While Jesus lay in the tomb that Sabbath, the chief priests began to worry about Joseph’s claim on the body. What if the disciples tried to carry away His body and claim that He had been raised from the dead? Matt. 27:62-66 says,
62 Now on the next day, which is the one after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again.’ 64 Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, lest the disciples come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first. 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.” 66 And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone 1 after the Sabbath…
“The next day…after the preparation” was Abib 15, the actual Passover Day and the first day of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests approached Pilate with their request to secure Joseph’s tomb, in order to prevent any foul play. Pilate gave them permission but told them to use their own soldiers.
Of course, according to their own law, they could do nothing until sundown when the Sabbath had concluded. So as soon as the sun set, they took soldiers to the tomb and put a wax seal upon it.
The chapter break between Matthew 27 and 28 was not Matthew’s doing but was added in the thirteenth century. Likewise, in the original Greek writing, there was no punctuation, which often made it difficult to know when a sentence had ended. In this case the chapter break was set too soon. The words “after the Sabbath” in 28:1 refer to the time that the soldiers had “set a seal on the stone” in 27:66.
In fact, the priests’ seal meant that anyone who broke the seal was liable for contempt of court. But a few hours later Jesus rose again without regard to their seal or to their authority. The Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead overruled all earthly authority.
The Seven Sabbaths
Luke 24:1 says,
24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices which they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb.
This is not translated properly, because the translators made assumptions that are not found in the original Greek text. Matthew’s account is unique among the gospel writers. All of the other gospel writers omit the sealing of the tomb and focus instead on the burial, followed by the arrival of the women the next day. But Matthew’s account ties the chief priests’ security measures to the evening of the first of “weeks.”
The Emphatic Diaglott reads, “In the first of the weeks, of morning very early…” The word sabbaton can be translated either “weeks” or “Sabbaths,” but this is a reference to the start of the seven-week countdown toward Pentecost. Lev. 23:15, 16 says,
15 You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete Sabbaths. 16 You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the Lord [the wheat offering for Pentecost].
Matthew says, then, that the women came with their spices at early dawn on the first day of the seven-week period leading to Pentecost. This was Sunday morning, the previous day being a Sabbath, when Jesus’ body rested in the tomb. The chief priests had sealed the tomb shortly after sundown on Saturday evening. The angel broke the seal about 3:00 a.m. when Jesus rose from the dead. The women arrived two or three hours later “while it was still dark” (John 20:1).
In other words, Jesus was not raised as the sun rose, but while it was yet dark. The women arrived some time after His resurrection.
Dr Bullinger’s note on John 20:1 says,
“This expression is not a Hebraism, and “Sabbaths” should not be rendered “week”, as in A.V. and R.V.”
He then refers us to the law in Lev. 23:15-17. If this is so, then it is plain that this was designed to show us a new Sabbath that was to begin with Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week. This law prophesied of seven Sabbaths from the wave-sheaf offering to Pentecost. These Sabbaths, however, did not begin on Saturday, but on Sunday—the day after the old Saturday Sabbath. Seven Sabbaths in a row, from the wave-sheaf offering until Pentecost, established the pattern of a new Sabbath system, commemorating the resurrection of Christ and Pentecost—both of which fell on Sunday.
For this reason also, it appears that Jesus visited and ate with the disciples on the eighth day of the week, which is Sunday (John 20:26). He was establishing the pattern for fellowship meetings and communion on a specific day of the week—the new Sabbaths at the start of each of the seven Sabbaths between the wave-sheaf offering and Pentecost.
As for the precise hour of Jesus’ resurrection, some years ago the Lord revealed to me that Jesus had been raised from the dead at 3:00 a.m. As my wife and I were traveling, we stopped at a hotel one Friday evening, and I soon began to experience vertigo. I could not move my head to one side or the other without the whole room spinning around me. I had to remain absolutely still to keep from getting seasick.
We had intended to leave the next morning, but I was immobilized throughout the entire day (Saturday). However, I awoke at 3:00 a.m. Sunday morning fully healed. The word of the Lord then came to me, showing me the pattern of timing from Christ’s burial late Friday afternoon until His resurrection at 3:00 a.m.
