SET-1&2: Season of Resurrection
God the Father pre-panned Jesus’ resurrection, and Jesus predicted it several times during his public ministry. God brought forth light amid darkness on the first day of the creation week. Jesus, the Light of the world, emerged out of the darkness of the grave overcoming Satan, original sin and spiritual death on the first day of the week. Christ’s triumph over these is our victory too because we share in the benefits of his achievement. Jesus accomplished this victory through his passion and death. He invites us to accept our cross and follow him to join his triumph in heaven.
The order of events after the death of Jesus is:
1. The burial of Jesus (Mt 27:57-61; Mk 15:42-47; Lk 23:50-56; Jn 19:38-42)
2. The guard at the tomb (Mt 27:62-66)
3. Jesus’ resurrection (Mt 28:1-10; Mk 16:1-8; Lk 24:1-12; Jn 20:1-10)
4. The appearance to Mary Magdalene (Mk 16:9-11; Jn 20:11-18)
5. The appearance to two disciples (Mk 16:12-13; Lk 24:13-35)
6. The appearance to the disciples in Jerusalem (Lk 24:36-49; Jn 20:19-23)
7. The report of the guard (Mt 28:11-15)
An understanding of Jesus’ burial and later events would help us better comprehend Jesus’ resurrection. Since the male disciples were afraid of the soldiers, they were hiding and could not undertake Jesus’ burial. They also had no money to buy a burial ground, and the spices needed to embalm Jesus’ body.
Two secret admirers of Jesus enter the scene. “There came Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council who was himself waiting for the Kingdom of God, and boldly went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus” (Mk 15:43). Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin who visited Jesus at night (Jn 3:1-21) and supported him in the Sanhedrin (Jn 7:50-51). He helped Joseph of Arimathea in burying Jesus and provided “a jar of myrrh mixed with aloes, about a hundred pounds” (Jn 19:39). Joseph gave up his unused tomb for Jesus’ burial. Joseph and Nicodemus took the body and bound it in linen cloths with the spices according to the Jewish custom and laid it in the tomb. They did these in a hurry because they had to do everything before the start of the Passover Sabbath at 6:00 p.m. So, they lacked time to anoint Jesus’ body. The lady disciples decided to do that immediately after the Sabbath. “Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance of the tomb” (Mt 27:60-61).
Very few dignitaries have had the honour of having guards placed over their tombs. However, for Jesus, the guards were placed specifically to counter any claims of resurrection. When the chief priests and the Pharisees sought permission from Pilate he said, “You have a guard, go and take all the necessary precautions” (Mt 27:65). This had an ironic tone because Pilate might have believed in Jesus’ words that he would rise from the dead.
Pilate might still have been smarting from the unjust judgement extracted from him by the Jewish leadership in connection with Jesus. They secured the tomb by sealing the entrance with a heavy stone and assigning guards.
Where was Jesus while his body was in the grave?
According to the Apostles’ Creed, “He descended into hell. On the third day, he rose again.” Where and what was this “hell”? According to Ephesians 4:9-10, Jesus “first descended to the dead in the lower parts of the world.” The belief is that he visited and stayed for some time in the realm of those who had died before him. 1 Peter 3:18-20 says, “He was put to death in the body, but was raised to life by the Spirit, and it was then that he went to preach to the imprisoned spirits.”
Among the dead, there were two categories of people – those who were bound for eternal bliss and those who were bound for eternal damnation. He went to the abode of the former, also called “Abraham’s bosom” (Lk 16:19-31) as mentioned in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. So “hell/hades” in the Apostles Creed is where all the righteous deceased people right from Adam were held till the victory of the Redeemer could be declared. Only when this happened could they enter Heaven and see God. Thus, “The gospel was preached even to the dead” (1 Pet 4:6). The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfilment” (484). “He opened heaven’s gates for the just who had gone before him” (637).
In the Church of Chora funeral chapel in Istanbul, Turkey, there is a famous icon called, “The Harrowing of Hell.” It depicts Christ’s descent into hell. In this icon, Jesus is standing over the broken gates of hell, fallen in a cross shape over the pit of darkness. The chained devil falls into the pit of darkness. Jesus in his glorious dress is lifting Adam and Eve out of their graves by their wrists because they cannot raise themselves. It shows Jesus as conqueror and redeemer of humanity represented by the first parents. In that icon, we see kings, prophets and the righteous of Israel, including David, Solomon, Moses, Daniel, Zechariah, and John the Baptist standing beside Jesus.
At the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, “There were also some women who watched from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and saw to his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons” (Mt 27:55-56). Zebedee’s sons were James the Elder and John. Salome was their mother. “The other Mary,” mentioned in Matthew 28:1 was the mother of James the Less.
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary stayed at home during the Sabbath hours. After that, they brought spices and ointment to complete the anointing of Jesus’ body. On Sunday early morning, they went to the tomb of Jesus. They were not practical or experienced in late embalming because they did not know how to remove the stone covering the tomb. Though the purpose of visit of the women disciples was to anoint Jesus’ body, they could not do it because he had risen from the dead before they arrived at the tomb.
Mary of Bethany had previously anointed Jesus’ body when he was alive. According to John 12:1-8, Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary gave a supper for Jesus just six days before the Last Supper. During the dinner, “Mary took a pound of costly perfume made from genuine nard and anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair. And the whole house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (V. 3). When Judas Iscariot questioned, “This perfume could have been sold for three hundred denarii and the proceeds given to the poor” (V. 5), Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Was she not keeping it for the day of my burial?” (V. 7). Jesus seemed to have a premonition that proper anointing of his body would not happen after his death.
