Angelic Encounters at the Empty Tomb

Angelic encounters at the empty tomb of Jesus of Nazareth – were there two angels posing a conflict in the Gospels? Why two angels? What did they look like?

Setting the scene, by Jewish day-reckoning the Saturday Sabbath began at sunset on Friday evening. Earlier that afternoon, Jesus of Nazareth had been executed by crucifixion requiring a hasty burial before Jewish Sabbath Law restricted various activities.

Sabbath formally ended Saturday at sunset. With the Sabbath restrictions no longer a factor, this is where the chronicle of the Resurrection of Jesus begins. The three synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – join the storyline at different points.

Mark’s account establishes the earliest timeline point identifying Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the James, and Salome purchasing burial spices as soon as the Sabbath ended Saturday night.[1] The women worried about how they would move the stone from the entrance clearly not aware the tomb was sealed and guarded.

Matthew’s account sets the scene at the tomb as sunrise approached Sunday morning. The joint armed Roman-Jewish koustodia, established by the command of Pilate at the request of the Jewish council, were on-duty guarding the tomb to prevent the theft of the body. Arriving at the tomb were the two Marys, Salome, Joanna and other unnamed women.[2]

Suddenly a great earthquake struck when the women witnessed an angel rolling away the stone from the entrance to the tomb. Matthew described the angel:

MT 28:2-3 “And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow.” (NKJV)

At this point Mark and Luke join the storyline at the tomb with each describing differently, though consistently, the physical attire of the angels:

MK 16:5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side…” (NKJV)

LK 24:4 “… behold, two men stood by them in shining garments.” (NKJV)

Luke unambiguously says there were two angels, while both Matthew and Mark only refer to one angel. Is there a conflict? Factoring in the details of each account into the entire scenario is revealing. Keep in mind, Luke’ investigative report was written after Matthew and Mark wrote their accounts.[3]

Matthew says that after an angel rolled away the large stone, he did a curious and unusual thing – he sat on it. Not standing or hovering in the air like the stereotypical image of an angel; instead, in dazzling array there he sat, perhaps with his legs draped over the side. Unnecessary and unexpected information, yet personifying and specific detail adding authentic realism.

Mark describes the angel inside the tomb specifically on the right side also sitting, not standing. Logically, this angel cannot be the same one sitting outside on the rolled-away stone. Such descriptive details are typically absent from a deceptive statement. Their body language indicates they were relaxed and inviting in demeanor.

As one angel sat on the tomb’s entrance stone, he spoke to the women inviting them to go inside the tomb:

MT 28:5-6  “”Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.”(NASB)

At the angel’s invitation, at least some of the women entered the tomb. Inside, Mark describes the second angelic encounter who also spoke to the women, his message similar to the first:

MK 16:5-6 “Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.’””(NASB)

Pointing out where the dead body of Jesus of Nazareth had lain on the stone slab was to the very witnesses – the two Marys, Salome and perhaps other unnamed women – who had on Friday watched Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus preparing the body for burial on that same spot.[4] Had the angel’s statement been untrue, the women would be expected to refute it and the angel’s message would have been suspect. They didn’t.

Witness statements to the same event are expected to vary and, as long as they are consistent on key information, it is a hallmark of authenticity and credibility. On the other hand, if two or more statements are very nearly or exactly the same, it is a strong indication of deception.

Evaluating witness statements requires investigators to consider the key facts, information, perspective, sequence of events, etc. and then, if possible during an actual interview, probe deeper. Interviews not being possible, the statements then must be evaluated based on their own merit as compared to other statements and evidence.

All three Gospels’ descriptions vary, yet they are all tightly consistent on the main details – there were two angelic beings, they spoke to the women, the tomb was empty, the body of Jesus was gone, and the angels announced Jesus is alive just as he had predicted.

Corroborating information is provided by the eyewitness John. His personal knowledge begins when the terrified women burst into the room of mourning Disciples announcing the empty tomb. John and Peter raced to see it for themselves.[5] Also arriving back at the tomb was Mary Magdalene and other women.[6] Marveling at finding the tomb empty except the burial cloths used to wrap the body, John and Peter decided to go home leaving the women behind.

