Luke 24:1-12

Destiny in Jerusalem – 2

Integrity Validated


Jesus is Risen – The Empty Tomb

In the short interval between Jesus’ death and the beginning of the Sabbath, the women had prepared spices and ointments with which to anoint the dead body of Jesus. Either they simply had not thought so far ahead in the confusion of Friday’s events, or they did not expect that Pilate would release the body for burial. At least, they had observed closely where the tomb was situated and were ready to perform their ministry without interruption and in peace once the Sabbath was over. Like all the other disciples, they were not anticipating resurrection. Anointing Jesus’ body would be one last act of loving care and respect for one who had first loved them.

Luke 24:1-8  -  The Resurrection of Jesus – Announced by “Two Men”

1 At the very early dawn of the first day of the week
they went to the tomb,
bringing the spices that they had prepared. 
2 They found the stone rolled back from the tomb.
3 They went inside, but did not find the body [of the Lord Jesus]. 
4 They could make no sense of this.
At that moment two men in dazzling clothes stood by them. 

The tomb was empty. They were perplexed. Their immediate response was not one of faith, but simply of deep confusion. Empty tombs prove little, especially one already opened, with its stone rolled away.

Resurrection or Immortality?

Resurrection is different from the mere immortality of the soul. Faith in the immortality of the soul is the fruit of a philosophical analysis that sees human persons as composed of two distinct elements, a physical body and a spiritual soul. Yet, as the medieval clear thinker, St Thomas Aquinas, asserted: the soul is not the same as the person, before or after death. It might survive after death, but resurrection means much more than on-going survival of a soul.

Resurrection views the human person as a whole. Jewish thought saw the body as the person to the extent that it is part of its surrounding world, the soul as the person from the point of view that it is alive, conscious, thinking and feeling, and the spirit as the person insofar it is responsive to the transcendent and to God. 

The Christian community believed that by raising Jesus from death - body, soul and spirit - God also endowed his humanity with an even more wonderful life. While remaining truly human, he was declared Lord, and made to share in the power of God. (As the tradition articulated it, he was “seated at the right hand of God”.)

Faith in resurrection also meant that Jesus was no longer physically present in the tomb. There was no corpse there.

The earliest Christian community showed little or no immediate devotion to the tomb where Jesus had been temporarily buried. Indeed, within the culture, tombs were not all that important. Bodies were laid there until the flesh had decomposed, and then the remaining bones were removed and placed in an ossuary. The tomb would then be available for further use. Devotion, if any, would be directed to the ossuary, not to the former place of entombment.

The empty tomb did not prove that Jesus had been raised. But, since he had been raised, the tomb was necessarily empty.

The presence of two men in dazzling clothes can be interpreted in much the same way as the angelic messenger to Mary on the occasion of her conceiving Jesus, or the angel that strengthened Jesus during his prayer on the Mount of Olives. (The word translated angel can be equally translated messenger. Somehow, Christian devotion seems to assume that Christians know what angels are. The broader term messenger leaves the matter somewhat more open.) Their wearing dazzling clothes indicated that they were not two ordinary men. These were interpreters of mystery.

There is no need to assume that Luke was referring to an actual appearance of two such persons. He was using a literary form to explain to his readers what otherwise could not be known by human means. They expressed the faith insight of the Christian community.

Mark had referred to only one man at the tomb. Perhaps Luke used two as a way of emphasising the truth of their message. The Book of Deuteronomy had declared: Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained. (19:15).

5 Frightened they bowed their faces to the ground.  
The men said to them,
"Why are you looking among the dead
for the one who is alive.  
He is not here.  
He is risen.

The response of terror (or fear) was a typical reaction within the literary form, and tended to emphasise that mystery was being revealed. Mary had been told Do not be afraid (1:30), and the three disciples at the Transfiguration were terrified as they entered the cloud (9:34).

The two men made three claims:

  • Jesus was no longer dead, but alive
  • He was not there (or here, or anywhere!). His way of being alive was now beyond categories of space.
  • He had been raised. Though the translation He is risen is perfectly correct, the same Greek word could be equally accurately translated as He has been raised

Raised or Risen?

Risen. To say that Jesus is risen is to focus on his own activity: Jesus raised himself. Such a claim sits easily with later Christian belief in the clear divinity of Jesus. However, it can easily, though perhaps quite unconsciously, tend to overshadow and perhaps compromise his humanity. The problem for many, perhaps most, believers today is to come to easy terms with Jesus’ humanity rather than his divinity.

Certainly, by focussing on his raising himself, the truth of his message shines out clearly enough, though the fact that Jesus grew in wisdom through experience across time tends to be more difficult to feel at ease about. His access to truth might seem too easy.

It can almost seem that by rising, Jesus has become more divine than human or, indeed, that he is no longer human.

Raised. To speak of Jesus as raised by God is to focus on God as the active agent. Perhaps it more straightforwardly preserves the humanity of Jesus. Risen life is more easily seen as human life, enhanced and elevated beyond all capacity to imagine by the power of God, but still human. It is the human Christ whom God has made Lord and who “sits at the right hand of the Father”.

