Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

240. "A Vision of Angels" (Matt. 28:5-8; Mark 16:2-8; Luke 24:1-9; John 20:1-3)

All four gospels emphasize that it was on the first day of the week when certain of the women came to the tomb. John does this in a fashion peculiar to himself: "on day one of the seven," using the familiar expression in Genesis 1: "and there was evening and there was morning, day one," the day when "God said, Let there be Light, and there was Light... and God divided the Light from the darkness." Until this happened, the disciples were all tohu bohu (Genesis 1:2).

This was the beginning of God's New Creation. Here is the idiom found in many a place in the New Testament, not least in the prologue to John's own gospel. In Colossians 1 especially: "He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all (the New) Creation... the beginning, the first-born from the dead... By him were all things (in the New Creation) created... And (in point of time) he is before all things" (v.l 5-18).

Women going to the tomb

Some of the apparent contradictions in the records regarding who came to the tomb, and at what time, present little difficulty to those who read with care. John mentions only Mary Magdalene — surely for the simple reason that his narrative is to keep the spotlight on her. Even so, Mary's words to Peter and John clearly imply that she had not gone to the tomb alone: "They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him," (contrast with this, the words of verse 1 3 spoken when she was at the tomb alone: "and I know not where they have laid him").

The details of time are not so readily tidied up. John says it was "while it was yet dark." Luke has the phrase: "at very early dawn (s.w. Ps. 90:14 LXX; literally: at deep dawn)." But Mark says explicitly "when the sun was risen" (RV); but he also adds "very (exceedingly) early."

The supposition is by no means unreasonable that the women started out as soon as there was a glimmer of light in the sky. Mary Magdalene, coming from Bethany (see ch.74) would need to set out before the others, lodging in Jerusalem. And, in any case, by the time they reached the tomb there was broad daylight. If they were not all staying under the same roof an appreciable amount of time would be lost in collecting the party of possibly five people or more (Luke 24:1 0).

Also, the prepositions used to describe their coming "to the tomb" are different — John implying the start of their short pilgrimage, Mark and Luke suggesting the time of arrival "of the tomb."

The women came carrying spices with which they hoped to anoint the body of Jesus. The hasty attentions bestowed on the body late on Friday did not satisfy their womanly minds. As they walked they kept on talking (so Mark) about the problem of access to the tomb: "Who shall roll us away the stone?" Without levers and other equipment and without the aid of masculine muscles how could they hope to shift it? It is clear that they were unaware that a guard of soldiers has been posted, or this would have been their primary concern. Indeed, in that case it is unlikely that their mission would have been attempted.

There was little likelihood that any of Joseph's men would be around at that hour. And it was useless to expect that any of the twelve would be willing to help them at the tomb. These were marked men. To be found interfering with the body of Jesus was more than their lives were worth. So this journey to the sepulchre as day was breaking was a pure act of faith on the part of these women — and their faith was rewarded: "They that seek me early shall find me."

"And looking up they see that the stone is rolled back" (Mark 16:4RV). As they approached the foot of the slope where the tomb was sited it was immediately evident that the great stone was not in its original position. Mary Magdalene promptly assumed that the enemies of the Lord, not content with all the evil they had wrought already, were still bent on further mischief, and she turned and ran as hard as she could first to the lodging of Peter and then to John, gasping out the news: "They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him." (Jn. 20.2). What surmise was in her mind? — that "they" were Joseph acting under instructions? But in that case, why not go direct to him? Or did she fear that the malevolence of the Lord's enemies had had him thrown out into Gehenna? She might even have had hopes of his resurrection. What could they do to help?

Peter and John met, and both ran as hard as they could to see the sepulchre for themselves. Mary, fatigued with the unaccustomed effort, trailed on behind them. Everything about this part of the narrative, and almost every other detail which follows, suggests that the minds of the Lord's followers, (Mary excepted?), were shut to the possibility that he had risen from the dead. That was the last thing they thought of.

Meantime the other women had climbed the slope to the tomb's entrance. There they encountered the angel of glory who spoke words of reassurance which did nothing to allay their sudden fear at the sight of him.

