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. 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.
— Matthew 28:1,2
Jesus is alive! His resurrection is not merely a philosophical renaissance of His ideas and teachings — He was literally raised from the dead! The power of God exploded inside that tomb, reconnected Jesus’ spirit with His dead body, flooded His corpse with life, and He arose! So much power was released behind the sealed entrance of His tomb that the earth itself reverberated and shuddered from the explosion. Then an angel rolled the stone from the entrance to the tomb, and Jesus physically walked through the door of that tomb alive!
This is no legend nor fairy tale. This is the foundation of our faith! So today let’s examine the events surrounding the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was resurrected from the dead sometime between the close of Sabbath sunset on Saturday evening and before the women came to the tomb early on Sunday morning. The only actual eyewitnesses to the resurrection itself were the angels who were present and the four Roman soldiers who had been stationed there at Pilate’s command (Matthew 27:66; see April 27). However, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all record the events that followed on the morning of His resurrection.
When first reading all four accounts of what happened that morning, it may appear that a contradiction exists between the details told in the various Gospels. But when they are chronologically aligned, the picture becomes very clear and the impression of contradiction is wiped away.
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Let me give you an example of what appears to be a contradiction. The Gospel of Matthew says there was one angel outside the tomb. The Gospel of Mark says there was one angel inside the tomb. The Gospel of Luke says there were two angels inside the tomb. John says nothing about angels, but does say that when Mary returned later in the day, she saw two angels inside the tomb who were positioned at the head and foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been laid.
So who is telling the right story? How many angels were there? As I said, to see the entire scenario that transpired that day, the events in all four Gospels must be must properly sequenced chronologically. So let’s get started!
Matthew 28:1 says, “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.” In addition to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the mother of James, Luke 24:10 tells us that “Joanna” and “other women” came to the tomb. Luke 8:3 tells us that this “Joanna” was the wife of Herod’s steward — evidently a wealthy woman who was a financial supporter of Jesus’ ministry. According to Luke 23:55 and 56, many of these women were present when Jesus was placed inside the tomb, but returned home to prepare “spices and ointments” so they could anoint His body for burial when they returned after the Sabbath day.
These women had no way of knowing that the chief priests and elders had gone to Pilate the day after Jesus was buried to request a watch of four Roman soldiers to guard the tomb and an official from the Roman court to “seal” the tomb. How would these women have known of this? They were at home, preparing spices and ointments.
Yet while these women were preparing to return to anoint Jesus’ dead body, the tomb was being officially sealed shut and Roman soldiers had been ordered to guard the tomb twenty-four hours a day. Had the women known that the tomb was legally sealed and couldn’t be opened, they wouldn’t have returned to the tomb, for it was legally impossible for them to request the stone to be removed.
Mark 16:2-4 says, “And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.”
Ignorant of the fact that the tomb couldn’t legally be opened, the women proceeded to the tomb for the purpose of anointing Jesus’ body. As they drew near to the garden where the tomb was located, they wondered among themselves who would remove the stone for them. However, Matthew 28:2 says, “And, behold, there was a great earthquake.…”
This earthquake didn’t occur at the time when the women approached the tomb; rather, it occurred simultaneously with the moment of Jesus’ resurrection, sometime after the Saturday sunset and before the women arrived at the garden. When describing the magnitude of the earthquake, Matthew uses the word “behold.” In Greek, this is the word idou. The King James Version translates it behold, but in our day, it might be better translated, Wow! This word carries the idea of shock, amazement, and wonder, so when Matthew says, “And, behold, there was a great earthquake,” he literally means, “Wow! Can you believe it?…” The word idou could also carry this idea: “Whew! Listen to the amazing thing that happened next.…” Although Matthew writes his Gospel many years after the fact, he still experiences amazement when he thinks of this event!
Matthew tells us that there was “a great earthquake.” The word “great” is the Greek word mega, leaving no room for doubt as to the magnitude of this event. The word mega always suggests something huge, massive, or enormous. The word “earthquake” is the Greek word seimos, the word for a literal earthquake (see April 25). Just as creation shook when its Creator died on the Cross, now the earth exploded with exultation at the resurrection of Jesus!
Mark 16:4 says that when the women arrived at the tomb, they found “…the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.” The word “very” is the Greek word sphodra, meaning very, exceedingly, or extremely. The word “great” is that word mega, meaning huge, massive, or enormous. In other words, this was no normal stone; the authorities placed an extremely, exceedingly massive stone in front of the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. Yet when the women arrived, it had been removed!
Matthew 28:2 tells us how the stone was removed. It says that “…the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.” The word “sat” is the Greek word kathemai, which means to sit down. Some have suggested that the ability of the angel to sit on top of such a huge stone may also denote his immense size — in other words, he was so huge that he could sit on top of the enormous stone as if it were a chair. If this were the case, the removal of the stone would have been a simple feat. Matthew informs us that not only was the angel strong, but “his countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow” (v. 3).
The immense size, power, and brilliance of this angel explains why the Roman guards fled the scene. Matthew 28:4 tells us, “And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.” The word “fear” is the Greek word phobos, which means to fear. In this case, it was such a panic-stricken fear that it caused the guards to “shake.”
This word “shake” is derived from the Greek word seio, the identical root word for an earthquake. The mighty Roman soldiers trembled and quaked at the sight of the angel. In fact, they “…became as dead men.” The words “dead men” is the Greek word nekros — the word for a corpse. The soldiers were so terrified at the appearance of the angel that they fell to the ground, violently trembling and so paralyzed with fear that they were unable to move. When they were finally able to move again, these guards fled the scene — and when the women arrived at the garden, they were nowhere to be found!
