In answer to this question here are chapters 239-242 of Studies in the Gospels by Harry Whittaker:


239. “At the Rising of the Sun” (Matt. 28:1-4; Mark 16:1)

It is no easy matter to harmonise the gospel narratives in their accounts of the visits to the tornb, and of the appearance of the angels and of Jesus himself. Many say dogmatically that it cannot be done. Unwilling to believe themselves capable of error, such critics are very ready to assume fallibility in the gospel writers. In the world of mathematics the man who says: “I cannot find a solution to this problem, therefore it cannot be solved,” is written off as a fool. Yet in the field of Bible exegesis there are plenty of such. Close akin to these are others who take the line: “This is the only way in which I can make any sense of this passage. Therefore this is the correct interpretation. All others are mistaken.” Of course, such attitudes are never baldly expressed in so many words, but it is often possible to detect this kind of self-confidence. Maybe there are times when it is justified, but the study of the resurrection of Jesus can hardly be reckoned as being in that category. Hence, because of the difficulty of piecing the four records together into a smooth continuous story, let conclusions be regarded as tentative.

Blending the records

The accounts of the visits of the women to the tomb near Golgotha certainly present difficulties. Some solve the problem —or, at least reduce its dimensions – by assuming that two different groups of women, each actuated by the same motive, set out early on the Sunday morning to visit the sepulchre. Thus, by applying some details to one group and some to the other, the gospels are made to yield a coherent continuous inter-woven account.

The basis of the present study, however, will be that only one group of women is involved. The tendency to resolve superficial difficulties in gospel harmonization by the slick assumption of similar but different incidents builds up its own antibodies. By the time one has got two separate anointings in Bethany, two healings at the house of the centurion, two restorations of sight to the blind at Jericho, and four malefactors instead of two, the fever is on in way out. (Yet it is necessary to insist on more than one cleansing of the temple. The evidence for this is strong, and the reason compelling; see “Passover”, HAW ch.3).

There are, however, indications of time whicr strongly suggest more than one visit to the tomb. Whereas Mark, Luke and John make it clear that it was on the Sunday morning when the women set out with this intention, Matthew has the expression: “in the end of the sabbath,” i.e. on Saturday evening. Not by any stretch of imagination or translation can this be made to mean anything different. Yet immediately Matthew goes on to confuse the picture with an expression which can only have been intended to make it more explicit: “as it began to dawn towards the first day of the week.” These words would normally mean at first light on Sunday morning. Yet the writer of this wonderful gospel was no fool. Is it likely that he would be content to set down in the same sentence words which involve a shouting contradiction? There is need to look further into this.

Frst, then, the word translated “end” (of the Sabbath) means “late in the day.” A cognate word is normally translated “evening ” The word which gives rise to “as it began to dawn” normally meant “to grow light.” Its proper application is to early morning. However, because by beginning at sunset the Jewish day was out of step with Gentile reckoning, this word came to be applied to the beginning of the Jewish day. In this way a word meaning “to grow light” came to mean “get dark”! Luke’s record of the burial of Jesus has a clear example of its usage. In a verse which unquestionably refers to Friday evening, Luke has: “And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on”(RVm: Gk. began to dawn; Luke 23:54).

Thus both of Matthew’s expressions are seen to refer to the Saturday evening when “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the sepulchre.” What a sabbath of sorrow and lamentation that was! In its earliest hours well before midnight, the whole of Jewry was eating the Passover meal. But not these, for had not Jesus himself said: “The days will come when the Bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and the;-shall they fast” (Mt. 915).

Then, as soon as the end of sabbath restrictions would allow, in the last hour of daylight they were bock at the tomb. And how natural that they should do this! It may be argued against this interpretation that Matthew’s record runs on apparently to equate this visit with that which was made to the tomb next morning. This is undeniable, and is probably to be attributed to the compression which is characteristic of the gospel (compare what is said about this in chapter 243). The only alternative would seem to be the elimination of this visit to the tomb on Saturday evening. But that can only be done by assuming that when Matthew writes ‘late on the Sabbath” (which ended at sundown on Saturday) he really means “early the next morning.” it would also require that he uses the Greek verb epiphosko (translated in the AV: began to dawn) in a different sense from which it is used in Luke 23:51. The hint of Saturday evening activity in Mark 16:1 supports the interpretation adopted here.

“When the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought [not, as in AV: had bought) sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.” That this was done on the Saturday evening as soon as the shops were open after the sabbath is put beyond doubt by the words which follow: “And very early in the morning the first day of the week they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun” (John 20:1: when it was yet dark).

It is noteworthy that Matthew omits to mention Salome. So perhaps this group of women acted in concert, Salome seeing to the purchase of the spices whilst the others made their evening visit to the tomb.

This must have been before the guard was posted there. This inference follows from the fact that when the women returned next morning they showed no concern regarding the soldiers, but only about means of access to the body: “Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?” And it is understandable that the watch would not be set until daylight had ended because in this way public attention to a very unusual procedure would be avoided. Also, during daylight hours there would, of course, be no risk of interference with the tomb, by disciples or anybody else.

The sequence of events

Thus the sequence of events would appear to have been.