In reply to their instinctive semi-coherent questions: "Who are you? What are you doing here? What has happened to Jesus?", he said: "Fear not ye" (an implied contrast here with the soldiers who had fled panic-stricken, before the women came on the scene), "for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified." They were recognized as friends. Fear was out of place. The same contrast between fearful Gentiles and astonished disciples who need have no fear will be evident when the messenger of the Lord is manifest in glory to announce the Second Coming.

The angel went on to remind them of what should have been already uppermost in their minds: "He is not here; he is risen, 05 he said" During his ministry Jesus had not shrunk from speaking about the rejection and suffering he must experience. But he had anticipated also his own resurrection. The sign of the prophet Jonah may have been a mystery to his disciples, but its meaning had not been lost altogether on his enemies. But in the last months of his ministry, there had been clear and explicit instruction to the Twelve and also to the rest of his followers that he must endure the worst that his enemies could engineer for him, and yet come through it all triumphant: "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify: and the third day he shall rise again." (Matthew 20:18,19).

This repeated teaching, which at the time the disciples had probably misconstrued as yet another of their Master's "parables" (as in Mt. 1 5:1 5), came flooding back into the minds of these women as the angel, now no longer sitting on the stone but standing in the mouth of the cave, beckoned them on to learn for themselves: "Come, see the place where the Lord lay." For this angel of glory, as for Mary Magdalene, that cold lifeless corpse which had lain within was the Lord—"hot the outer frame or casket of the inner spirit, now departed, but the Lord himself. Popular ideas about personal disembodied immortality could hardly receive a more direct, decisive or authoritative refutation than this: "See the place where the Lord lay"!

Angelic encounter

So they went in to see for themselves, stooping and squeezing together in the very limited space available to them. All eyes were for the place where the dead Master should have been lying. At a glance they saw that the body was gone. In the same instant they became aware of the presence of another angel sitting there. Why does Mark record that he sat "on the right side"? On the right side of what? And what is the point of mentioning the fact — except as a vivid memory?

As they entered he stood along with his fellow and spoke to them reassuringly. But they were overpowered with astonishment, for not only was there the shock of realizing more fully that Jesus no longer lay there, but there was also a sudden appreciation of the fact that, with only a dim light in the tomb, the garments and persons of these men glowed with a dazzling radiance utterly outside normal experience. Amazed at the sight, and with hardly any power to think, they backed away out of the cave and prostrated themselves before these heavenly beings.

"Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen. Remember how he spake unto you when he was yet In Galilee, saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again."

They remembered it well enough — that unusual intermission in the Lord's ministry when he had gathered together not only the twelve but themselves also and other close disciples and had led them off into an unfrequented part of that busy area that he might teach them concerning himself (Mark 9:30-32). they remembered how he spake unto them. I he angels words imply that they too had heard that instruction given — how the Lord had said it (1 Peter i :1 2). With what unwonted emphasis and earnestness (even for him!) had Jesus sought to prepare hi, disciples' minds for the shock of his own passion, at a time when they were set only on greater glory. They remembered it all now, with shame but also with gladness - how, time and again, he had quoted them strange passages from the prophets which they could not make sense of, because they would not. So often they had taken his vigorous parables and figures of speech in a crudely literal fashion. But on that occasion it was the other way - their Master's very plainness of speech defeated its own purpose because the message was one they were unwilling to learn. "Doth he not speak parables?"

But new they saw it all, with a gladness past describing, and they marvelled at their earlier blindness.

The angel was still speaking. It was a further commits on specially committed to these heavenly ministers by Jesus himself before he left the tornb. "Go your way, tell his disciples and Peter." Like themselves the apostles needed to be saved from the depths of despondency and helpless bewilderment into which the crucifixion had plunged them , but none needed this resurrection as much as Peter.

None of the disciples loved Jesus as much as Peter did. None had been louder in those repeated protestations of loyalty. None had fallen so low as on that accursed occasion when — possessed with a devil, as it had seemed — he had crudely, fiercely, violently, blasphemously disowned this Leader whom he loved as his own soul. None had suffered such wretchedness and helpless misery over that weekend as Peter had. "Would God I had died for thee, O Jesus, my lord, my lord!"

