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On the Gospel of John, Part 49: The Open Tomb
Presenting our commentary on the account of the final events in the crucifixion and death of Christ as they are described in John chapter 19, we focused on the meaning and implications of the exclamation of Christ where He had said that “It is finished!” In doing that, we hope to have sufficiently elucidated what it was that had been finished at the cross as it had been written in the prophets and explained by the apostles. However doing that, we also neglected any discussion of other aspects of the event, not all of which were recorded by John, so it may be fitting to do that here.
In relation to earlier portions of John chapter 19, we have already discussed and correlated the various descriptions of the fate of Judas Iscariot, the dream of Pilate’s wife, and other things which Matthew had included in his account of the events of this day. Then we discussed at length the culpability for the crucifixion of Christ, and we also discussed the account of Luke which relates that Pilate had sent Christ to Herod Antipas before finally relenting to the demands which the Jews had made for his crucifixion. It is very likely that Herod was elsewhere in the Praetorium, or in the district of the city where it was located, so that entire event may have taken place in a very short time. Sending Christ to Herod, it is evident that Pilate had hoped that Herod would resolve the situation and satisfy the demands of his fellow Jews by another avenue, however Herod had instead merely sent Christ back to Pilate, thereby assuring that He would indeed be crucified as it was Pilate’s last chance to avoid having Him executed.
It seems that John’s account of the crucifixion was written in a manner so as to show the fulfillment of certain prophecies, but there are some aspects of it which fulfilled prophecies that he did not record, as the other gospels had made mention of them. For example, only Matthew and Mark record the exclamation of Christ where He said, as we have transliterated their representations of the Hebrew from Greek, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani”. Both apostles evidently interpreted this phrase to mean “My God, My God, for what reason have You abandoned Me?” It is a quote from the words of David in the 22nd Psalm, which in many aspects is indeed a Messianic prophecy, where the King James Version has the opening verse to read: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? ”
However this passage is also used to cause contention whenever it is asserted that Yahshua Christ is indeed Yahweh God incarnate. In my opinion, this seeming conflict is resolved once it is realized that the words are a double entendre, which is a word or phrase that is open to two different interpretations. The Hebrew word elohim is plural in form but was commonly used in that form as a plural of majesty, as a title for Yahweh God. However it could also mean judge, or in the same plural form, judges, and it is translated in that manner in appropriate contexts in the Old Testament, for example in Exodus 21:6 and 22:8-9. So while the apostles correctly interpreted the phrase as it was expressed in the Psalm, when Christ uttered it He may have had His Own judges in mind, those who had condemned Him and then mocked Him on the cross, but who evidently did not remain to witness His final end. Either interpretation fits the phrase in this context, and therefore the words of David are fulfilled in Christ while at the same time there need not be any conflict in the meaning of what Christ had said with other Scriptures.
Then, as Matthew describes it in chapter 27 of his gospel, “45 Then from the sixth hour there came darkness upon all the land until the ninth hour.” At the end of that darkness, Christ made His exclamation just before receiving the sponge with vinegar and hyssop. That was mentioned by John, but not as completely as it is in Matthew or Mark as John did not mention the long period of darkness or the citation from the 22nd Psalm.
All four gospels mention the criminals who were crucified along with Christ, and both Matthew and Mark state in slightly different ways that they had also reproached Him. But in Luke we see something quite different, where he wrote in chapter 23 of his gospel: “39 Then one of the criminals hanging blasphemed Him saying ‘Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!’ 40 But the other replying and censuring him [censuring the first criminal] said ‘Do you not fear even Yahweh, seeing that you are in the same judgment? 41 And we justly indeed, for we receive worthily for what we have done. But He has done nothing improper.’ 42 And he said ‘Yahshua, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom!’ 43 And He said to him ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in paradise.’” There is also occasional contention over the meaning of that last statement, but the translation is correct even in the King James Version.
Many of these minor differences can be accounted once it is acknowledged that the different witnesses simply had different perspectives, and none of the witnesses were able to see or hear everything which had transpired. In this instance, Luke most likely received his account of the words of the robbers from a witness who was closer to what had actually happened than those of either Matthew or Mark. But John did not include any of this, perhaps because he did not think that it was significant enough to record, which is another reason for many of the minor differences in the gospel accounts.
However we have also surmised quite frequently throughout this commentary On the Gospel of John, that his purpose for writing seems to have been his desire to make a record of many of the aspects of the ministry of Christ which the other three gospels did not include. When he had to repeat things that they did describe, his descriptions are very concise, as if he included only what he thought was absolutely necessary, or what he could use to make a point concerning the fulfillment of prophecy.
