Updated: Apr 8, 2021
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Luke 24:1-12
The tomb of Jesus is empty, and that changes everything. What has it changed in your life? What should it change? Who else needs to hear this great news?
They went in but did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. Luke 24:3
We've Seen This Passage Before! We covered this exact passage last year. Now - since we didn't actually have Easter Sunday School last year thanks to COVID-19, you can approach this however you want. But I'm in a bit of a lurch because you can just read what I posted last year (and I really haven't changed my mind about anything since then):
Last year, I went with a "seeing-is-believing" and optical illusions opening topic because we were all looking at screens for Sunday School. This year, we might try something different:
Getting Started: Things to Think About
Open the discussion with a question like this: "What were the biggest headlines of 2020?" If it is indeed a year of infamy, what are we going to remember about it? Here are some of the biggest news stories of the year:
General Qasem Soleimani killed by a US drone strike
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle step down from royal status
New coronavirus emerges in Wuhan, China
Kobe Bryant and others killed in a helicopter crash
UK officially withdraws from the EU
Sports league (and the Olympics!) shutdowns
Deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history
Murder hornets in Washington state
George Floyd killed (and other stories like it, including Breonna Taylor)
SpaceX becomes first private company to launch a person into space
Rapid spread of the Black Lives Matter movement
Confederate statues begin to come down
Record-breaking fires on the west coast (and in Australia)
Massive explosion in Beirut
Chadwick Boseman dies of colon cancer
Amy Coney Barrett nominated to the Supreme Court
Record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season
And, oh yeah, a record-breaking presidential election
In a down year, any of those would have really stuck out. But in 2020, so much happened that I had forgotten that some of that was just in the past year! And of course there was much, much more. What other headlines do you remember from 2020?
(Another angle you could take with this -- go back in time a year and reflect on those headlines. Would you have believed that all of that would happen in the year to come?)
Here's where I'm going with this: how do you react to major headlines? The older I get, the more introspective I get about "record-breaking" and "first-in-history". It's clear that with each passing headline, the world will never be the same. But it's not always clear exactly how the world will change.
The most history-changing news was delivered 2,000 years ago when an angel told a woman that a certain tomb was empty. (The second-most history-changing news also came about 2,000 years ago when a different angel told a different woman that she was going to have a baby. Luke is absolutely brilliant in all the ways he framed his Gospel.) As important as all of the news we got in 2020 was, it is a tiny speck compared with the news of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Our Context in Luke
Again, we're taking passages out of order. Just like last week, the Lifeway outline jumps ahead in Luke so we can talk about the resurrection passage on Easter morning. Nothing wrong with that! But, it means that there's really not much sense in providing a lot of context that we're just going to go back through over the next two months. We all know that Jesus was executed by the Romans at the request of the Jewish leaders (and the mob they incited). And we all know that Jesus didn't stay dead -- that's the reason we're here! So, let's just tell the story again and really soak it in. After all, it's the most important topic we could ever discuss.
Here's the Gospel of John's movie version of these events (which is great):
And here's a longer chunk from Jesus of Nazareth (you can skip ahead to 1:23:38 to get to the events just related to Easter morning):
Special Focus: A Harmony of the Gospels
Last year, I did a short section "harmonizing" the different Gospel accounts of the Resurrection. I should have extra space this year, so why don't I go more into depth with that? If you aren't interested in these details, just skip the section.
Outline: Matthew Mark Luke John
Women visit the tomb 28:1-8 16:1-8 24:1-11 20:1-2
Peter and John see 24:12 20:3-10
Jesus and Mary Magdalene [16:9-11] 20:11-18
Jesus and the women 28:9-10
The guards report 28:11-15
Matthew: at dawn on Sunday, Mary Magdalene and another Mary go to the tomb. An angel had rolled away the stone and was sitting on it, and the guards were passed out. The angel told them to report the news to the disciples. On their way to see the disciples, the women met Jesus. But instead of reporting that encounter, Matthew reports what happened with the guards.
