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First thing in the morning, the women come to the tomb with their spices, fully expecting to find Jesus' remains. All the accounts agree that it was early morning. Matthew 28:1 and Mark 16:2 refer to the dawn or early morning, while John 20:1 notes that it was still dark when they started their journey.
The following point cannot be stressed too strongly: these women did not go believing in resurrection. They did not go to check and see if the tomb was empty. The fact that they took spices along to anoint the decaying body shows what they expected to find, and this despite six resurrection predictions in Luke. So the first people who had to be convinced of the resurrection were the disciples themselves. They may have belonged to the era of the ancients, but they did not think as a matter of course that resurrection would occur. In a real sense they were the first skeptics to become convinced that Jesus was raised!
The first hint that something had happened was the rolled-away stone. This stone, as was typical of ancient tombs, had covered the entrance. It was laid in a channel that had been carved out for it. While Mark 16:3 shows that the women had debated how they would get the heavy stone moved, Luke simply presents what confronts them on their arrival: They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
The women are at a loss, stymied, filled with perplexity. Their quandary is broken by the appearance of two men in clothes that gleamed, a description that suggests Luke means angels. Heavenly appearances are often bright (9:29; 10:18; Acts 9:3; 22:6). Any doubt that Luke means they are angels is removed in verse 23. The presence of the pair may invoke the "two witnesses" theme of the Old Testament (Deut 19:15). Luke's noting of two angels corresponds with John 20:12, while Matthew 28:2-4 and Mark 16:5 mention only one figure. The angelic appearance frightens the women, who bow to the ground in reverence. They know heaven is visiting the earth (Dillon 1978:26-27). The reason becomes clear in the angels' response.
It begins with a mild rebuke that is also an explanation: "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" Put simply, Jesus is alive, so do not expect to find him in a tomb. Then the angels ask them to recall the promise he made to them in Galilee. "Remember how he told you, . . . `The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again' " (9:22; 18:32-33). God is not surprised at Jesus' resurrection, and neither should they be surprised. Jesus' authority is summarized in the crucial Son of Man title. Here is a man who bears the authority of deity, through judgment given over to him by the Ancient of Days (Dan 7:13-14). Luke 22:69 is coming to pass. In fact, the key term dei ("it is necessary") is used here to express the idea of divine design. God, the great cosmic director, has orchestrated what took place here (compare Acts 2:22-24). From the arrest through the death to the resurrection, Jesus walked in God's will. The women need not have wasted their money on the spices to preserve Jesus' body; God has taken care of it and has been in control all along.
The angels' words bring Jesus' words back to mind. The women cannot keep to themselves what has just happened—they return to tell the eleven and those with them. The entourage had included a large group of women, but Luke only names Mary Magdalene (8:2), Joanna (8:3) and Mary the mother of James (Mk 16:1).
Though the women are convinced, the rest are not. They come to belief slowly. Many of the disciples are originally skeptics about resurrection. At first they regard the women as hysterical, telling an idle tale. Leros (NIV nonsense), used here for "idle tale," was used in everyday Greek to refer to the delirious stories told by the very sick as they suffer in great pain or to tales told by those who fail to perceive reality (4 Maccabees 5:11; Josephus Jewish Wars 3.8.9 405). The other disciples think these women must be dreaming. Luke notes most of them do not believe their story, except for perhaps one or two present.
Yet Luke 24:12, if a part of the original document, indicates that Peter cannot sit still upon hearing the report. He has learned to trust what Jesus predicts. So he gets up and runs to the tomb, sees the linen clothes by themselves and departs. He wonders, or marvels, about what has come to pass. There is a little debate among interpreters whether Peter believes at this point. In fact, most doubt it, arguing that the term "marveling" (thaumazo; NIV wondering) is ambiguous (see 4:22; 11:38; Acts 13:41). But surely it is hard to call Peter doubting here, and the term can be positive (as in Lk 1:21, 63; 2:18, 33; 7:9; 8:25; 11:14; 20:26; 24:41; Stein 1992:607). Something stirs him to check out the story when others are incredulous. In addition, his recent experience with his denials has surely taught him to trust what Jesus says.
Peter walks away from the tomb simply contemplating what may be ahead. Something is happening, and its reality is slow to sink in with Jesus' followers. Just how much they struggle to understand the reality of Jesus' exaltation is indicated in the Emmaus incident that follows.
Though the church proclaims the resurrection confidently today, the original witnesses had to be convinced that it had occurred. Resurrection had been promised by Scripture and by Jesus, but only slowly, grudgingly and methodically did the disciples come to see that it had come to pass.