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Have you ever had doubts about some things in the Bible? Listen to this lesson to learn that Jesus’ friends and disciples had a hard time at first in believing in His resurrection. Hear about the events that happened with these people as they found His tomb was empty. Find out about the angels that were at the tomb and what they said and learn that Jesus had told His disciples to meet Him in Galilee after His resurrection. Rejoice that objective evidence is there for Jesus’ resurrection and we can have great confidence and hope in the truth of the Scriptures.
Also includes Mark 16:4-11 and John 20:11-17
For Those who Doubt
Matt 28:5–10; Mark 16:4–11; Luke 24:1–12; John 20:11–17
Matthew Lesson #196
April 15, 2018
“Father, as we study Your Word, we are reminded that this is Your thinking, this is how You think, how You want us to think, how You want us to think about Your creation and all that is within Your creation.
“It is learning how to think as You think that is the challenge of our spiritual life. It’s a challenge not only of learning, but the challenge of application—to learn to think with discernment about those situations that occur around us in our homes, in our families, in our workplaces, in our nation and in the world—how we as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are to understand, interpret, comprehend, and interact with the affairs and issues of life.
“Father, we thank You for the clarity of Your Word, that we have God the Holy Spirit who helps us to understand it. But we must probe it, we must think about it, we must spend time with it. It doesn’t just instantly appear to us, what the answers are what the issues are, but You designed it in a way to force us to really slow down and reflect upon it.
“As we study today and each time we’re in class, may we continue to have that hunger, that thirst, that desire to know Your Word, so that it leads us to know You more intimately.
“We pray that today we can focus on who You are, what You’ve done, the miracle of the resurrection and its implications for our lives.
We pray this in Christ name, amen.”
I don’t think there is a Christian alive who hasn’t at one time or another had doubts. I’ve heard a few people say, “Well, I never really doubted.” Well, probably not in terms of an existential spiritual crisis like some people, but I think everybody at some point, if they’re honest, says, “How do I know this is really true. Am I really believing the right thing?” That’s a doubt!
This morning, I’ve titled the message “For Those Who Doubt.” One of the things that has impressed me as I’ve been going through the details of what transpires once it’s discovered that the tomb is empty and the initial witnesses to the empty tomb report it to the disciples, is they don’t believe it!
They’ve heard Jesus prophesy it at least eight different times. It’s difficult to pinpoint that with the different accounts in the different Gospels—at least five times in Matthew. But there are other situations where He’s predicted His death, burial, and resurrection in the other Gospels. So at least eight times they’ve heard this, and they haven’t comprehended it.
In fact, we’re told in the Gospels that when He said this, they looked at each other and asked themselves “What does He mean by that, that He’s going to rise from the dead?”
Once He did, we see in the reactions here that they don’t initially associate the empty tomb with the resurrection. It doesn’t even enter into their minds.
It enters into the minds of the unbelievers. It’s the Pharisees and the Romans who are saying, “Well, remember He said He would rise from the dead? Let’s go and put a guard on the tomb in case the disciples try to steal the body.”
What’s amazing is that the disciples haven’t put any of this together. It never even occurred to them to do that. After they are told that Mary has seen the risen Lord, they didn’t believe her! Even after a couple of His appearances to them, we’re still told they were doubting.
Now there’s nothing wrong with doubting, because we don’t want to be naïve. We don’t want to be credulous, just believe anything that anybody says that comes along. There are often too many Christians who are that way: they confuse that with real faith. But we need to ask questions, “Is this true and is there evidence for it?”
What we see in the Scripture is that God always provides evidence for what He has done, because God does not expect us to park our brains in neutral and just have some mystical, emotional experience and just suck up whatever anybody says.
This was evidenced by the disciples; they had to look at the evidence. So it’s important to recognize that the claims of Scripture are based on objective evidence. Let’s look at what is going on here after the tomb is discovered to be empty.
What we will look at this morning is:
- The witnesses of the empty tomb:
- The women including Mary Magdalene,
- Peter and John.
- The first appearance to Mary.
- The second appearance to the other women.
The third appearance is to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. That’s a rather lengthy and significant event that I’ll take more time on next week, but we will begin by looking at these particular events.
In the previous lesson, we examined these initial supernatural occurrences that transpired and are described in Matthew 28.