Mark: just after sunrise on Sunday, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices to anoint Jesus' body. They found the tomb open and went inside. A young man in white was inside the tomb and told them to tell the news to the disciples. They wander off, confused, and silent. [The "longer ending" mentions an appearance to Mary Magdalene.]
Luke: very early on Sunday, "the women" (Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others) brought the spices to the tomb. The found the tomb open and they went inside. Two men in bright white suddenly appeared and told them to tell the news to the disciples. The disciples did not believe them, but Peter ran and found the tomb empty.
John: before dawn on Sunday, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it open. She told Peter and John about it (note she says "we") who ran to the tomb and found it empty. After Peter and John returned to the others, Mary Magdalene saw two angels in white in the tomb. Then she saw Jesus, mistaking Him for a gardener. Finally, she went to the disciples with news of her encounter.
Matthew is the only one who mentions the guards, but that kind of makes sense. Being so focused on a Jewish audience, he would have been very keen on this false report that the disciples had stolen the body, so he would have wanted to include the details that explain where the false report came from. Otherwise, the "guards" literally contribute nothing to the event (being passed out and all), so the other authors could have ignored their presence.
Neither Matthew nor Mark actually take the story all the way to the report to the disciples. When we studied Mark's version back in 2019, we noted that Mark wanted to leave things somewhat ambiguous -- almost asking us how we would respond.
Mark says that the women bought spices before the Sabbath. Luke says that they bought spices after the Sabbath. They're both right! As the women were preparing the spices, they must have decided that they needed more.
How many angels were there and where were they? I've never really understood why this was an issue to skeptics. In the Bible, angels appear and disappear at will (you know, being angels). I can imagine myself going through this experience -- arriving at the tomb and seeing and hearing an angel outside, but being in such "a fog" that I wasn't really listening. I go in and see the angel again, saying the exact same thing to me, maybe even twice before I begin to catch on. There could be one angel, there could be a dozen angels -- I'm not sure it would substantially change the way I report my experience. At that point, it's up to the Gospel writer which details he wants to include.
What about Peter and John -- how do they fit in? To me, this is the only really confusing detail, and that's only because I have an "expectation" how a legal witness should give a statement and how it should be reported. So let me put everything into a single narrative:
Well before dawn on Sunday, a group of women (including but not limited to everyone named) purchased additional spices they would need to anoint Jesus' body. By the time they had carried the heavy spices to the tomb (which they knew exactly where it was because they had followed Joseph of Arimathea to it), the sun was beginning to appear. At the tomb, they found that the stone had been rolled away and the guards were lying comatose all around (note: it's possible that the guards had already gotten up, seen the tomb empty, and fled, but I think that others would have come to investigate). They saw an angel on the stone inviting them to look inside and report to good news to the other disciples. I believe that Mary Magdalene rushed off on her own to tell the disciples what she had seen and heard. The other women, somewhat in a daze, heard the same message repeated to them by an angel inside the tomb. They were very confused and afraid, and it took Jesus appearing to them to put them on the task of reporting to the disciples (I believe that Matthew downplayed their fear). In the meantime, Mary Magdalene arrived to tell the disciples. Peter and John outran Mary to the tomb where they found it empty and returned to the others. Mary, because she lingered, saw the angels and then Jesus, eventually reporting this to the others. It's possible that she arrived with her news at about the same time the rest of the women arrived with news of their encounter with Jesus.
Just remember -- a lot was going on that morning, and everyone was emotionally exhausted. Plus, the events themselves were bewildering and shocking. Turning these reports into a coherent rale that still kept the readers on task with what was most important -- Jesus Christ is alive! -- is an amazing accomplishment by these authors.
Part 1: Return (Luke 24:1-5a)
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. 3 They went in but did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men stood by them in dazzling clothes. 5 So the women were terrified and bowed down to the ground.
One of the commentaries I read pointed out how Luke paints these women as the only truly courageous people in Jerusalem. The Roman leaders were afraid of a mob. The Jewish leaders were afraid of Jesus taking their power. The disciples were afraid for their lives. Judas was a greedy ingrate. Only these women were bold enough to demonstrate their loyalty to Jesus right up to the very end. (Or the beginning, I might say.)