My “resurrection” day was Sunday, July 1, 2005. This is the first day of the seventh month on our calendar. It is a type and shadow of the feast of Trumpets, which is the first day of the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar. The feast of Trumpets prophesies of the resurrection of the dead, and so it has links to Jesus’ resurrection on the day of the wave-sheaf offering. I was healed at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday, July 1, 2005. I realized that this was also the time of Jesus’ resurrection.
The First Visit to the Tomb
The women came to the tomb first with additional spices for Jesus’ body. Matt. 28:1 says “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” came to the tomb and talked to two angels (verse 5).
Mark 16:1 tells us that the women were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. Jesus’ mother was absent, though she had remained at the foot of the cross.
Luke 24:10 says that Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, was also with them, along with other unnamed women. It is peculiar that the Bethany family (Mary, Martha, and Lazarus) was absent.
John 20:1 says that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb, omitting any reference to the other women. But he makes it clear that Mary made at least two trips to the tomb. On her first trip, John 20:1, 2 says,
1 … saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. 2 And so she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not known where they have laid Him.”
We are not told if Mary was alone or not, nor are we told if she looked into the tomb. She saw the stone rolled away and feared that grave robbers had been there. John says that she turned around and ran to the house where the disciples were staying, and she specifically told Peter and John what she thought had happened.
The two men then ran to the tomb to investigate this grave robbery. John arrived first but did not enter the tomb. Peter then arrived and walked into the tomb. They saw the grave clothes lying on the stone table in the same position that they had been when they had held Jesus’ body. Realizing that this indicated He had gone through the wrappings, they knew that grave robbers had not done this. Then they “believed” (John 20:8), although, as the next verse says,
9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.
Perhaps John “believed,” but Peter did not. Perhaps they both believed but still did not relate it to the prophecies in Scripture. Whatever the case, they “went away again to their homes” (John 20:10), but Mary remained behind (verse 11). No doubt the men had outrun her to the tomb, but she followed them back to the tomb.
When the disciples left the tomb, she had her own encounter, first with the angels and then with Jesus Himself. She then returned to the house in Jerusalem to tell the disciples of her personal encounter with Jesus (John 20:18). So ends John’s account of that first morning.
Details from the Other Gospel Accounts
The other gospel writers give differing accounts. Mark tells us that a group of women had gone to the tomb that morning (the first trip). While John does not specifically exclude the presence of other women, he focuses only upon Mary Magdalene. The two accounts are not incompatible, but they reveal different details.
Matthew says that Mary Magdalene came with “the other Mary.” Nothing is said in Matthew’s account about these women carrying spices. But Mark 16:1 says that the two Marys were accompanied by Salome and came with spices. Luke is more vague, telling us that “the women” came on the first day of the week “bringing the spices which they had prepared” (Luke 24:1).
Therefore, we should understand that a group of women came to the tomb first, carrying spices. If Nicodemus’ spices weighed 75 pounds, it may be that it took more than one woman to carry their own spices.
Mark 16:3 says that as they walked, they wondered who would open the tomb for them. They were unaware that the tomb had been sealed by the chief priests the previous evening. Matt. 28:2 tells us,
2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it.
Recall that an earthquake had rent the veil in the temple at the time of Jesus’ death on Friday afternoon. Aftershocks are common after an initial earthquake, and in this case another quake occurred at the time of Christ’s resurrection. Was this second earthquake the one where certain “saints” came out of their tombs and were seen in Jerusalem (Matt. 27:51-53)? We are not told.
Luke 24: 2-4 says,
2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 And it happened that while they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling apparel.
When they found the stone rolled away, they entered the tomb and “saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe” (Mark 16:5). He gave them a message for “His disciples and Peter” (Mark 16:7) to meet Him in Galilee. Though John says nothing of this original message to the group of women, Mark and Luke fill in these details.
Luke 24:5-9 says,
5 and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? 6 He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, 7 saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” 8 And they remembered His words, 9 and returned from the tomb to the eleven and to all the rest.