Matthew 28:2, “And behold, there was a great earthquake …” Probably an aftershock from the earthquake that occurred at the time of the death of Jesus, and it is related to a second event that is the descent of—“… an angel of the Lord from heaven, who came and rolled back the stone from the door…”—of the tomb.
As I pointed out last time, it’s not the earthquake that causes the stone to roll back; it is the angel coming down and moving the stone that triggers this aftershock. We walked through the Scripture on different theophanies in the Old Testament where earthquakes are associated with God. And we learned that often we see that there are these manifestations in God’s creation when He appears and when He does certain work.
My conclusion last week shows that, contrary to the assumptions of modern science, there is an intersection between the invisible spiritual world, where God and the angels live, and the physical material visible world.
That that is not always clear, but there are times within history of God’s creation where those intersections are very clear—often there are manifestations such as thunder, lightning, earthquakes, things of that nature. What we saw described in these verses last time is consistent with the pattern that is described throughout the Scripture.
This just isn’t some sort of special resurrection, miraculous type of genre. That’s claimed by liberal scholars today—that this somehow is an invention just to give credibility to the resurrection account. That’s stated by people who affirm the resurrection, but they think all of this other is just sort of embellishment to substantiate what they are saying.
We also pointed out that this angel descends—and there are some different accounts here: you have an angel in Matthew 28, one angel mentioned who descends, and he is sitting on the rock outside of the tomb.
When the women appear, it’s not including Mary Magdalene; we’ll see that she shows up early. Probably the group heads out together, because no single woman would have gone to the tomb before dawn; they head out early.
She runs ahead, so she gets there while it’s still dark before the other women get there, then she sees the stone rolled back, and without seeing the angel or hearing the explanation, she immediately jumps to a conclusion that the tomb is empty, not hearing anything about the resurrection, and she ran back to tell John and Peter in John 20. We will get to that, but that would be the initial movement.
After she leaves, then the other women arrive, and that’s when they hear this explanation. We read this in Matthew 28:5–7,
“But the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Don’t 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. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead and indeed He is going before you into Galilee. There you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.’ ”
At this point the angel is announcing several things:
First of all, he recognizes that the immediate response, the immediate emotional reaction from the women, is that they’re afraid—which fits the pattern that we see in Scripture that when there is a theophany or there is an appearance of angels, there’s often a reaction of fear that comes. So immediately he says, “Don’t be afraid.”
Second, he says, “I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; He is risen.”
Just a note there: the phrase “He is risen” translates a Greek verb that is aorist passive and in every Gospel, this is the same verb that is used. I have often wondered exactly what the sense there was. Since it’s a simple pass, why haven’t they translated it “He was risen,” because most translators will translate it is if it’s in the present tense.
There are a couple of different nuances to the aorist tense:
- Usually it just summarizes an action that happened yesterday. Like, I went to eat lunch yesterday—I didn’t say anything about how long it took or whether I just began or whatever—it’s just a summary statement of something that happened in the past.
- Sometimes you can talk about something that happened in the past, but you’re emphasizing that it’s a beginning of a process.
- If it talks about the beginning of a process, then it talks about the end of a process. If it talks about the conclusion of a process, this is called, technically, a culminative aorist, but it refers to a past action that is recent, and so it is often translated into English as a present tense.
- There’s another sense of the aorist that grammarians identify, and they call it a dramatic aorist, which emphasizes an event that has just occurred and expresses the excitement of the moment. That too is often expressed as a present tense.
That’s why it is usually translated “He is risen” instead of “He was risen.”
This emphasizes what has taken place. The earthquake and the rolled-away stone was not moved in order to let Jesus out of the tomb. They were moved to show that Jesus is already gone, that the resurrection has already taken place.
Then the angel invites them to come and to look. The purpose for that is to establish the empirical evidence:
- to establish the reality that the tomb is empty
- for them to see the grave clothes and how they are lying within the tomb
- this would indicate that He had somehow miraculously just disappeared from within the grave clothes
- that they had collapsed on the ground and were lying there and not indicating that they had been moved
- not that He had somehow awakened and taken them off, and they would be left in a messy pile
- or that they were somehow not there, that they had disappeared.
Remember, when Lazarus comes out of the grave, he’s still bound in his burial cloths. So this is again evidence that Jesus has just dematerialized in His resurrection body.
