The women

Were you there—when He rose up from the grave?

2. The women

1. Setting the scene | Index | 3. Peter

Matthew 28:1–10

1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” 8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee;
there they will see me.”

Also refer to—Mark 16:1–11; Luke 24:1–12; John 20:1–2, 10–18

‘A woman is the man for the job!’

I mentioned before that a Christian world mission organisation used to challenge Christian men by saying ‘a woman is the man for the job!’ Far more women than men were volunteering to go to live and work on overseas mission fields, to share the gospel of forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. Today it seems that Christian women are usually more willing than their male counterparts to sacrifice their comforts, personal hopes, ambitions, time and finance. Where are the committed Christian men who will lead by example in their own lives, their marriages and family lives, their churches and fellowships, and in missions to make Christ known at home and abroad?

Few male disciples were there

Few male disciples were present as Jesus died on that cross to take the punishment for our sin, but the women were there. Women were also the first at the empty tomb after Jesus miraculously rose from the dead. Later the apostles ‘joined together constantly in prayer’ along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers’ (Acts 1:14).

A vital role

These committed women were at the cross, at the empty tomb, and at Pentecost. They witnessed the blood of Jesus being shed when He was judged for our sins. They met the living Jesus, risen from the dead. They saw the Holy Spirit’s coming on the crowd which listened to Peter as he proclaimed his crucified and risen Lord. ‘About three thousand’ people were saved and added to the fledgling church (Acts 2:41). These women were godly and faithful disciples with a great role to play. Today, women who live for Christ still play a vital role. But who are these women in the four Gospel accounts?

Put the Gospel records together

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John do not try to cover all the names of all the women who accompany Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, and Joanna. John only focuses on Mary Magdalene. He does not comment on the names or number of other women. All four Gospel writers mention Mary Magdalene. She is the first person whom Scripture records as meeting her resurrected Lord Jesus. Assuming the ‘other Mary’ mentioned by Matthew is Mary the mother of James, she is named three times. Mark names Salome, and Luke names Joanna. Luke is known for his detailed writing. (If you read the Acts of the Apostles you will notice that.) He reminds us that there are ‘others with them.’ These women witness not just one, but two, gleaming angels (as in John’s Gospel). They bow down to them in fright. The angels confirm Jesus is ‘living’ and remind them of Jesus’ words that He would be ‘delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and the third day be raised again.’ They then remember Jesus’ telling them the same thing before He died and rose again. Together they all tell ‘this to the apostles,’ (called the ‘eleven’ since Judas’ death.) But the eleven do not believe the women, so Peter wisely goes himself to investigate, as we will see in the next chapter. Luke 23:55–56 confirms that these women, ‘who had come with Jesus from Galilee,’ followed Joseph of Arimathea to the tomb on the Friday. They then ‘saw the tomb and how His body was laid in it.’ They need to do that to bring the spices to treat the body after the Sabbath. Their evidence is rock solid that Jesus died and that His tomb is empty on that third day. They also record that the angels confirmed that Jesus ‘is risen.’ Remember that Jesus, clearly and often, predicted exactly that this would happen. He never got or gets things wrong.

No Gospel writer contradicts another, but sometimes one will emphasise aspects separately from the others. In a court of law that would add to the credibility of evidence—if their accounts had been artificially ‘cobbled’ together, they would make sure that every piece of so-called ‘evidence’ fitted in exactly with the others. Nothing is more obvious to the trained lawyer than doctored ‘identical evidence.’ Legitimate variations have the ring of reality about them.

For instance:

Matthew reports that Mary Magdalene and ‘the other Mary,’ (James’ mother, no doubt) see the empty tomb and, like Mark, witness one angel there. Angels can come unnoticed (Hebrews 13:2). They can come and go in a flash, either seen or unseen, so perhaps the second angel came later? Or perhaps they were so overawed by the ‘lead angel’ that the women did not notice his companion. We do not know or need to know. They then go and tell the disciples as instructed by the angel. After they set off to see the disciples, Jesus comes to them suddenly and greets them. They grasp His feet in worship. He tells them not to be afraid but to go to tell his brothers to go to Galilee where He will meet them. Is that His physical brothers, or His spiritual brothers, or both?

Mark confirms much of what Matthew says. But he adds that their first reaction, in fear, is to want to run away and tell no one. After that, Mary Magdalene does go as told by the angel, to tell the disciples. Perhaps Matthew records that Jesus tells her not to be afraid because she is so frightened initially!

John describes Mary standing outside the empty tomb, after returning from telling Peter about it, and after he has visited the empty tomb with John (‘the one Jesus loved’). They both see the empty tomb and the folded graveclothes of Jesus—but no angels. (Remember they can come and go, seen or unseen.) They return to their homes. Mary is then crying outside the tomb. She then sees two angels in white. They are sitting where Jesus’ body had been. After having a conversation with them, she sees someone she thinks is the gardener. But when the ‘gardener’ calls her by name, she then knows it is Jesus. He tells her not to hold Him physically. He wants her faith to be real and spiritual not just ‘touchy feely.’ She then goes back to the disciples and openly tells them, ‘I have seen the Lord!

All these accounts blend and fit together. What can we learn from them?

  • The key facts of the gospel are the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and God’s giving His Holy Spirit to each convert and so to all the church. Always remember those vital verses which we looked at in Chapter 1 of Part 1 of this book. Nothing means or matters more than Jesus dying on the cross as our sin-bearer and substitute to take the punishment we deserve. We would remain under eternal death-sentence in Hell if Christ had not died for our sins. As vital as that is, the twin truth that He is risen again from the dead, enables Him now to become the indwelling living Lord of all who receive Him by faith. Jesus does all this by the Holy Spirit. Our salvation is triply endorsed, by God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  • The death and resurrection of Jesus are both factual and well evidenced. By ‘well evidenced’, I mean that the evidence is excellent both in the calibre and the number of its witnesses. Any advocate in court would delight to call witnesses like this to support the case he has to make.
  • If you have received Christ as your Saviour, you have both a duty and a privilege to share with others how they can and need to turn from their sin and surrender their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.
  • Pray daily for those you get to know, that they will be blessed by the Lord. Remember that the best argument that we have a risen Saviour living within is the amazing change He makes in the lives of those who receive Him. In short, conversion to Jesus works! We should seek, by God’s grace and help, to live out the reality of the gospel by holy living, godly thinking, right words, honest witness and relying on the Lord to keep us, help us and use us.
  • Remember to thank, praise and honour your unique and sinlessly perfect Saviour, Lord and God. Worship, trust and obey Him!