices they had prepared to anoint the body of Jesus.
In the meantime, Peter and John arrived on the scene, discovered the tomb empty, just as Mary Magdalene had said, and then they departed (John 20:3-10). The disciples had evidently outrun Mary Magdalene, because she returned weeping, still unaware that Jesus was alive. All she had known was that the tomb had been empty. But she sees the two angels and then Jesus (John 20:11-18), who told her to tell the disciples (John 20:17-18). According to Luke’s account, Mary, the mother of James, returned with the women (Luke 24:1-4), sees the two angels, and hears their message (Luke 24:5; Mark 16:5; Matthew 28:6-8). It was while they were on their way to find the disciples that these women had their encounter with the risen Christ (Matthew 28:9-10).
What an incredible morning! What a shocking sequence of events. None of these people had expected this to happen, even though Jesus had repeatedly told them He would rise again on the third day. He had tried to assure them that His death would be followed by His resurrection, but that part of the story had never registered with them. Until now.
He was alive. As the angel had said, “He is not here, for he has risen.” The tomb was empty. The Savior was alive and well, and they had seen Him. The one whom they had watched die a brutal death on the cross, just three days earlier, was fully alive. The women had touched His feet. They had heard Him speak. And He had promised to meet them in Galilee. All of this beyond their wildest imaginations. Their sorrow had been suddenly turned to joy. Their weeping had turned to laughter. Their disappointment and disillusionment had turned to hope and happiness.
Jesus had won a stunning victory over death. He had conquered the grave. And His actions would leave His enemy, Satan, reeling from the shock of it all. The high priest and the Sanhedrin would refuse to believe it. But it was true. He was alive. And, as the apostle Paul reminds us, that irrefutable news is good news to all those who place their faith in Jesus Christ.
“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.