  1. The last hour of sabbath daylight, the two women come to see the tomb.
  2. Sabbath sunset, the placing of the guard.
  3. Just after sunset, the purchase of spices.
  4. Before Sunday daylight, Mary Magdalene sets out to join the other women to go to the tomb to complete the anointing of Jesus.
  5. Earthquake (and resurrection?) at sunrise. The fright of it probably delays the women.
  6. The guard, scared, abandon the tomb and return into the city,
  7. The sun is already risen by the time the women arrive at the tomb.

Precisely when Jesus rose from the dead is not ascertainable. In fact, his resurrection is not described, but is first mentioned in the words of the angel. The gospels, which are content to mention the crucifixion of Jesus in a brief participial phrase – “and having crucified him” (Matthew 27:35 Gk) – make no attempt whatever at a picture of the resurrection.

There was a great earthquake, caused by the corning of the angel. “The earth which trembled with hoi rot (Matthew 27:51) at the death of Christ,” says a seventeenth century commentator, “leapt for joy at his resurrection.”

This resurrection angel was resplendent in divine glory: “His countenance was like lightning, and hi; raiment white as snow” (Matthew 28:3). With the possible exception of Daniel 10:6, this would appear to be the first time that an angel was seen in appearance different from that of an ordinary man. Yet after Jesus rose from the dead there are several descriptions similar to this (contrast Lk. 24:4, Acts 1:10 and 10:30 with Gen. 18:2 and 19:1,5; Josh 5:13 and Jud. 13:9-1 1). Is this change altogether fortuitous or without meaning? Or did the resurrection of Jesus somehow change the status of angels (Col. 1:1 6)? One would fain know more about these mysteries.

The angel of the Lord

The inevitable effect on the soldiers is vividly described: “For fear of him (not for fear of the earthquake, though there are few experiences which strike such terror in men’s hearts) the keepers did shake, and became “as dead men”, corpses guarding a corpse! This word “shake” is essentially the same as that for “earthquake.” Impressive as the heaving of the ground might be, it was nothing to the upheaval within themselves. Literally paralysed from fright, they grovelled on the ground, and later slunk away at the first opportunity — presumably when the angel went inside the tomb. It is not absurd to enquire as to the source of this information about the effect of angels and earthquake on the Roman guard. There is a hint (see p.770) that it may have been supplied to Matthew in later days by some of the soldiers themselves.

At first, the angel “rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.” (But epano above, over). The priests had taken all care to seal the tomb shut, but now here was the Almighty sealing the tomb open – by His angel sitting on the stone.

There is no hint that the great stone was rolled away to allow Jesus (at first in a state of revived mortality?) to emerge to the world outside. Then could it be that the stone was removed in order to give the disciples access to the place of interment, so that they might see for themselves the evidence that their Lord was risen? Whatever the reason, there is ground for deep thankfulness that the resurrection did take place this way. For many that stone rolled away has become a foundation stone of faith.

Notes: Matthew 28:1-4.

The first day of the week. It was 16th Nisan, the anniversary of Gen. 8:4 and Ex. 14:20.
Came. Remarkably, a singular verb with plural nouns, is this to put the emphasis on Mary Magdalene, or to indicate their complete unaniminity of spirit?
The other Mary. See ch.229, and Mark 1 6:1.
2. For, indicating that the reason for the earthquake was not either “natural causes” nor the resurrection of Jesus, but the coming of an angel of glory.
An angel…from heaven. Apparently another pleonasm, as in 27:63 (see note), for whence else might an angel come down? Perhaps the phrase is intended to steer the reader away from reading angel as meaning a human messenger.
The details here must have been supplied by one of the soldiers, surely; v.l la.
3. The appearance of this angel matches in some respect that of the angel seen by Daniel in 10:6 ff, where note:
lightning … a guard … quaking fell upon them … they fled., in a deep sleep upon my face.
His countenance. This word is unique in the NT, but is the exact equivalent of appearance, vision, in Dan. 1 0:1,1 8. These echoes of Daniel’s experience might suggest that whereas some of the soldiers fled in terror, others bowed in worship.

Mark 16:1.

Anoint; 14:8. Edersheim says Jewish usage allowed the opening of a tomb on the third day to attend to the body. On this first day of the week believers now come to Christ with the incense of praise and the frankincense of thanksgiving


240. “A Vision of Angels” (Matt. 28:5-8; Mark 16:2-8; Luke 24:1-9; John 20:1-3)

All four gospels emphasise that it was on the first day of the week when certain of the women came to the tomb. John does this in a fashion peculiar to himself: “on day one of the seven,” using the familiar expression in Genesis 1: “and there was evening and there was morning, day one,” the day when “God said, Let there be Light, and there was Light… and God divided the Light from the darkness.” Until this happened, the disciples were all tohu bohu (Genesis 1:2).

This was the beginning of God’s New Creation. Here is the idiom found in many a place in the New Testament, not least in the prologue to John’s own gospel. In Colossians 1 especially: “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all (the New) Creation… the beginning, the first-born from the dead… By him were all things (in the New Creation) created… And (in point of time) he is before all things” (v.l 5-18).

