So far every Tuesday, we’ve taken the four Gospel accounts and combined them into a single narrative to cover the Lord’s tempting in the wilderness, His Agony in the Garden, His arrest and trial, and His crucifixion. Today, we’re going to look at the resurrection of Christ, specifically the events at the tomb, which is perhaps the most challenging of all the events we’ve covered. Plus, we’re going to talk about the angels at the tomb and that difficult passage, when the Lord told Mary Magdelene, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.”
God help me. LOL
Let’s start here in Matt. 27:57-61:
Mat 27:57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple: 27:58 He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. 27:59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 27:60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. 27:61 And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.
Charles F. Baker in his book, “Understanding the Gospels” wrote, “Two men who had been secret disciples of Jesus were responsible for the burial of Jesus’ body. Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man according to Matthew. According to Mark he was an honorable counselor who waited for the Kingdom of God. Luke says he was a good man and just, who had not consented to the decision of the Jewish council in condemning Jesus. And John tells us he was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews. According to Mark, Joseph boldly requested permission from Pilate to bury the body of Jesus. John alone tells us that Nicodemus, another secret disciple, came with Joseph, bringing about a hundred-pound mixture of myrrh and aloes with which to anoint the body. They apparently took the body down from the cross, wrapped it in clean linen cloth which Joseph had bought, along with the spices, according to Jewish burial practice, and laid the body in a rock hewn sepulchre in which no one had ever been buried. Matthew states the tomb belonged to Joseph, and John informs us that the tomb was in a garden near the place of the crucifixion, and that the body was placed in this tomb because the sabbath was drawing near and there would not have been time to take it elsewhere…”
We’ve mentioned before that Christ would be in the tomb before sundown on that Wednesday. In the Jewish calendar, the new day, Thursday, would begin around 6 p.m. after sundown. That Thursday was called “Sabbath.” The three days of the feast were each called Sabbath days. Sabbath simply means in the Hebrew “to rest.” Those were three days of rest. Then He would be resurrected at some point after sundown on Saturday and before sunrise Sunday morning. (For more see this chart.)
Again, Baker writes, “All of the Synoptics state that certain women, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of Joses, sat watching where Jesus was buried, and Luke states that the women returned home and prepared spices and ointments and rested on the sabbath day according to the commandment.” He also added that, “It is most encouraging and refreshing to read about these two secret disciples who turned out to be more courageous than the Apostles themselves. We read nothing about any of the Apostles helping in the burial of their Lord, but of these two prominent men, one a ruler of the Jews and the other a rich member of the Sanhedrin, both risking their lives and their positions, by boldly coming to Pilate and claiming the body of this One whom the Jews had condemned to death as a blasphemer. It sometimes requires a great crisis to bring a believer out of his shell, and such a crisis often produces a more viable testimony than evidenced by others who had been more open in their stand.”
Mat 27:62 Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation (6 p.m. on Thursday, for us 6 p.m. Wednesday), the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Mat 27:63 Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Mat 27:64 Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. Mat 27:65 Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. Mat 27:66 So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.
In my notes, I have a reference to Psa. 16:10 which reads For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. These Pharisees knew the truth about Christ and outright ignored Ps. 16:10 and the impossibility of death holding the Holy One or of the Holy One actually being subjected to corruption of any kind in His death. Peter would even reaffirm this point in Acts 2:24 when he said, “Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.”
Here’s a question. How is it that these unbelieving Pharisees understood the Lord’s claims that He’d be resurrected and yet, this truth was hidden from the twelve disciples? In Luke 18, the Lord would tell His disciples of His death and resurrection for a third time. He’d say in Luk 18:31 Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. Luk 18:32 For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: Luk 18:33 And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. Luk 18:34 And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.
My question is, “Why? The Pharisees understood what He meant. Why didn’t the disciples? Even more important, why were these sayings hid from them? What’s the point of the Lord saying these things to the disciples only for those truths to be hid from them?”