Matthew reports that there was an earthquake before the two women arrived at Jesus’ empty tomb. It could be an aftershock of the earthquake on Friday when Jesus died. However, an Angel of the Lord who descended from heaven had rolled the stone covering Jesus’ tomb. That angel was sitting on the stone. Apart from the temple guards, it seems God assigned an ‘honour guard’ of angels to edify the Holy Sepulchre and to announce the good news of Jesus’ resurrection to his followers. They opened the tomb for them to inspect and assess whether it was empty or not. Jesus himself, of course, didn’t need the stone rolled away for exiting the tomb because in his glorified body he could pass through walls.
A group of women arrived at Jesus’ tomb. Two of them came first According to Luke, “Among the women who brought the news were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James” (Lk 24:10). The Angel of the Lord was visible as “a young man dressed in a white robe” (Mk 16:5) or “two men in dazzling garments” (Lk 24:4). He was God’s answer to their question among themselves: “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” (Mk 16:3). The women could not open the tomb by themselves.
The Bible does not give the name of the angel. Scholars guess that it must be Angel Gabriel who had been communicating several times related to the incarnation of Christ. However, Luke mentions two angels (Lk 24:4). Angels were present during the momentous events of Jesus’ life like his birth, at the end of his temptation, at the Garden of Gethsemane, and at the time of his resurrection. At the empty tomb, there might have been many angels present; but only one or two were visible.
According to Matthew, the angel’s “appearance was like lightning and his garment white as snow” (Mt 28:3). When Prophet Daniel saw an angel, “his face had the brilliance of lightning” (Dan 10:6). This angel on the stone had a similar appearance. During the transfiguration of Jesus, “Even his clothes shone, becoming as white as no bleacher on earth could bleach them” (Mk 9:3).
“The guards were so terrified at his sight that they shook with fear and became like dead men” (Mt 28:4). The guards were terrified at the extraordinary scenes, including the appearance of the Angel of the Lord. They might have fainted and fell to the ground and seemed like dead people before they left the place.
The women did not ask the angel anything. The angel could guess their inner thoughts from their reaction as they saw the empty tomb, the terrified soldiers, and the angel. So, the angel said, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him” (Mt 28:5-6). Just as the angels announced Jesus’ birth in a field in Bethlehem, the angels announced his resurrection in another garden in Jerusalem. Though the women were afraid of the scene, unlike the guards, they were Jesus’ friends, and they had nothing to fear as the angel said.
The angel invited the women to inspect the empty tomb which they had seen on Friday. “Frightened, the women bowed to the ground. But the men said, ‘Why are you looking for the living among the dead?’” and reminded them of the prophecy of Jesus on his resurrection (Lk 24:5-7). After they finished their inspection, the angel commissioned them to communicate the good news to Jesus’ disciples, including Peter (Mk 16:7). The angel specified Peter’s name because he was the team leader and to pacify him from his guilt feeling of denying Jesus three times during the trial.
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and the other women in the party met the eleven apostles and announced the good news of the Lord’s resurrection. “But however much they insisted, those who heard did not believe the seemingly nonsensical story” (Lk 24:11).
Peter and John ran to the tomb to verify the women’s message. Since John was younger than Peter, John reached the tomb first. He waited for Peter to go in first. They identified the burial cloths in the tomb and believed in the resurrection. According to Jewish law, the witness of two people was enough to determine the truth.
Stealing the body was not a possibility, especially without burial clothes, because the thieves will not get enough time to unwrap the burial clothes wrapped several rounds on the corpse. Besides, the napkin that covered the face was folded. That will not be a normal action of robbers who act in a hurry. Jesus’ appearance later confirmed the resurrection to the disciples, and he convinced them by eating with them.
According to Matthew, while the women ran with fear and joy, they met Jesus on the way. Jesus also commissioned them to communicate the good news to his disciples. Mary, out of whom Jesus had driven out seven demons, got the privilege to see the Risen Lord first according to Mark 16:9.
Unlike Matthew and Mark, John gives a different version of how the Risen Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene. When Mary had noticed someone had removed the stone covering the tomb, she reported that to Simon Peter and John. They hurried to the tomb and saw the empty tomb with the burial cloths and returned from there. Mary Magdalene who was following them to the tomb stayed there. Then “she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, and the other at the feet” (Jn 20:12). While she was talking to the angels, Jesus appeared behind her. Because of her tears, she could not recognize Jesus. She thought it was the gardener. However, when Jesus called her by name, she recognized him. As per instruction from the Risen Lord, she went to Jesus’ disciples, whom he qualified as “my brothers” and informed them what Jesus told her.
Jesus appeared to two disciples who were traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus and “Then starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them everything in Scripture concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27). They did not recognize Jesus until “When they were at table, he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them.” (Luke 24:30). They went back to Jerusalem and shared with the other disciples their experience.
On the same evening when Jesus resurrected, he appeared to the disciples in a locked room. He gave them the power to absolve sins and commissioned them to preach the gospel.
Matthew reports a story of the guards who saw Jesus’ resurrection. “The guards returned to the city and some of them reported to the chief priests all that had happened. The chief priests met with the Jewish authorities and decided to give the soldiers a good sum of money, with this instruction, ‘Say that while you were asleep, his disciples came by night and stole the body of Jesus. If Pilate comes to know of this, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ The soldiers accepted the money and did as they were told. This story has circulated among the Jews until this day” (Mt 28:11-15). That also became another evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.
Instead of becoming believers, the soldiers betrayed Jesus like Judas for material benefits. The chief priests and the Jewish authorities who got the ultimate proof of Jesus as the Messiah misused the opportunity to accept Jesus and hid the truth from the public. Jesus had told about the Jewish leaders: “Therefore, woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door to the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor do you allow those who were entering to do so” (Mt 23:13).