Women going to the tomb

Some of the apparent contradictions in the records regarding who came to the tomb, and at what time, present little difficulty to those who read with care. John mentions only Mary Magdalene — surely for the simple reason that his narrative is to keep the spotlight on her. Even so, Mary’s words to Peter and John clearly imply that she had not gone to the tomb alone: “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him,” (contrast with this, the words of verse 1 3 spoken when she was at the tomb alone: “and I know not where they have laid him”).

The details of time are not so readily tidied up. John says it was “while it was yet dark.” Luke has the phrase: “at very early dawn (s.w. Ps. 90:14 LXX; literally: at deep dawn).” But Mark says explicitly “when the sun was risen” (RV); but he also adds “very (exceedingly) early.”

The supposition is by no means unreasonable that the women started out as soon as there was a glimmer of light in the sky. Mary Magdalene, coming from Bethany (see ch.74) would need to set out before the others, lodging in Jerusalem. And, in any case, by the time they reached the tomb there was broad daylight. If they were not all staying under the same roof an appreciable amount of time would be lost in collecting the party of possibly five people or more (Luke 24:1 0).

Also, the prepositions used to describe their coming “to the tomb” are different — John implying the start of their short pilgrimage, Mark and Luke suggesting the time of arrival “of the tomb.”

The women came carrying spices with which they hoped to anoint the body of Jesus. The hasty attentions bestowed on the body late on Friday did not satisfy their womanly minds. As they walked they kept on talking (so Mark) about the problem of access to the tomb: “Who shall roll us away the stone?” Without levers and other equipment and without the aid of masculine muscles how could they hope to shift it? It is clear that they were unaware that a guard of soldiers has been posted, or this would have been their primary concern. Indeed, in that case it is unlikely that their mission would have been attempted.

There was little likelihood that any of Joseph’s men would be around at that hour. And it was useless to expect that any of the twelve would be willing to help them at the tomb. These were marked men. To be found interfering with the body of Jesus was more than their lives were worth. So this journey to the sepulchre as day was breaking was a pure act of faith on the part of these women — and their faith was rewarded: “They that seek me early shall find me.”

“And looking up they see that the stone is rolled back” (Mark 16:4 RV). As they approached the foot of the slope where the tomb was sited it was immediately evident that the great stone was not in its original position. Mary Magdalene promptly assumed that the enemies of the Lord, not content with all the evil they had wrought already, were still bent on further mischief, and she turned and ran as hard as she could first to the lodging of Peter and then to John, gasping out the news: “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.” (Jn. 20.2). What surmise was in her mind? — that “they” were Joseph acting under instructions? But in that case, why not go direct to him? Or did she fear that the malevolence of the Lord’s enemies had had him thrown out into Gehenna? She might even have had hopes of his resurrection. What could they do to help?

Peter and John met, and both ran as hard as they could to see the sepulchre for themselves. Mary, fatigued with the unaccustomed effort, trailed on behind them. Everything about this part of the narrative, and almost every other detail which follows, suggests that the minds of the Lord’s followers, (Mary excepted?), were shut to the possibility that he had risen from the dead. That was the last thing they thought of.

Meantime the other women had climbed the slope to the tomb’s entrance. There they encountered the angel of glory who spoke words of reassurance which did nothing to allay their sudden fear at the sight of him.

In reply to their instinctive semi-coherent questions: “Who are you? What are you doing here? What has happened to Jesus?”, he said: “Fear not ye” (an implied contrast here with the soldiers who had fled panic-stricken, before the women came on the scene), “for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.” They were recognised as friends. Fear was out of place. The same contrast between fearful Gentiles and astonished disciples who need have no fear will be evident when the messenger of the Lord is manifest in glory to announce the Second Coming.

The angel went on to remind them of what should have been already uppermost in their minds: “He is not here; he is risen, 05 he said” During his ministry Jesus had not shrunk from speaking about the rejection and suffering he must experience. But he had anticipated also his own resurrection. The sign of the prophet Jonah may have been a mystery to his disciples, but its meaning had not been lost altogether on his enemies. But in the last months of his ministry, there had been clear and explicit instruction to the Twelve and also to the rest of his followers that he must endure the worst that his enemies could engineer for him, and yet come through it all triumphant: “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify: and the third day he shall rise again.” (Matthew 20:18,19).

This repeated teaching, which at the time the disciples had probably misconstrued as yet another of their Master’s “parables” (as in Mt. 1 5:1 5), came flooding back into the minds of these women as the angel, now no longer sitting on the stone but standing in the mouth of the cave, beckoned them on to learn for themselves: “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” For this angel of glory, as for Mary Magdalene, that cold lifeless corpse which had lain within was the Lord—“hot the outer frame or casket of the inner spirit, now departed, but the Lord himself. Popular ideas about personal disembodied immortality could hardly receive a more direct, decisive or authoritative refutation than this: “See the place where the Lord lay”!

Angelic encounter

So they went in to see for themselves, stooping and squeezing together in the very limited space available to them. All eyes were for the place where the dead Master should have been lying. At a glance they saw that the body was gone. In the same instant they became aware of the presence of another angel sitting there. Why does Mark record that he sat “on the right side”? On the right side of what? And what is the point of mentioning the fact — except as a vivid memory?

