Chapter 20:10-18 (ESV) - Then the disciples went back to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
Question to consider: What are some examples of humiliating admissions by John in this gospel account?
John doesn’t say why the disciples went back to their homes or why Mary chose to hang around, but all were grieving and nearing despair. Ordinarily, the Romans let criminals rot on the cross where they became food for the birds and other animals. The religious leaders didn’t want Jews remaining on crosses for people to see as they entered Jerusalem for the Passover Sabbath so they convinced Pilate to have the soldiers facilitate their death and remove them. Joseph of Arimathea convinced Pilate to let him have the body of Jesus. Once they had Jesus’ body, they could at least be content that the indignity and humiliation had ended, and they could give Him a respectful burial. The thought that someone would take His body and subject Him to further humiliation was a cruel blow.
According to Matthew, the soldiers spread the idea that the disciples had stolen the body in the middle of the night while the guards slept. The very notion seemed ridiculous. Roman guards who fell asleep on their watch received severe consequences. A Roman guard consisted of four soldiers so with two guards, there were eight men surrounding the tomb. Even if all eight soldiers were sound asleep, the disciples could not have broken the Roman seal and rolled away a stone weighing hundreds of pounds without waking someone.
It is also worth noting that Jesus first appearing to Mary Magdalene helps to reinforce John’s testimony. In John’s account, he has admitted several things that would have been embarrassing to admit: the first one to receive the direct revelation from Jesus that He was the Messiah was a woman by a well in Samaria, Jesus unapologetically preached to a crowd of people that they needed to eat His flesh and drink His blood to have life, a group of women were willing to risk their lives to be with Jesus at the cross even though the disciples fled, the disciples didn’t recognize that Judas was a traitor until after he betrayed Christ, and the first one to see Him raised from the dead was a woman and not the disciples. I am sure you could come up with some other examples, but the point is that when people make up stories, they tend to avoid details that make them look foolish. The only reason the soldiers were willing to lie about what happened at the tomb was because they received money from the priests along with the reassurance that they would not be punished by Pilate.
People may want to treat the whole thing as myth, but they have to somehow deal with the historical Jesus because we have manuscript evidence from ones like Iranaeus who was a disciple of Polycarp— a disciple of the apostle John.
Dear Lord, thank You for ministering to Mary in the garden and revealing Yourself to those who lost faith in You, denied knowing You and abandoned You. Please give us the reassurance of our faith and the discernment to honestly seek after You. Amen.