Perhaps because John, having been quite close to Christ, had witnessed things that the other gospel writers did not witness, he alone was in a position to record them. Among these things are the miracle of the wedding at Cana, the conversation between Christ and Nicodemus, the details of the encounter with the Samaritan woman, and the more detailed accounts of the arguments which Christ had with the priests in the temple, and especially those which are described in John chapters 8 and 10. The other apostles, not hearing the contents of those discussions, or at least not hearing them as closely, may have only taken their own perspective of those events for granted and neglected to record them. So it may be surmised that John esteemed them to be important and wanted to leave a record of them which the others did not leave. Additionally, John may have felt that the other gospels did sufficiently record many of the things which Christ had said to the entire group of apostles and disciples, such as the Sermon on the Mount and the many parables which He had related to the public, so he did not repeat most of them. That is my general opinion on the Gospel of John, which also reflects why John had written it so late, after the other three gospels were already being circulated among Christians.
Therefore it was not John’s purpose to give a full account of all events in the ministry of Christ, but only to include descriptions of events where he had a unique perspective which differed from the other gospel writers. So after his record of the words of the robbers, we read in Luke chapter 23: “44 And it was already about the sixth hour and darkness came upon the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 there being an eclipse of the sun, and the curtain of the temple had torn in the middle. 46 And crying with a great voice Yahshua said ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit!’ And saying this He expired. 47 Then the centurion, seeing that which happened, extolled Yahweh saying ‘This man really was righteous!’ 48 And all the crowds which stood together at that spectacle, observing the things which happened, smiting their breasts returned. 49 Then all those acquainted with Him stood at a distance, and the women who followed Him from Galilaia, to watch these things.”
We do not know who Luke’s source is, but it must have been someone close to the event as it took place, and evidently John was also close by. Luke informs us in the opening verses of his gospel that his intent was to construct a methodical account from the reports of “they who from the beginning” were “eyewitnesses and attendants of the Word” and had “transmitted them to us” (Luke 1:1-2).
But if Matthew and Mark were present, or Matthew and Peter since Peter was apparently the source of Mark’s gospel, then they may have been among all the acquaintances who had stood at a distance, and therefore they could not have known everything about the conversation with the robbers which Luke had recorded. Rather, they only imagined that both robbers had reproached Christ. These little differences do not detract from the veracity of the gospels, but rather, once they are examined in a proper perspective, they help to further establish their veracity.
Both Matthew and Mark also record the tearing of the curtain of the temple. Mark’s record is shorter than that of Luke, and differs slightly, as he wrote “38 And the curtain of the temple had torn in two from the top unto the bottom. 39 And seeing it the centurion, who stood nearby from opposite Him, that thusly He expired, said ‘Truly this man was a son of God!’” This is often interpreted as a reconciliation between God and man, but it really only represents a reconciliation between God and the children of Israel, and Paul of Tarsus makes mention of the veil of the temple in this regard several times in his epistle to the Hebrews, in chapters 6 through 10.
The tearing of the veil of the temple must have been a spectacle by itself, as this was no ordinary window curtain. Flavius Josephus , in Book 5 of his Wars of the Judaeans (5:211-212), describes the doors which were behind the veil as being 55 cubits tall and 16 cubits wide, and said that the veil was the same size, so it also must have been quite thick. That would be a single piece of fabric which was at least 78 feet long and 24 feet wide. Of course, Josephus was not born until 37 AD so the veil which he described must have been a replacement for this veil which was torn at the crucifixion of Christ. Interestingly, Josephus also described the veil with which he was familiar as “a Babylonian curtain”.
However in his own account of the wonder of the tearing of the veil, Matthew wrote “51 And behold, the curtain of the temple had torn in two from the top unto the bottom, and the earth had been shaken and the rocks split. 52 And the tombs had opened and many bodies of the saints who were sleeping had been raised, 53 and coming out from the tombs after His rising they entered into the holy city and had appeared to many. 54 Then the centurion and those with him guarding Yahshua, seeing the earthquake and the things which happened feared exceedingly, saying ‘Truly He was a Son of God!’”
