Mary Magdalene Finds the Empty Tomb
“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ ”- John 20:1–2
John’s account of the burial of Jesus does not specifically mention that a stone was rolled across the entrance to the tomb of our Lord. Yet today’s passage, which reports the removal of the stone, clearly indicates that the tomb was sealed with a heavy stone (John 19:38–20:1; see Mark 15:42–46). Furthermore, John also does not tell us specifically that several of Jesus’ female disciples saw where Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had buried the body of Christ. That information is found in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 27:61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55). But though John does not include that detail, his report in today’s passage of Mary Magdalene’s visit to the tomb assumes that she saw the burial.
As we consider John’s account of the resurrection over the next few days, let us note that neither John nor the other three evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke) gives us a full account of what happened on the day of our Lord’s resurrection. It takes the study of all four accounts to develop a more complete timeline of events. Because of this and because of some apparent discrepancies between the Gospels, some have alleged that the different accounts are contradictory. However, the accounts can be harmonized. For example, John 20 tells us only about Mary Magdalene, while the other Gospels report that several women were with her that Sunday morning. But this is hardly a contradiction, for all four Gospels report that Mary Magdalene was among that group of women. John simply does not mention them specifically. However, John does report that when Mary told the disciples about the empty tomb, she used the plural pronoun “we,” indicating that John knew other women were with Mary (John 20:2).
Why were Mary and the other women at the tomb? Luke 24:1 says that they went there with the spices that they “had prepared.” Jesus had been buried respectfully but in haste because He was put in the tomb just before the Sabbath began, on the Day of Preparation (John 19:42). Perhaps Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were unable to finish applying the burial spices to the body of Jesus, and the women went back to finish the job. But when they arrived at the tomb, the stone was rolled away, and Mary Magdalene’s first suspicion was that the body of the Lord had been stolen (John 20:1–2). But it would soon be clear that something far more amazing had occurred.
Different eyewitness accounts of the same event may not be identical, but that does not mean that they are contradictory. We must simply harmonize the testimony. The differences in the resurrection accounts are minor and reconcilable. Many Christian apologists (defenders of the faith) have done this, and it is good for us to be acquainted with these harmonizations so that we can answer the questions of skeptics.
Passages for Further Study