Now when I get through all of these accounts, we’re going to come back and summarize the things that we learn about a resurrection body. But one of the things that we learn here is that a resurrection body can dematerialize and rematerialize. We also will learn that it is physically solid, and we will learn that as we go through this, as well as some other things.
They are invited to look, to witness, to see that He’s gone and that the evidence of His resurrection is there, but they still don’t quite get it. They take off; they are told to go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen.
For another time they are told, “Tell the disciples to go to Galilee.” Jesus, when He established the Lord’s Table, told them that He would die and that they were supposed to go to Galilee, but they didn’t do that, they stayed in Jerusalem.
As we go through them, we’re going to see each account emphasizing this statement, “Go quickly tell the disciples I’m going to meet them in Galilee.” But they don’t do it. They seem rather dense at this point. I’m cautious at claiming too much because I think most of us would be the same way, because the idea that Jesus was going to be brought back to life from the dead was so foreign.
We’re Christians from a line of Christians for 2,000 years that talk about the resurrection of Jesus year in and year out. It is a familiar idea. It was not a familiar idea for them. It was completely out of the ordinary, and they didn’t grab hold of it very easily.
So I think this also is a line of evidence to substantiate that this story isn’t made up.
If you look at other kinds of religious literature, they don’t portray the key people as being dense and slow to catch on to what is happening. They respond rather quickly to what has happened.
This is the account we have in Matthew. They’re told to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, and “there you will see Him.” So they’ll take off and head to Galilee.
Let’s look at the parallel passages in Mark 16 and in Luke 24.
Mark 16, the women are coming to the tomb. In Mark 16:2–3, they’re saying, “Well, how are we going to move this big stone when we get there?”
Then when they arrive they see that it’s gone; then Mark 16:4, “But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.”
When we look at Mark’s account, there’s no mention of an angel sitting on the stone outside; now we have an angel who’s on the inside sitting by the “body”.
Now some may say, “Well, he moved.” I don’t think so; I think this is a separate angel. The reason is because when we get to Luke, Luke says that there are two inside, and when we get to John when Mary gets back to the tomb after Peter and John have been there, there are two there and one’s sitting where the feet of the body would’ve been and one’s sitting where the head of the body was.
I think we have two angels. The first one shows up at the beginning, sitting on the stone. The second one shows up in Mark, and he’s inside the tomb; he’s described here. They’re alarmed, but he says to them, as the outside angel said to them, the same thing; he uses different language, “Don’t be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.”
Again the emphasis is on objective evidence that is there: “Look at the evidence. See what is here before you, so that you can tell others later on.”
The reason I emphasize this is, as you’ve heard me say many times as we’ve gone to the Old Testament and other passages that God does indeed talk to people in private. God does indeed reveal things—in the Old Testament I’m talking about—in private, but that doesn’t justify mysticism. That never justifies anybody saying, “Well, God spoke to me and wants me to do this” or “God told me to do this” or “I had a dream.”
None of that is justified because whenever you see God do something in private, and the resurrection was in private, nobody saw it. The Gospels don’t tell us about the resurrection. They just come in here when the resurrection’s over with and say, “See, He’s gone!” You just see the aftereffects of the empty tomb. But there’s evidence that the resurrection has taken place.
Whenever God does anything in private, He always authenticates it in public. There is always objective validation, so that you can know that it is God. That’s why in Deuteronomy 13 and Deuteronomy 18 there are objective statements to qualify and to determine if somebody who claims to be a prophet is truly a prophet. They can’t just come along and say, “I’m a prophet.”
By the way, how many named prophets are there in the Old Testament? Anybody know? We go from Moses, the great prophet, to the last prophet, who is Malachi: how many are named? How many people do you think have the idea that you just have all kinds of prophets showing up all the time?
For a thousand years, from 1446 to 444 BC, the period covered by the revelation of the Old Testament, you have maybe 37 named prophets over a thousand years. It’s not very many. This isn’t the norm.
Wonder how many false prophets there were? They’re not named, but there are a lot more of them. Think about that. Very few named, and even a few that are unnamed prophets following the Lord, but a vast number of false prophets. I think that goes throughout history.
Mark says, very similar to Matthew, this angel says almost the same thing as the angel outside. Now why do you think that is?