So according to Matthew, while he mentions the resurrection of the saints here, it did not actually happen until after His rising. Matthew’s account of this aspect of the crucifixion is not corroborated, nor is it elaborated upon in later Scriptures. That does not mean that it is not true, but only that without further information Christians should not seek to build doctrines upon it, which would necessarily force them to accept one or more elements of conjecture. Some relate it to the concept of firstfruits, and that may be fine however Paul describes Christ Himself and Christ alone as the “firstfruits of them that slept”, in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. In any event, it does seem to be a type, or as Paul often said in reference to the Holy Spirit, a deposit, assuring the fulfillment of another prophecy which is wrapped in a promise for the ultimate day of the wrath of God and deliverance of Israel, which is found in Isaiah chapter 26: “19 Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.”
Whatever we may think of the significance of the earthquakes, the tearing of the veil, the resurrection of the saints or other events connected to the death of Christ on the cross, it is evident that these events had many witnesses as there were tens of thousands of people in Jerusalem for the Passover feast, but it probably took some time before any significant number of them had an opportunity to hear why those things had happened. The circumstances by which Christ was brought to Pilate, the relatively small number of His enemies who coordinated that, the smaller number of His disciples who were with Him to follow along and witness it, means that even if hundreds of people gathered on that day before Pilate outside of the Praetorium, not all of them understood precisely what was transpiring so that they could know and be able to repeat accurately what had happened in the aftermath of the crucifixion.
But these other significant events which happened at the very time of the death of Christ must have made an impression significant enough for people to remember what had happened in connection with the trial and execution of Christ, and to take them into consideration once they did finally hear the gospel account. Therefore these events helped to facilitate the initial spread of the gospel, with the result being that there were so many people who had witnessed aspects of these things, in conjunction with recollections and reports of aspects of the ministry of Christ while He still lived, that they were indeed convinced by the gospel. That in turn resulted in the fact that generations of Christians were willing to die at the hands of persecuting Jews and Romans rather than to renounce their faith in Christ, because they knew through so many events and eye-witnesses that the gospel was true.
So we see in the words of the elder James, as he spoke to Paul of Tarsus in Jerusalem as it is recorded in Acts chapter 20, “Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Judaeans there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law…” While they were misinformed in relation to the significance of the crucifixion in relation to the law, they nevertheless believed the veracity of the events of the gospel, which many of them must have also witnessed. But Judaea remained divided, and ultimately the agitation of the Edomite Jews compelled the Romans to destroy Jerusalem.
That same James was the author of a single surviving epistle which was written to “the twelve tribes scattered abroad”, and the record of his death in the pages of Josephus’ Antiquities of the Judaeans further supports our assertion that Christianity had a significant presence in Jerusalem before it was destroyed, which in turn helps to establish that there were significant people who witnessed aspects of these events surrounding the crucifixion and for that reason had accepted the gospel of Christ.
James had said those words to Paul in 58 AD. The Roman procurator Porcius Festus sent Paul in chains to Rome in late 60 AD and Festus died in 62 AD, while still in office, and was replaced by Lucceius Albinus. Before Albinus arrived in Judaea, the Edomites of the sect of the Sadducees took advantage of the situation to engage in some of their treachery. So we read in Antiquities, Book 20, where at first Josephus is discussing the same Annas, the former high priest, who is called a high priest in the gospel accounts:
“198 Now the report goes, that this oldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests; 199 but this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Judaeans, as we have already observed; 200 when, therefore, Ananus [the younger] was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or some of his companions]; and, when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: 201 but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for what he had already done was not to be justified; 202 nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a Sanhedrin without his consent; 203 whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which King Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.”
So this was how James came to the end of his life, in 62 AD, and we see that Christianity was indeed prevalent in Jerusalem, although the better interpretations of the gospel made by other apostles, and especially by Paul of Tarsus, were spreading and being accepted with even greater success elsewhere. In contrast, the Christianity of Judaea was thoroughly Judaized.
Another important aspect proving that the truth of Christ is evident in the spread of the gospels is in the words of Christ Himself. For example, in Matthew chapter 26 where a woman anointed Christ with costly ointment just days before the crucifixion, He said “12 For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. 13 Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.” In John chapter 12, the woman is identified as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and it is readily evident that her story is still told in churches throughout the world today.
Likewise, Christ had said in Matthew chapter 24 that “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations”, and today we see that this was not an empty boast. While other religions are now known and have their adherents in many different parts of the world, they have been promoted by the enemies of Christ. There were no Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or Taoists in Europe until the Jews had their various opportunities of which they took advantage to introduce such things, deceiving the minds of the weak and vulnerable in order to undermine Christianity.
