Witnesses to the Resurrection
The Women Visit the Tomb (Matthew 28:1-8; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-8)
The time skips to the day after the Sabbath and it is clearly stated to be dawn of the first day of the week. Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Joses, Joanna, and Salome, the mother of James and John, went to the tomb. To finished the burial preparations, which had been hurried because of the approaching Sabbath. They were concerned about being able to enter the tomb, fearing that the stone would be too heavy for all of them to roll it aside.
Prior to their arrival there was a great commotion or earthquake as an angel came from heaven and rolled way the stone from the door of the tomb. Later the guards will be bribed to claim that they were asleep and someone stole the body of Jesus, but the fact that there was an earthquake guarantees that these guards had to have been awake when the tomb was opened. After rolling the stone back, the angel sat on the stone. The angel’s appearance from his face to his clothing was bright and shining and the guards shook in terror at the sight of him and then fainted.
So as the women reached the tomb, they found it open. Looking inside, they were puzzled to find it empty – that is until they noticed two apparently young men in the tomb dressed in long shining white robes, one on the left and one on the right. The women were afraid and bowed before these angels. The one on the right addressed the women. He asked the women why were they looking for the living among the dead? The angel told the women not be afraid. Though they sought Jesus, he was no longer in tomb. He had risen from dead, just as Jesus had stated in Galilee would happen (Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31; 9:31; Luke 9:22). With that reminder, what Jesus had said suddenly made sense. The angel then invited the women to take note of the empty tomb for themselves.
Matthew’s account almost makes it appear that the angel appeared to the women outside the tomb. But a careful reading shows that Matthew did not say where the angel was. Mark’s account mentions that an angel on the right side of the tomb addressed the women. Luke tells us that there were two angels in the tomb.
They were then told to quickly tell the disciples that he is risen and that they would see him in Galilee as he told them before his death (Matthew 26:32). With great fear and joy they quickly left to tell the disciples. But they told no one about what they saw until they found the disciples. It is possible that they dallied for a while, perhaps thinking that no one would believe them. It is important that no one else knew because that eliminates the possibility that they “overlooked” the body and that it was removed while they were gone. No one else knew the grave was open.
Peter and John (Luke 24:12; John 20:1-10)
John’s account focuses on Mary Magdalene. Most likely Mary Magdalene didn’t stay with the other women but ran to tell Peter and John before seeing and hearing the angel’s announcement. The other women came later bringing the message of Jesus resurrection, yet the disciples did not believe them
While Peter and John may not have believed Mary, they went to check anyway. They ran to the tomb. John got there first and looking through the doorway saw that the tomb was empty and grave clothes lying in the tomb, but he did not enter. Peter, however, went in when he arrived. He saw the grave clothes and noticed that the face cloth was rolled neatly in a separate place. This fact is important because it speaks of someone taking their time to both unwrap the body and fold the face cloth. This wasn’t the work of someone attempting to steal the body of Jesus. Nor would the evidence match the Muslim claim that Jesus only swooned and left the grave when no one was looking. A man in that weak of condition would not take the time to roll up his face cloth.
Embolden by Peter’s example, John also entered the tomb, saw the same evidence, and believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. The initial belief did not come because their knowledge of the Scriptures lead them to the conclusion (Psalm 16:10). It came because they saw evidence that lead to no other conclusion.
Not knowing what to do with this information, they returned to their homes.
Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9-11; John 20:11-18)
Mary apparently followed Peter and John back to the tomb. She stood at the entrance weeping over the loss of Jesus’ body. As she looked into the tomb she saw two angels, one on each side of where Jesus had been lain to rest. The angels ask Mary why she was weeping, and she explained that someone had taken the Lord’s body and she did not know were it could be. She turned and saw a man standing near her. He asked her the same question, “Why are you weeping?” Assuming the man was a gardener, she asked if he had carried off Jesus’ body and if he did would he tell her where he had put it so that she could take it for burial.
It was at this time Jesus called out her name and Mary suddenly realized that she was talking to the Lord. She probably grabbed him in her joy, but Jesus told her she did not have to hold on to him. It wasn’t time yet for him to ascend to heaven, so he would be there for a while. But meanwhile, Jesus wanted her to take a message to the disciples that he would be ascending to the Father.
Mary went as she was bidden and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had spoken to her.
Jesus Appears Before Others (Matthew 28:9-10; Luke 24:9-11)
Meanwhile, the other women were still heading to Jerusalem to tell the disciples the news. But Jesus met them on the way and greeted them with the word “Rejoice!” Seeing Jesus they bowed before him, holding his feet and worshiping him. Jesus told them not to be afraid and emphasized that they needed to tell the disciples to expect to see him in Galilee.
The women delivered the news, but the disciples did not believe them. The disciples were still skeptical. They knew the grave was empty and they mourned over that fact, but they only had the word of one woman that the Lord was actually alive. This disbelief is important because it changed into belief. The disbelief shows that the empty tomb was not a plot of the disciples.
The Guard’s Report (Matthew 28:11-15)
We now turn to the third group of witnesses to the resurrection – the guards. While the other events were going on, the guards went to the city and some, likely the leaders, reported what happened to the chief priests. A Roman guard typically consisted of about sixty men. This fact alone is strange because the guards were issued by Pilate. It is likely the guards were afraid to report their failure to keep the tomb sealed to Pilate.
The leading Jews assembled and after consideration gave the soldiers a large sum of money with orders to claim that the disciples came in the middle of the night and stole the body while they were sleeping. Asking the soldiers to make such a claim was extreme because to admit to sleeping on duty was an act punishable by death. Yet, the leading Jews assured the soldiers that if the governor hears of their supposed indiscretion, they would make sure that they would not be punished.
So they took the bribe and did as they were told. Their report was favored by the Jews even to the day when Matthew wrote his account. That it did not match the facts at the grave did not bother them. If they were asleep, how could they know that it was the disciples who stole the body? Didn’t the noise of the stone being rolled away awaken them? Were they not on guard to prevent this very thing that they claimed happened? How could timid, poorly armed disciples steal a body guarded by sixty soldiers? Why were the disciples not arrested for theft? Justin Martyr, in A.D. 170 said that the Jews spread the story among those dispersed abroad by special messengers to every country.