Some people say, “Well, this just shows the difference. Mark got it one way; he got one story from one person, Matthew got a story from somebody else.” In fact, I heard somebody in the congregation make this point not too long ago.
We all know this is true from modern studies that two witnesses who see something, don’t necessarily agree in their story. So you will have people say. “See that’s what’s going on here. They’re talking to eyewitness that didn’t quite agree.” That’s heresy!
This was inspired by God the Holy Spirit, so that even if two witnesses didn’t agree God the Holy Spirit would guarantee that whatever was written down about this was going to be absolutely accurate.
So the differences can’t be explained away by, “Well, you have different witnesses, and they have different accounts.” That’s just wrong; that violates the whole principle of inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.
What we have here is the need for repetition. They don’t believe it yet! They’re struggling with their doubt. How can He be risen from the dead? They just don’t get it. So they have to hear the same thing two or three different times before it starts to get processed in their head.
This angel says almost the same thing as the first angel, “He is risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him as He said to you.”
They keep hearing the same thing repeated. Once is not enough. If you’ve had children, you understand that.
Luke 24 gives us another perspective. Luke 24:2–4, “But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments.”
This presents the same story, but a little differently. Let’s start putting this together. You have these women that appear. When they first come—Mary Magdalene has already gone back to get John and Peter—they see an angel sitting outside. He tells them the Lord is risen, to go inside look at the evidence. They go inside, there’s another angel there. He tells them the same thing, “Don’t be afraid. He’s risen. He’s not here, but look at the evidence, and then go tell the disciples.”
Luke doesn’t put this as being inside the tomb. It could be. He doesn’t tell us whether it’s inside the tomb or outside the tomb actually, but I think that this would be outside the tomb. That’s just my opinion.
Luke 24:4, “And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this ...”
They have seen these other two angels, and now they’re discussing it; they’re trying to process it at this point.
“… that two men stood by them—two angels—in shining garments.”
I think now both of these angels show up again, and they’re afraid, they bow down to the earth. Now these angels say something they hadn’t said before, Luke 24:5,
“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He’s not here, but is risen—and again—remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee.”
One of the reasons I point this out to use this is a real problem in New Testament and Gospel studies. If you go to seminary or Bible college, you will take a course called New Testament Introduction, and one of the first things that they will talk to you about is something called the synoptic problem. How do you handle these differences that we see in the Gospel accounts?
The liberal theological approach is that these are just humans writing these different stories, and they talk to different witnesses, so they don’t always agree on everything. That violates, as I pointed out earlier, inspiration and inerrancy.
We see that each has part of the picture, like a jigsaw puzzle, but they can all fit together in one consistent whole.
I made this chart: Matthew on the left, Mark’s account, Luke’s account, and we can compare what they say.
Matthew has one angel outside; Mark has one angel inside; and then Luke just says that there’s two men, these angels that stood by them. Could be inside. I’m thinking it’s probably outside.
Those aren’t contradictory; that can all fit together. Mary is going to talk about when she gets there, there’s two inside. So it’s the same two. One shows up. One is emphasized by Matthew, the second is emphasized by Mark. Luke and John talk about both of them.
They say almost the same thing. Matthew says, “Don’t be afraid.” Mark says, “Don’t be alarmed.” Luke is silent on that, even though they have been afraid and they bow down. That is not addressed here. They’ve already said it.
Now they asked the question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
In Matthew and Mark each of those two angels each tell them something. “I know you seek Jesus who was crucified.” Mark says, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified.” They’re different statements, but they come from different angels.
This appearance that Luke talks about does not include that as part of it. But each time they have an encounter with an angel, they say it again, “He is not here, He is risen,” emphasizing the resurrection.
In Matthew, the first angel says, “See where He lay.” Mark says, “See where they laid Him.” Luke doesn’t include that, and I think the reason is because they’ve already been inside the tomb, and they’ve already seen where He laid.
When they go outside and they’re talking this over and they haven’t processed yet, the two angels reappear to them and say, “Remember what He said when He spoke to you in Galilee”
Luke 24:7, “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.”
What’s going on in Luke is not the same as either Matthew or Mark. Each of these is a different aspect of this full event that took place at the tomb.