(This is not to say that the women understood Jesus better than the men! They went to the tomb fully expecting to find Jesus' dead body there. And if I'm willing to dig myself into that hole, I may as well point out that it's not like they had a plan for rolling away the stone. Let the gender wars be inflamed.)
See below for more on Jewish burial customs. The women were bringing more spices to anoint Jesus' body (Joseph and Nicodemus had already brought in 75 pounds of myrrh and aloe). Whatever they brought would have been expensive.
Go back a few verses and read Luke 23:50-56. That's where we learn of Joseph of Arimathea placing Jesus in a new tomb (Matt 27:59 tells us that it was Joseph's own tomb). Joseph (and Nicodemus) carefully wrapped Jesus' body and anointed it with oils before sealing the tomb with the heavy stone (Mark 15:46). John adds the detail that this tomb was in a garden (John 19:41), and Matthew adds the detail that a detachment of soldiers was present (Matt 27:66). The women were those who had followed Jesus from His time in Galilee; they followed behind and carefully observed everything that happened to Jesus' body.
An early tradition says that the stone would have required 20 men to remove. Even if that's an exaggeration, there's no doubt that it was a very heavy stone.
I want to call specific attention to the line "But they rested on the Sabbath". Wouldn't that have been the longest Sabbath ever! Many of you have told me stories about waiting -- waiting for lab results, waiting to hear about a job, waiting to see a loved one in the hospital. When you're waiting, your mind can take you to some dark places. I really can't imagine what that Sabbath would have been like for these women.
The scene at their arrival would have been very disorienting. I believe that they saw an angel on the stone and heard his invitation to view the tomb without really processing it. Luke describes them as being "perplexed", which is probably a gross understatement. And so the angels appeared to them again in the tomb which finally got their attention. (Btw, Luke 24:23 clarifies that these were angels and not human men.) The word describing the angels' appearance (sometimes "gleamed like lightning") was also used of Jesus at the transfiguration. We use the color "white" to describe it, but I think it's more like lightning.
We can look at pictures of lightning and see very clearly that sometimes it's more red, sometimes blue, and sometimes yellow (related to the temperature). But when it's right in front of you, your eyes can only process white because it's so bright. The more intense, the more your eyes get washed out. These women were dazzled, and their brains processed a white color.
If we put all of this together -- the emotional Sabbath, their general dismay about the future, the guards and the stone, and then what anyone would have concluded to be an angel appearance -- the women did what we all would have done: they dropped to the ground in terror.
If you want to do a quick exercise, look up the different times Luke described angels appearing to people and how the people reacted.
Aside on Jewish Burial Practices
Jews typically buried their dead as quickly as possible (partly because touching a corpse rendered someone ritually unclean). We actually don't have a full description of an ancient Jewish burial in the Bible. The most we have is John 19:40's vague "according to Jewish burial customs" about wrapping the body and anointing it with myrrh and aloe. That would have been purely to keep the smell down, and it would have slowed the decomposition process (Jews did not practice embalming). We know that Lazarus' body was wrapped in cloth, that Jesus' body was wrapped in cloth and anointed with spices, and that Tabitha's body was washed. We don't know if this post-burial anointing the women were coming to do was traditional or just something unique to this very unique circumstance.
The idea of a "family tomb" goes all the way back to Abraham and Sarah (the cave of Machpelah). The dead were buried in caves. After a year, their bodies would be placed in an ossuary ("bone box") to make room for later bodies. The Kidron Valley outside of Jerusalem city is covered with such cave/tombs (note that Joseph of Arimathea's tomb is traditionally located on the other side of the city).
Jesus was not treated with any of the traditional burial rites -- a procession, visible mourning, loud weeping. Had it not been for Joseph's "borrowed tomb" and his boldness to go to Pilate on Jesus' behalf, the Romans would have dumped Jesus' body into a mass grave they had for criminals.
As it turns out, being placed in Joseph's unused tomb was a high honor. The main reason to point out that it had never been used before was so no one could claim that another person's remains belonged to Jesus. (Plus, if Jesus' resurrection brought other people out of their graves, what would that "ripple of life energy" have done to the body in the same tomb?)