As they entered he stood along with his fellow and spoke to them reassuringly. But they were overpowered with astonishment, for not only was there the shock of realizing more fully that Jesus no longer lay there, but there was also a sudden appreciation of the fact that, with only a dim light in the tomb, the garments and persons of these men glowed with a dazzling radiance utterly outside normal experience. Amazed at the sight, and with hardly any power to think, they backed away out of the cave and prostrated themselves before these heavenly beings.

“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.”

They remembered it well enough — that unusual intermission in the Lord’s ministry when he had gathered together not only the twelve but themselves also and other close disciples and had led them off into an unfrequented part of that busy area that he might teach them concerning himself (Mark 9:30-32). they remembered how he spake unto them. I he angels words imply that they too had heard that instruction given — how the Lord had said it (1 Peter i :1 2). With what unwonted emphasis and earnestness (even for him!) had Jesus sought to prepare hi, disciples’ minds for the shock of his own passion, at a time when they were set only on greater glory. They remembered it all now, with shame but also with gladness – how, time and again, he had quoted them strange passages from the prophets which they could not make sense of, because they would not. So often they had taken his vigorous parables and figures of speech in a crudely literal fashion. But on that occasion it was the other way – their Master’s very plainness of speech defeated its own purpose because the message was one they were unwilling to learn. “Doth he not speak parables?”

But new they saw it all, with a gladness past describing, and they marvelled at their earlier blindness.

The angel was still speaking. It was a further commits on specially committed to these heavenly ministers by Jesus himself before he left the tomb. “Go your way, tell his disciples and Peter.” Like themselves the apostles needed to be saved from the depths of despondency and helpless bewilderment into which the crucifixion had plunged them , but none needed this resurrection as much as Peter.

None of the disciples loved Jesus as much as Peter did. None had been louder in those repeated protestations of loyalty. None had fallen so low as on that accursed occasion when — possessed with a devil, as it had seemed — he had crudely, fiercely, violently, blasphemously disowned this Leader whom he loved as his own soul. None had suffered such wretchedness and helpless misery over that weekend as Peter had. “Would God I had died for thee, O Jesus, my lord, my lord!”

But Jesus had died for him. And even at that moment, had these women only known it, the first anticipations of the message were reaching him in breathless broken phrases from a panting Mary.


“Tell his disciples that he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him.” Jesus, the good shepherd, was soon 10 lead his flock forth that they might find pasture, such as they never dreamed or, away from Jerusalem, the city of his rejection, the place of tearfulness for his followers.

A four-fold emphasis on Galilee binds together Matthew’s record of the resurrection appearances (26:32 and 28:7,10,16). Why was it that this repeated insistence should be part of the message of the angel and of the Lord himself at a time when they seemed to be more in need of a simple conviction that their Master was alive? No clear convincing answer to this problem has ever been supplied. Doubtless there is something instructively symbolic in this choice of Galilee of the Gentiles as a place of fuller manifestation. This message of a risen Christ was not to be kept within the confines of a Judaistic Jerusalem; but why this should so dominate the message of the first Easter day is not so easy re understand. (Perhaps practical considerations should come in here. Where in Jerusalem could Jesus meet with “above five hundred brethren at once’ ? — most of whom were Galileans anyway.)

The plain promise: “There shall ye see him,” was the first clear intimation that these disciples could expect to meet and talk with their risen Lord. Perhaps as they rose up from the ground incredulity regarding this expectation was written on their faces, for the angel added his own emphatic reassurance: “Behold. I have told you.” It was a phrase they had heard on the lips of Jesus himself (John 13:19 and 14:29). Then how could they disbelieve?

So without a moment’s further delay they obeyed the angelic commission and went off in haste, “with fear and great joy” – fearful because of the revelation of divine glory which they had witnessed, yet made joyful by the incredibly good news which they had just learned.

Mark describes their experience thus: “They trembled (in body) and were amazed (in their minds)”. The language is precisely that which describes the effects of the risen Jesus on Saul of Tarsus, on the road to Damascus. “Neither said they anything to any man.” The commonsense meaning here is that, full though they were of their awesome experience and of the knowledge that the Master was alive, they mentioned it to no one outside the circle of his followers — “for they were afraid” that the disciples might blamed and punished for the disappearance of the body.

It is probably a mistake to imagine them going oft singly in different directions so as to get the news round the various groups of believers more quickly. Even though they would wish to bring the news speedily to Mary, the Lord’s mother, and to John and others related to Jesus, and to the main body of apostles, and to the home at Bethany, and to Joseph of Arimathea – at least these- they would be held together by the realisation that without one another’s corroboration the astonishing story which they had to tell would be believed by nobody. As it turned out even their united witness was written oft as a delusion Only the manifestation of Jesus himself was to take away the veil of unbelief

Notes: Matthew 28:5-8

The women Beside; the three mentioned in Mk. 16:1 there was Joanna and at least one other (Luke 24:10.
6. Come, see the place. The story put abound almost at once about the stealing of the body (v13, 15) shows that the Jews knew better than to argue against the fact of an empty tomb.
7. Lo I have told you. Quoting from the Lord’s own words: Jn 13:19; 14:29
8. And did run. This would hardly be true of middle-aged women, but John says this about Mary Magdalene, the youngest of the group.