Luke 24:3 tells us that with the stone removed, these women passed right by the angel who sat on top of the huge stone and crossed the threshold into the tomb. It says, “And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.” But what did they find inside the tomb besides the vacant spot where Jesus had laid? Mark 16:5 tells us: “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.”
First, these women saw an angel sitting on top of the stone at the entrance of the tomb. Now inside the tomb, they see another angel whose appearance is like a young man. The words “young man” are from the Greek word neanikos, referring to a young man who is filled with vigor and energy and who is in the prime of his life. This illustrates the vitality, strength, and ever-youthful appearance of angels. The Bible also tells us that this angel was “…clothed in a long white garment….” The word “clothed” pictures a garment draped about his shoulders, as a mighty warrior or ruler would be dressed. The word “garment” is from the Greek word stole, which represents the long flowing robe that adorned royalty, commanders, kings, priests, and other people of high distinction.
As these women stood in an empty tomb, Luke 24:4 tells us that “…they were much perplexed thereabout….” This Greek word for “perplexed” is aporeo, which means to lose one’s way. It is the picture of someone who is so confused that he can’t figure out where he is, what he’s doing, or what is happening around him. This person is completely bewildered by surrounding events.
Of course these women were perplexed! They came expecting to see the stone in front of the tomb, but it was removed. Sitting on top of the massive stone was a dazzling angel. To get into the tomb, they had to pass by that angel — but once in the tomb, they discovered there was no dead body. Then suddenly they looked over to the right side of the tomb and saw a second angel, dressed in a long, white robe like a warrior, ruler, priest, or king. The women didn’t expect to encounter any of these unusual events that morning. It would have been normal for their heads to be whirling with questions!
Then Luke 24:4 tells us that all of a sudden “…two men stood by them in shining garments.” The words “stood by” are from the Greek word epistemi, which means to come upon suddenly; to take one by surprise; to burst upon the scene; to suddenly step up; or to unexpectedly appear. In other words, while the women tried to figure out what they were seeing, the angel sitting on top of the stone decided to join the group inside the tomb. Suddenly to the women’s amazement, two angels were standing inside the tomb in “shining garments”!
The word “shining” is astrapto, depicting something that shines or flashes like lightning. It may refer to the angels’ shining appearance.
Luke 24:5-8 says, “And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they [the angels] said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words.”
After the two angels proclaimed the joyful news of Jesus’ resurrection, they instructed the women, “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” (Mark 16:7). Matthew 28:8 says they “…did run to bring his disciples word.” Mark 16:8 says, “And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre….” Luke 24:9,10 says that the women returned and “…told these things unto the apostles.”
Can you imagine how flustered these women must have been as they tried to tell the apostles what they had seen and heard that morning? Luke 24:11 says, “And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.” The words “idle tales” are from the Greek word leros, which means nonsense, idle talk, babble, or delirium. In other words, the women’s presentation of the Gospel probably wasn’t extremely clear, but it stirred enough interest in Peter and John to make them get up and go find out for themselves about Jesus!
When we’ve had a supernatural encounter with the Lord, it isn’t always easy to put that experience into words. This is a frustration all of us who know the Lord have felt at one time or another. However, we can’t let that keep us from spreading the good news of what Jesus Christ has done in our lives. We should never forget that although these women seemed to be speaking nonsense and babble, their words were all that was needed to spark an interest in those men that made them get up and go find out about Jesus themselves.
As you share Jesus Christ with your family and friends, it is your job to “give it your best shot.” Tell the Good News the best way you know how! But don’t overlook the fact that the Holy Spirit is also speaking to their hearts at the same time you are speaking to their ears. The Spirit of God will use you and your witness to stir hunger deep in their hearts. But long after you are finished talking, God will still be dealing with them. And when they come to Jesus, they won’t remember if you sounded confusing the day you presented the Gospel to them. They will be thankful that you loved them enough to care for their souls!
So get up and get going! Open your mouth, and start telling the Good News that Jesus Christ is alive and well!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, I am concerned for my family, friends, acquaintances, and fellow workers who still don’t know You as their personal Savior. I’ve been concerned that if I tried to talk to them, I wouldn’t make sense, so I’ve shied away from witnessing to them. But I know You can make sense out of anything I say. Today I am leaning on You to help me witness to people in my life. I need You to speak to their hearts at the same time I’m speaking to their ears! Please help me tell them about Your saving grace!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that I am a witness for Jesus Christ! I open my mouth and speak the truth in love, and people want to hear what I have to tell them. This is the best news in the whole world — and when I tell it, people get excited and want to give their lives to Jesus. I am not afraid to speak up, to speak out, and to speak on behalf of my precious Savior. What He has done for me, He will do for others, for He is not a respecter of persons. Therefore, I will boldly tell of the grace of God and what He has done for me!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Have you had times when you wanted to tell someone about an experience you’ve had with the Lord, but you felt frustrated because you couldn’t find the right words to explain your experience to them?
2. If you suddenly found yourself in front of someone who was dying and who needed to give his heart to Jesus, would you know how to lead that person to the Lord? If your answer is yes, how would you do it? What would you tell him?
3. If your answer to the above question is “No, I wouldn’t know how to lead someone to Jesus,” don’t you think it’s time for you to start learning how to do this? How could you go about learning how to more effectively witness for the Lord?