Again, it is the sort of thing that really speaks for the evidence of the Gospel writers as first-hand narratives because, frankly, they were not in collusion with one another. It is the same kind of thing you would expect to see if there were four witnesses to an accident on a street and each witness was on a different corner. You would get four different interpretations but they would overlap in the center and you could figure out what happened. They would be truly honest people, reporting what they saw, and you would get different nuances to the same event. This is precisely what we see here in the Gospels.
Now, Joseph of Arimathea, we saw in John 19, as well as Nicodemus, had been forced by circumstances to prepare Jesus’ body in haste. If you go back to chapter 19, and look at verse 38, “After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away the body. Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.” They placed it in a new tomb that had never been used.
So, what we have is a rather hasty situation because they needed to bury Him before that Sabbath began, which was at sundown. A day went from sundown to sundown, and so they had to do it quickly and the women apparently wanted to complete the work and that is why they came early on the first day of the week after the Sabbath was over. They could not do anything on the Sabbath; it would have been considered work, so they waited until the first day of the week, which was Sunday. They came very early and on the way there they were wondering who was going to roll away the stone. They had no way to roll it open themselves. They were hoping the small band of soldiers would be there. Of course, when the earthquake began, the Roman soldiers ran off.
So, when the women got there the soldiers were gone, the seal had been broken, and the tomb was exposed because the stone had been rolled away. Mary did not go inside. Instead, she saw the open tomb and the text tells us that she ran to Simon Peter and, I take it, to John, and told them they had taken the body away. She assumed that someone had stolen the body.
So, Peter and John took a risk by running into enemy territory to return to the tomb. Look at verse three, “So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. The two were running together, and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings there, but he did not go in. And so Simon Peter also came following him and entered the tomb, and he saw the linen wrappings lying there.” This is an interesting detail, “and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. So the disciples went away to their own houses.”
The issue here is that they are confused. They still don’t get that what Jesus said over and over again was true. Remember how often he told them, especially as the time drew near, that the Son of Man is going to be betrayed, spat upon, and crucified, but He will rise on the third day. Recall with what clarity He did that, but the only part they wanted to hear was the stuff about the Kingdom. They selectively heard the things they did like and sort of let the rest go in one ear and out the other. We all do that; we all have the ability to be very selective in what we are hearing. We tend, if we are not careful, to remember in our own best interest. By the way, your memory is highly selective.
Once in a while I’ll go to a park and there I will reflect on where I have been and where I think I am and where I think I am going. I highly recommend getting away by yourself, out of your routine, for a day. It will do you enormous good, I promise. You will come a better understanding of yourself and your own journey in that one day than you would in several years because you are alone, with no TV, telephone, newspaper, no anything. It is just you and God in the natural environment. It is a powerful thing. The point is this, in spite of the many times Jesus told them, they couldn’t understand what was going to happen. I must say, as well, this was faith-based, but it was still not enough. It has to be based on the revelations from God. If you turn back with me to John chapter two, verse 22, it says, “When He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scriptures and the word which Jesus had spoken.” It is one thing to use evidence, it is another thing to use the authority of Scripture.
There is another example of this in John chapter 12, verse 16. Here it says, “These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him,” that is to say in the Hebrew Bible, “and that they had done these things to Him.” In this case, it refers to a prophecy made in Zechariah chapter nine, about Him coming seated on a donkey. Yet another example is John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” There is a need, not just for empirical evidence, but to contextualize it in Scripture.
Verse 11, “But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping.” The other disciples had gone away to their own homes. She stayed there, but the others were confused. It was strange to them that He just disappeared. Remember that there was perhaps a hundred pounds of spices in His shroud, and it couldn’t be unwrapped with damage. It would have been like an empty cocoon. It was exactly in its place as if it had not been disturbed. There was no way the body could get out of there without leaving physical evidence. You see my point here? Obviously, it was the resurrection of Christ, not leaving a body behind, but the transformation of the old into the new. That is the radical change. Why would the disciples make such a fantastic claim? The fact is that the disciples had nothing to gain by making a fantastic claim about the resurrection. They had everything to lose. Furthermore, the Romans, who would have wanted to find the body, could not produce it. It is not a matter of fulfilling expectations. That is the last thing they expected. Even seeing the empty tomb, even seeing that the body had somehow disappeared without any physical evidence, they were still not quite sure what to make of it. They had not contextualized in the context of God’s revelation.
So, continuing on, “Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying.” Again, we have a movement from radical weeping and despair to joy. What we have here are angels that are very reminiscent of something in the Old Testament. What do they remind you of in the Old Testament? Do you recall, in Exodus chapter 25, when they were given instructions how to build the Ark of the Covenant, and then put the Mercy Seat on top of that, what went on top that Mercy Seat? Two Cherubim facing one another. My own view of this is that it is reminiscent of those two Cherubim and even specifically mentions where they were. One, it says, was at the head and the other at the feet. Here is the interesting analogy. The Mercy Seat is no longer there and instead, a new Mercy Seat has been provided. In other words, in this new Ark, if you can see the analogy here, Jesus is flanked by the angels and that is where the Mercy Seat of God is now and we now find forgiveness and satisfaction there. Remember when the tax collector asked God to be merciful to him? The word he used was ‘heliosmos’, which means be propitious (or indicating a good chance of success) to me. It is intriguing how that is.
So, we have a new Mercy Seat, in effect, which we see in this text. And so, they asked her a question, ‘“Woman, why are you weeping’? She said to them, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him’. When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.” Clearly, He appeared in a form that she did not recognize. “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking’?”
So, He asked her the very same question that the angels asked. “She said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away’.” She mistook Him for somebody else, maybe the gardener, and had no idea that it was her Lord. We see this elsewhere, don’t we? Remember on the way to Emmaus, He walks alongside two of the disciples and they don’t recognize Him? It is very interesting. He acted as if He was going to go further, but they invited Him in to eat with them.
So, at the dinner, when Jesus lifts up His eyes to heaven and breaks the bread in a characteristic way that was unique to Him, suddenly they realized who it was. He allowed Himself to be seen, and what took place? He disappeared, just like that.
So, He could manifest Himself, even in another form to those two disciples, as it tells us in another Gospel. In His resurrection body, He is capable of manifesting in any form He wishes because, in a very real way, that resurrection body is far more awesome than we might suppose. I invite you to compare, where John was leaning on Jesus’ chest in the Upper Room, and when John sees Jesus in Revelation chapter one, what happens? Now, he sees Him in heaven, not on earth. He sees Him in His true glory and he falls on his face like a dead man.
So, evidently, during His forty days of appearances, Jesus would not manifest His true glory and thus He could be confused for another person. But, when Paul or Saul was his name at that time, saw Him it was in the heavenlies. And, when John sees Him, what was his response? He saw something brighter than the sun. That is actually what His resurrected body is like maybe even capable of lighting up the entire universe, rather than just that of a mere man. He is capable of adapting, just as angels are capable of appearing as men.