Easter 2022: Women and the Empty Tomb of Jesus

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Think about the situation from the perspective of the disciple of Jesus of Nazareth that first Easter Sunday morning. Their leader was dead, He was killed on a Roman cross at the behest of the Jewish religious leadership. Jesus spoke to those disciples in such a way that they believed He was going to lead a great movement which would be important for the whole world. There had been revolutionary movements before, but the one led by Jesus seemed different.

But now, Jesus was dead. Those disciples were left to think about their own futures and their lives.

Women followers of Jesus traveled the streets of Jerusalem and the surrounding area that first day of the week on a mission. There was one more duty, one more act of devotion that could be done. They carried spices and other materials with which to anoint the dead body of their master and teacher. The central topic of their discussion was how they were going to get past the heavy stone which had been put in place and sealed in front of the tomb of Jesus.

When they reached the tomb, they found the work had already been done for them. The frightened and distraught women received a message from a young man they take to be an angel that Jesus had risen from the dead. They were told to go and tell the disciples about the resurrection.

All four of the Gospel accounts speak about women who went to the tomb of Jesus and found it empty on that first Easter morning. It marks the first group of people that heard the fantastic news that Jesus was not dead. This is significant for a number of reasons.

First, they had seen where Jesus’s body had been laid by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Matthew 27:61 and Luke 23:55-56 both report that a group of women followers of Jesus travelled in the funeral procession hastily arranged by Joseph of Arimathea after he and Nicodemus prepared Jesus’s body for burial. Contrary to later critics who said they went to the wrong tomb, they saw where Jesus was buried and easily went to the correct tomb on their mission to anoint His body.

Second, in that culture, the testimony of women was not highly regarded. The set of teachings and commentaries on the Torah, called the Talmud speaks to the validity of the testimony of women,

“Any evidence which a woman (gives) is not valid (to offer), also they are not valid to offer. This is equivalent to saying that one who is Rabbinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a woman” (Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 1.8)

Also, the first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus speaks to the view of women in that society,

“But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex…” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 4.8.15)

In Luke 24:10-11, the disciple’s reaction to the testimony of the women was to not believe them and to regard their statements as “nonsense.”

Third, the principle of embarrassing events allows us to infer that the accounts are authentic. The inclusion of women in the Resurrection accounts and especially making them the first witnesses is an embarrassing detail. Historians inform us that if you are willing to tell embarrassing details about an event, that event is more likely to be valid.

It is inconceivable that first century men would make up an account of Jesus’s Resurrection and using women in the account. If they were creating a story, they would have made themselves the heroes instead of the women. However, they risked embarrassment in a society that dismissed the word of women to include them in the account.

The testimony of the women to the empty tomb of Jesus, being the first people commissioned and sent to carry the message of the Resurrection is one more out of many factors that lead us to believe that the Resurrection is an actual historical event.

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