In the last essay we studied Luke 23:26-49. In this essay we are studying 23:50-24:12 in which we shall see the burial of Jesus, and the first part of Luke’s record of the resurrection of Jesus. In verses 50-56 we are introduced to a man named Joseph. We are told several things about him. He was “a good and righteous man;” he was a member of the Sanhedrin; he did not agree with the Sanhedrin’s “plan and action” against Jesus; he came from the town of Arimathea; and he was expectantly waiting for the kingdom of God (vv. 50-51). Matthew adds that Joseph was rich (Mt. 27:57). It’s hard to say whether or not Joseph was a real believer in Jesus, but at the very least he had great respect for him.
Next, we are told that Joseph went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body so that he could give him a decent burial. He wrapped the body in a linen cloth and buried it in a new rock-hewn tomb (vv. 52-53). “It was the day of preparation and the Sabbath was beginning.” The NIV’s translation of the last clause is much better: “The Sabbath was about to begin.” The point is the Sabbath hadn’t yet begun.
The “day of Preparation” is a technical term for the day before the Sabbath. Every Friday was the Day of Preparation, because the Jews prepared for the Sabbath every Friday. And the Sabbath would begin at sundown on Friday. John in his Gospel (Jn. 19:31-33) tells us that the Jews did not want the bodies hanging on the crosses on the Sabbath. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the men on the crosses broken in order to hasten their deaths. That was a very effective way of hastening death, because with broken legs, not only was there added trauma, but they no longer could use their legs to raise themselves up enough to breathe. Pilate was agreeable to this, because the Romans had made that concession to the Jews’ religious sensibilities. The soldiers broke the legs of the two criminals, but when they came to Jesus, he already was dead.
Luke in verses 55-56 concludes the account with a note about how Jesus’ women disciples followed Joseph to the tomb and saw where and how Jesus’ body was laid. Then they returned to Jerusalem to prepare spices and ointments to anoint his body. But when the Sabbath began, they rested, as required by the law.
Now there is one more piece of information that Matthew provides in his chapter 27, verses 62-66. In that paragraph, Matthew tells us that the Jewish leaders were fearful that the disciples of Jesus would steal the body and declare a resurrection. So they got Pilate’s permission to seal the tomb and to place guards there. Make a mental note, because we will need this information later.
Now we are ready to take up the resurrection of Jesus. But before we do that, I want to make three basic points about the resurrection that evangelical Christians agree on. First, it was an historical event. That is, it really happened in history. Jesus not only was a real person who died a real death; he also really came out of the tomb. The apostle Paul says that if Jesus was not raised from the dead, “then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain … If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:14-17).
But Jesus did rise from the dead. Death could not stop him; the grave could not hold him; Satan could not destroy him. And that makes the cross a symbol of victory rather than defeat, of love rather than hate, of life rather than death.
The resurrection not only was an historical event, second, it was not resuscitation. Resuscitation is the bringing of a person who has just died back to physical life by various means. Paramedics and emergency room doctors frequently resuscitate people. But that is not what happens in resurrection. Resurrection is the raising of a dead person to a whole new kind of existence. It is not a raising someone to the same kind of physical life that the person lived before dying, as was the case with Lazarus in John 11. Rather it is a kind of life that the raised person never lived before. To this point, only one person has been resurrected, the Lord Jesus.
And that leads us to the third point about the resurrection; namely, that Jesus’ resurrection existence was unique. Since Jesus is the only person who has been resurrected, his resurrection body is the only one we have as an example. So let’s look at it.
He was in human form, and yet his body was no longer the same. He could appear and disappear at will, sometimes making appearances in locked rooms.
He was recognizable, but not necessarily immediately. Sometimes his voice, or the nail prints, or a familiar way of breaking bread were vehicles of recognition. He still was Jesus and was recognizable as such, but he was noticeably different.
For example, Mary Magdalene did not recognize Jesus in the garden until he called her by name. And the two disciples on the Emmaus Road did not recognize him, even though he walked along the road with them for some distance and taught them from the Scriptures. It was only at supper when he broke the bread and blessed it that they recognized him. So Jesus’ resurrection was an historical event; it was not a resuscitation; and it was unique.
In 24:1-12 we see the story of the women going to the tomb and finding it empty. Mark in his parallel (16:1-2) names several women who were present: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James (perhaps James the son of Alphaeus among the Twelve), and Salome (the wife of Zebedee, mother of James and John). Luke in verse 10 informs us that others were present. He mentions Joanna and “other women” in addition to the two Marys already named. Joanna probably was the Joanna identified by Luke back in chapter eight, verse three, as the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza. Thus there were at least five women present, perhaps more.
It is obvious that the women were not anticipating the resurrection. They had brought spices to anoint the body. That was a standard burial practice in the culture. But they had been unable to do it on Friday when Jesus was buried because of the onset of Sabbath at sunset. Thus at dawn on Sunday morning they were coming to do it.
Jesus clearly had taught the disciples that he would die and rise on the third day, but it had not sunk into their belief systems. All four Gospels bear witness to the scattering of Jesus’ disciples after the crucifixion, with their hopes shattered. None of them seems to have been expecting a resurrection.
At this point Matthew gives us information that the others do not. In Matthew 28:2-3 he tells us that while the women were on their way to the tomb an angel descended from heaven to open the tomb. The earth shook in a quake; and the guards fell as though dead. Now it is important to realize that the angel didn’t open the tomb so Jesus could get out. He opened it so the women could get in.
Mark tells us that the women had no knowledge of the sealing of the tomb and the placing of the guards, because they were surprised to find the stone already rolled away (Mk. 16:3-4). Luke explicitly says that the body was not there (v. 2).
Now with Mark’s verse five and parallels we see a significant difference in the reports of the details. Mark reports that the women saw “a young man.” Matthew on the other hand says they saw “an angel,” presumably the same angel that had rolled back the stone. And Luke reports “two men.” Actually this isn’t as much of a problem as it might seem on the surface. The white clothing of the “young man” is standard for angels; and he gave the women a revelation, which is the role of an angel. So that harmonizes Mark with Matthew. One can identify the “two men of Luke’s account as angels for the same reasons as the “young man” in Mark, so the only real difference is the number–two instead of one. Interestingly the Gospel of John reports “two angels” (Jn. 20:12), which supports both Luke’s report of two and that they were angels. The only thing one can do with this difference is to assume that there were two angels involved, and that Matthew and Mark reported only one.
According to Luke, the women saw two men. When one looks at all the parallels, it is clear that the two men were angels. The angels terrified the women, but they calmed the women down and gave them a revelation. Jesus was not there. He had risen (vv. 4-5).
Now then, we must realize that the empty tomb in and of itself did not prove anything. It merely indicated that the body was gone. That is why the angels gave the revelation. Having been assured that Jesus was alive, and reminded about Jesus’ earlier teachings (v. 8) about his death and resurrection, the women returned to the eleven and told them everything. But the eleven did not believe them (v. 11).
But Peter was intrigued enough to run to the tomb to see for himself (v. 12). The Gospel of John tells us that John went with Peter to the tomb (Jn. 20:1-10).