Part 2: Remember (Luke 24:5b-7)
“Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” asked the men. 6 “He is not here, but he has risen! Remember how he spoke to you when he was still in Galilee, 7 saying, ‘It is necessary that the Son of Man be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’?”
Is this not the greatest question in the Bible? If not the greatest paragraph? There are a bunch of choices, but which line would you put as better than this? (You didn't think we were going to rank Bible verses today, did you?)
The angels talked some sense into the women (and later the women would talk some sense into the men). And the biggest takeaway from what the angels said is that Jesus had already told them everything that would happen! Last year, I described this experience as the women's lightbulb moment. They should have known. They should have not been surprised by what happened. They should have not doubted. But they did! And we would have, too. All of the warnings from Jesus, even raising Lazarus from the dead to make it clear that death doesn't have to be permanent, none of that can override the basic human reaction that death is the end. No matter how many miracles they saw, the human tendency to doubt is very strong. (As a side question, what doubts do you have about God's power or plan? What can the women's experience on Easter morning teach you?)
Their big statement is that everything that happened was necessary. Here's a great thought exercise for you: why was it all necessary? Note that the angels specifically mention the betrayal, the crucifixion, and the resurrection (on the third day). Why were those things "necessary"? You've got two big categories to consider: prophecy, and theology. What are all of the Old Testament prophecies mentioned in the Gospels related to the death of the Messiah? And also, what is the theology behind salvation? In other words, why was Jesus' death necessary for our salvation? We've talked about both of the these topics quite a bit when going through Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and all of those old lessons are available on our website:
Part 3: Report (Luke 24:8-12)
8 And they remembered his words. 9 Returning from the tomb, they reported all these things to the Eleven and to all the rest. 10 Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them were telling the apostles these things. 11 But these words seemed like nonsense to them, and they did not believe the women. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. When he stooped to look in, he saw only the linen cloths. So he went away, amazed at what had happened.
We've pointed out time and time again how the Gospel writers did not lionize the disciples. There was no hero-worship going on. The disciples routinely got things wrong, and the authors made that clear.
But sometimes the authors seem to be gracious with their subjects, and this is one of those times. According to Matthew, the women were afraid yet joyful, and they ran straight to the disciples to tell them the news. But according to Mark, the women went away from the tomb confused and frightened, and they didn't tell anyone. I think Mark's report is the most accurate (in part because it's the most unflattering). It took time for the followers of Jesus to process the events and what they meant. And I think it also took Jesus appearing to them! Think about the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35 -- we will cover that passage at the end of May!), and "doubting" Thomas (John 24:20-29). It took Jesus Himself finally driving the doubt away.
So, yes, the women eventually remembered Jesus' words, but I think it took time. Goodness, look at the men's reaction in verse 11: they didn't believe the news!
Luke identifies the women as Mary Magdalene (Luke only otherwise mentions here in 8:2 as someone Jesus cast 7 demons out of; you might remember I do not believe this is the sinful woman from Luke 7), Joanna (also in 8:2 -- the wife of Herod's steward!), and Mary the mother of James (according to Mark 15:40, this was the "other" James, the disciple often called "James the Lesser"). And there were additional women, including one named Salome, who is only mentioned by Mark. According to Luke 8:3, these women provided for Jesus' needs out of their own pockets. Mentioning all of this was very important. These women followed Jesus at a cost. Yes, the apostles had given up "everything" to follow Jesus, but they still had people taking care of their needs -- namely this group of women and those the women influenced.
Peter (and also John) decided at least to check out the women's story. It would be easy to verify the basic facts. Judging from Peter's reaction, he was still surprised to find the tomb empty. The details here are helpful -- under no circumstances would a grave-robber have taken a body but left the cloths, so something very abnormal happened to the body.
(Pointless aside: where did Jesus get His clothes from? He wouldn't have overlooked this (He didn't overlook anything), like people who forget to take a towel to the shower. Sure, He could have just zapped some clothes into existence, but what if He prearranged something with a brave follower, like the donkey owner or the upper room owner? Isn't that a great visual -- someone walking to the garden with a bag of clothes and waiting for the angel to roll away the stone? I love that idea. Not everyone is cut out to be an Apostle, but there are so many other thankless but invaluable jobs in the kingdom.)
