1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. – Mark 16:1-8 ESV
Jesus was entombed by Joseph and Nicodemus sometime on Friday evening before the official commencement of the Sabbath that began at sundown. And it would not be until early the following Sunday morning that three women returned to the tomb. According to the gospel writers, at least two of these women had watched from a distance as the body of Jesus had been buried, hoping to return once the Sabbath had passed. So, after sunrise on Sunday, morning, they made their way to the tomb. And Mark makes clear the motive behind their early morning expedition.
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. – Mark 16:1 ESV
Mark mentions that three women went to the tomb that morning. And the fact that they were carrying spices to anoint the body of Jesus reveals that they were fully expecting to find a corpse, not a risen Christ. They even discussed how they were going to gain access to the tomb because of the massive stone that blocked its entrance. But there were totally unaware of another obstacle that could put a damper on their plans. Matthew records that the Jewish religious leaders made an appeal to Pilate, requesting permission to post armed guards at the gravesite to prevent the disciples from stealing the body and claiming that Jesus had risen from the dead.
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. – Matthew 27:62-66 ESV
But when the women arrived at the scene, the guards were long gone, and the entrance to the tomb was completely open. Matthew provides further details about what had happened just prior to the women’s’ arrival.
…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. – Matthew 28:2-4 ESV
Once the guards came to their senses, they must have fled from the scene. Matthew records that they ran straight to the Sanhedrin with news of what had happened.
…some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’” – Matthew 28:11-13 ESV
So, by the time the women got to the gravesite, they found the tomb unguarded and unsealed. According to John, Mary Magdalene was the first to arrive on the scene, and “she went running to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2-3 NLT). But the other women were shocked to find an angel guarding the entrance to the tomb. Sensing their fear and apprehension, the angel spoke to them.
“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. – Matthew 28:5-6 NLT
Fearfully, the women entered the tomb and encountered a second angel who provided them further insight and instructions.
“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” – Mark 16:6-7 ESV
And Luke reveals that this very same angel gently chastised the women for their lack of belief. He reminded them that Jesus had clearly predicted that all these things would happen.
“Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.” – Luke 24:5-7 NLT
Their mournful trip to the tomb and the burial spices they carried in their arms provided ample evidence that they had not believed what Jesus had said. They had come expecting to find a dead body. But instead, they were greeted by two angels and the news that Jesus had risen from the dead. And it all proved too much for these frightened women to handle. Mark records that “they went out and ran from the tomb, for terror and bewilderment had seized them. And they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8 NLT).
But Matthew reveals that it wasn’t long before the reality of what had happened set in. Their fear was turned to joy.
The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. – Matthew 28:8 NLT
And they were in for one more unexpected surprise. As they eagerly made their way to tell the disciples the good news, Jesus Himself appeared to them.
…as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” – Matthew 28:9-10 NLT
The angel had reported that Jesus had risen from the dead. But up until this moment, the news was nothing more than a rumor. Other than the empty tomb, they had no evidence or proof. And John reveals that the women weren’t the only ones who would have a difficult time grasping the significance of what had taken place. He reports that Mary, upon finding the tomb empty, ran to tell the disciples what she had seen. And what she had to tell them was less-than-encouraging news.
“They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” – John 20:2 NLT
Peter and John made a mad dash to the tomb, with John arriving first. “He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings” (John 20:5-7 NLT). Eventually, John got up the courage to enter the tomb, “and he saw and believed—for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead” (John 20:8-9 NLT).
The two disciples left the scene, leaving Mary Magdalene alone at the graveside. With tears in her eyes, she peered into the empty tomb, only to find it occupied by the two angels. When they inquired about her tears, Mary replied, “they have taken away my Lord,…and I don’t know where they have put him” (John 20:13 NLT).
Even the presence of the angels did nothing to assuage Mary’s doubt and depression. Jesus was gone, and so were all her hopes. But as she turned to leave, she was confronted by another “stranger” who, noting her tears, gently asked, “Who are you looking for?”
And Mary, assuming this man might have had something to do with the missing body of Jesus, said to him, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him” (John 20:15 NLT). But much to her surprise, this man was not a gardener, but her resurrected Lord and Savior. Jesus had risen from the dead, and He revealed Himself to her. She was beside herself with joy and disbelief. This was all too good to be true. But it was also too good to keep to herself, so Jesus commanded her to take the news of His resurrection to the disciples, which she promptly did. And when she found them, she joyfully declared to them her exciting news: “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18 NLT).
Jesus was alive. And that unbelievable message would begin to spread among His followers, leaving some of them beside themselves with joy, while others wrestled with disbelief and doubt. The impossible had taken place. The one who had died and been buried had been restored to life. Their martyred Messiah had risen from the grave. Death had been defeated. And over the next few days, their risen Lord and Savior was going to repeatedly reveal Himself to them so that they might know and believe that He had conquered death and truly was who He had always claimed to be: The Son of God and the Savior of the world.
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.