In Matthew and Mark they tell them to go quickly and go tell the disciples. That is not reiterated in the Luke account, but we are told that they do go and tell the disciples.
Luke 24:9 says, “And they returned from the tomb, told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.” And then we’re told who “the rest” are.
Now here’s another question. We’re told by Luke that they talk to the Eleven. Who are the Eleven? Who’s missing? Judas is missing; we know that—but was Thomas there?
When you get to the John account, he’s not there when Jesus shows up the first time, and when they tell him that Jesus is risen from the dead, he acts like he’s never heard anything else about what happened that morning.
What has always been interesting to me is that even in Acts after Judas is has already committed suicide, they’re still called the Twelve. Before they asked Matthias to join them, they’re called the Twelve; it’s like a title for the team. Even though one is missing from the team they’re still called the Twelve.
So when Luke says it’s the Eleven, he is not leaving out Judas, he is leaving out Thomas. Everybody’s looking at me like, what???
See, this is the kind of granular stuff you have to get down to, because the critics bring stuff like this “see there’s a contradiction here,” but we have to show that no, this isn’t a contradiction.
We look at this and we realize that that they have had to have this told to them several times in order to get it all straight. We’re reminded what He said earlier in Matthew 26:32—this is after the Lord’s Table—“But after I have been raised …” So right before this He tells them again that He will be raised from the dead. “… I will go before you to Galilee.”
In Matthew 28:10, after Jesus accommodates Himself to their unbelief and disobedience because they never do leave and go to Galilee, He does show up and appear to them in Jerusalem.
In Matthew 28:10, then He will say, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee and there they will see Me.” Then He’ll show up to them and tell them again go to Galilee … and finally they go to Galilee.
If the disciples who are going to be the foundation of the church as the apostles are a little dense, I get encouraged by that. They’re human, and that’s another evidence of the uniqueness of the Bible, is that the heroes in the Bible are presented warts and all. They are presented with their failures and their lack of comprehension and their slowness to obey, and in some cases their gross disobedience, as we see with many in the Old Testament.
This is why we have this repetition—to get it across to them, so that they finally get it. The women are no different than we are, and the disciples are no different. They are incredulous, and they need to hear it again and again.
At least five times in Matthew Jesus told them that He would rise from the dead. The other Gospels have other incidents. I put some of these up here; you can write down the references.
Matthew 16:21, “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised the third day.”
Every time He talks about the future crucifixion, He always includes the resurrection.
Mark 8:31 is a parallel: He’ll be killed, and after three days He will rise again.
Mark 9 has two different instances.
Mark 9:9, this is after the Mount of Transfiguration situation, “He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen—so He is telling this to Peter, James and John—until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”
That’s another time He emphasizes His resurrection.
Mark 9:10, “So they kept this word to themselves—so they were obedient there; they didn’t tell anybody—questioning what the rising from the dead meant.”
It seems pretty obvious to you and me what this means—that He’s going to rise from the dead. They’re like, “What’s that mean?”
Luke 18:33 He’s announced, “They will scourge Him and kill Him. And on the third day He will rise again.”
Luke 9:45, “But they did not understand the saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying.”
Just emphasizing how slow they are to catch it. These are not people who went to the tomb expecting Jesus to be risen from the dead. That was the last thing they thought of. The first thing on Mary’s mind was what she comes and she tells them that they’ve stolen the body in John 20.
Just to wrap up a couple loose ends: in Matthew 28:17 we still see this doubt. After they’ve heard the evidence from the women who’ve been at the tomb and after they have seen the resurrected Jesus, “When they saw Him, they worshiped Him, but some doubted.”
That gives me great encouragement that this is talking about real people and a real situation. They see it, but they just can’t believe it. They’re like you and me. We hear about so-and-so healing somebody and we go, “Nah, there’s something I’m not getting here; that really didn’t happen,” and we are rightly skeptical.
They’re skeptical too. These are not presented as men and women who just immediately believe and suck up whatever’s going on. They have to have some evidence.
Mark 16:10–11 reiterates this, “Mary went and told those who been with Him, as they mourned and wept. And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.”
