Seeking the Living

In the Book of Job, chapter 14, Job is pondering the deeper things of life. He is asking the age old question in the face of pending or possible death?  Will a person, once dead, live again? (יִ֫חְיֶ֥ה cf. Job 14:14). The question has now been answered. The tomb is empty. The defining conviction of Christian hope is that because Jesus was raised from the dead, the grave is not the final reality of human experience. “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is risen.

1 But at daybreak on the first day of the week they took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb; 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were puzzling over this, behold, two men in dazzling garments appeared to them. 5 They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. They said to them, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? 6 He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day.” 8 And they remembered his words. 9 Then they returned from the tomb and announced all these things to the eleven and to all the others. 10 The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles, 11 but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them. (Luke 24:1-11)

The Resurrection of Jesus.  This is the starting point of the Christian faith.  From the earliest of Christian times, the conviction that Jesus was alive in a new, more powerful way was the basis of being able to confess “Jesus is Lord.”  Faith in Jesus was also tied to the experience of the Holy Spirit.  These two things went hand-in-hand. Thus faith was based on a continuing, transforming experience of transcendent power in communities, and not simply on the experience of a small group of people on Easter day.

The Complete Lucan Resurrection Narrative. The resurrection narrative in Luke consists of five sections:

  1. the women at the empty tomb (Luke 23:56b-24:12);
  2. the appearance to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35);
  3. the appearance to the disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:36-43);
  4. Jesus’ final instructions (Luke 24:44-49);
  5. the ascension (Luke 24:50-53).

In Luke, all the resurrection appearances take place in and around Jerusalem; moreover, they are all recounted as having taken place on Easter Sunday. A consistent theme throughout the narrative is that the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus were accomplished in fulfillment of Old Testament promises and of Jewish hopes (Luke 24:19a, 21, 26-27, 44, 46). In his second volume, Acts, Luke will argue that Christianity is the fulfillment of the hopes of Pharisaic Judaism and its logical development (see Acts 24:10-21).

The Account of the Empty Tomb. There are two basic themes of biblical resurrection narratives: (1) finding the empty tomb and (2) appearances of the risen Christ. The Lucan pericope only presents the empty tomb.  The appearance of the Risen Jesus is told when Jesus appears to the two on the road to Emmaus (24:13-35) and Jesus appears to the eleven at Jerusalem (24:36b-48).

A few highlights from Luke’s account of the empty tomb:

  • All the Lucan narrative occurs on the “first day.” Not only the finding of the empty tomb, but also the Emmaus story and the appearance to the eleven.  This is the first day of a new age, the day that Christians will set apart each week as a celebration of resurrection.
  • All the events are centered, not in Galilee, but in Jerusalem or its environs.
  • When the women arrive at the tomb, they find the stone having been rolled away. In Luke, there had been no mention of the stone before. One may rightly ask: “…why was the stone moved aside? Was it to let Jesus out or to let the women/witnesses in?”
  • In Luke the “two men in gleaming clothes” do not give a word of comfort as other gospels: “Do not be afraid. You are seeking Jesus [of Nazareth] who was crucified.” (cf. Mt 28:5 and Mk 16:6). Rather, they rebuke the women with their question: “Why are you seeking the living among the dead?”

At the beginning of the gospel (2:9) an angel of the Lord was suddenly standing alongside the shepherds to explain the significance of what had happened at Bethlehem; at the end the same divine assistance is supplied to explain the significance of Calvary and the events at the tomb. Fearful, as were the shepherds, the women bow to the ground

The women’s question – as well as the bringing of the spices – indicates that the women came looking for a body. They are seeking the dead – looking for a corpse. The two men, later called aggeloi (angels or messengers, v. 23), chide the women for coming and doing what was good and right and proper because they came looking for the dead. They didn’t come seeking the living. They hadn’t believed Jesus’ word about the resurrection (9:22, 44; 18:31-33).

Brought to recall Jesus prediction (v.8) the women move to action immediately. That Jesus lives is the heart of the Gospel, and the good news can never simply be received and kept


24:1 first day of the week: This is the day after the Sabbath on which they had rested.

took the spices they had prepared: It is part of the women’s devotion to Jesus. Malina and Rohrbaugh (Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels) write, first concerning Joseph (23:50-56): “In the Roman World, providing proper burial was one of the important obligations of contractual friendship. Throughout the Mediterranean world it was one of the strongest obligations of family members. That Joseph of Arimathea undertakes the obligation here indicates that he considered himself a member of Jesus’ surrogate family group” [p. 409]. Then, briefly concerning the women in our text: “Taking spices to a tomb is a gesture of family members” [p. 410].

24:2 the stone rolled away: Luke lacks all the more dramatic elements of the stone being rolled away (cf. Matt 28:2 and Mark 16:3).  Luke simply noted it already has been rolled away.