Standing outside the tomb crying, Mary stooped and looked back inside where she saw two angels who spoke to her, this time she responded:

JN 20:12-13 “And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”(NKJV)

John was not there although his source, by all indications Mary Magdalene herself, consistently described the two angels dressed in white sitting on each end of the stone slab.[7] Mary Magdalene’s reaction, or lack of one, to the supernatural beings indicates familiarity. Unlike the first encounter, this time she is not alarmed and she spoke to them.

One other validation, though one not called out by the Gospels, is a Jewish legal fact that, if not in met, could diminish the credibility of the Resurrection event. God’s Law required two witnesses to corroborate the same point of evidence to establish a fact…two angels were witnesses at the Resurrection scene of Jesus of Nazareth.[8]

Longstanding investigative principals to decipher credible and truthful statements from deceptive ones through the use of literary analysis and other evidence, all point in one direction. Were there actually two angels at the empty tomb who witnessed the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth?

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[1] Mark 16.
[2] Luke 24.
[3] Kirby, Peter. “Gospel of Luke.” 2019. <>  “The Book of Luke.” . Quartz Hill School of Theology.  n.d.  <>
[4] Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23.  Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.1883. Book 5, Chapter XV. pp 1419-1420. <>
[5] John 20.
[6] Luke 24; John 20.
[7] Shanks, Hershel.  “Crucifixion Bone Fragment, 21 CE” The Center for Online Judaic Studies. 2004.  <>   Romey, Kristin. “Unsealing of Christ’s Reputed Tomb Turns Up New Revelations.” National Geographic. 2016. <>
[8] Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15; Numbers 35:30.  Soncino Babylonian Talmud.Sanhedrin. 9a; 30a; 56a, footnote #1. <>  Resnicoff, Steven H. “Criminal Confessions in Jewish Law .“ Project Genesis. 2007.  <>

The Bewilderment of Mary Magdalene

Women of Galilee – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, Salome and “the other women” – ran from the empty tomb terrified by their encounter with the angels, breathlessly arriving at the location of the mourning disciples.[1] Mary Magdalene blurted out:

JN 20:2 “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (NIV, NET)

Faced with the group of excited women saying the body of Jesus had been taken was… dumbfounding to the Disciples. The tomb secured behind a large stone held the mutilated, decomposing body of Jesus, tightly bound in linens with 75 pounds of spices – who would want it?

LK 24:11 “But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.”(NASB)[2]

Romans certainly didn’t want a crucified body which they typically discarded unburied, according to Josephus.[3] The Jewish council undoubtedly didn’t want to lend any credence to Jesus predicting he would rise from the dead. Furthermore, a body snatching would have broken several Jewish Laws with at least a 7-day defilement consequence.[4] Maybe the Disciples knew of the armed Roman-Jewish koustodia guarding the sealed tomb, too.

A credible eyewitness statement, as opposed to an investigative report, is expected to begin at the point when the witness becomes personally involved in the sequence of events. John’s personal involvement that Sunday morning began when the women burst into the room with their frantic news.

John quoted Mary Magdalene using the Greek word airo meaning “to lift up,” translated into English as “have taken” in the context of the body had been taken by someone.[5] Reports by Matthew, Mark and Luke recount the angels’ actual message using the Greek word egeiro translated into English as “has been raised,” “has risen” or “is risen”:  [6]

MT 28:6 “He is not here; for he has been raised [egeiro]”(NET, NLT, NRSV)

MK 16:6 “He has risen [egeiro]; He is not here.”(NASB, NIV)

LK 24:6 “He is not here, but is risen! [egeiro]”(NKJV)

Mary Magdalene did not relay the same message the angels had given to the women! Compounding the Disciples’ confusion, use of the plural pronoun “we” indicates she was still with the other women who did not dispute Mary’s assessment when she said “they have taken” his body.

How did the message get twisted? Mary Magdalene’s exclamation indicates her state of mind trying to reconcile what she had just experienced at the tomb with what she knew to be true – Jesus was dead, his body was missing and she didn’t know where it was.