Mark 16:2-8

When they looked. Literally, looking up. But if may be that here the prefix is an intensive: looking eagerly
6. He is risen Passive verb. The gospels do not say that the Lord rose, but that he was risen
See the place. Singular verb- yet Mt. 28:6 has a plural. Did the angel persuade first one of the women and then the rest to enter and inspect the tomb? This word place is common in the OT/NT as a meaning a holy place.
7. And Peter: 1 Cor 15:5; Lk 24.24
8 They fled, awestruck by the angelic encounter.

Luke 24:1-9.

Shining garments; s.w. Lk. 9:29. Then what does this teach about the transfiguration?
5. Among the dead- This plural implies that there were other tombs there
7. Must be delivered That must means must, it is necessary,
9. The eleven. Thomas included; and he made up his mind forthwith

John 20:1-3

Prov 8:17 is a lovely commentary on this verse.
The stone. This detail assumes the readers knowledge of Mt. 27:66
2. Loved: Gk: phileo, indicates personal affection.
We know not. This plural implies that she had been at the tomb with other women.
3. The language here seems to imply that they set off separately, from different lodgings, and met and ran together.


241. Peter and John (John20:4-10)

At this point, so Hoskyns very usefully observes, John’s narrative is so constructed that the weight of testimony depends on the two chief disciples and not on the women — this for the special benefit of Jewish readers, doubtless: “at the mouth of two witnesses’ (Dt. 19:15), and men rather than women.

Peter and John ran as they had not run since the days of boyhood on Galilean hills. Men at the north gate of the city stared at them as they went rushing past. John, more lithe and supple, and probably younger, was soon well ahead of the other. Perhaps, too, his being unembarrassed by a bad conscience made some difference. But Peter, being Peter, was probably already resolved to track down the desecrators of his Lord’s tomb and by some desperate act of reprisal make a last futile gesture of loyalty to the one he had denied.

At the tomb – different reactions

So John was at the sepulchre with a good lead With a fineness of feeling which might be expected of him, he was content, on arrival, to stand by the entrance and stoop to peer in. There was just time to take things in before he was pined by Peter breathing heavily, but one quick look was sufficient for him to realise, though with no certainty, the main fact that the body was gone. The linen wrappings were there in position, yet it seemed that there was no body inside them.

Peter had no compunction whatever about going straight into the sepulchre. He went right up to the place where Jesus had been laid and stood staring hard at the grave clothes. John joined him, and quickly saw more than he did.

“He saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.” These words from John’s account carry a double difficulty. The expression ‘knew not’ must surely be taken in a deeper sense: ‘they understood not’, for of course they were acquainted with the Old Testament passages which anticipated the resurrection of Jesus – the stories of Jonah and of Isaac, Psalm 16, Isaiah 53, the Passover ritual described in Leviticus 23, and so on. With the text of all, or most, of these the disciples would certainly be familiar, but it is one thing to know the words, it is a another to grasp the truth they convey. Not yet did they understand.

The sequence of ideas in this part of John’s record presents a much more tricky problem: “he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the Scripture.” If John had written’: ‘even though as yet they knew not…’, all would be consistent. But lack of knowledge (or understanding) of Scripture as a reason for believing hardly makes sense. For this reason many, following the fourth century Augustine, have given the words a very different application, thus: John saw the grave-clothes and believed the story brought by Mary (that the body of Jesus had been taken away), and he was the more ready to do this because the Bible prophecies concerning the Lord’s resurrection were not understood as yet.

There is, however, one simple fact which disallows this interpretation — quite apart from the not too satisfying conclusion which it leads to. The sight of the linen winding sheet supplied immediate proof that the body of Jesus had not been carried away, for who in their senses wishing to do such a thing would first go to the trouble of tediously unwrapping the corpse? The presence of those linen wrappings was the plainest possible proof that the body had not been removed by either friend or enemy. This must be John’s main reason for mentioning the fact.

A problem of interpretation

Then why that perplexing word “for”? This is not the Greek word which in such a place must mean “because.” Instead, it is a word which may carry this meaning but which can and often is added simply for emphasis, rattier in the way in which ‘truly, indeed, really, actually’, are used in modern English. For instance: “But some said, What, doth the Christ come out of Galilee?” (John 7:41 RV; the AV leaves the word untranslated). Again: “Why, herein is a marvellous thing…” (9:30). There is no lack of examples of this kind.

John’s statement is now seen to be a clear-cut declaration that it was because of what he saw that he believed Jesus to be risen, not because of what he expected: “Actually as yet they knew not the scripture…”

The circumstantial detail with which John describes what he saw in the tomb shows that he regarded it all as specially significant: “He seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was upon his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.”

From this description, and especially from the word translated “wrapped together,” it has been argued that John was wishing his readers to infer his own conviction that the body of Jesus had come through the linen wrappings, leaving them in the shape they had taken round the corpse.

