In the Bordeaux Pilgrim (AD 333), there is mention of the location. St. Cyril of Jerusalem makes reference to it several times. In the days of the church historian Eusebius (first half of fourth century), there was no doubt as to the location of the empty tomb. No doubt that even today, there will be a guided tour near Jerusalem which will walk right past the site. One Sunday morning nearly two millenia ago, several women made a trek to the precise location of the the tomb of Jesus. As mentioned in the previous section (Luke 23.55), these women were familiar with the location of the tomb, having seen Jesus’ body placed in it just days before. There was no doubt in their minds as to where to go “after the Sabbath.”
John Calvin calls this “the closing section of our redemption.” J. C. Ryle calls the resurrection of Jesus “one of the great foundation-stones of the Christian religion.” Indeed, in the words of Paul, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15.17, ESV). In other words, “Christianity stands or falls with the Resurrection” (Theodsus Harnack, quoted in McDowell’s The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, pg.205). The resurrection of Jesus Christ is either “one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men, OR it is the most fantastic fact of history” (McDowell, 203). The bottom line is we, Christians, need the resurrection. If Jesus was not resurrected, He can no more save me than condemn me. And if there is no resurrection, “let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” In other words, drive the morality bus off the cliff if the dead are not raised. There’s no point in being a good, moral person since Christianity has toppled. Those who would argue for morality in the absence of the Christian religion should understand this. Morality is pointless without a supreme moral authority.
Truly, then, the whole world needs the resurrection of Jesus. Woven into the fabric of human history is the need for the resurrection of Jesus. Everything before points forward to it and everything since points backward to it. Indeed, everyone who has ever or will ever live by faith find their vindication in three simple yet striking words: “He has risen.” In Luke 24.1-12, the subject is the resurrection.
The Empty Tomb
The women of this context would appear to be the women of the previous context: “women who had followed him from Galilee” (23.49). The spices they bring were prepared just before the Sabbath, the day Jesus was placed in the tomb (23.56). They had rested on the Sabbath (23.56b) and now return to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus very early Sunday morning.
First, note that they went to “the tomb;” that is, they went to the tomb they had visited just a couple days earlier and “saw the tomb and how his body was laid.” There is not mistaking – they went to the right tomb. And if they had gone to the wrong tomb, surely on Pentecost day when Peter preaches the resurrection, someone would have pointed them in the direction of the right tomb with the body still within. Or the authorities when the apostles preached the resurrection would certainly have squelched this fable in the same manner. The fact of history is that the women and then the apostles Peter and John went to the tomb where Jesus had been laid following His crucifixion. However, things are different this Sunday morning.
Second, notice the tomb is open (v.2). Luke did not mention a stone being placed over the entrance of the tomb. It would appear he takes for granted the knowledge of his audience. That is, Luke seems to know that Theophilus would be aware of the large stone placed over the mouth of the tomb, sealing the body of Jesus inside. The women had discussed along the way the problem of removing the stone so they could continue and/or complete the burial of Jesus (Mark 16.3). When they arrive, though, the tomb is already open.
Third, in addition, the tomb was also empty (v.3). Since the stone was rolled away, they went into the tomb, perhaps ready and eager to accomplish their mission before someone return and replace the stone (which John seems to imply by the language employed that the stone was completely removed off its track, John 20.1). However, once inside, “they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” A Bishop Brownrig has noted that this is the first occasion when this terminology (“Lord Jesus”) is used of the Savior in the New Testament. It is the first time Luke has used it and he will continue to use it into his next work (Acts). Rightly so, since He is now demonstrated by God to be both Lord and Christ (Acts 2.36).
The open and empty tomb causes the women to be “perplexed.” The word used here signifies a state of great confusion and anxiety. They are at a total loss of making sense of this whole picture. They don’t know what to do, what to think, how to feel. Put yourself in their shoes – all the emotion and commotion from just a couple days prior. Their beloved Teacher was killed and they were not expecting a resurrection. Of course their confused. However, two men, angels, in “dazzling apparel” stand nearby. This same term for “dazzling” was also used of Jesus at the Transfiguration (9.29) when His clothes were dazzling bright. The term denotes something like lightning, bright and brilliant.