One possibility that had been shared by Baker was that “if the disciples did not believe that Jesus was going to arise from the dead, any charge by the Jews that they stole the body out of the tomb to make it appear that He had risen from the dead would carry no weight at all.” That makes sense. I suspect that they knew He said those things, but they didn’t fully understand the meaning of what He was saying and thus, they didn’t believe it. You can’t be a believer if you don’t understand what’s being said. In fact, we’re going to read in John 20:8 about Peter and John visiting the tomb. John arrived first at the tomb, didn’t go in, but the verse says, “he saw, and believed.” He knew the Lord talked about His resurrection but didn’t understand what He was saying, and he didn’t believe it until he actually saw the empty clothes in the empty tomb. By hiding those sayings from His disciples, they would never be anywhere near the tomb and no accusation could be made against them that they stole His body.
There was a lot of activity at the tomb the morning of His resurrection. All four Gospel have lengthy accounts about that morning. I’ve reread those accounts a bazillion times to try to figure out the chronology, and it is honestly confusing. What’s happening is, I think, you have one writer is focusing upon one aspect while another writer is focusing upon another aspect; yet, the writers are talking about the same event. I’m going to try to present what I suspect is the chronology, but I’m not dogmatic about it. I’m open to other thoughts.
I suspect that what happened between those four accounts were two primary events. We have 4 women who showed up early resurrection morning: Mary Magdelene, Mary mother of James, Salome, and Joanna. One account talks about the two Mary’s and Salome, and another account talks about the two Mary’s and Joanna. I think they’re talking about the same event in which all four women were present. Plus, there were, I’m sure, quite a few others with them. Then the accounts primarily focus upon the two Mary’s: Mary Magdelene and Mary mother of James.
So early Sunday morning, the four women arrive. They see the empty tomb. They enter. They encounter two angels who instruct them to go tell disciples that Christ is risen. They do that. The disciples don’t believe them. They return. When they return, one account is focused primarily upon Mary Magdelene and another account is focused primarily upon the two Mary’s, but they’re both talking about the same event because they returned together. There’s more interaction with angels who tell them to once again inform the disciples He is risen. Then, in a private moment while Mary Magdelene while she’s seemingly away from the others, Jesus appears to her. The women all leave together to tell the disciples once again. And while they’re on their way, Jesus appears to the two Mary’s.
So, for the sake of simplicity, I’ve broken the chronology down to two events: the first visit by the four women and the second visit focused on the two Mary’s.
First, the Three Women
Let’s look at what Luke writes.
Luk 23:55 And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. Luk 23:56 And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment. Luk 24:1 Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. Luk 24:2 And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. Luk 24:3 And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. Luk 24:4 And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: Luk 24:5 And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? Luk 24:6 He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Luk 24:7 Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. Luk 24:8 And they remembered his words, Luk 24:9 And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. Luk 24:10 It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.
We also have a shortened account of this in John 20:1-2, which is only focused upon Mary Magdelene. Joh 20:1 The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Joh 20:2 Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. John only talks about Mary Magdelene, which is important, because she’s the first one to see the resurrected Lord.
Now consider what Mark writes.
Mar 16:1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. 16:2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. 16:3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? 16:4 And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. 16:5 And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. 16:6 And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. 16:7 But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. 16:8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.
I suspect it’s likely that the account we read in Luke 23-24, John 20:1-2, and Mark 16 may be talking about the same event. Luke points out that it’s Mary Magdelene, Joanna, and Mary, the mother of James, whereas Mark identifies Mary Magdelene, Mary the mother of James and Salome. I think all four women were there, plus a few others. Whereas Luke points out the two angels in the tomb, Mark only highlights one angel who speaks. The words of the angels are slightly different in Mark and Luke. Luke says in Luk 24:5 And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? Mark, on the other hand would focus on the words of only one of those two angels. According to Luke, they both spoke. So Luke may be quoting one angel and Mark may be quoting the other angel.
We read in Luk 24:9 And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest but in Mar 16:8 we we read And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid. What are we to make of that? I suspect that Mark meant that they didn’t say anything about the angels or what the angels said but only told the disciples Christ is risen.