God’s raising Jesus would also more simply be seen as God’s validating the response of Jesus: his clear option for the poor, his choice for non-violence, and his relentless insistence on love, justice and compassion. Though they had not worked in the short term, resurrection proved that life according to those values was still God’s way, and would bear fruit over time. It was still the only way to live. The Jesus who had died powerless has been made Lord by the Father – though he still accepts the powerlessness associated with the choice to love. The resurrection makes clear that Jesus’ way needs, too, to be the disciples’ way.

6 Remember what he said to you while he was in Galilee – 
7 that the son of man would be handed over
into the hands of sinful people,
that he would be crucified,
and that on the third day he would rise again".
8 They then remembered his words.

To lead the women towards faith, the two men asked them to remember, to review their experience in the light of what they had been told. Jesus had spoken clearly to the disciples and to the twelve of his pending death and resurrection. The presence of woman disciples on those occasions had never been clearly indicated, but now it is assumed that they were there and had heard his words. (Interestingly, in Luke’s narrative, Jesus had not mentioned that his death would be by crucifixion, though perhaps it could have been inferred from the fact that the Roman authority would kill him.)


A powerful factor that can lead from breakdown to breakthrough is precisely remembering. To remember is to look back at life. It provides an opportunity to look more closely at experience, to notice what was there but had not been appreciated or integrated. It allows what was missed to be drawn into the present. It allows insight to happen and wisdom to deepen.

Whether it brought about a faith response in the women is not clear. In line with the narrative, the testimony of the two witnesses may have sufficiently triggered their own insight. Perhaps more was still needed. But it tended to alert them to a deeper openness to the future. And they would not have to wait long.


Luke 24:9-11  -  The Resurrection of Jesus – Announced by the Woman

9 They returned from the tomb
and reported all these things to the eleven
and all the others with them. 
10 It was Mary Magdalene, Johanna and Mary the mother of James
and the other women with them
who told everything to the apostles. 
11 What they said seemed nonsense to them,
and they refused to believe the women.

The first ones to hear the message of resurrection were women disciples. In Mark’s Gospel they were then sent to tell the disciples the news, though they failed to do so immediately because of fear and confusion. In Mark’s Gospel, the messenger had also told them to tell the disciples to go back to Galilee where they would meet Jesus once more.

In Luke’s story, the women, though not instructed to do so, did in fact go and communicate their news to the disciples (wherever they were). But there was no message to move back to Galilee.

Only at this stage did Luke name any of the women who had witnessed the death, and then gone to anoint the body after the Sabbath. He had already identified them earlier in his narrative as women who provided for them all from their own resources (8:3).

12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb.  
He bent down and saw only the cloths,
and went home wondering about what had happened.

Luke assumed that Peter knew the location of the tomb.  Perhaps he was included among the acquaintances that Luke had mentioned as present at the crucifixion watching from a distance, but Luke had referred only to women following the corpse to the tomb.

Peter saw no men in dazzling clothes in the tomb. He saw that the tomb was empty, and he also saw the linen clothes by themselves, whatever that might mean (perhaps it simply meant with no body inside). Perhaps Luke intended the comment to say something about Jesus, other than his absence. The body had been changed from a body that was once here to one that was not here. It was now beyond space categories. It was no longer an earthly body, but it was nevertheless no less a human body than it had been previously.

Given that Jesus no longer existed in a spatial way, there was no need for the stone to have been rolled away for him to exit. Yet, had it not been rolled away, the women would not have been able to enter (something they seemed not to have taken into account when they went to the tomb).

Peter went home wondering. More accurately, Peter “went away”. At least at this stage, Peter had no home in Jerusalem. Luke identified his response as amazement. What did that involve?

Luke’s Concern

Luke’s concern was to provide a firm basis for the catechesis already given to Theophilus. He was not writing to persuade or to convert non-believers.

Luke’s medium was narrative, not a scholarly essay. His concern was not, however, historical exactness. Luke wanted to make clear by means of story the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection, and to sensitise Theophilus to the presence, nature and activity of the risen Christ in the Christian community. The point of the appearance stories was not to prove Jesus’ resurrection. It would seem that he so crafted them as to help Theophilus verify his sense of the risen Christ - to confirm or to correct his own spiritual experience of the risen Christ (or his Spirit). Luke’s concern was to teach believing readers about the risen Christ: 

    • how he could be experienced, 
    • where he could be found, 
    • how resurrection was to be understood, 
    • what consequences resurrection had for present believers.

Faith would spring from encounter with the risen Christ. The issue is to encounter Christ. It would seem that others’ encounters with Christ are believed only by those who in some way have themselves experienced Christ, or the Spirit of Christ. It was probably thus with Luke and Theophilus, and also with today’s believers. Faith is a mysterious gift. It is never simply a logical conclusion.

Next >> Luke 24:13-35