However in the time when Christianity spread, it was persecuted by Jews, who also incited the pagans against it whenever they could. It had many other Greek philosophies to compete with, in addition to Greek and Roman paganism, and at the same time the Romans had also imported many other strange beliefs with which they became familiar from various parts of their empire, such as Persian Mithraism and the Egyptian cult of Isis. In three hundred years, Christianity supplanted all of these competing philosophies and religions, as the prophets and the gospels proclaimed that the scattered children of Israel certainly would return to Yahweh their God after centuries of chasing after vain idols.
To facilitate that success, the gospel must have been corroborated by all of the other eyewitness accounts of these events which had surrounded the crucifixion and resurrection as the apostles have described, so that when the truth did spread, it must have been just as irrefutable as the miracles of Christ had been in the face of the priests who refused to believe how they were accomplished. There are men who are generally willing to go along with the world and die on behalf of lies which they think are the truth. But men are generally not willing to resist the world to die for a truth that the world itself despises, unless they are absolutely certain that it is indeed the truth, and a truth that is even greater than the world. In the first century after Christ, tens of thousands of Christians, or by some accounts even many more than that, had made that very choice.
Returning to the accounts in the gospels, comparatively, John’s description of the events of the crucifixion have been rather concise. Although he did make it a point to illustrate how Yahshua had fulfilled many of the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, he was apparently only recording whatever he felt was necessary to provide the framework of a general narrative while he was actually seeking to leave a record of things which the other three gospel writers did not mention. Now, beginning chapter 20 of his gospel, describing the events related to the resurrection of Christ he is just as concise, but continues to describe things the other writers did not include, or which perhaps they did not have sufficient information to include.
But before we return to John, it may be fitting to include a portion of an account found only in Matthew. At the end of Matthew chapter 27, after the burial of Christ by Joseph of Arimathaea, we read: “61 And Mariam the Magdalene and the other Maria were there sitting before the burial-place. 62 Then in the morning, which is after the preparation day [that would be the Passover day itself], the high priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilatos 63 saying: ‘Master, we have remembered that while living that deceiver said ‘After three days I shall be raised’. 64 Therefore command that the burial-place is to be secured until the third day, lest coming His students should steal Him and would say to the people: ‘He has been raised from the dead’, and the last deception shall be worse than the first!’ 65 Pilatos said to them: ‘You have a sentry, you go secure it so that you know.’ 66 Then they going secured the burial-place, sealing the stone with the sentry.”
Now, commencing with John chapter 20:
XX 1 Now on the first day of the week Maria the Magdalene comes early to the tomb – it still being dark – and sees the stone having been lifted from [א and W insert “the door of”] the tomb.
Perhaps in the context of the other gospels, the Greek word αἴρω may have been better rendered as taken. The word is literally to take up, raise, lift up, according to Liddell & Scott, but it also had other more general uses. Since this was the tomb of a wealthy man, in all likelihood the entrance was covered by a large, round stone shaped almost like a wheel, which was set upright in a groove before the entrance so that it could be rolled aside to expose the entrance to the tomb. Several such tombs have been found in and around Jerusalem and still exist today, and proponents of several of them compete to be identified as the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea in which Christ was buried.
In Matthew chapter 28, we read “2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.” There, as well as in Mark and Luke, ἀποκυλίω was used, which is a word which literal means to roll away. All four gospels agree that the stone was already moved from the tomb before the first of the women had arrived there that morning, although they each explain the events from different perspectives. The other gospels describe other women as having accompanied Mary Magdalene, but that may have been a fact which John merely chose to omit, focusing on Mary alone.
As for the phrase “first day of the week”, it is literally “the first of the sabbaths”, an expression used to signify what we now call a week, which was a seven-day cycle ending with the sabbath day. There is much confusion over the reckoning of the calendar days related to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, but we must be assured that He did indeed spend three nights and three days in the earth, as He Himself had stated that He would. This we read in Matthew chapter 12: “40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
The day on which Maria Magdalene found the tomb opened and empty would be the first day after a sabbath day, but it was not necessarily the first day after the Passover, which would have been the day immediately following the crucifixion and which was distinguished from the regular sabbath where John said in chapter 19 of his gospel “for that sabbath day was an high day”. This certainly was not the day after some Saturday or Sunday, as there were no names for the days of the week, and as neither the Romans nor the Greeks even had a seven-day week. Neither was the Hebrew sabbath cycle and feast calendar necessarily tied to a perpetual and unbreakable seven-day cycle such as that which is in use today. Neither did the Judaeans necessarily keep the same calendar as Christ and His apostles had, since the apostles certainly believed that the earlier day upon which they ate their own Passover meal was the appropriate day, and John identifies the Passover in Jerusalem as the “Jews’ Passover”, but not necessarily his own.
