THE EMPTY TOMB (24:1–12)
(For comparison with notes on this chapter, read notes on Ac. 1:1–14, a summary of this chapter.)
The enforced rest of the Sabbath over, the women return early in the morning next day to the tomb, only to find that the great stone which sealed its mouth is rolled away and the tomb empty. As they are wondering what has happened, angelic visitors tell them that Jesus has risen from the dead as He has said He would. The women go back to the apostles to report what has happened, but their story is received with incredulous scepticism.
Luke’s story is in general outline very much like Mark’s, but there are considerable differences in detail.
(a) Mark has one young man at the sepulchre, Luke has two men. (Matthew incidentally has an angel, John has two angels.) These are not necessarily contradictions. The clothes that gleamed like lightning of Luke suggests supernatural beings (cf. 9:29). The difference between one angel or two may be due to nothing more than the fact that two were present, but that one only engaged in speech. At all events, the descriptions that we have are expressions in human words of a phenomenon that far transcended human experience.
But the truth of the story of the empty tomb does not depend on our ability to devise a satisfactory scheme of harmonization, but in the tremendous effect that the event had on the disciples, and on subsequent history.
(b) The lists of women’s names in the two Gospels are slightly different. But neither of them is necessarily complete.
(c) Luke omits the message reported by Mark that Peter and the disciples are to meet Jesus in Galilee. The post-resurrection appearances recorded by Luke are all in Judea, but the disciples are reminded of teaching He gave them in Galilee.
(d) In Mark, the women were so startled by the events at the tomb that they found themselves unable to give the message to the disciples. In Luke, on the other hand, they go and report to the disciples all that has happened, though of course there is no message of a rendezvous in Galilee for them to convey.
The fact of the resurrection is one of the best historically attested facts of ancient history. For a clear and concise survey of the evidence, see J. N. D. Anderson, The Evidence for the Resurrection (London, 1950).
4. suddenly, two men: Cf. the Transfiguration (Lk. 9:30) and the Ascension (Ac. 1:10).
The tombs of the dead form a profitable source of information. Many Jewish cemeteries of the years prior to A.D. 70 have been explored in the neighborhood of Jerusalem. One type of rock-cut tomb agrees with that described in the resurrection narratives in its construction. Examples can be seen today, one of the best being the ‘Tomb of the Kings’ in northern Jerusalem. There the low entrance conforms to Jn 20:5 (many tombs have rather larger entries); the stone cover lies to one side, in a slot cut to allow for rolling it across. Inside these tombs the body was laid on a rock-cut shelf, above floor level. After decomposition, the bones were normally gathered into stone chests (ossuaries) for their final rest. Names written on the chests found in such tombs include some also met in the NT, among them Elizabeth, Mary, Sapphira, Lazarus, Jesus son of Joseph — none, of course, necessarily identifiable with the Biblical figures. There is a possibility that two chests of c. A.D. 50 bear brief prayers addressed to the risen Jesus.