Whilst this conclusion can hardly be said to follow from the expression used in the narrative here, a consideration of a different sort provides strong support for it. My friend, Raymond Mallinder, an analytical chemist of first-rate ability and wide experience, tried the experiment of using muslin and a mixture of myrrh and aloes (as Joseph and Nicodemus had done in burying Jesus; 1 9:39), and he found that if the myrrh and aloes were used in a dry form, as powders, then weeks later the material was unchanged in character. If, however, these spices were wetted either with water or alcohol (wine), the muslin immediately became very sticky and soon set firm like a plaster cast on a broken limb.

It has been argued that since the women who came to the tomb on the resurrection morning were hoping to be able to anoint the body, they must have known that the former method of using the spices in a dry form must have been adopted at the time of interment. But this does not necessarily follow for the two Marys who attended the burial “sat over against the sepulchre” (Mt. 27:61), and therefore (most probably) would not be near enough to see whether the wrappings were wetted or not.


So with the limited information available, it does not seem possible to decide whether, at his coming to life again, the Lord manually divested himself of the wrappings (or was helped by angels), or whether his resurrection body with its extraordinary powers came through the cerecloths, leaving them undisturbed. The word “wrapped (folded)” in John 20:7 might be read as supporting the former conclusion. But neither this point nor any other detail available seems to be decisive. John often thought and wrote symbolically. Those who pore reverently and sympathetically over his gospel can trace this characteristic in many a place (e.g. 3:2; 13:3; 10: 22,23; 19:22; 19:34; there are a great many more). Here — who can doubt it? — is another eloquent example. That separation, so clearly seen even in the dim light of the tomb, between the head-wrapping and winding sheet round the body stamped itself on the memory of John. In years to come he treasured it as a symbolic picture of the divine appointment for the resurrection of the faithful: “Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” (1 Cor. 15:23; cp. the distinction in Rom. 1:4; 6:4). Between the resurrection of Christ the Head and the rising again of those who are his Body there must needs be a significant space of time during which men either see and believe or are unable to see and yet believe just the same. Even the rather colourless word “place” — “in a place by itself” — may have been intended to have special significance, for very often in the Old Testament (and in several New Testament places also) this word has the specialised meaning of “A holy place, a sanctuary.” John’s theology (1 Jn. 2:1) and phrasing together suggest an extension of the symbolism.

All this the disciple whom Jesus loved saw with the inspiration of faith but dared not utter. So he went back to his own folk to brood on it, leaving a bewildered, less discerning Peter to go his own way. “Ye shall be scattered, every man to his own.” Without Jesus the disciples tended to fall apart. (And when disciples fall apart they show that they are without Jesus). Conversely, the news of his resurrection was to bring them together again (Luke 24:33).

NOTES: John 20:4-10

Came first Gk: protos means first of more than two. Thus it is implied that Mary followed; v.11.
Did outrun Peter, and in faith also.
5. linen clothes. This assumes that Mt. 28:13 is known. Body stealers would not trouble to unwrap the body.
Stooping down. Souter’s lexicon defines the meaning: ‘stretch forward the head to catch a glimpse; or peep; or peer in.’ Cp. its interesting use in Gen. 26:8 LXX, Jas, 1:25; and especially 1 Pet, 1:12, as though suggesting that angels had preceded the two apostles in this exciting exercise, and are still as eager (in a less literal sense).
6. Seeth. The words used about John and Peter are different. Peter stared s.w. verses 12, 14. John saw with new enlightenment. Went into. The Gk. is emphatic: went right in.
7. Gk- from upon his head. Contrast 11:44: Gk. perf The phrase in a place by itself suggests a special place.
The words for wrapped and lying point to a distinction here of both appearance and meaning.
The napkin upon (Gk.) his head was separate. Then what price the Turin shroud? The details of this passage, and also Rom. 1:4; 6:4; 1 Pet. 3:18; Mt. 3:16, suggest a Jesus immortal from the moment of resurrection.
8. That other disciple, which came first. Why does John say this twice? is it so important? Indeed, why does he say it at all?
believed Jesus to be risen; cp. v.25, 27, 29. In view of this economy of words, the repetition just mentioned is the more remarkable. In this verse, John is careful to emphasise that he was the first of those blessed disciples who believed without seeing (v.29). Note how conviction came to others (a) Mary; (b) the apostles,- (c) the two at Emmaus; (d) Thomas.
9. Knew not; s.w. 13:12. Consider Mt. 16:21; 17:9-23; 20:19.
He must rise again Gk: it is necessary: (a) because foretold in OT; (b) “raised again for our justification The word must mean- it was necessary.
10. Unto their own home – and not go and tell all the fellow-disciples they could reach? (Mt. 28:7). Surely not so. It is more likely that this masculine plural means: ‘to their own (friends)’


242. “Rabboni!” John 20:11-18.

Mary, who had followed Peter and John back to the tomb, still lingered disconsolately there after the two apostles had gone away. There was no reason at all why she should, except that this was the spot where she had last set eyes on her Saviour. In the past two days she had shed tears as never before, and now, more than ever, they refused to be restrained. If only her love and deep loss might express themselves in some practical act of service and solicitude, if only she might have the opportunity to lavish all her devotion on his poor crucified body! But now that her Lord had been mysteriously removed, even this crumb of comfort was denied her.