Two Greek words, egeiro and airo, have similar meanings; the first being the movement action of a person and the second being the movement action of an inanimate object. Distinctions can be seen when both words were used together in a sentence by Jesus after he had performed a miracle. His words were reported by three different authors, one being the eyewitness John:

MT 9:6 “…He said to the paralytic, “Arise [egeiro], take up [airo] your bed, and go to your house.””(NKJV)

MK 2:11 “”I say to you, arise [egeiro], take up [airo] your bed, and go to your house.””(NKJV)

JN 5:8 “Jesus said to him, “Rise [egeiro], take up [airo] your bed and walk.””(NKJV)

Miraculously healed, the paralytic – the person – rose [egeiro] on his own power without assistance and took up [airo] his bed, an inanimate object, with him. Applying these word usage definitions to the statements in both scenarios brings clarity to the contexts. The angels’ message at the tomb said Jesus rose [egeiro] under his own power without any assistance – impossible for a dead man to do. In Mary Magdalene’s exclamation, she thought the inanimate body of Jesus had been “take[n] up” [airo] in the context of being “picked up” by a person or persons unknown who took it away.

Mentally processing their thoughts, suddenly a light bulb moment struck Peter and John at about the same time.[7] They raced to the tomb, John arriving first and paused while Peter charged straight inside.[8]

Mary Magdalene, still distraught over the death of Jesus and his missing body, followed John and Peter to the tomb along with others.[9] With the empty tomb containing only the burial linens, Peter and John marveled at what they had seen, then went home. Mary stayed behind weeping, still trying to make sense of what had happened.

In Jewish culture, she would not have been left completely alone. Over the past 3 days, Mary Magdalene had always been accompanied by her women friends from Galilee. The eyewitness account by Cleopas confirmed there were other women at the empty tomb:

LK 24:24 “Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said…”(NET, NRSV)

Looking back inside the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene once again saw angels who were seated on each end of the place where the body of Jesus had lain, just as she had witnessed late Friday afternoon when it was being prepared with burial spices by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.[10] The angels seemed perplexed as to why Mary was distraught asking her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”[11]

In her second angelic encounter that same morning, Mary Magdalene this time spoke to them. She answered theif question by repeating what she had told the Disciples still using the word airo:

JN 20:13 “They have taken [airo] my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!”(NET, NIV)

Mary’s use of “they” referring to persons not present indicates she did not think it was the angels who took the body. Using the singular personal pronoun “I,” she is now speaking only for herself, not the other women.

Another voice asked Mary why she was crying. Believing this new voice to be the gardener of the tombs, her demeanor intensified. Maybe, she thought, he might be the person responsible for carrying away (bastazo – to lift up) the body. Her imploring response was direct:[12]

JN 20:15 “”Sir, if You have carried (bastazo) Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take (airo) Him away.””(NJKV))[13]

“Mary!” – he called her by name. Not expecting this stranger to know her name and saying it in a familiar way that she immediately recognized, it snapped her to attention. Seeing Jesus, Mary cried out, “Rabboni!” meaning “my master, my teacher.”[14] Her excited utterance was a before and after death recognition of Jesus of Nazareth.

Overwhelmed with joy, Mary wanted to hug Jesus, but he told her to wait because he had not yet ascended “to My Father.”[15] Did Mary believe she was speaking to the same personage of Jesus whom she had known before he was crucified and buried?

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NET = NET Bible translation; NASB = New American Standard Version; NIV = New International Version; NKJV = New King James Version translation; NLT = New Living Translation; NRSV = New Revised Standard Version.

[1] Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24.
[2] CR Mark 16.
[3] Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850.  Book IV, Chapter V.2. <>
[4] Exodus 23, 31; Leviticus 23, Numbers 19. Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  “Shabbath.” The Babylonian Talmud. Trans. Rodkinson. Book 1, Sabbath, Chapter I; Book 2, Tract Erubin; Book 3, Tract Pesachim, Book 3, Chapter IV.   “Shabbat” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <> “Festivals.” Jewish Encyclopedia.
[5] Greek text. Strong. “airo” <142The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.  <>
[6] Matthew 28:11. Greek text. “egeiro” <1453>” <>
[7] Mark 9; Luke 18.
[8] Luke 24; John 20.
[9] John 20.  CR Luke 24.
[10] Matthew 27; Mark 15; John 3, 7, 19.
[11] John 20.  NET.
[12] Greek text. “bastazo <941>.”  <>
[13] NKJV.
[14] John 20:16.  NASB, NIV. Greek text. “rhabboni <4462>” and “didaskalos <1320>.  CR Matthew 23:8.
[15] John 20. CR Matthew 28.