All of the women then turned around and ran from the cemetery on the backside of the Mount of Olives, across the bridge to Jerusalem, and then to the house in the city where the disciples were in mourning. On the way there, says Matthew, Jesus Himself appeared to them. Matt. 28:8-10 says,
8 And they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they shall see Me.”
Matthew then tells us that the women met some of the frightened guards who were coming into the city to report Jesus’ resurrection to the chief priests. This must have taken place a bit earlier while the women were leaving the city on their way to the tomb (on the first visit). It was still early in the morning. We read in Matt. 28:11,
11 Now while they were on their way, behold some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened.
The women arrived early in the morning and saw the stone rolled away from the tomb. After seeing the empty tomb and talking to the two angels, the women left to return to Jerusalem. On their way they saw Jesus Himself. The women then went to the house in Jerusalem to give their exciting report of the angelic appearance and of seeing Jesus.
Yet for some reason Mary Magdalene had returned to Jerusalem earlier in the day, for John tells us that she gave her distressing report that Jesus’ body had been stolen. Obviously, her report came before she had seen Jesus, because her report was vastly different from that of the other women.
In fact, we can only wonder why Mary Magdalene seemed to be ignorant of the angelic report that the women heard. Matt. 28:5-7 says that the angel told them, “He is not here… He has risen from the dead.” Mary Magdalene did not stay long enough to hear this revelation. She must have seen the angel sitting on the stone that had been rolled away (Matt. 28:2), but perhaps she thought it was one of the men guarding the tomb. At any rate, it seems that she assumed that someone had stolen Jesus’ body and immediately ran back to report this to the disciples in Jerusalem.
The other women remained at the tomb long enough to identify that “man” as an angel and also to hear his message. They then left the tomb to convey the message to the disciples. I believe that before going to Jerusalem, they first took a detour to Bethany to inform the Bethany family. Only then did they go to Jerusalem to tell the disciples, who still were in mourning.
The Women’s Report
When the women arrived at the house in Jerusalem, telling of the open tomb and the angelic message, the disciples did not believe their report at first (Luke 24:11). Their report came “while they were mourning and weeping” (Mark 16:10). The news was too good to be true, so “they refused to believe it” (Mark 16:11).
Luke 24:11 says,
11 And these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them. 12 But Peter arose and ran to the tomb…
In this account Luke gives us the impression that Peter’s motive was to check out the good report that the women had given. But John 20:2, 3 indicates that Peter (and John) ran to the tomb after hearing the distressing report from Mary Magdalene.
This apparent contradiction is resolved only when we find out why Mary had not seen Jesus when the other women saw Him. We must discover why Mary had separated herself from the other women and why Mary came to Jerusalem before the others.
From John’s account it is also plain that Peter and John went to the tomb after hearing Mary’s distressing report. They went to investigate the apparent grave robbery, and only after seeing the grave clothes did they have their first evidence of Jesus’ resurrection.
Mary followed them to the tomb, still believing the grave robbery theory. It is plain that she had not yet heard the report from the women who had actually seen Jesus. That compels us to believe that neither Peter nor John had yet heard this good report.
The Grave Clothes
When they looked into the tomb, Peter and John saw the linen wrappings that Joseph had used to wrap Jesus’ body, but Jesus’ body was not there. Luke 24:12 mentions this only in passing. Most of the details regarding the grave clothes are found in John’s account. John 20:4, 5 says that John arrived first and “saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.”
When Peter arrived, John 20:6-8 says,
6 Simon Peter therefore also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he beheld the linen wrappings there, 7 and the face-cloth, which had been on His head, not lying with the line wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple [John] who had first come to the tomb entered then also, and he saw and believed.
Dr. Bullinger comments on this in his notes, saying,
wrapped together = rolled, or coiled round and round. Gr. entulisso …. Here it implies that the cloth had been folded round the head as a turban is folded, and that it lay still in the form of a turban. The linen clothes also lay exactly as they were when swathed around the body. The Lord had passed out of them, not needing, as Lazarus (11:44), to be loosed. It was this sight that convinced John (v. 8).
This tells us that Jesus was raised in a new body. Unlike Lazarus, who had been raised from the dead, Jesus’ new body was spiritual flesh. Though Lazarus had to be unwound (two weeks earlier), Jesus could pass through the clothes without disturbing them. When John saw the clothing and turban undisturbed, he “believed.”