Evidently the Jews kept a divergent calendar, and there were two sabbaths to consider here: a regular weekly sabbath and the Passover, the “great day” of the feast of unleavened bread. Note that at Luke 24:1 it is said of the women that “upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.” The women could not have known to prepare these spices before the crucifixion, as the disciples of Christ did not even realize that He was going to be crucified until it had actually happened, as the apostles themselves had also explained. The women could not have obtained and prepared spices until after the day of the Passover, which was a Sabbath and the markets were closed. In the evening following the Passover, Christ would only have been in the tomb for one night and one day.
The only way in which the other days could be accounted is that the regular weekly sabbath fell on the second day after the Passover. So Christ was crucified on what we shall call Day 0, and the Passover was Day 1. For demonstrative purposes we shall label these Wednesday and Thursday. On Day 2, Friday, the women could purchase and prepare the necessary spices and ointments. We read in Mark chapter 16 that “1 And upon the passing of the Sabbath [which must have been a reference to the Passover day] Maria the Magdalene and Maria the mother of Iakobos and Salome purchased herbs in order that having come they may anoint Him.” So the markets were open for one day after the Jews’ Passover. Then on Day 3, which we will label as Saturday, the women rested for the regular weekly sabbath, and early the next morning they awoke and brought their preparations to the tomb.
So now it is Day 4, which for demonstrative purposes we will call Sunday, and it is the first day of the week, the first day after the regular sabbath. This is not how I believe Moses to have reckoned the ancient Hebrew calendar, but the gospel informs us indirectly of the different calendars in use at this time, and this seems to be the only way that all of the circumstances of the resurrection in the gospel can be reconciled. It is also the only way that Christ could have spent three full nights and three full days in the tomb before the “first day of the week” when the women arrived before dawn and found it already opened and empty. The crucifixion happened on Day 0, and Night 1 would begin after the evening when Christ was buried, and Day 1 would be the day of the Jews’ Passover. Then Night 2 would begin after evening of the Passover day, and Day 2 would be a regular day upon which the women could purchase and prepare their ointments. Night 3 would begin a new sabbath and Day 3 was a sabbath day. Christ would have been resurrected at the end of the following evening, before Night 4 actually began, and when Maria arrived at the tomb before dawn the following morning, Christ had already arisen.
There is a good and longer explanation of this in a paper at Clifton Emahiser’s website, which he had adapted from an earlier article by a man named Danny Bowen, titled simply Three Days and Three Nights. It actually also explains the chronology of many events for the week preceding the crucifixion.
Where Mary Magdalene discovers the open tomb, it must also be remarked that there is no mention of the soldiers which the Judaeans had stationed there, except in the gospel of Matthew. In the opening verses of Matthew chapter 28 we read: “1 And it being late on the Sabbath, while approaching dawn on the first day of the week, Mariam the Magdalene and the other Maria had come to watch the burial-place. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for a messenger of Yahweh descended out of heaven and having come forth rolled the stone away and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was as lightning and his garment white as snow. 4 And from fear of him those watching trembled and had become as dead. 5 Then responding the messenger said to the women: ‘You must not fear, for I know that you seek Yahshua who had been crucified. 6 He is not here, for He has arisen just as He said! Come, see the burial-place where He laid, 7 and going quickly you tell His students that He has arisen from among the dead! And behold, you go ahead into Galilaia. There you shall see Him. Behold, I have spoken to you!’”
On the surface, Matthew’s account seems to be in conflict with that of John, but that is not necessarily so. Matthew was not an eyewitness to any of these events, but only seems to have correlated different accounts which he received from eyewitnesses of things which did not necessarily happen in the exact order that Matthew had written them.
In verses 2 and 3 of Matthew chapter 28, the earthquake certainly had happened before the women arrived at the tomb, as Matthew is describing something which already happened by the time they got there. His words, “And behold, there was a great earthquake” are not inconsistent with this view, as they only explain why the women found the tomb opened when they arrived. In verse 4, “those watching” were the soldiers who had been placed there as guards by the Judaeans, and by the time the women arrived at the garden they were apparently already gone. This is further evident where Matthew records that the angel spoke to the women, and it is clear that the women did not witness the earthquake and the opening of the tomb because, as Matthew recorded there in verse 6, the angel had also said to them “Come, see the burial-place where He laid”, a statement which would be nonsensical if they had been there all along and had been watching that same tomb when it was opened.