But Jesus had died for him. And even at that moment, had these women only known it, the first anticipations of the message were reaching him in breathless broken phrases from a panting Mary.


"Tell his disciples that he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him." Jesus, the good shepherd, was soon 10 lead his flock forth that they might find pasture, such as they never dreamed or, away from Jerusalem, the city of his rejection, the place of tearfulness for his followers.

A four-fold emphasis on Galilee binds together Matthew's record of the resurrection appearances (26:32 and 28:7,10,16). Why was it that this repeated insistence should be part of the message of the angel and of the Lord himself at a time when they seemed to be more in need of a simple conviction that their Master was alive? No clear convincing answer to this problem has ever been supplied. Doubtless there is something instructively symbolic in this choice of Galilee of the Gentiles as a place of fuller manifestation. This message of a risen Christ was not to be kept within the confines of a Judaistic Jerusalem; but why this should so dominate the message of the first Easter day is not so easy re understand. (Perhaps practical considerations should come in here. Where in Jerusalem could Jesus meet with "above five hundred brethren at once' ? — most of whom were Galileans anyway.)

The plain promise: "There shall ye see him," was the first clear intimation that these disciples could expect to meet and talk with their risen Lord. Perhaps as they rose up from the ground incredulity regarding this expectation was written on their faces, for the angel added his own emphatic reassurance: "Behold. I have told you." It was a phrase they had heard on the lips of Jesus himself (John 13:19 and 14:29). Then how could they disbelieve?

So without a moment's further delay they obeyed the angelic commission and went off in haste, "with fear and great joy" - fearful because of the revelation of divine glory which they had witnessed, yet made joyful by the incredibly good news which they had just learned.

Mark describes their experience thus: "They trembled (in body) and were amazed (in their minds)". The language is precisely that which describes the effects of the risen Jesus on Saul of Tarsus, on the road to Damascus. "Neither said they anything to any man." The commonsense meaning here is that, full though they were of their awesome experience and of the knowledge that the Master was alive, they mentioned it to no one outside the circle of his followers — "for they were afraid'' that the disciples might blamed and punished for the disappearance of the body.

It is probably a mistake to imagine them going oft singly in different directions so as to get the news round the various groups of believers more quickly. Even though they would wish to bring the news speedily to Mary, the Lord’s mother, and to John and others related to Jesus, and to the main body of apostles, and to the home at Bethany, and to Joseph of Arimathea - at least these- they would be held together by the realization that without one another’s corroboration the astonishing story which they had to tell woul be believed by nobody. As it turned out even their united witness was written oft as a delusion Only the manifestation of Jesus himself was to take away the veil of unbelief

Notes: Matthew 28:5-8

The women Beside; the three mentioned in Mk. 16:1 there was Joanna and at least one other (Luke 24:10.
Come, see the place. The story put abound almost at once about the stealing of the body (v13, 15) shows that the Jews knew better than to argue against the fact of an empty tomb.
Lo I have told you. Quoting from the Lord’s own words: Jn 13:19; 14:29
And did run. This would hardly be true of middle-aged women, but John says this about Mary Magdalene, the youngest of the group.

Mark 16:2-8

When they looked. Literally, looking up. But if may be that here the prefix is an intensive: looking eagerly
He is risen Passive verb. The gospels do not say that the Lord rose, but that he was risen

See the place. Singular verb- yet Mt. 28:6 has a plural. Did the angel persuade first one of the women and then the rest to enter and inspect the tomb? This word place is common in the OT/NT as a meaning a holy place.
And Peter: 1 Cor 15:5; Lk 24.24
They fled, awestruck by the angelic encounter.

Luke 24:1-9.

Shining garments; s.w. Lk. 9:29. Then what does this teach about the transfiguration?
Among the dead- This plural implies that there were other tombs there
Must be delivered That must means must, it is necessary,
The eleven. Thomas included; and he made up his mind forthwith

John 20:1-3

Prov 8:17 is a lovely commentary on this verse.

The stone. This detail assumes the readers knowledge of Mt. 27:66
Loved: Gk: phileo, indicates personal affection.

We know not. This plural implies that she had been at the tomb with other women.
The language here seems to imply that they set off separately, from different lodgings, and met and ran together.

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