The Empty Tomb

INTRODUCTION: As I prepared to go to the Easter cantata presented by the choir of the church at Cornerstone, I heard two brief items on the radio newscast: peace talks resuming between Israel and the PLO, and controversy over the ABC television special "Miracle Maker" scheduled to air Easter evening. The story of peace talks reminded me of the temporary peace, which will come, as described in Revelation; and as for the second item; I looked forward to observing for myself the claymation production. After returning home from the morning service, including the beautiful musical cantata, I decided to begin to review the resurrection accounts from the four gospels, and some other New Testament verses, which mention resurrection.

In each of the gospels, I looked at just a few verses ahead of the resurrection chapter. There was some variety in the accounts provided in those verses and in the resurrection chapter, but the resurrection chapter for each book, opens with the arrival of women at the grave site early in the morning after the Sabbath rest, with the intention of further anointing the body with spices. Each of the four gospels is consistent in the mention (by name) of Mary Magdalene's presence that resurrection morning. The claymation production was an excellent piece of work for evangelism, and it had several very descriptive sections related to Mary Magdalene. Carolyn said the credits indicated (since I am blind, I could not read the credits) British and Russian collaboration for the production.

After looking at a number of New Testament verses with the word resurrection, I concluded that I would restrict my considerations this time to only the resurrection chapter of each of the gospels, and rather than examining words and verses in detail, I decided to arrange a "harmony" listing of verses, with parallel accounts, and parenthetical or interposed sections arranged in a proposed chronology, to provide a composite picture of those final events. The following text is taken from the KJV, and book and verse numbers identify each verse as I have arranged them. I did not use any study guide or reference for this project, because I wanted the experience of continually reviewing the four accounts for myself, to arrive at a verse arrangement based only on information provided by the Biblical text within each resurrection chapter. This work should in no way be inferred as taking issue with any other authors who have "harmonized", and further, my work is that of a lay student of the Word. The complete and unaltered text of all four gospel accounts, from the 1769 KJV of the Online bible, was used in this study, and whenever parallel descriptions occur, the order of the four gospels is used without regard to detail variations in the respective accounts. Braces {} are used to denote the final verse of each gospel in this blended resurrection narrative.


A - The Stone Rolled Away

[parenthetical, in Matthew only; placed here in proposed chronology].

Matthew28:2 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. 3 His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: 4 And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.


B - The Women Arrive

Matthew 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.

Mark16:1 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. 2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. 3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? 4 And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.

Luke 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. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.

John 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.

COMMENTS: Only Matthew's gospel tells us the means of removal of the stone from the sepulchre entrance. The description of the "angel of the Lord" caused an automatic response within me as I began to read through the interspersed text - this is the Lord Jesus Christ! After considering the key features of the description of this angel, and the person of Christ with his power over death, my thoughts were unchanged about the identity of this one who took a victorious position upon the stone. The guards are so frightened by the sight they become like dead men, and probably stay in a non-responsive state until the women finally leave the tomb after seeing the risen Christ.

Mary Magdalene is clearly given prominence by name in the gospel accounts, as she and other women (likely including the mother of Jesus - his brothers James and Joses were named in previous chapter) came at sunrise with spices for a corpse, wondering who would remove the great stone for them. They were not anticipating the resurrection, but they did have the desire to take this final action of honor, after having witnessed placement of the body in the tomb just days before. When they arrived, they saw the stone already removed!


C - Mary Reports The Missing Corpse

[unique to John's gospel].

John 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.


D - Response To Report Of Missing Corpse

[parenthetical in Luke - placed here for proposed chronology with John's gospel].

Luke 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.

John 20:3 Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. 4 So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. 5 And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. 6 Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, 7 And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. 8 Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. 9 For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.

COMMENTS: John's gospel tells us that Mary ran to tell Peter and John that the body was gone and she did not know where it had been taken or by whom. Peter runs to the sepulchre and sees that the body is indeed gone, and then he goes away still wondering what has happened. But Mary, who has apparently followed the disciples back to the tomb, lingers, and the next step in the drama unfolds.


E - Resurrection Revealed

Matthew 28:5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. 6 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. 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. 8 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

Mark 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. 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. 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. 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.

Luke 24:3 And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: 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? 6 He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, 7 Saying, 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,

John 20:11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, 12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 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.

[Note: In John's account, Mary says to the angels what she had said to Peter & John, that she knows not where the body has been taken].

COMMENTS: Now the women see angels who tell them that Jesus has arisen from the dead. As the women are leaving the tomb to tell the disciples, their emotions are a mixture of fear and great joy.


F - Jesus Appears To Mary

Matthew 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. 10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.

Mark 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.

John 20:14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. 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. 16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. 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.

COMMENTS: Jesus appears to the women, and the account again centers on Mary Magdalene. Jesus tells Mary to be not afraid, and to go to the disciples and tell them that when they go to Galilee, he will meet them there. Now we will get some information in the next passage about the guards who had become like dead men. Scripture does not tell us if they saw the angels or Jesus talking with the women, or whether they were like dead men until just the right time for them to flee to the city.


G - As The Women Went

[in Matthew only].

