The Resurrection of Jesus

24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

What to do with this educator’s commentary

This commentary invites you as a teacher to engage with and interpret the passage. Allow the text to speak first. The commentary suggests that you ask yourself various questions that will aid your interpretation. They will help you answer for yourself the question in the last words of the text: ‘what does this mean?’

This educator’s commentary is not a ‘finished package’. It is for your engagement with the text. You then go on to plan how you enable your students to work with the text.

Both you and your students are the agents of interpretation. The ‘Worlds of the Text’ offer a structure, a conversation between the worlds of the author and the setting of the text; the world of the text; and the world of reader. In your personal reflection and in your teaching all three worlds should be integrated as they rely on each other.

In your teaching you are encouraged to ask your students to engage with the text in a dialogical way, to explore and interpret it, to share their own interpretation and to listen to that of others before they engage with the way the text might relate to a topic or unit of work being studied.

Structure of the commentary:

The world behind the text

The world of the author’s community

The world at the time of the text

Geography of the text

Questions for the teacher

The world of the text

Text & textual features

Characters & setting

Ideas / phrases / concepts

Questions for the teacher

The world in front of the text

Questions for the teacher

Meaning for today / challenges

Church interpretations & usage

The World Behind the Text

See general introduction to Luke.

The World of the Text

Text and Textual features

This Gospel text is structured as a narrative of events on the early morning two days after the crucifixion of Jesus. As such is it is not intended to prove Jesus’ resurrection, but is a catechetical account for believers. Luke, like all Gospel writers, has written not to detail a report but to show what the life of Jesus has meant and can mean: his purpose in this passage is to make his community aware of the presence of the risen Christ in their midst, and that faith springs from an encounter with the risen Lord. 

This account does not describe how the resurrection took place, rather it is focused on the experience of the disciples who encounter the reality of an empty tomb, and emphasises the fulfilment of prophecy, the witness of the women involved, and the initial disbelief of the apostles. It is essentially concerned with faith as a mysterious gift contrary to logic and human expectation.

Characters and Setting

  • The central figures are a group of women with the number not given and they are un-named in the beginning. They are the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, and three of them are named after they relay news of their experience to others; Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James.
  • Two messengers are described as ‘men in dazzling clothes’, signifying them as angels. This description is similar to that used of Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration. They appear briefly to announce that Jesus had been raised, and to bring the women from grief and confusion to joy.
  • Peter and other un-named disciples receive the news of resurrection and do not believe the women. Peter nonetheless runs to the tomb to see for himself, before returning home amazed.

It is before first light on the morning after the Sabbath, two days after Jesus was crucified. The disciples are still in Jerusalem and the women leave to anoint Jesus with the spices they had prepared, according to the burial practices of the time. It is unclear why this was not completed when he was placed in the tomb, though it may have simply been they did not have the time or resources to do so. Anointing Jesus’ body would be one last act of love and respect for him.

Unexpectedly, they find the stone rolled away and the body of Jesus is not there and, instead, they see two men in dazzling clothes. Luke describes the reaction of the woman as terror such that they bow their faces to the ground – is this the shock, horror, disappointment, fear of the unexpected? It is likely Luke speaks of two men as the law of Deuteronomy requires at least two witnesses for valid testimony. The angels remind the women of words that Jesus had earlier told them on their way to Jerusalem. The empty tomb is not to be their focus, rather they are told go away from this place of death and look for life elsewhere.

The women remember and understand. They go to tell others but are not believed. Luke is the only one to include Peter’s role. It is likely to address two possible rumours that may have been an issue at the time of writing: those in a Roman world would not consider the witness of women as substantive or reliable, so Peter provides reassurance; some may have feared the work of grave robbers who had taken the body of Jesus.

Questions for the teacher:

What am I wondering about the text?
What of this information is important to share with the students?
How can you enable your students to engage with the actual text?
What might they already know about (from their study of literacy)?
What might they wonder about?

World in Front of the Text

Questions for the teacher:

How does the information assist you in understanding the text?
What else do you need to know?
How might Matthew’s community have reacted to this text?
What else might the students need to know? What could be some questions the students might ask?

Meaning for today/challenges

  • The various Gospel stories of the resurrection are foundational texts for Christianity, affirming the integrity and meaning of Jesus’ ministry and, that despite the approaching trauma, abandonment, and agony that Jesus experiences following his arrest, he continued to trust completely in God. As a result of this trust and integrity he is transformed into his glory and provides the perfect exempla for Christians called to also trust in God.

The accounts of the resurrection provide two challenges. 

  1. Misunderstanding of the nature of the writing.
    The Gospel writers write to show their belief that knowing Jesus as divine can make a difference. This insight has come to them years after the event – modelled and lived in those before them who have thought likewise. Attention to the difference in resurrection accounts does not make them hard to believe, it demonstrates the nature of belief – that personal experience can make the impossible seem possible. As readers and teachers of the Bible we must be attentive to the way each Gospel writer has curated what has come to them. 
  2. Attached to this literary misunderstanding is the reality of a world which mistrusts miraculous events. Cynicism and doubt seek belief which is provable… and the knowledge of human experience is often the victim. The Gospel story that follows this passage affirms Jesus was raised by God as a human person but to a level of existence different to that prior to his crucifixion. Believers and non-believers alike are all challenged by this. 

The role played by Mary Magdalene and the other women affirms them as the first witnesses and proclaimers of the risen Lord, and challenges how history has dealt with Mary and the place of women within Jesus’ life and work.

Church interpretation and usage

The resurrection of Jesus into glory after his crucifixion is at the heart of Christian faith. As John McKinnon affirms, 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 in the power of God.”

John McKinnon (2006). Together Towards Jerusalem, Horsham: J McKinnon. 213.

All else that Jesus is recorded as saying and doing makes much more sense in light of what was to happen to him. 

It is evident they believed much more than what Maurice Ryan describes as Jesus being:

“merely an enduring, kindly presence among their communities, or that [only] the truth that he proclaimed persisted in some intense way, [if they did] then they had the capacity to say as much.”

Maurice Ryan. Jesus and the Gospels, Hamilton: Lumino Press, 2012. 278.

Instead, from earliest times, whilst they did not seek to describe how he was raised, they proclaimed belief that Jesus had been raised from death by God and, in turn, those who heard this also came to believe this. Christians anticipate that a similar fate is available for humanity – following the path of the most perfect human being.

Liturgical usage

The Gospel passage is read during Year C of the liturgical cycle during the Easter Vigil.

There are numerous other readings during the Vigil from Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, Baruch, Ezekiel and Psalms. The New Testament reading prior to the Gospel is from the Letter to the Romans (6:3-11) – Jesus has been raised and will never die again.