And, of course, we get in these accounts, our first reference to angels here, “two men… in shining garments.” Mark describes one of the angels as clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. It would seem that the angel Mark focuses upon was also glorious in appearance, which would account for their fearful reaction. Even though we’re not told that they’re angels, their appearance is all we would need to know that they must be angels. Angels can at times have a glorious appearance much like the angel who appeared to the shepherds. That angel came down to them as we read in Luk 2:9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. In fact, the appearance of two glorious angels in white garments is very reminiscent of the two angels that appeared to the disciples following the Lord’s ascension in Act 1:10 which read, And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Act 1:11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. Plus, the accounts of their return to the tomb would confirm they’re angels. And here, as we will read in all the other accounts of the angels at the tomb, we see them fulfilling their God-ordained role of providing guidance to the people of Israel.
Second, the Two Mary’s Return to the Tomb
Next, all the women return to the tomb, but Mark and John will focus primarily on Mary Magdelene and Matthew would focus upon the two Mary’s.
First, we’re going to focus on Mary Magdelene.
Mar 16:9 Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. Mar 16:10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. Mar 16:11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not. These verses, I’d say, are just an overview of the details we’ll be reading. Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb weeping. She sees the two angels then Jesus, and she goes as the Lord instructs her to tell the disciples once again.
Joh 20:11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, Joh 20:12 And seeth two angels in white sitting (confirming what we knew), the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Joh 20:13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. (What are we to make of this line? Perhaps she is just confused, or she was infected by the unbelief of the disciples, and thus, she still thinks He’s dead and the body was stolen.) Joh 20:14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.) This should come as no surprise to us. We know that in His resurrected state, Jesus had the ability to appear and disappear as He did with those two men on the road to Emmaus. Even in the OT, when Christ appeared to people as an Angel of the Lord, He had the ability to appear to only one person while the people around that person couldn’t see Him like with Balaam in Num. 22.) Joh 20:15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Joh 20:16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Joh 20:17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. Joh 20:18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.
What did it mean when John wrote that “She turned herself”? Some suggest she must’ve turned back around to look at the angels. The Lord said, “Mary” and she turned back to the Lord and called Him Rabboni. I’m going to cover the “touch me not” statement at the end. I don’t want to interrupt the narrative here.
Next, Mary Mother of James
Mary, the mother of James, also returns to the tomb and sees an angel.
Mat 28:1 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. Mat 28:2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. Mat 28:3 His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: Mat 28:4 And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. Mat 28:5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. Mat 28:6 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. Mat 28:7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. Mat 28:8 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word. Mat 28:9 And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. Mat 28:10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.
At first, it would appear in this narrative that Matthew is talking about their first trip to the tomb, but then we come across all these “Ands”. Vs. 4, And for fear of him the keepers did shake. Vs. 5, And the angel answered. Vs. 7, And go quickly. Vs. 8, And they departed quickly. Vs. 9, And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them. This has to be their return to the tomb, and this had to have happened after the Lord appeared to Mary Magdelene because Mar 16:9 told us he appeared first to Mary Magdalene.
It may be possible that what we read here in Matt. 28 is overlapping what we just read in John 20. If Mary Magdelene left together with Mary mother of James in Luke 24 and told the disciples He is risen together, then surely they returned to the tomb together. John only focuses upon Mary Magdelene, but Matthew focuses upon both Mary Magdelene and Mary mother of James and how they showed up at the tomb together. They hear from the angel of the Lord. Then the Lord appears to Mary Magdelene. We know He had to have appeared to her first because we’re told in Mar 16:9 that he appeared first to Mary Magdalene. So it would seem that at some point when Mary Magdelene is away from Mary mother of James, the Lord appeared to her when they were all at the tomb together the second time. Then they leave together to tell the disciples. Then Jesus appears to both of them. And what happens? They both fall to the ground and grab His feet. Then Peter and John, who had been told by both Mary’s that they had seen the Lord in person, they comb to the tomb, look in and leave.
Luk 24:10 It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. Luk 24:11 And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. Luk 24:12 Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass. Peter wasn’t the only one who left. Joh 20:3 Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. Joh 20:4 So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. Joh 20:5 And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. 20:6 Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, 20:7 And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. 20:8 Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. 20:9 For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. 20:10 Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.