24:3 they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus: Only Luke specifically states this. In the other accounts an angel (Matthew) or a young man (Mark) informs the women that Jesus is not there.  Also Luke tells that the women entered the tomb to see for themselves, as does Peter later (24:12)

24:4 While they were puzzling over this: the verb aporeō denoted mental confusion. Note that the fact of the empty tomb does not itself lead to faith. It must be interpreted.

in dazzling garments: Luke does not identify the two witnesses but wants them to be understood as supernatural figures.  The adjective astraptō is the same description as the appearance of Jesus at the Transfiguration when he was in glory.  In that scene there are two men as well – Moses and Elijah. They spoke to Jesus about the exodos he was to fulfill in Jerusalem (9:30).  In strictly literary terms, it seems Luke wants us to make this connection.

24:5 He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee: The first portion is as it appears in Mark and Matthew. What is unique is the “Remember…” portion.  Rather than being told to tell Peter and disciples that Jesus has gone ahead to Galilee, the women are asked to remember what Jesus said during his public ministry (see v.7 – referring to 9:22)

24:9 returned …announced all these things: The women in this gospel do not flee from the tomb and tell no one, as in Mark 16:8 but return and tell the disciples about their experience in a way reminiscent of the shepherds responding to the angelic announcement of the Messiah’s birth.. The initial reaction to the testimony of the women is disbelief (Luke 24:11).

24:10 Mary Magdalene: According to Luke, a Mary called Magdalene was one of a large group of women who provided for Jesus and the Twelve out of their means (Luke 8:2). The group included some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities. One of these was Mary “from whom seven demons had gone out” (Luke 8:2; cf. Mark 16:9), an indication that because of her serious condition, an exorcism had been performed on her, most probably by Jesus himself. Mary was with the band of Galilean women who accompanied Jesus to Jerusalem, witnessed his crucifixion from a distance, observed the tomb with his body in position, went to the tomb with the burial spices which they had prepared, found the tomb empty, and experienced the startling appearance of two men in dazzling apparel (Luke 23:49, 55–56; 24:1–9). In the Lucan account, Mary is specifically identified as one of those who told the apostles about the Easter day events, only to have the report fall on deaf ears (Luke 24:10–11; cf. Mark 16:9–11).

Joanna: One of the female followers of Jesus during his earthly ministry listed with Mary Magdalene and Susanna in Luke 8:2–3. Joanna was one of the women who provided monetary or material aid out of their own pockets and efforts to help Jesus’ band of disciples. Later, Joanna was a witness to the empty tomb who reported what she saw to the apostles (Luke 24:10). Thus, her name is probably preserved because she was known to the post-Easter community as a witness to the life, death, and empty tomb of Jesus. That only Luke ever mentions Joanna may be because she was one of his sources for the uniquely Lucan material in his gospel.

Joanna is also notable because she was the wife of Chuza, one of Herod Antipas’ estate managers. Thus, she is an example of how the gospel affected people connected with the established authorities, people who were financially comfortable compared to most of the Galilean populace. We are led to believe that this rather prominent woman left her family and home to travel with Jesus and to provide assistance for his itinerant band of disciples. We may also see here an example of how the gospel breaks down class barriers and nullifies social taboos, for in the Jewish society of Jesus’ day women were not allowed to be disciples of a prominent Jewish teacher, much less to be part of his traveling entourage. In 1st-century Judaism, such behavior would have been considered scandalous for any woman but especially for a married woman. Thus, to some degree Jesus presents both a religious and a social threat to the structure of early Judaism, for he gave both men and women the opportunity to be full-fledged disciples.

Mary, mother of James: The mother of James and Joses. This Mary was one of the women who followed Jesus during his Galilean ministry and who witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion (Mark 15:40–41). Mark identifies her as the mother of James (the Little) and Joses (15:41), while Matthew calls her “the other Mary” (Matt 27:61), after first calling her the mother of James and Joses (Matt 27:56). Luke simply calls her the mother of James (24:10). It is difficult to know whether or not Mary the mother of James and Joses is to be identified with “Mary (the wife?) of Clopas” (see #5 below) mentioned as being at the cross in John 19:25, or even as the sister of Jesus’ mother Mary. The former suggestion is probably overly harmonistic, since we are told at Mark 15:41 that there were many other female followers of Jesus present and watching his crucifixion. The latter suggestion is doubtful since it would require that two daughters in the same family be called Mary, though such a practice was not unprecedented in early Judaism.

Mary was a traveling companion of Jesus’; in fact, the comment that she “served him” probably means she provided financial support for Jesus’ itinerant ministry. Mary accompanied Jesus on his last trip to Jerusalem (Mark 15:41), witnessed the burial of Jesus (Mark 15:47), and was involved with other women planning to wrap Jesus’ body with spices on Easter morning (Mark 16:1). Thus, she was one of the first witnesses of the empty tomb and the angelic message about the resurrection (Mark 16:2–7 = Matt 28:8; Luke 24:9–11). Matt 28:9–10 may also suggest that she saw the risen Lord.

24:11 their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them: The initial reaction to the testimony of the women is disbelief.


  • Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah (New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 1994) 2 Volumes
  • Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995)
  • Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997)
  • Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991)
  • Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Dianne Bergant and Robert J. Karris, (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989)
  • Leon Morris,. Luke: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Vol. 3: (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988)
  • Donald Senior, The Passion of Jesus Christ, an unpublished booklet
  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible

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