The Ethereal Tidings
Confusion turns to fear for the women and like the prophets of old, the seemingly lose control of bodily functions. Like Daniel or Ezekiel, they end up face down before the messengers of God out of respect. But these messengers bring a slight rebuke and subtle reminder for these courageous women. First, the slight rebuke is “Why do you seek the living with the dead?” The resurrected Jesus is alive. Therefore, His tomb is empty. He is not with the dead any longer. So of course “He is not here” for “He has risen.” Here is the angelic proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus. Angels are highlighted in Luke’s gospel account. They announced to Zachariah the coming of his son John the Baptist; they spoke to Mary concerning her conception of Jesus; angels serenaded shepherds when Jesus was born. Now the angels are the messengers announcing the triumph of the Son of God over death. “He has risen.” How fantastic a thought that God has blessed men to carry this simple yet profound message of resurrection!
Second, the angels has a subtle reminder. “Remember” is how they begin. Jesus had told them this would happen (Luke 9.22; 18.33), namely, that He would rise from the dead on the third day. Here it is the third day and the tomb is empty. Just so there is no confusion, the angels specify what Jesus had said: 1) the Son of Man (favorite term of Jesus to describe Himself) would be delivered into the hands of sinful men, 2) death by crucifixion, 3) resurrection on the third day. While He was ministering in Galilee, Jesus made His disciples of these things. Luke tells us, though, they didn’t get it, understand it for “it was concealed from them” (9.45).
The Eyewitness Testimony
This angelic reminder causes the women to remember the words of Jesus. They leave the tomb and find the eleven and tell them. Note Luke says eleven and not twelve. Judas has already hung himself. In Luke’s next work, Acts, he will detail the death of Judas. But this is the first he speaks of the eleven. These women act as the first human agents of commnicating the good news of the resurrection of the dead. They are the first evangelists, tell others the good news of the resurrection of the dead. “To all the rest” is a vague statement and exactly who “the rest” are is uncertain. Some point to the 120 who would be with the apostles during the ten days after the ascension and before Pentecost (See Acts 1.15). Of course, during His ministry, Jesus had others whom He called and sent out (see Luke 10.1). Again, who exactly “the rest” are is unknown. Nevertheless, they hear about the empty from the women also.
Luke gives a detailed description of who these women are in verse 10: they are Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and “other women with them.” Perhaps Salome (she is mentioned in Mark 16.1 as part of the company of women at the tomb) and Susanna (Luke 8.3) are also part of this number. It is the women who tell the apostles about the bewildering scene at the tomb. So fantastic is their message that the apostles cannot believe it. To them it is an “idle tale” or nonsense. Don’t be too hasty, ladies; remember just a few verses prior to this the women were experiencing something akin to this before two angels helped their unbelief.
However, there is one apostle who goes to the tomb: Peter. Just a couple days earlier he had denied Jesus and had had to look Jesus in the face immediately after the third denial (Luke 22.54-62). Luke graphically describes his reaction to hearing the women’s story: he “rose and ran to the tomb.” He left his fellow disciples and went to the tomb. John records that he went with Peter to the tomb. Peter arrives and “stooping and looking in” he sees the grave clothes of Jesus lying there. All this matches with with John very nearly except John has Peter entering the tomb. The empty tomb has a profound effect on Peter: he’s left “marveling” to himself. This is not a lack of faith but rather it seems Peter is trying to make sense of everything. What happened? Truly this has been the struggle for many people ever since the tomb was found open, empty, and the grave clothes lying empty. How should we understand this? The gospel writers present us with the facts of history and these facts demand an answer. The only answer which fits with the historical facts is that Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected by the power of God on the third just as He predicted would happen.