Could it be that Joseph of Arimathea had decided, for some reason which she was unable to guess, that it would be better to have Jesus interred elsewhere? But then, in that case he would hardly have acted with such unseemly haste, nor would he have taken such a step without consulting or at least informing the disciples.

Unable to make any sense of the situation, she wept the more. Then it suddenly dawned on her that as yet she had not seen for herself. Was there anything to be learned from a closer examination of the sepulchre? So, as the apostles had done, she also stooped to peer within — and immediately saw two men sitting there, as though at the head and feet of Jesus. But there was no Jesus!

Perhaps she was greatly startled to see these men, and showing it, was quickly reassured by them. But there is no sign of this in the narrative. More likely she assumed without surprise that these were two of Joseph’s men. Only in later days did she, and John also, see the wondrous significance of two angels sitting in this dark Holy of Holies and between them the stain of blood shed to take away the sin of the world. In the temple on Mount Zion no ark of God’s covenant, no over-arching cherubim of gold, sanctified the sanctuary as the place where sin was put away. Instead, here in this lonely spot, witnessed by only one worshipper (and she blinded by tears and imperfect knowledge), was the true Mercy-seat. Within a matter of minutes Mary was to understand it all.

Dramatic encounter

“Woman, why weepest thou?” Why indeed? “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” Yet she would have had much greater cause for weeping had she found Jesus lying there!

Even as she spoke, she turned away again. Was it because she assumed that they could not help her, for they would surely have given her news immediately, if they had news to communicate? Or was it because the two men in the tomb stood to greet one whom they could see behind Mary? The Greek text seems to imply a sound of footsteps behind her.

There came a dramatic change. Staring into the rising sun she was able to see only the outline of the stranger who now drew near. This, for certain, must be Joseph himself. He would be able to help her. And all her love and anxiety were poured out in one intense irrational plea: “Sir” — the word is really Lord;’ imagine it addressed to a gardener! But how appropriate for the garden’s owner (and this is a possible reading),-“If thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.” As though she could — a weak woman, and single-handed!

Alternatively this part of the resurrection narrative should be interpreted differently. “Woman, why weepest thou?” Why did Mary not recognize the voice? Perhaps her instinctive recognition was expressed in the word “Lord” — but then ‘common-sense’ re-asserted itself: ‘Of course, it is not Jesus speaking to me. It cannot be!’ Her mind would move quickly to the only alternative — he must be the gardener. It would seem that Mary expected nothing of help or comfort in response to her appeal, for she was already moving away when one more spoken word arrested her. The Good Shepherd calls his own sheep by name (Jn. 10:3,4). She turned again, stared incredulously, and then in a moment was at his side, grasping his hand and feeling his arm and shoulder for the reassurance by which to turn the impossible into certainty, and all the while incoherent with gladness. (Or did she prostrate herself before him, holding his feet? cp. Mt. 28:9). There was nothing she could say except one exultant word of greeting and of self-reproach: “Rabboni!” The bourn from which no traveller returns’ had yielded back the one whom she longed to see above all other, and how blind her eyes had been not to recognize the fact. Instinctively and appropriately, she used the title which Bartimaeus had bestowed on Jesus in the day when his blindness was taken away (Mark 10:51). A wild welter of glad emotions jostled for supremacy in her mind, and all the while she sought to make assurance doubly sure by the renewed evidence of her own senses.

It became needful to restrain her. “Do not keep on touching me” he said —and with reluctance, one may be sure, for he too was unspeakably glad to be once again with so loyal a friend. Yet, precious as the moment was for both of them, he could not stay longer. “Do not keep on touching me for I am not yet ascended to my father.”

The words have often been read as the equivalent of: ‘Keep away, I am not to be touched. The uncleanness of death is still upon me. I am still as mortal as you are — I have not yet ascended to tht; divine nature of immortality.’ It cannot be too strongly stressed that there is no Bible evidence whatever for such an interpretation. But there are several serious difficulties in its way:

  1. The Greek continuous imperative implies definitely that he was being touched.
  2. Suppose the Lord were still in a mortal condition, why should he not be touched? In his mortality before crucifixion people had touched him often enough.
  3. There is no Bible evidence that “ascended to the father” signified a change of physical nature.
  4. The normal meaning of the word is that of “go up to the temple,” “go up to Jerusalem,” “ascend to heaven” (John 7:14; 5:1: 1:51).

So this interpretation, so often given uncritical acceptance, is only to be received if there is no other available.

On the other hand, to take “I ascend to my Father and your father” as having reference to the ascension from the mount of Olives forty days later, is to reduce the words of Jesus to incoherence: ‘Do not touch me because I have not yet gone to heaven, but go and tell the disciples that I shall do so in six weeks time.’

Neither does this satisfy.


The only alternative seems to be this: Jesus was speaking of an ascension to the father which must and did happen at that very time.

There is something singularly appropriate about this idea. In the sacrifices under the Law, the evidence of the slaying of the animal was always brought into the presence of God — blood at the foot of the altar, or blood smeared on the horns of the altar of incense, or (in the case of the most important sacrifice of all) blood sprinkled on the mercy-seat in the Holy of Holies. In that sacrifice which all these foreshadowed must there not be something which corresponded to this vital feature? And how else could this happen in the experience of Christ except by his appearing in the presence of the Father with the tokens of his sacrificial death evident in pierced hands and side?

