The empty tomb is the only evidence for the resurrection that the disciples of Jesus as well as the Jewish and Roman authorities could agree on. Jesus’ empty tomb attests to His resurrection.
Jesus was crucified during the time of the sacrifices for the Jewish Passover. The beginning of a new day does not follow our reckoning of time. While a new day for us begins at midnight, for Jews, a new day begins at the beginning of Sabbath — that is, Friday night.
When the Sabbath is over, three of Jesus’ women followers bring spices to complete the burial preparations for Jesus’ body early in the morning. The women and disciples do not expect the tomb to be empty and the body of Jesus absent. It is an emotional time for all the followers of Jesus.
The women had not contemplated how they could access the sealed tomb. Mary Magdalene was a witness to Jesus’ death (Mark 15:40), burial (Mark 15:47) and the empty tomb.
According to Baptist scholar David Garland, it was common to check a tomb before three days passed to make sure the person was dead. In the moment, the women had not given thought to the question, “Who will roll away the stone from the entrance?”
Miraculously, the huge stone had been rolled away, which allows the women to see inside the empty tomb. The stone was rolled away, not to let the body of Jesus exit the tomb, but to allow the women and disciples to witness the empty tomb.
The curious women enter the tomb and see a young man dressed in a white robe. White was the dress of beings in heaven (Dan. 7:9, Acts 10:30). The Gospel author does not call the man an angel, but Matthew 28:2–3 refers to the women seeing an angel at the tomb. The term “angel” means “messenger.”
Angels announced the birth of Jesus according to Luke 2:8–14. Now, an angel announces that the tomb of Jesus is empty. The message of angels, therefore, functions like bookends to the ministry of Jesus. The angel commands the women to go and tell the disciples and Peter. “See” and “go” are commands.
The women are commanded to communicate the message that Jesus is alive to the disciples and Peter. Why did the message of the angel single out Peter? Perhaps it was because Peter had denied Jesus the night before the crucifixion.
The fear and trembling of the women leads to their silence, and they fail in their commission to go and tell. Maybe we need to reflect on times when we have failed that same commission.
All four gospels narrate the appearance of the risen Jesus to women (Matt. 28:8, Mark 16:9, Luke 24:9, John 20:16–18). Indeed, the women serve the important role of being witnesses to the crucifixion, death, resurrection and commission of Jesus. The following women observed the crucifixion and the empty tomb: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, Salome the mother of the sons of Zebedee, Suzanna and Joanna the wife of Chuza.
This lesson was written by Mark Rathel, professor at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Fla., and originally published by The Baptist Paper. This study is based on the Explore the Bible curriculum from Lifeway Christian Resources.