Passover and the Gospels – Are They In Sync?

Moses defied Pharaoh some 3500 years ago in Egypt ending with the 10th plague, death of the firstborn.[1] Hebrews were spared when the angel of death passed over their homes bearing the blood of the sacrificial lambs over their doorposts.

God declared His act of salvation was to be observed annually by the Hebrews to “sacrifice the Passover to the LORD your God “in the place where the LORD chooses to establish His name.”[2] Strict requirements appear in books of the Law of Moses – Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.[3]

Gospels detail the final days of Jesus of Nazareth surrounding his  trial, execution and resurrection where the setting is the annual Passover observance in Jerusalem. Interwoven throughout are 21 references to the Passover by name and 6 references to either “the feast” or “the festival.” Are the Gospel accounts consistent with Jewish legal requirements? Not everyone agrees.[4]

Passover began at twilight of Nissan 14, the day when the Pascal Lamb had been sacrificed, marking the beginning of Nissan 15 when the Feast of Unleavened Bread was to be eaten.[5] A key distinction, Jewish days begin at twilight while Western societies begin the new day at midnight.[6]

Many elements with significance and meanings are associated with the Feast of Unleavened Bread.[7] Like its name says, bread was made without leaven, known as “the bread of affliction.”[8] Over time, leaven came to be considered synonymous with “corruption.” In fact, a Passover preparation requirement was to ensure no leaven could to be found anywhere in a Jewish household going into Passover week.

Most Western societies would consider this evening meal to be the dinner event for the day of Nissan 14 while the first meal of the next day would be breakfast. The Law of Moses, however, considered the evening Feast of Unleavened Bread to be the very first meal of Nissan 15.

Roasted lamb from the Pascal sacrifice offered earlier that day of Nissan 14 became the main course.[9] It was literally a feast intended to feed 10 to 20 people; a festive and joyous occasion to celebrate God’s deliverance from bondage – freedom.[10] Any leftovers by midnight were to be promptly burned.

Sunrise brought the initial daylight hours of the first day of Passover, Nissan 15, along with the daily necessities still to come. People were busy with required and traditional activities including meals and sacrifices.

Jewish Talmudic law defined the sacrifices for each day including the meal plan for the first day of Passover. An entire tractate in the Babylonia Talmud entitled Chagigah is devoted to addressing the various expectations and requirements.[11] Two Chagigah sacrifices were actually associated with the Passover.[12]

First was the optional Chagigah sacrifice that could be offered on Nissan 14 as an optional festal offering intended to supplement the Paschal sacrifice ensuring there would be enough meat to feed a large Passover company.[13] It was “in all respects equal to the paschal sacrifice itself” expected to provide for “the duty of enjoying the festival.”[14]

If this optional festal sacrifice was to be offered, it was to occur before the Pascal sacrifice so that there was no interruption between it and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.[15] Like the Paschal lamb, it had to be consumed by midnight with any leftovers to be burned.

By tradition, the second Chagigah sacrifice was traditionally offered on Nissan 15, the first day of Passover, coming to be called exactly that, the Chagigah. It was to be offered under different circumstances than the first with a different purpose and rules. As an obligatory, private “peace offering,” it was to be offered by an individual at the Temple with the assistance of a Priest who became a beneficiary to it.[16]

A portion of the sacrifice was to be given God, a portion to the Priest as a tithe for his own meal, and the remaining portion of meat was to be taken home by the offeror for his own Chagigah meal.[17] For this reason, a priest had a vested personal interest to assist in the sacrifice.

Meat from this obligatory Chagigah sacrifice was to be prepared during the afternoon and served before evening as the main course of the first meal of Passover day.[18] It was to be consumed over the course of two days and one night – the first and second days of Passover, Nissan 15 and 16, and the night in between.