Matthew 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. 12 And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, 13 Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. 14 And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. 15 So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.

COMMENTS: As Mary is going to tell the disciples, only Matthew's gospel tells us that the guards from the tomb go to Jerusalem to tell their story to the leaders. The chief priests and elders first take counsel on the matter, and then they bribe the guards with a large amount of money, to tell a fabricated account of theft of the body of Jesus by the disciples, and guarantee immunity from punishment for the guards. The text says this fabrication becomes a continually circulated story among the Jews.


H - Reporting The Resurrection

Mark 16:10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.

Luke 24:9 And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. 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. 11 And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

John 20:18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

COMMENTS: Now Mary knows the body was not taken - Jesus is no corpse! Mary rushes back to tell the eleven disciples about the resurrection, but they consider her and the other women to be telling idle tales. Two who are traveling to Emmaus see and talk with the resurrected Jesus, but the eleven disciples do not believe their report of this event, as they did not believe the women. See the next section of scripture.


I - Appearance To The Emmaus Two

Mark 16:12 After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country. 13 And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them.

Luke 24:13 And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs. 14 And they talked together of all these things which had happened. 15 And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. 16 But their eyes were holden that they should not know him. 17 And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad? 18 And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days? 19 And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people: 20 And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. 21 But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done. 22 Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre; 23 And when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive. 24 And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not. 25 Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: 26 Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? 27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. 28 And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. 29 But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them. 30 And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. 32 And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures? 33 And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, 34 Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. Lu35 And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread.

COMMENTS: Only Mark and Luke tell of this appearance on the road to Emmaus, and the detail provided by Luke would be sufficient for a very interesting study in itself. The variety of information and style in the gospel accounts is good reason to take the time to harmonize selected passages.


J - In The Upper Room

Mark 16:14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.

Luke 24:36 And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. 37 But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. 38 And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? 39 Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. 40 And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? 42 And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. 43 And he took it, and did eat before them. 44 And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. 45 Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, 46 And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: 47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 And ye are witnesses of these things. 49 And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.

John 20:19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. 20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. 21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: 23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

COMMENTS: Jesus appears to the ten (Thomas being absent) in the upper room, and afterward, Thomas does not believe what he is told, until he sees for himself, as the ten also believed after they had seen for themselves. We perhaps take this matter of belief in his appearing far too casually, when the event is unique in all of history. And when you couple that event with the multitude of Old Testament scripture that was fulfilled by Christ Jesus, we should be utterly amazed even today! And how well do we believe the second coming, and does our life display expectancy in his soon coming for his bride the church?


K - The Second Upper Room Appearance

[only in John's gospel].

John 20:24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. 26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. 27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. 29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

COMMENTS: Thomas is often tagged as the doubter, but his position among the disciples is not unique because of his doubt, they all doubted until they saw Jesus for themselves. John's gospel tells us that Jesus made a direct appearance for Thomas, which kept him among the disciples as eye witnesses to his resurrection. And Jesus made the memorable statement that those who do not see Jesus and yet believe are very blessed, which is precious to many over the centuries.

L - Post Upper Room Events.

Matthew 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. 17 And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
{end Matthew's gospel}.

Mark 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. 17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

COMMENTS: It is interesting to note that Matthew's gospel says that some doubted even in the group that followed the instructions to go to Galilee, and yet this too continues down through the centuries among those who hear the gospel, and even appear to be part of the church.


M - The Ascension

Mark 16:19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. 20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
{end Mark's gospel}.

Luke 24:50 And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. 51 And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.
{end of Luke's gospel}.

John 20:30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: 31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
{end of resurrection account in John's gospel}.

COMMENTS: Jesus gives some final instructions before he ascends to sit at the right hand of the Father. Matthew's account does not include a specific reference to the ascension, but John's gospel also does not. John concludes his gospel account with explanation that not all that Jesus had done is recorded, but that which has been recorded is intended to engender belief unto eternal life through his name.


--- Reflections in prayer ---

I praise you Lord Jesus for the truth of your power over death, demonstrated by your atoning death for all who would believe, followed by your victorious resurrection and appearance to many witnesses. I thank you also Lord for your patience with my unbelief, as I would have been in the company of all your other followers, or perhaps even worse, to have fallen away completely. But, praise God, I am among those very blessed ones as you told Thomas, because I have believed without having seen you in person.

In this generation, we have so much more of the scriptures than in any period of Biblical times, or for most of the church age since your ascension. Strengthen me Lord Jesus, through your Holy Spirit, to study your word until it is the underlying influence of all my thoughts, motivating my actions; and may I embrace the power of resurrection for my own life. After your death, burial, and resurrection, you said that all power has been given to you, in heaven and in earth. Guide me Lord, to take whatever part I may, in seeing that your will is done in earth as it is in heaven. May the exercise of your will begin within me, as one of your servants. Help me Lord to be a witness to others of your resurrection power, even if I am met with the same unbelief as were the disciples who saw you in resurrection flesh, and then had difficulty in convincing even their own fellow disciples who had not seen you. Remind me to observe, and to teach, your commandments, and to always remember that you are with me until the end of the age. Amen.

Published 6 June 2005, first issued 9 May 2000