1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened. – Luke 24:1-12 ESV
According to Luke, a group of women had “who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee” (Luke 23:55 NLT), had watched Joseph and Nicodemus as they buried His body. Because the Sabbath was about to begin, they went away “and prepared aromatic spices and perfumes” (Luke 23:56 NLT), with the intention of returning once the Sabbath was over.
Early on Sunday morning, the women returned to the garden and the tomb of Jesus. Luke reveals that the group was made up of Mary Magdalene, Salome, Mary the mother of James, and a few other unnamed women. In his gospel, Mark dispels any thought that they were expecting 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, Joseph and Nicodemus had been the only ones who had done anything to prepare the body of Jesus for burial. According to John, Nicodemus had brought “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight” (John 19:29 ESV) with which to anoint the body. But none of Jesus’ followers had been able to participate in this final expression of grief and honor. So, these women made their way to the tomb with that end in mind, and they had even discussed who they could get to roll away the stone so they could gain access to the body. 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 witnessed 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 had 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 risen 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 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 before the women could respond, the angels informed them, “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? This news was too good to be true. But the angels didn’t give the women time to dwell on the shocking nature of their announcement. 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).
Matthew reports that they did as they were told “with fear and great joy” (Matthew 28:8 ESV). And 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 Magdalene arrive at the tomb on her own or with the other 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 departed (John 20:3-10). The disciples had evidently outrun Mary Magdalene, because she returned to the tomb, weeping, still unaware that Jesus was alive. All she knew was that the tomb was empty. But she was greeted by the two angels and then Jesus Himself (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), saw the two angels, and heard 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 Jesus (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, but has risen.” The tomb was empty. Jesus was alive and well, and they were witnesses of that incredible fact. 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 was beyond their wildest imaginations. Their sorrow had suddenly been turned to joy. Their weeping had turned to laughter. Their disappointment and disillusionment had given way 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
A new day had dawned and things would never be the same again. As the old hymn so aptly puts it:
Low in the grave He lay,
Jesus, my Savior,
Waiting the coming day,
Jesus, my Lord!
Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes,
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!
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.