“On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then 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 know where they have laid Him.’ Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first.” John 20:1-4.
The Sabbath, our Saturday, is the seventh day of the week and ended at sunset. Sunday, which began at sunset on Saturday at 6 p.m., is now about twelve hours old with another twelve hours until sunset Sunday evening according to Jewish reckoning.
Sunday then, is the first day of the week. It is for this reason that church is traditionally held on Sunday, to remember the Lord’s death and resurrection.
These events changed everything, we are no longer under law, as the Jews were, we, both Jew and Gentile, are now under grace in Christ.
“…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” Galatians 2:16.
If you read the account of the resurrection of Christ in all four gospels it will immediately become apparent that any attempt at finding the correct order of the events that morning would be extremely difficult, the result of this is that Bible expositors may not always agree on the sequence.
It would be of benefit to you to read these accounts which are given in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and the facts being examined here in John 20.
The first thing to take into account is that all of these gospels are relating these events in the perspective from which they are written, which is portraying Christ as a King, a Servant, a Man, and as God here in John.
Since these are not man’s faulty recollections, but rather things that were dictated to them by God Himself, we will need to rely on them as divinely given for a purpose.
Matthew 28 records the fact that Mary Magdalene and another Mary came to the tomb; Mark 16, tells us that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome came to the tomb, very early, when the sun had risen; Luke 24 indicates that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James – and other women with them came to the tomb. Confused?
It is of note that Mary Magdalene is mentioned in each of the accounts; so there is something about this woman. One thing can be stated without question; she was the first to see the risen Lord.
“Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons.” Mark 16:9.
The number seven, the number of completion, suggests that this poor woman was completely taken over by these seven demons. Having been delivered from such complete bondage to evil beings, there can be no question as to why Mary loved Jesus with all her heart – yet not in an amorous way.
It is unfair to accuse her of such feelings as many profane writers and liberal ministers do. This goes as well for the heretical musical, “Jesus Christ Superstar” which has been brought out again.
Having established that, let us start at the beginning, when the stone is rolled away before this scenario becomes so confusing. Also note that since Mary is the first to see the risen Christ, it is reasonable to say that the guards at the tomb did not see Him, only the angel who rolled the stone away.
“Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.’” Matthew 28:1-6.
When you consider these four accounts, keep in mind two variables which are unknown to us, distance and darkness.
Distance because we do not know the distance (or the time to travel) from where these women left for the tomb; and darkness because it makes it hard to see things clearly.
What if, and this is the sheerest of speculation, what if, when the earthquake occurred, all of the women were together and they were still a long distance from the tomb, when Mary Magdalene, being troubled by the quake, sprinted ahead arriving a minute or two before the others.
If the distance was long enough, it would give the guards a chance to recuperate and run away before her arrival.
When Mary had reached her destination, though the sun may have barely risen, it still could be very dark in a garden with mature trees surrounding it. Mary could have easily looked into the darkened tomb which was empty at this time, and in the dark she may have missed the cloths He was wrapped in.
Or perhaps just seeing that the stone had been rolled away, assumed that the body had been taken, and ran away, just as the other women arrived, saying nothing to them, in her distress.
Another aspect of these four seemingly different versions is that some of the incidents spoken of were happening concurrently. For instance, as Mary Magdalene was running to tell Peter and John, the women at the tomb were listening to the angel and then had left before Peter and John arrived at the empty deserted tomb.
If they were going in different directions or the timing was right it is possible that none of these folks would have crossed each other’s path.
When Peter and John ran to the tomb, John outran him and arrived at the tomb first, but he did not go in.
“And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.” John 20:5-10.
Perhaps John did not enter the tomb because he could see the linen cloths in the dark and not being able to see them well, assumed that the body was still in them.
Simon Peter however, went right in for a better look. What he saw was the linen cloths in the exact shape of the body, though it was no longer in them, and they had collapsed downward from the weight of the spices with which He was wrapped.
What is called a handkerchief was put over the top of His head leaving the face bare, and when He rose from the dead, the body left the wrappings without disturbing them and the handkerchief lying folded in its same position separate from the wrappings.
From this description it is obvious that if anyone had taken the body, the linen wrappings would either be strewn all over or they would have been taken with the body.
The ridiculous swoon theory that Jesus had swooned on the cross and the cool dampness of the tomb revived Him, whereupon He somehow, more dead than alive, got out of a sealed tomb to show Himself alive to His disciples is so ludicrous that it should embarrass anyone who would repeat it.
One might swoon on a cross but it would be hard to recover from having a spear rammed through their side and into the heart. Romans were not noted for taking live people down from a cross.
Indeed if this dead person were to revive in the tomb they would have some difficulty shoving a two to four thousand pound stone aside in order to exit.
We live in an age when lying is almost a second language, so a person gets used to it. But when a lie is told to you that is so infantile as to insult your intelligence, it becomes clear that the one lying to you has no respect for your intelligence.
“For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.” John 20:9.
The statement that they did not know the Scripture means that they did not understand the Scripture, Jesus had told them more than once that He was to be crucified and then rise again on the third day.
For some reason, the disciples just left again and each went to his own home. But it is not so with Mary Magdalene who may have returned to join them; still distraught, she remained there, weeping.
“But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, ‘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.’ Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, ‘Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to Him, ‘Rabboni!’ (which is to say, Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.”’ Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.” John 20:11-18.
It would seem that even though she saw angels when she peered into the empty tomb Mary did not recognize them as such, though they were obvious to others.
It is very possible that she was so distraught and teary eyed from crying that she could not see them clearly and took them for men; whatever the reason, this woman appears to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Then turning around and seeing Jesus, she still did not recognize Him. Not surprisingly since she still had not grasped the fact that Jesus was to rise again on the third day.
People just do not expect to see a real person stand before them after they have died. However, recognition was immediate when she heard Him call her by name.
Evidently she had thrown her arms around Him out of sheer joy, for He said to her, “Do not cling to Me…”
There are a number of different reasons given for this statement, but one thought is that He had an errand for her to do immediately, and that she was to go to the disciples and give them His message.
“Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father…” in other words “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended into heaven (from which I will be right back).”
There would later be plenty of time (forty days) for a joyous reunion with everyone before the Lord ascended to heaven where He was before.
“The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:1-3.
“Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” Acts 1:9.
“But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.” Hebrews 10:12-13.
The immediacy of the errand given to Mary Magdalene and the reason He asked her not to cling to Him becomes more plausible when His response to the other women whom He then went to meet on the road that they were traveling on is considered.
“So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘Rejoice!’ And they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me’” Matthew 28:8-10.
Everyone whether man or woman responds to Christ in a different way and everyone has a part in God’s plan fitted for them alone.
In this account, the men Peter and John saw neither Christ, nor the angels. The women saw the angels first then Jesus. Mary Magdalene did not recognize the angels then saw Jesus and was sent on His errand. All of them had revelation given to them in the manner God saw fit.
It is not up to us to tell other Christians what God wants them to do. It is up to us to grow in the knowledge of the Scriptures and to show ourselves as examples of Christ Himself.
Christ is Risen, John 20:1-18 taken from godisrevealed.com posted on 7-10-13, updated on 4-18-18.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version, copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission, all rights reserved.