1. Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.
We now learn of an event that took place “on the first day of the week.” Yet this is really a fanciful rendering, for the Greek reads “on the first of the Sabbaths.” Yet this is most strange, for we just read that the women “rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.” How could it be that this event took place on the Sabbath, then? These women were good, law-keeping women, who would know better than to violate the law regarding work on the Sabbath day by coming to anoint the Lord’s body with spices on that day. Moreover, the Spirit has just told us that they did not violate the Sabbath, but rather rested on it, in the very last verse before this one. Remember, there were no chapter breaks in this book as originally written. I do not believe that Luke forgot between sentences what he had just said. What, then, does this mean?
I believe that this strange phrase “first of the Sabbaths” has reference to the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Weeks. In Leviticus 23:9-14 we learn about the first of these.
9. And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 10. “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest. 11. He shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. 12. And you shall offer on that day, when you wave the sheaf, a male lamb of the first year, without blemish, as a burnt offering to the LORD. 13. Its grain offering shall be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering made by fire to the LORD, for a sweet aroma; and its drink offering shall be of wine, one-fourth of a hin. 14. You shall eat neither bread nor parched grain nor fresh grain until the same day that you have brought an offering to your God; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
So notice that this Feast took place always on the day after the Sabbath, as is clearly declared in verse 11. Now the next verse in Leviticus starts to set forth the Feast of Weeks.
15. ‘And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. 16. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD. 17. You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the LORD.
So without examining the entire description of the Feast of Weeks, the important point here is that one started counting days from the day of the Feast of Firstfruits, and counted to fifty days, or the day after the seventh Sabbath after this, to the Feast of Weeks. So these fifty days always started on Firstfruits, a Sunday, and went until Weeks, another Sunday.
Now I believe that this phrase, “first of the Sabbaths,” is a phrase that came to mean, not any particular Sabbath day, but rather the first day used in counting the fifty days to the Feast of Weeks. In other words, the meaning was “the first (day for counting seven) of the Sabbaths.” So this day, while it was called “the first of the Sabbaths,” was not in itself a Sabbath, but rather was a Sunday. Thus these women could come to the tomb and anoint the Lord’s body with spices on this day.
Notice too that this means that the Lord was crucified, died, and was buried on Passover, and rose from the dead of Firstfruits. Then, we know another great event took place fifty days later on Weeks, called by Luke “Pentecost,” or “The Fiftieth.”
Now very early in the morning (the Greek reads “at deep dawn”) on this Sunday the same women we read about in Luke 23:55-56 come to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared prior to the weekly Sabbath. They do not come alone, but bring other women with them. I have outlined the various visits to the tomb in previous messages. This would appear to be between the visits outlined in Mark and John and the final one outlined in Matthew. This visit is by a large group of women of those who followed the Lord Jesus, not just several as had been the case in the visits recorded in John 20:1 and Mark 16:1-8. Perhaps the size of the group as recorded here explains why there was less fear and hysteria resulting from this visit than what we see in Mark, and instead more faith and joy. Often the very weight of numbers is enough to overcome fear and allow people to consider the facts with a cool enough head to grasp the truth.
2. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb.
The stone that covered the tomb would have been cut out of the rock on the adjacent hillside, and a track cut for it leading to the mouth of the tomb. A little rock was left, and when the tomb was ready to seal, the last of the rock was cut away, and the stone allowed to roll into place. A well-equipped and large band of tomb-robbers could still break in, but no casual thieves could enter a tomb when once thus sealed. A casual group of women coming with spices could not have hoped to get in, either. The fact that they had not thought of this probably shows the state of mourning they were in. Yet when they get there, they find the stone already rolled away from the tomb.
3. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
Finding the stone rolled away, they enter the tomb, but find that the body of the Lord is no longer there. This then cannot be the same visit as recorded in Mark 16, for there they entered the tomb to find a young man in white sitting inside (Mark 16:5.) Remember, this group is said to be “the women who had come with Him from Galilee.” This group was no doubt much larger than just “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome,” who were the only three coming to the tomb in Mark 16:1. It also distinguishes this visit from the one in Matthew, where only Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were present (Matthew 28:1,) and from the visit in John, where Mary is mentioned alone (John 20:1.) Yet probably the visits of Mark 16 and John 20 are the same. John 20 follows Mary, who as soon as she saw the stone rolled away ran back to tell Peter and John, and did not bother to go inside, as Mary the mother of James and Salome did. Mark 16 then follows Mary the mother of James and Salome, and their encounter with the angel. Therefore I believe that the first visit to the tomb was Mary Magdalane, who ran away when she saw the stone removed (John 20:1) with Mary the mother of James and Salome (Mark 16:1-8), who entered the tomb and saw the angel, but then ran away in unbelief. Then the next visit was this large group of women, including Mary the mother of James, who probably ran into them on their way to the tomb, and, afraid to say what she had seen, yet braver to return with greater numbers, joins them and keeps her mouth shut, and when this large group sees the tomb and the angel they finally listen and believe (Luke 24:1-9). The final visit was just Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, who came to see the glad sight one more time (Matthew 28:1-8).
4. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments.
These women are confused, and don’t know what to think about this. Yet suddenly, two men, who no doubt were what we call angelic beings, stood by them. Notice that at this visit there are two angels, which again distinguishes it from that in Mark and Matthew, when there was only one angel. These angels are clothed in “shining garments,” not merely a long, white robe as in Mark. This word “shining,” astraptousais, indicates flashing like lightning! This must have been a grand sight indeed.
5. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?
The women are afraid at this glorious site, and bow their faces to the ground. Now the angels speak to them, asking them why they seek the living Lord among the dead? Yet some would still seek the Lord Jesus among the dead, claiming that He was just a man and His resurrection just a tale. Yet what good is a dead Savior? No, thank God that He is not dead, but alive!
The angels seem to chide the women here, but I do not believe that this was necessary to scold them, as much as it was to inform them. A question is a good way to get people to start thinking, and this question of the angels here is to help these women forget their fear and start to do just that.
6. “He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee,
These women knew that Christ had died on the cross, for they had watched it happen, as we saw in Luke 23:49. Therefore, the angels must explain to them how it is that Christ is living, and not dead. And they do explain it, announcing the triumphant fact that the Lord is no longer in the tomb, because He is risen! Upon this great and glorious fact hangs all our faith, and all that might be worthwhile in Christianity.
Now, the angels recall to the minds of these women words that the Lord Jesus had already spoken to them when He was still with them in Galilee. If they would remember these words and believe them this time, they would be found showing faith.
7. “Saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’”
The Lord had said that He must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, that He must be crucified, but that the third day He would rise again. It seems that all His followers, though they heard these words, had completely failed to really understand or believe them. Now, however, these women have another chance to believe what the Lord had told them before His death.
8. And they remembered His words.
The words of the Lord Jesus, repeated after the fact by these glorious angels, seem to spark faith in these women at last. They remember that the Lord had indeed said this, and they finally understand what He said. Now they realize the truth and believe.
9. Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.
These women leave the tomb and go to the eleven and to the rest of the remaining disciples. They tell them these things, doubtless reminding them too of the words of the Lord which they all had forgotten.
This was the first the disciples had heard of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, for remember, Mary in John 20:2 just reported that His body was missing, and the group of women in Mark were too afraid to tell anyone. The disciples may have been inclined to disbelieve this report, yet this large group of women would have been hard to ignore, and their testimony hard to dismiss.
10. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles.
Again we see that this clearly was the largest group of women to visit the tomb, since there are other women with them who are not even mentioned by name. Joanna is mentioned only here. As for Mary Magdalene, it seems doubtful to us that she had been with this second, larger group of women. Remember, she had experienced an encounter with the Lord Himself, not just with an angel, in John 20:11-17. If she had been in this group of women, the words of the two angels would surely not have been the first time they heard that He had risen, for she would have been telling them all about it and proclaiming it from the housetops! John 20:18 says, “Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.” Her testimony is included here along with that of this group of women, for notice that the verse says these were the women “who told these things to the apostles,” not that these women were all in the group that talked to the two angels. Perhaps Mary and these women arrived at around the same time, and told their two different reports to the disciples at the same time.
11. And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.
The apostles do not believe these words. The Companion Bible suggests that this was a medical term Doctor Luke uses, and means that their words seemed like delirium to them. That the apostles could have disbelieved this large group of women all at once seems incredible, but remember how much more incredible their words must have seemed to the disciples than they do to us. These men had been thinking for three days that their dream of the Lord Jesus as Messiah was all over, and that their hopes for deliverance from Him were as vain as those who had trusted in false deliverers before them. Earlier in the day, they had received a report from this same Mary Magdalene that someone had stolen the Lord’s body and taken it somewhere. That story they had believed, and two of them had even seen that the body is missing, but now they are to believe that that report was wrong, and that this incredible story is true instead? No wonder they were slow to accept the truth of this!
Moreover, we have to realize that the culture of the day looked at the word of women as untrustworthy. It was thought that women were highly emotional and subject to imagining things, or that they were liars whose word could not be trusted. Therefore, their testimony was overlooked in a court of law. This was not fair or right, but that is how their society looked at it. Therefore, the disbelief of the apostles was right in line with this cultural idea. Of course, in contrast to this is how God goes about this whole thing, making the first witnesses to the Lord’s resurrection women! This not only shows that the Lord viewed women very differently from the society of that day, but also helps to prove that this is no myth made up by the apostles. No man in his right mind making up such a story would make his first witnesses women! Once again, the Bible rings true, and those who suggest it records only myth are left without a reasonable explanation.
This stirs up enough interest in the apostles, however, that Peter arises and runs to the tomb. This is not the same visit as that recorded in John 20:3-10, for there only Mary reported, and as we said her report was that someone had stolen the Lord Jesus’ body, not that angels had told her He had risen. Moreover, John had accompanied Peter on that trip to the tomb, and it appears that John did not bother to accompany Peter at this visit. Remember that none of them believed the women’s words, and John probably thought they would just see an empty tomb again, and nothing more. That is actually all that Peter found.
Notice that the angels don’t appear to Peter as they had to the women. The women had a special role at this early stage after Christ’s resurrection! It seems our Lord sought to teach His male disciples a lesson through His choice of messengers. By sending these women first, they had a chance to recall and believe His words without Him proving their truth to them. By believing this, they would have earned the right to be credited with greater faith. Yet this chance, these disciples failed to take advantage of.
Peter goes through great activity here, showing his enthusiastic nature as always, but fails when it comes to faith. Bullinger points out that he “arose,” “ran,” “stooped,” “saw,” “departed,” and “marveled,” but never “believed.” Sad that he missed out on the most important activity of all!