The disciples had not understood what Jesus meant when he said he would suffer, die, and be raised on the third day (Matt. 16:21–23; 17:22–23; 20:17–19). The Pharisees and religious leaders didn’t understand either, but they were concerned enough with Jesus’ predictions that they posted guards at his tomb (Matt. 27:62–66). Indeed, how could Jesus be expected to be raised from the dead? He had died a criminal’s death. More than that, he had died like a traitor or blasphemer, as one cursed by God according to the Scriptures (Deut. 21:22–23). It would be natural to think that the Gospels should end after Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 19. There were others before Jesus who had claimed to be the Messiah, and they, too, had died, and their corpses were rotting away in their graves. But Jesus’ story didn’t end in a tomb or conform to the stories of false Messiahs. The Gospels carry the narrative further to its glorious climax: an empty tomb and a risen Lord.
The evangelists include a number of different events that take place during the course of Easter Sunday. The day begins with a group of women discovering the empty tomb in the early morning. Having gone near dawn to anoint Jesus’ body with spices, they instead come to an empty tomb whose stone has been rolled away by an angel and are told by angels that the Jesus they seek is no longer in the tomb but has risen as he said. The women are then sent to the disciples and told they will see him in Galilee (Matt. 28:1–7; Mark 16:1–7; Luke 24:1–7; John 20:1–2). At this the women depart, afraid at first (Mark 16:8), but they eventually make their way to the disciples in order to tell them what has happened (Luke 24:8–11; John 20:2). As they are traveling, they are met by the risen Lord himself who instructs them to go tell the disciples to go ahead to Galilee where they will meet him (Matt. 28:8–10). After receiving the report from the women, the disciples’ initial response is to think that the women are telling an “idle tale” (Luke 24:11), but nonetheless Peter and John decide to investigate. Running to the tomb, they find that it is indeed empty (Luke 24:12; John 20:3–5). Not only this, but the cloths used to wrap Jesus’ body are folded up and separated from the cloth used to bind his face (John 20:5–7), indicating that the body hadn’t been stolen but raised from the dead. John sees the linen cloth and believes, even though he didn’t yet fully understand that Jesus must rise from the dead according to the Scriptures. Then Peter and John return home (John 20:8–10).
Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene is making her way back to the tomb after reporting the news to the disciples. Weeping, she looks into the tomb where she sees angels. They question her about her weeping, but instead of receiving a comforting word from the angels, Mary encounters Jesus. She doesn’t recognize him at first, mistaking him for the gardener (further proof that Jesus’ followers didn’t expect him to rise from the dead, despite his repeated predictions). He then reveals himself to her and sends her back to the disciples to tell them that he will soon be ascending back to God, his and their Father. Mary returns, bringing a vastly different message than she had declared earlier that morning (John 20:11–18).
As the day goes on, two disciples are walking on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, about seven miles to the northwest. Jesus comes and falls in step with them, though, like Mary, they don’t recognize him. Jesus asks what they’ve been talking about, and they proceed to tell him about the grievous events of the crucifixion and the perplexing occurrences that had taken place earlier that morning (Luke 24:13–24). While they journey on, Jesus rebukes them for their slowness to believe the Scriptures and then explains to them from the Scriptures all the things concerning himself. When they approach Emmaus, Jesus joins them at their request. As he gives thanks for the food, their eyes are opened to recognize Jesus, and he disappears. They immediately set out to return to Jerusalem and tell the disciples what has happened (Luke 24:25–35). That same evening, Jesus appears in the midst of a locked room to all the disciples who are gathered, though Thomas is absent for some unknown reason. Jesus greets them and calms their fears that he is a spirit by inviting them to touch him and by eating a piece of broiled fish (Luke 24:36–43; John 20:19–20). Jesus then commissions the disciples to proclaim the good news of forgiveness for those who receive their message and the accompanying message of judgment for those who reject him. He sends them as the Father sent him, and breathes on them, enacting the giving of the Holy Spirit that was about to be fulfilled at Pentecost (John 20:21–23; cf. Acts 2). Jesus teaches the disciples, opening their minds to understand what was written about him in the Scriptures (Luke 24:44–45), though the remainder of Luke’s account is a condensed account of what takes place over the next forty days, as Acts 1:3–4 indicates.
That day had begun with fear, but it ended with joy. God’s wrath has been poured out on his Son; the price has been paid, and the work of salvation is finished. Death has been defeated. The tomb is empty. Christ is risen! And the glorious news of the risen Christ means that sinners can be saved. And having been saved, we’re now sent on mission by the risen Lord to bring the good news of the gospel to a lost and dying world. He is risen indeed!
Adapted from Andreas Köstenberger and Justin Taylor, The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 173–93.
Note: this blog was originally posted on Blog.Vyrso.com.
For more Easter resources, see www.biblicalfoundations.org/easter.