The empty tomb that wasn’t empty

The ad hoc burial society consisted of Mary the mother of James the Less, Salome the mother of James and John, Joanna the wife of Chuza (Herod’s steward), and a fourth, unnamed woman. As the four women drew closer to the tomb, they remarked, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:3). They feared that the stone might be too heavy for them to move.

By the time they arrived, Mary Magdalene was already gone. The early morning light backlit the Mount of Olives, and the city walls cast a morning shadow over the garden of Golgotha. “Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large” (Mark 16:4).

The open tomb and absence of the guards seemed to imply that the authorities had moved the body to some undisclosed location. The women decided to investigate. In the phantom light of dawn the small portal before them opened into pitch black darkness. Gathering their courage, one at a time, they stooped down to enter through the three-foot tomb mouth, crawling and feeling their way into the total darkness. It took a few moments for each of the women to squeeze into the tomb where they stood in the work pit. One of them had brought a lamp along in order to illumine their work. Imagine their shock and surprise when the light of the little oil lamp fell upon a mysterious young man, sitting motionless in the darkness, seated on the right-hand funeral bench and dressed in a white robe. The heart leaps into the throat; the hair stands on end, and the knees buckle. With the subtle power of understatement, the Gospel of Mark says, “They were alarmed” (Mark 16:5). The angel said (with a straight face), “Don’t be alarmed” (Mark 13:7). It’s a nasty trick to play on someone, even if you are an angel.

The alarming, young man said to the women, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Yeshua the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.” With a gesture, he indicated the funeral bench on which Nicodemus and Joseph had left the body. The women’s eyes fell upon the Master’s abandoned grave clothes. They saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth which had been on His head.

The Hebrew word for “angel (mal’ak, מלאך)” means “messenger.” The messenger continued with his message, “Go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you’” (Mark 16:6-7).

This article originally appeared on First Fruits of Zion and is reposted with permission.