The typology of the Passover ritual is specially instructive here. The Law prescribed that on “the morrow after the (Passover) sabbath — i.e. on the morning Christ rose — there must be offered wave-sheaf of barley, without leaven: “Christ the first-fruits” (1 Corinthians 1 5:20,23). With this there was also offered “an he-lamb without blemish of the first year, for a burnt-offering unto the Lord” (Leviticus 23:1 2). Here was the Passover lamb come into life again, so to speak, and re-consecrated to the service of God.

Normally these offerings were presented in the temple at the time of the morning sacrifice — the very time when Jesus appeared to Mary in the garden. Hence the urgent words, implying: ‘Do not detain me here, for a higher duty calls me. But go and tell my brethren. This will explain to them why they do not see me through the rest of this day.’

Other Scriptures conform to this interpretation “The Lord hath said unto me (the Messiah), Thou ar» my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” (Hebrews 5:5 applies this Scripture to the glorifying of Cnrist “to be made an high priest,” thus pointedly referring the words to the resurrection — and not the birth or baptism —of Jesus). When, it may be asked, did God make this declaration to His Son on “this day,’ except at this “ascension to the Father”?

Again, it was appointed in the ordinance for the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:6) that, before the blood of the sin-offering on behalf of the people be brought into the Holy of Holies, Aaron must first go into the Sanctuary to “offer his bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself alone.”

Also the experience of Hezekiah — one of the most outstanding types of Messiah in the Bible— must surely have its counterpart in the greater work of Christ: “Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy Father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up to the house of the Lord” (2 Kings 20:5).

Although not actually seeing their risen Master until near the end of this day of tantalizing uncertainty, the disciples were to be reassured, if they were willing to be, by the intimate nature of the message which Mary brought: “Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend to my Father, and your Father; and to my God and your God.” Yet even as these words emphasized the close kinship to subsist henceforth between Father and Son and brethren, they also maintained a distinction. Jesus did not speak of “our Father.” for his own relationship to the Almighty was necessarily far more intimate than it could possibly be as yet for his disciples.

Would that expression “my brethren” remind them again of the words of Psalm 22 which had been repeatedly forced upon their minds throughout the day of his crucifixion: “I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee” — and the name of God which he declared unto them was “Father.” The psalm, if recalled, would also carry a strong assurance that, even though long slow hours would pass that day and he be still absent from them, he would yet come among them, declaring the Father’s name “in the midst of the congregation.”

Mary would fain have lingered there, convincing herself, again and again, that her Lord was truly risen, but he himself was taking leave of her. Ana had he not given her a commission to fulfil? No messenger ever had more joyful news to impart. So again she went away as fast as she could go to find Peter and John once more, again to gasp out excitedly the news of an empty tomb, but this time with the true heart-warming explanation to impart solidity to the new-born faith of John and to kindle a spark of hope in the mind of a puzzled wretched Peter.

NOTES: John 20:11-18

And: in Gk. text therefore, to be linked with v. 13 because
12. Sifting: “They sit m the empty tomb who stand in the presence of God; Lk. 1:19.
13. Why weepest thou? There would have been good cause for weeping if the tomb were not empty
14. She turned herself back Any link here with Gen. 22.13? See also John 1:27, 29
And saw Jesus The Lord’s first appearance was not to his mother.
Why these remarkable resemblances? Jesus standing (Rev 5:6); Mary weeping (Rev. 5:4); she turned herself (Rev. 1:10,12).
15. Whom seekest thou? Whom? not What? Then did Mary hope that Jesus would rise? Here, questions lead to a confession of faith; in Gen. 3:9,11,13, to a confession of sin
Supposing, NT. usage; fairly sure.
The gardener This second Adam in this garden is a “gardener” (Gen 2:15)
16. Rabboni; normally used for an outstanding teacher Jesus was certainly that now, by his very appearance, and more so, by v. 17
17. Touch me not In nearly all NT occurrences, the word means “touch”. But the parallel to Mt 8:15 in Mk. 1:31 definitely means “hold” or “grip”; and this is the usual meaning in classical Greek (L. & S.). Perhaps also in Lk 7:14; 1 Jn. 5:18. The imperfect tense requires the idea just mentioned.
Do not keep holding me. The alternative explanation that the uncleanness of death was still on Jesus cannot be sustained.
My brethren. Jesus brought this term into use after his resurrection: Ps. 22:22; 1 22:8; Mt. 28:10; 25:40; Rom. 8:29; Jn. 21:23; Acts -frequently. Heb. 2:11.
I ascend; 16:16,28.
My God Spoken after resurrection, these words veto trinitarian doctrine. Compare also Eph. 1:17; Heb. 1:9; Rev. 1:6; ch.3:2,12; Mt. 27:46.
18. I have seen: Gk. pf. tense implies: And what I saw is still vivid in my mind. So also v.25,29; Lk. 24:23. John’s Greek splendidly represents Mary’s disjointed speech.


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