The account of Mark at the beginning of chapter 16, in the final authentic verses of his gospel, corroborate this account in Matthew but does not mention the earthquake and the opening of the tomb. So Mark’s gospel ends here, and whatever original ending it had, if any, is now lost. Two spurious endings, one quite long and the other much shorter, were written to complete it, and both of them must be rejected as spurious. The longer one is represented by the last 12 verses of Mark chapter 16 found in the King James Version. Likewise the account of the events of this morning as it is recorded by Luke also differs in minor detail, but is quite similar to that of Mark.
But here where Mary Magdalene first related the finding of the open tomb to Peter and John, she seems to be ignorant of the words of the angel, that Christ had arisen, and imagined the body to have instead been moved. This may be rectified in the understanding that neither Matthew, Mark nor Luke were eye-witnesses to these particular events, but instead they were all recording things which were related to them by others. So they each compiled the events of this morning into a few sentences. But John was an eyewitness to a great extent, and his account does not change or conflict with those of the others. Rather, it only adds to them things of which John had first-hand knowledge.
The women went to the tomb in the morning, before dawn found it open, and Matthew explains how it was opened. Then, where the women spoke to an angel, we see added in John’s version that first the women ran back and reported to Peter and John, who ran to see the tomb as the women returned. Then Peter and John departed, leaving the women behind, and that is where they spoke to the angel. We can not imagine that the angels were omniscient, so there words are valid in spite of what the women may have seen, said or done earlier that morning. All of the words of the angel to the women are valid, in spite of the fact that they had already seen the open tomb and had gone to the city to summon Peter and John.
On the surface, the enemies of Christ can point out many things which they can claim are discrepancies in the gospel, but which are not really discrepancies at all. Where Peter and John run to the tomb after hearing the report of Mary Magdalene, Luke mentions only Peter, but that does not mean that John was not there. Likewise, when the women came to the tomb earlier that morning, John mentioned only Mary Magdalene, but that does not mean that the other Mary was not there. Each gospel was written with limited knowledge from a limited perspective and none of them contain everything, as no mere man can possibly see and remember and then record everything.
Further on in chapter 28 of his gospel, Matthew records that the soldiers reported what had happened to the high priests and elders of the Judaeans, whereupon they were not punished, as would be expected, but were rather bribed to remain silent. However it is only in verses 2 and 3 of that chapter that we have an explanation as to why the soldiers were powerless to prevent what had happened. So where Mary Magdalene makes her discovery, but before where Matthew and the others described that she had spoken to an angel, John continues:
2 Therefore she runs and comes to Simon Petros and to that other student whom Yahshua loved and says to them: “They have taken the Prince out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid Him!”
As we had discussed in relation to John chapter 13 where he wrote “23 Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved”, here once again John is referring to himself, and he purposely neglected to name himself. So he used the same convention to describe himself again in chapter 19, when he had been committed with the care of Mary, the mother of Christ, and he does so once more in chapter 21, at the end of his gospel.
As for Mary Magdalene, here she was obviously quite surprised that the body of Christ was gone from the tomb, but she did not suspect that He had been resurrected, where she had instead thought that the body had been moved or even stolen. She would not find the truth until she returns to the garden tomb and is spoken to by the angel. First, Peter and John must see it for themselves, so John continues:
3 Therefore Petros and that other student went out and went to the tomb. 4 Then the two ran together, and that other student ran ahead faster than Petros and came first to the tomb, 5 and peering in he sees the linens lying, however he did not enter.
The tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea in which Christ was buried was said to be near the place called Γολγοθᾶ where Christ was crucified. Later in this chapter of John, the disciples seem to be staying in a room in Jerusalem, as they had barred the doors “for fear of the Jews”. So here it is likely that was also the place from which they had run out to the tomb, and it was quite close to the city so they probably did not have to run very far. In any event, the much younger John was also a faster runner than the elder Peter.
While it does not change the actual meaning, the Codex Sinaiticus (א) has significant differences in verses 3 through 5 , where it reads: “3 Therefore Petros and that other student went out and 4 the two ran together. He ran ahead faster than Petros and came to the tomb, 5 and peering in he sees the linens lying.” The same codex wants verse 6 in its entirety, where verse 7 would continue the sentence in verses 4 and 5.