So here's my big discussion question for these verses. For this to work, you have to be willing to think hypothetically. What is something that, if it turned out to be true, would fundamentally change your perspective on things?
I know, that's a weird question. Here's my personal answer (if this helps explain the question): intelligent alien life. I do not believe aliens exist, and that's largely because I don't see how they fit into God's plan for the universe, which is very human-centric (Jesus came to save humans, right?) So, if aliens visited the planet, it would force me to rethink how I have interpreted that part of the Bible (and a lot of other things).
There are plenty of things that we have discovered to be true that rocked people's worlds. For example, in the Middle Ages, it was the fact that the Earth orbited around the sun. That really forced a lot of soul-searching. Or what about in the 1800s when Louis Pasteur discovered that diseases were carried by microorganisms? That fundamentally changed medicine and hygiene. What about for you today? What it something that, if it turned out to be true, would force you to rethink a lot of things?
There is no fact more life-altering than the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. When you realize that it's true -- really understand what it means -- it changes your life. You cannot view anything the same ever again.
If you've grown up around the truths of the Bible, you might not appreciate that. You might have to just imagine what life would be like believing that Jesus is just another guy who died a long time ago. And if you can get yourself to that place, you can also imagine how hard it would then be to believe that some guy rose from the dead (and ascended into heaven??!). (That's why some Christians put so much work into Christian apologetics -- defending these truths to skeptics. I've mentioned The Case for Easter by Lee Strobel as a great, quick little reference guide for the topic.)
So here's your closing topic: knowing that Jesus is alive, what changes?
Jesus said that His resurrection would validate everything He said (John 2:19) -- but what does that mean? If you need to take some time these next few days reading and thinking about things Jesus said, I can't think of a better way to spend the Easter season. Here are some general areas to guide your reading:
It validates who Jesus said He is.
It models the depth of how Jesus can change us.
It proves that life will defeat death.
Do you know Jesus and the power of His resurrection? It is available for you. All you have to do is come to Jesus in faith, to believe that God did indeed raise Jesus from the dead in triumph over sin and the grave, to confess your need for Jesus to forgive you of everything you've done that separates you from God, and to follow Him as your Savior and Lord.
Aside on Resurrection Proof
I haven't put all of the Matthew lessons up yet, but I did put the Easter lesson up:
In that article, I include a summary of Strobel's argument in The Case for Easter.
Also, you can review the Mark Easter lesson:
That article has a summary of my answer to the above question, "Why is the resurrection so life-changing?"
Here's a closing thought that has nothing to do with this Easter lesson. You might remember that I had included a Ravi Zacharias video lecture about the resurrection in last year's Easter lesson. It's gone now. That's because after Zacharias died this past year, a series of sexual sins, coverups, and unrepentance came to light.
Here is the very difficult question: why remove his video when every book and video I've posted in my articles has been created by a sinner? It's not like the facts he reported in that video were incorrect. And why censor him but not, say, songs from Sovereign Grace Ministries which has also been caught up in a sexual abuse coverup? That's difficult and uncomfortable, but we can't ignore the topic. All I can tell you is how I have personally approached questions like this. In the case of those songs, the songwriters were never connected with the terrible things that went on. But Zacharias was directly responsible for his own sin. Indeed, he was covering up his sin until the very end of his life. I'm grateful for what I learned from him, but I'm brokenhearted over his sin.
There's no good way to acknowledge or cope with terrible things done by Christians we have looked up to. But we also can't ignore them. Good Friday/Easter Sunday happened because we are all sinners. And because Jesus died for our sins, we have the chance to repent of them and be restored in our relationship to God. When Christian leaders/personalities are unrepentant in their sin, I believe that very clearly makes them ineffective messengers of the good news of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. We follow Jesus Christ, not Ravi Zacharias (or anyone else).
We thank God that Jesus rising from the dead means that our sins are forgiven and we can be made right with God. But we are to take those sins seriously. They put Jesus on a cross.