Luke 24:38, “And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled?’ So He’s appeared to them and Jesus points it out. He says, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?’ ”
When I started off I said every one of us has had doubts at one point. I know when I went off to college, I heard lots of different things, attacks on the Christian worldview, that raised a lot of doubts in my mind. For a while, I just didn’t know any answers. So I just figured there weren’t answers. And for a while there I was just not willing to believe the Scripture because I didn’t understand the evidence.
You’ve heard me tell the story before that I went to a weekend camp at Camp Peniel, where I was a counselor, I was trying to figure out how to get back with the Lord, straighten things out, and my co-counselor in the cabin that weekend was Randy Price, and Randy said, “Here’s a book,” and he gave me Josh McDowell’s first volume Evidence that Demands a Verdict, and he said, “Go read this. It will answer your questions,” which it did, and I never looked back.
It’s important to teach our children the evidence for Christianity, to understand why it is true, and not just that it is true.
Luke 24:9, describing what happens when the women come back, “Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and the rest.”
Then identifies who they were: Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary, the mother of James—who is the wife of Cleopas.
That is going to be important because Cleopas is one of the two—and is the only one named—of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. We will learn about him next time.
There were “other women with them,” so we don’t know how many there were in that group of women. There could’ve been six, seven, eight women who went to the tomb.
They told the disciples; and there we read that the disciples just thought they were idle tales, like delusions. This is a term that is also used in medical literature in Greece for people who are just hallucinating or having delusions. And they don’t believe them. So this is not a group that is ready to leap to the conclusion of the resurrection.
Luke just summarizes what John tells us in John 20 by telling us only about Peter, that “… Peter arose and ran to the tomb; stooped down and saw the linen clothes lying by themselves; and he departed marveling to himself at what happened.”
It’s not a contradiction to John. He’s just compressed the story, which is something that a lot of writers do. As I was thinking through this this week, e.g.: I get several alerts on my iPhone from local news channels, from national news things. Something will happen: we bombed Syria; and over the next 30 minutes I will get 15 different news alerts on something that has happened.
It’s a headline, but they don’t always say the same thing. There are often things left out of one, other things that are included in others. It doesn’t mean they contradict each other, it is just that they’re summarizing it in different ways.
That’s what we find that the Gospel writers do, is that they are compressing and summarizing parts of the story because the whole story doesn’t necessarily fit within that writer’s purpose.
Luke doesn’t go into any of the details about Peter and John, whereas John, who is writing the Gospel of John, goes into a lot more detail because He was there, and he’s telling what happened when he and Peter ran to the tomb.
That brings us to the episode in John 20. Mary has gone to the tomb early, while it was still dark. That’s because she ran away, got ahead of the other women apparently—that’s one way to put it together—and saw that the stone was taken away and she ran back before the other women got there and before she heard that Jesus was risen. She came to Peter first and then to “the other disciple whom Jesus loved,” which is a frequent way that John refers to himself in the Gospel of John.
Notice she says, “They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb.” They’ve taken Him. She’s not saying He rose from the dead. She doesn’t get that. She’s not believing. She’s heard all these prophecies from Jesus about His being raised from the dead and she doesn’t believe it. She’s not expecting a resurrection, and when the tomb is empty, she immediately leaps to the conclusion that the body has been stolen and we don’t know where they took it.
Peter and John immediately respond, and they run to the tomb. They start off together. Then John outruns Peter. He gets to the tomb first. He stoops down, looks inside the door. Then Peter gets there, stoops down, goes through the door.
Then John follows him in, and we’re told in John 20:6–7 what they see of the grave clothes. They are the next witnesses of the empty tomb and of what was inside the tomb. So none of this is happening in private or in somebody’s imagination.
John 20:8, “Then the other disciple—that’s John—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.”
Let’s talk about John 20:9 before we talk about John 20:8. John 20:9 seems to contradict John 20:8, so we have to understand how to read this. This is a summary statement.
To whom does the pronoun “they” refer? That’s got to refer to the disciples as a whole; otherwise, it is contradicting. Some people may say, “Well, that refers to John and Peter.” Well, wait a minute; we were just told that John believed. So the only way to make sense of this is to take this as a summary statement about the whole of the eleven disciples.
They didn’t know the Scripture. They hadn’t comprehended this yet. They had forgotten what Jesus had said about the resurrection.
That’s a contrast with John 20:8 where when John saw it, he believes. He put it together. He’s the first one to put together; the other ten of the Eleven don’t put it together yet.