6 Then comes also [A and the MT want “also”; the text follows P66, B and W ] Simon Petros following him and he entered into the tomb, and he sees the linens lying, 7 and the cloth which was upon His head, not lying with the linens but apart, having been rolled up in another place.
The phrase rendered “in another place” could have been “in a place by itself”, as the Greek phrase εἰς ἕνα τόπον is literally “in one place”, but suggests a place apart from where the cloth which was upon the head had been laid.
As a digression, it is my opinion that both this circumstance the language of the apostles, where words such as ἐντυλίσσω, which is to roll up, as Matthew and Luke have it, ἐνειλέω, which is to roll in or wind, as Mark has it, and δέω, which is to bind as John has it, as well as the descriptions of a separate cloth covering for the head alone that was distinct from the linens which were wound around the body, all seem to describe a manner of wrapping a corpse in linen which absolutely precludes the possibility that the shroud of Turin is what it claims to be, the burial cloth of Christ. I would rather believe that the infamous shroud is just another medieval hoax and money-making tourist attraction for the spurious Roman Catholic Church.
Now John testifies for himself:
8 So then the other student also entered, who came first to the tomb, and he saw and believed.
John saw the empty tomb and perhaps he only believed the report which he and Peter had received from Mary Magdalene, that the body of Christ was gone, as his next statement affirms that:
9 For not yet had they known the scripture, that it is necessary for Him to be resurrected from among the dead.
Christ had been telling His disciples for some time that He would be crucified, buried and resurrected “as it is written”, but evidently they had no opportunity to actually sit and study the Scriptures for themselves to see where those things were written. The earliest account of this is in Matthew chapter 16: “21 From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.” For that, Peter attempted to rebuke Christ, and he was rebuked in turn.
The warning was repeated in Matthew chapter 17, and again in Luke chapter 9. Then, in His long discourse given at the Passover dinner which they celebrated together on the evening before the crucifixion, Christ said to them, as it is found in Matthew chapter 26, “24 The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.” But the apostles evidently had no opportunity to study to see precisely what was written in the prophets in this regard. Books were rare, and few men had the luxury of being able to study often or to engage in casual reading. The Greek word σχολή means leisure, or freedom from labor, and that is the word which is also the source of our English words school and scholar. So school was seen as leisure, rather than as work, and generally only the wealthy had such advantage, to be able to keep books within reach.
So after Peter and John witness the empty tomb, John continues:
10 Therefore the students departed back to them [A, W and the MT have “back by themselves”; the text follows א and B. Certain words found in the King James Version and others, where it says “unto their own home”, are not in any of the manuscripts.].
John and Peter departed and returned to the room in the city where the disciples had been staying, and where Christ would appear to them later that day. But Mary Magdalene did not go with them:
11 Then Maria [א has “Mariam”] stood outside by the tomb [א and A have “stood in the tomb”; the text follows B, W and the MT] weeping. So as she wept, she peered into the tomb 12 and sees two [א wants “two”] messengers in white sitting down, one by the head and one by the feet where the body of Yahshua had lain.
The messengers, or angels, could not have been visible in the tomb when Peter and John had entered it a short while earlier, so it is evident that they only appeared to the women after the apostles had left. Matthew only mentions the angel who spoke to Maria while she was outside the tomb, while Mark mentions another angel whom she saw inside the tomb, who spoke to her, and Luke mentions two angels, but the minor discrepancies are easily accounted and reconciled when it is realized that each apostle is condensing oral accounts into rather concise written explanations from varying perspectives, and perhaps each of them did not see a necessity to record every detail.
So in John’s account, which is also vicarious in this regard as he has already departed with Peter, both of the messengers, or angels, speak to her:
13 And [א wants “And”] they said to her: “Woman, why do you weep?” [A and D insert another question, “What do you seek?”] She [B has “And she”] says to them: “Because they have taken my Prince, and I do not know where they have laid Him!” 14 Saying [the MT has “And saying”; the text follows א, A, B, D and W] these things she turned to the rear and saw Yahshua standing, yet did not know that it is Yahshua.
Evidently Maria began to exit the tomb, as her back was to the door when she entered it, and saw Yahshua standing outside, not realizing that it was Him.
Sometimes, and this is only an opinion, when we do not expect to see a particular person in a given setting, and see them unexpectedly, that at first we may not recognize them. But this seems to happen with people with which we are only casually familiar, or perhaps had not seen for a long time, rather than with more intimate friends or family.