As we said earlier, Mary returned to Jerusalem without knowing that Jesus had been raised from the dead. After reporting to the disciples, Peter and John ran to the tomb, and Mary followed them, but arrived after the disciples had had time to see the grave clothes.
Apparently, the men saw no angels, nor did they see Jesus. Peter and John then left the tomb to return “home,” or to the house in Jerusalem. Mary remained “outside the tomb, weeping” (John 20:11). Apparently, she remained unconvinced that He had been raised from the dead.
But then Jesus appeared to her, as we will see in our next chapter, and from that point on she knew He had been raised from the dead. She then returned to the house in Jerusalem the second time with a good report. She probably arrived before the other women.
Obviously, Mary Magdalene was not with the group of women who had heard the angels’ report and who had met with Jesus on the way back from their first visit. If she had been present, surely she would not have continued to think that someone had stolen Jesus’ body!
Where Did Jesus Appear to the Women?
Let us suppose that after the group of women saw the stone rolled away, Mary turned and hurried back to Jerusalem. It was still dark. The others stayed long enough to hear the good news from the angel. The cemetery was located on the back side of the Mount of Olives, not far from the crucifixion site (John 19:41).
As they left the tomb, they came to the main road. Dawn was breaking. To the left the road led to Bethany. To the right was the bridge to Jerusalem. They knew that Mary had returned to Jerusalem, but someone needed to inform the Bethany family.
The tomb was not far from Bethany, where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived. From Jerusalem to Bethany was only 15 furlongs (John 11:18), which was 1¾ miles. The NASB rounds it off to “two miles.” The crucifixion site, located near the Miphkad altar where the ashes of the red heifer were stored, was 2,000 cubits (3,000 feet) from the city gate. This was more than a half mile away. The tomb was on the other side of the Mount.
So Bethany could not have been much more than a mile from the tomb. Considering how much Jesus loved the Bethany family, it would seem odd if no one went to inform the Bethany family of these emotion-packed events. Yet the gospels do not even mention them.
Mary Magdalene was probably the same as Mary of Bethany, as I showed in Book 3, chapter 6. If so, there is no doubt that she would want her brother and sister to be informed, but for some reason she had to go to Jerusalem, so the other women went to Bethany. This would explain the discrepancies in the different gospel accounts.
After Mary parted from the other women, she went into the city to tell the disciples, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him” (John 20:2). Hence, Mary missed seeing Jesus on that occasion.
Since it is clear that Mary went to Jerusalem alone and was the first to inform the disciples of the apparent grave robbery, it can only mean that the other women went to Bethany, where Jesus met them. If they had gone immediately to Jerusalem, they would have met Peter and John as they ran to the tomb. The women would have told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead. But they were ignorant of this fact when they arrived at the tomb.
Jesus may have met them on the way to Bethany, but it is more likely that He met them while they were speaking with Martha and Lazarus. We do not know how long they talked, but Jesus appeared to them before they returned, and so they were able to report that they had seen Jesus.
Peter tells us (through Mark’s gospel) that “He first appeared to Mary Magdalene” (Mark 16:9). So we know that when Mary returned to the tomb, He had not yet appeared to the women in Bethany.
It may have taken an hour for Mary to report to the disciples and then to return to the tomb. Jesus must have talked to her no earlier than 7:00 a.m., but most likely closer to 8:00 a.m. when the third hour of the day began. The timing suggests that while Mary was talking to Jesus at the tomb, the other women were just arriving in Bethany. After speaking to Mary at the tomb, Jesus then “ascended” to the Father as the wave-sheaf offering as Caiaphas was waving it in the temple.
The sheaf of barley had to be waved during the third hour of the day (8-9 a.m.), so let us say that this took place at 8:30 a.m. That would be the time when Jesus ascended to present Himself as the Son of God in heaven. He then returned and appeared to the women at the house in Bethany while they were discussing the angelic message.
This meeting obviously took place after Jesus returned from heaven, because Matt. 28:9 says, “they came up and took hold of his feet.” In other words, now that He had already ascended, He allowed them to touch Him, whereas Mary had not been allowed to touch Him. The women then all came to Jerusalem, perhaps accompanied by Martha and Lazarus. They were able to confirm Mary’s story.