Report of the Guards
Then we’re given the report of the guards in Matt 28. Mat 28:11 Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. 28:12 And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, 28:13 Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. 28:14 And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. 28:15 So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.
For I Am Not Ascended
What are we to make of what the Lord told Mary Magdelene in Joh 20:17? Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
Again, I’m not dogmatic about any of this, and I’m open to other thoughts. But I have to say, if the two accounts of their return to the tomb in John 20 and Matt. 28 are overlapping, as I suspect they are, then the Lord tells Mary not to touch Him. The two Mary’s leave together, and the Lord appears to them on their way to the disciples. Mat 28:9 tells us that they immediately fell and held him by the feet and worshipped him. Why would Jesus tell Mary Magdelene not to touch Him only to allow both Mary’s a short time later to touch His feet? And why would Jesus say to Mary Magdelene to go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father if He’s going to ascend to the Father and then descend back to this Earth before they’ve even had a chance to tell the brethren? That makes no sense.
Surely, the Lord didn’t ascend to the Father and descend back to the Earth in between the time He spoke to Mary Magdelene privately and when He appeared to both Mary’s, or did He? Some suggest He did. Why would He? I read everything every dispensationalist had to say about these verses and they were varied.
Scofield would highlight three common views, the first one being, “(1) That Jesus speaks to Mary as the High Priest fulfilling the day of atonement (Leviticus 16). Having accomplished the sacrifice, He was on His way to present the sacred blood in heaven, and that, between the meeting with Mary in the garden and the meeting of Mat_28:9. He had so ascended and returned: a view in harmony with types.”
William R. Newell, in his Hebrews commentary, would write, “Some have even pointed to our Lord’s words to Mary Magdalene, ‘Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended unto the Father’: declaring that He was on His way on that day of resurrection, to fulfill the type of the high priest in placing His blood before God, as the Levitical high priest sprinkled the blood in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, quoting: ‘There shall be no man in the tent of meeting when he goeth in to make atonement’ (Lev. 16:14-17)… I would ask, ‘What then mean our Lord’s words on the Cross, ‘It is finished’? If the sprinkling of His blood before God in Heaven was necessary to complete the work of atonement, what mean the words, ‘It is finished’? What was finished? Atonement! The putting away of sin (before God) by the sacrifice of Himself!”
I would also ask, “Why did the Lord have to present His blood in Heaven?” Even under the sacrificial system of the OT the shedding of blood was here on Earth. There’s nothing in Lev. 16 about blood in Heaven. And you consider also, Heb 9:12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. So what is that holy place? In Lev. 16 we have a type of Christ in Aaron. He entered the presence of God in the Holiest of Holies with a blood sacrifice, but Christ entered the presence of God the Father, the holy place in Heaven with the sacrifice of Himself and He only entered ONCE.
The other two theories Scofield lists are “(2) That Mary Magdalene, knowing as yet only Christ after the flesh 2Co_5:15-17 and having found her Beloved, sought only to hold Him so; while He, about to assume a new relation to His disciples in ascension, gently teaches Mary that now she must not seek to hold Him to the earth, but rather become His messenger of the new joy. (3) That He merely meant: ‘Do not detain me now; I am not yet ascended; you will see me again; run rather to my brethren,’ etc.”
I’d suggest it’s a combination of the last two. The Lord knew what Mary was thinking and feeling, and she needed to adjust her expectations. He’s not saying, “Don’t touch me and make me unclean before I ascend into Heaven.” He’s saying, “Don’t cleave to me as you once did before I died. Things are not going to pick-up where we left off. I will not be establishing the kingdom now. I will be ascending to the Father, and you need to tell all the brethren that I’m alive but not here to stay.” I think the ascension He spoke of is His one ascension that we read in Acts 1. Mary wanted Him with her on the Earth. She needed to understand that everything has changed. He was not back for good. He would be leaving again. But there’s work to do. Go tell the brethren I’m alive, but I’ll also be ascending to my Father. It was important for Mary and everyone else to know that His time upon the Earth as risen will not be for long.