Things get interesting as it relates to the Gospels’ accounts describing the final hours in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, especially John 18:28.[19] After the “Last Supper,” the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Jesus was arrested and put on trial that night. During the trial, Jesus was taken by the Jewish leadership to Pilate at the Praetorium where the priests refused to enter, as referenced in John 18:28, “so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.”[20]

Entering the Praetorium was one of those things that could place a priest in a state of defilement.[21] Although John does not explain the reason for the defilement, one possibility was due to the Jewish legal concept known as “abortus” – touching a dead body or home that once contained a dead body (the presumption of a Gentile’s home).[22]

After sunset, a ritualistic purification bath by the priest absolved the defilement; however, it was too late. Meat from the Chagigah sacrifice offered on the first day of Passover was to be prepared and cooked that same day before evening.[23]

A priest who was “defiled” could not offer any sacrifice that day meaning he would not receive his lawful portion of the Chagigah sacrificial meat for his own meal.[24] For a priest whose personal financial support came directly from his duties performed at the Temple, it was a major incentive not to be in a state of defilement on the first day of Passover.

Evening began the second day of Passover, Nissan 16, with the traditional ritual of a barley reaping in preparation for the Wave Sheaf also known as the Omar offering. It was required to be offered on the second day of Passover to celebrate the Feast of First Fruits of the harvest.

Are the Gospel references to the Passover during the final days in the life of Jesus of Nazareth in agreement with Jewish Law defined in the Old Testament, the Tenakh, and the Talmud?


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[1] Exodus 8-12. Roth, Don. “What year was the first Passover?” Biblical Calendar Proof. 2019. <>
[2] Deuteronomy 16. NASB.
[3] Exodus 12; Leviticus 23; Numbers 9; Deuteronomy 16. <>
[4] Wells, Steve.&nbsp; <u>The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible</u>. 2017. “423. When was Jesus crucified? <>  “101 Bible Contradictions.” Islamic Awareness. n.d. Contradiction #69. <> [5] Exodus 12; Leviticus 23; Numbers 9; Deuteronomy 16. Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. 1826-1889. “The Roasting of the Lamb.” pp 66 – 67, 71-72. <>
[6] Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 71.
[7] “Passover.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <> Rich, Tracey R. “Pesach: Passover.” Judaism101. 2011. <>  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. “Present Ritual not the Same as the New Testament Times.” pp 74-75.
[8] Exodus 12; Deuteronomy 16.  “Leaven.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <>  Rich. “Pesach: Passover.”
[9] Deuteronomy 16. Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. “The Roasting of the Lamb.” p 75.
[10] Gill. John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible. John; chapters 18-19 commentary.  <> Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. pp 70-71, 76, 79, 81-82.  Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Trans. and commentary William Whitson.  The Complete Works of Josephus.1850. Book VI, Chapter IX.3.  <>  Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. p 1324. <
[11] Talmud Bavli. Sefaria. Trans. William Davidson. n.d.  <>
[12] Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. “The Three Things.” pp 70-71.
[13] Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1324.
[14 The Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson. Tract Pesachim, Book 3, Chapter VI. <> Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. pp 1324.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. pp 70-71.  Gill. John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible. John chapters 18 & 19 commentary.
[15] The Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson. Tract Pesachim, Book 3, Chapter V.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 79.
[16] Leviticus 3. Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1383-85. Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 70.  Streane, A. W, ed.  A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud. 1891. Chagigah 7b, Gemara. Pages 35 – 36. <>
[17] Leviticus 7.  Streane. A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud. Glossary:  “Chagigah.”  pp 147-148.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. pp 41, 82.
[18] Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1382.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 70. The Babylonian Talmud.  Rodkinson.  Book 3. Tract Pesachim Chapters VI, VIII, IX.
[19] Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-23; John 18-19.  Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1384.
[20] NASB.
[21] Numbers 9. Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p. 83.  Soncino Babylonian Talmud. “Introduction to Seder Tohoroth.” #2. <>  “Priest.” Jewish Encyclopedia.
[22] Leviticus 22.   Edersheim.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. pp 1383-1385.
[23] Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1382.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 70. The Babylonian Talmud.  Rodkinson.  Book 3. Tract Pesachim. Chapters VI, VIII, IX.
[24] Leviticus 22; Numbers 9, 19. Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. “The First Day of the Feast” pp 82-83, 85, 130-131, “Appendix.” pp 130-131.  “Priest.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <>  Streane. A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud. Glossary:  “Chagigah.”  p 148.