Luke 18:34, “… they didn’t understand any of these things; this saying about His resurrection was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.”
They just don’t comprehend it. Then what happens? In John 20 those disciples went away; they went back to their own homes.
Now the scene shifts to Mary. Mary has followed them much slower. She arrives at the tomb, stands outside the tomb and she is weeping.
Now she’s not standing there quietly crying. The verb here in the Greek KLAIO indicates that she is wailing, which is typical of Middle Eastern women in grief. She is wailing; she is extremely distraught and emotional because she doesn’t know what’s happened to the body.
John 20:11, we read that she leans down and looks, and there’re two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they are going to speak to her.
What’s interesting here is that when they speak to her, they ask her a question. How many times have you heard me say that the best way to have a conversation with somebody is to ask questions? Get them to think. Kick them out of the emotion zone into the thought zone.
That’s a good way when somebody is grieving. Sometimes you have to let people grieve. It’s emotional. It’s not saying that there’s anything wrong. It’s wrong here. Why? Because Jesus is risen, and they have to talk to her.
Jesus will ask her the same question, “Why are you weeping?” You ask somebody a question when they get emotional. They have to stop and think about how they’re going to answer it.
That doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to stop being emotional. We’ve all had those situations; you can as some people questions till you’re blue in the face and they never respond. That’s the technique that we’re seeing here, is that they’re asking a question.
John 20:13, they ask her the question, “Why are you weeping?” “She said to them, ‘Because they’ve taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid Him.’ ” That’s why she is so upset.
When we look at John 20:14, she turns around and John knows who she is seeing, she doesn’t know who she is seeing. So John tells us she saw Jesus, but she did know who it was.
Now that may say something about a resurrection body because so many times in these appearances, He’s not recognized by His disciples. One of two things is going on there:
- Either in some way He has veiled His appearance so they don’t recognize Him right away, which is what I think is what’s going on here.
- Some suggest that the resurrection body because it’s no longer corrupted by sin, would appear a little different. Of course, His was never corrupted by sin. I’m not buying that “His body would be different” because He was not affected by sin.
I take it that He is veiling His appearance, so they don’t automatically or instantly recognize Him.
She turns around, she doesn’t recognize Him—could be also that her eyes are filled with tears, and so it was rather blurry—but He asked her the same question, “Why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” is the second question. He’s getting her to stop and think.
She thinks, who would this guy be? He’s not a grave robber, so maybe he’s the gardener; he’s the only one who would be out here this early taking care of the tombs, taking care of the garden, and so she jumps to a conclusion,
“ ‘Sir, if you’ve carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will I will take Him away.’ ”
Then He just pronounces her name, “Mary,” and instantly and at this point He unveils who He is. She hears and recognizes His voice. I think there’s an implication there that our voices will be recognizable. We will be recognizable in our resurrection body.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary,’ and she turned and said to Him, ‘Rabboni!’ ” which is the Aramaic form of “my rabbi.” That “I” on the end is like the first person pronoun, “my rabbi,” you are “my teacher,” and so instantly she recognizes Him, knows who He is.
Then we get into a very interesting little interchange here. She sees Jesus, and I think that the language here when Jesus says, “Don’t cling to Me,” I don’t think she’s grabbing Him yet. I think she’s about to, so He saying, “Don’t cling to Me.”
The word that is used here is a word that could indicate touching. You’ll hear some people say it indicates grabbing, but what if you compare this with the second appearance, when He appears to the other women—the verb is different there—and they cling to His feet. They grab hold of His feet, and they hold on.
That’s a different verb from this one. This is the same verb that John uses in 1 John 5:18 when he says that the evil one can’t touch you. It doesn’t mean the evil one can’t cling to you. The evil one’s not even going to be able to touch you because you’re protected and kept from the evil one in answer to Jesus’ high priestly prayer.
I think what’s going on here is that He doesn’t want her to touch Him, and the best explanation that I have heard from this is that Jesus is still in the process, because He explains this: He says, “Don’t touch Me because I haven’t ascended to the Father.”
So the reason she isn’t supposed to touch Him has to do with His ascending to the Father. He’s got something to complete.