Yet in the accounts of the risen Christ, none of His disciples seem to have recognized Him immediately, but only after they were told that it was Him. Perhaps this is because they all knew Him to be dead and never would have expected to see Him, but otherwise, it is also apparent that His appearance was somewhat different than they could have expected, although once they realized that it was actually Him, they did indeed recognize Him. In this regard, while the last chapter of Matthew is very concise, where Christ met with the apostles in Galilee he wrote only that “seeing Him they made obeisance, but they doubted.” In the last chapter of Luke, the two men on the road to Emmaous did not recognize Him either, but that was evidently His will, whereby they were prevented until He wanted them to realize that it was Him.
Later in that chapter of Luke, where He first appeared to the apostles they were troubled, and imagined that perhaps they were seeing a ghost. But once they understood that it was Him, we read “44 Then He said to them: “These are My words which I had spoken to you while yet being with you, that it is necessary to fulfill all the things written in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms concerning Me.” 45 Then He opened their minds for which to understand the writings.” As John had attested here, at this point they did not yet understand those Scriptures, so we see that Luke’s account agrees.
Later in this chapter of John, Thomas would not trust his own eyes, but said he would not believe it was Christ unless he felt of his wounds. Now here in the garden at the tomb, with Maria not yet recognizing Yahshua, He speaks to her and she does recognize Him. So as John records it, she is the first person to whom He spoke after the resurrection, and this is also something which none of the other gospel accounts had recorded:
15 Yahshua says to her “Woman, why do you weep? What do you seek?” She, supposing that it is the gardener, says to Him: “Master, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I shall take Him.”
According to the account in Matthew, and in a different way in Luke, the angel had told her that He was arisen, but here it is apparent that she still remained doubtful.
16 Yahshua says to her: “Maria!” [א, B and W have “Mariam!”; the text follows A, D and the MT.] Turning [א and D have “Then turning”] she says to Him in Hebrew: “Rabboni!” (Which is [D inserts “properly”] said “Teacher”.)
Again, John’s translations of words which were spoken in Hebrew shows that his text was originally written in Greek. Furthermore, it also serves to show that Greek was used commonly by Christ and His disciples throughout all of these accounts, since if John had to translate all of their words into Greek from Hebrew in order to make his gospel, then he would not have mentioned any of these occasions where Hebrew words had been used.
17 Yahshua says to her: “You must not touch Me! For not yet have I gone up to the [P66, A and the MT have ‘My’; the text follows א, B, D and W] Father. Now [A wants ‘Now’; D has ‘Therefore’] you must go to My [א, D and W have ‘the’] brethren and tell them: I go up to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God!”
As we said in our commentary on John chapter 14, no sacrifice is completed until it is offered to Yahweh. The whole burnt offerings were burnt completely, until little was left, symbolically sending it all in smoke up to God. That is described in relation to sin offerings in Leviticus chapter 1. Then in Leviticus chapter 7 it is commanded that any soul who with unclean hands eats of the peace offering, that soul would be cut off from the people. Furthermore, any flesh of the sacrifice which was touched by someone with unclean hands could not be eaten. Here, the body of Christ represents both a sin offering and a peace offering to God, so it would be subject to the ritual laws, and evidently Christ is making a point of that, to teach us once again that He does indeed keep His Own law. Therefore, if Mariam had touched the sacrifice with profane hands before it was presented to the Father, it would become ceremonially unclean, and Mariam herself would be cut off from her people. If He was the Lamb of God, He had to keep the laws concerning the sacrifice until it was completed. Evidently, He completed His presenting Himself to God in that manner before His later encounter with the apostles.
18 Maria [P66, א and B have “Mariam”; the text follows A, D, W and the MT] goes announcing [D, W and the MT have “reporting”; the text follows P66, א, A,B and 078] to the students that “I have seen the Prince!” [A, D, 078 and the MT have “that she had seen the Prince”; the text follows P66, א, B and W], and the things [D inserts “which”] He said to her [D inserts “she disclosed to them”; the text follows P66, א, A, B, W, 078 and the MT].
Peter and John had only seen the empty tomb, but not Christ Himself. They must have already related their experience to the others when Mary Magdalene came and made this announcement. Next, Christ shall also appear to them, at a time when they do not expect it and under unusual circumstances.
When we return to our commentary on this chapter of John, as we have already discussed the consequences of the crucifixion for the children of Israel in our last presentation, in our next we hope to discuss the consequences of the resurrection in that same manner.