In the Old Testament, if you look at the description of what goes on: on the Day of Atonement, the high priest goes through this cleansing process. He takes off all of his clothes, he goes through a ritual immersion, then he puts on completely new clothes, white garments, everything symbolizing that he is completely set apart and sanctified for this process.
Then he goes through all of the ritual sacrifices, and then when he comes back he has to reverse that whole process and if he is touched by anyone, then he has to start all over again.
That’s the only thing I can see that provides a picture of what is going on here. That Jesus is still in the process. He’s completed the payment for sins. His resurrection represents God the Father’s authentication and acceptance of His sacrifice.
We know from 1 Peter 3 that He has made proclamation, I believe, to the fallen angels and their defeat in Sheol, and now He has to ascend to the Father. That is the best explanation I have come to understand of what’s going on here, which is why He’s not supposed to be touched.
But between this appearance to Mary and the next appearance to the women, they are able to cling to Him, and He doesn’t say stop it. So something has to happen between this appearance to Mary and that appearance to the other women, and the only thing that makes sense is that between those two appearances, He completed the mission, ascended to the Father, and then He came back to the earth.
Mary then told the disciples what she had seen, but they don’t believe her. Mark 16:9 we’re told in summary,
“Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, of whom He had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who’d been with them, as they mourned and wept.”
Then it goes on to say they didn’t believe her. The second appearance isn’t to the men. The first appearance is to women.
The interesting thing about that is that in the ancient world, the Romans recognized women as valid witnesses in a legal setting, the Greeks did, but the Jews did not. It was prohibited by the rabbinical decisions and there are several statements that are made in the Mishnah.
For example, we read in one place where “rabbis stated,” and that’s how the Mishnah always reads—it is always citing these decisions handed down by rabbis. Their statement is, “A woman is permitted to testify in limited areas, such as I have given birth or I have not given birth, but she is not permitted to testify it is masculine or it is feminine.”
She can say she gave birth, but she can’t testify as to what the sex is. Then in another place in the Mishnah it says, “But let not the testimony of women be admitted on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.”
In a Second Temple Period Jewish context, anybody who was writing an account that they wanted to be taken seriously, marshaling witnesses to some episode, would never put women in as witnesses, because that wouldn’t be accepted. What Jesus is doing is showing that women are not second-class.
This idea that you have today that somehow Christianity … Second Temple Judaism was misogynist, but Old Testament was not. There was a clear recognition of the role of women as distinct from men, but they are equally in the image and likeness of God.
When Jesus comes He has a very significant ministry with women, and it is to women He first appears. That says a lot about some of the distortions that you hear from especially radical feminists and how they try to miscast the New Testament as somehow being down on women.
And, of course, their assumption is that if you say there are different roles, somehow that’s chauvinistic. God created men and women to have different roles, but also emphasizes that both are in the image and likeness of God.
As this comes to a conclusion, we read in Matthew 28:9–10, which we’re studying, is,
“And as they went to tell the disciples—after He’s appeared to the other women—behold, Jesus met them saying, ‘Rejoice!’ So they came and held Him by the feet …”
Different verb there; they grasp, they held on showing that something has changed since He told Mary not to touch 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.’ ”
Again He says, “Tell them to go to Galilee.” They don’t go. Next time we’re going to see His appearance to the disciples in Jerusalem.
The point is we can doubt because we don’t want to be people who just believe anything. But the evidence is there to show that the resurrection occurred, the tomb was empty, Jesus rose from the dead, and then He ascended to Heaven, and the God-Man is at the right hand of the Father.
“Father, we thank You for the opportunity to study this this morning and to reflect upon what You revealed in Your Word and come to understand how these different accounts all fit together, and how they give a full witness and testimony to what transpired during this time, and give us great confidence and hope in the truth of the Scripture, the truth of Your Word.
“Father, we pray that if there is anyone listening, anyone who is here who has never trusted Christ as Savior, that they would come to understand clearly the gospel: that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins on the Cross. He died, He was buried, He rose again the third day.
“He is alive, He is now seated at Your right hand and He is our Savior and He is the head of the body of Christ, the church, and that we as believers are in Him, and only by faith in Him can we have eternal life. It’s not by works, it is not by ritual, it’s by trusting in Him, believing in Him.
“Father, we pray that You would help us to clearly understand this and that our faith would be strengthened from what we studied. We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”