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Mary and the Empty Tomb

It was Sunday morning after Jesus’ crucifixion. Now that their friend and leader was gone, most of the disciples weren’t sure to how to spend their time. But a few women visited the tomb that day to care for the Lord’s body. One of them—Mary Magdalene—was privileged to be the first person to see Jesus after His resurrection.

Mary’s Background

Mary came from a region called Magdala, located west of the Sea of Galilee. The Holman Bible dictionary describes it as “an important agricultural, fishing, and trade center of ancient Galilee.”

  • Why might Mary have been particularly devoted to the Lord (Mark 16:9)?

Note: The “woman who was a sinner,” who anointed Christ’s feet with oil (Luke 7:36-50), is sometimes identified as Mary Magdalene. However, the biblical text does not support this connection. Mary is not introduced until Luke 8.

After her healing, Mary became part of Jesus’ inner circle of followers. Along with His disciples, several women traveled with the Lord as He ministered. Some of them also supported Him financially (Luke 8:1-3).

The Empty Tomb

Read John 20:1-20.

  • John mentions only one woman in his account of the empty tomb. But who else joined Mary that morning (Mark 16:1-2)?

Jesus’ crucifixion took place near a garden owned by Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy religious leader who had become a secret disciple of Jesus. The Lord’s body was laid in a tomb belonging to Joseph (John 19:41). Before the Sabbath, he had prepared Christ’s body with a large amount of myrrh and aloes (John 19:38-39). But apparently Mary and her companions wanted to embalm the Lord more thoroughly.

Because of the Sabbath (Saturday), Jesus had been quickly laid in the tomb (John 19:42). Mary came on Sunday after observing a day of rest.

  • According to the account in Luke 24:4, what does the angel say about the empty tomb?
  • In his gospel, John refers to himself as “the disciple Jesus loved.” Who else does Mary tell about the “missing body” (John 20:2)?

It’s unclear why Mary didn’t tell them about the angel’s message—it’s possible she ran off to get the men before hearing (v. 2). Another explanation is that in her grief and confusion, she couldn’t comprehend the good news.

  • What evidence in the tomb indicated that the body was not stolen or moved (John 20:6-7)?

John “saw and believed”—he trusted Mary’s report that the body was missing (John 20:8). However, neither John nor Simon Peter yet understood that Christ had risen from the dead (v. 9).

  • Explain Jesus’ reference to “the sign of Jonah” (Matt. 12:40) in light of Matthew 17:22-23.
  • Why do you think Mary and the disciples still did not understand His words, even after witnessing the empty tomb (v. 9)?

Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus at first (v. 14). She may have been supernaturally prevented from identifying Him, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:15-16).

  • Think about what she was feeling and thinking at the time. What other factors may have blinded her to His identity?

When Christ said Mary’s name—perhaps with a familiar intonation—she realized who He was (v. 16). Once she recognized Jesus, Scripture says she grasped Him. It’s unlikely she would have embraced Him because of cultural restrictions governing behavior between men and women. But she may have worshipped Him by clinging to His feet (Matt. 28:9).

The fact that Mary was able to touch Jesus’ physical body shows that He was not just a spirit.


The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important event of the Christian faith.

Scripture tells us that Jesus’ triumph over death is a foretaste of the resurrection believers will one day experience (1 Cor. 15:20).

  • How does the knowledge that your body will be changed into a perfect, eternal one influence the way you view death (1 Cor. 15:50-55)?
  • How does the resurrection give us hope despite the deaths of fellow believers—those who have “fallen asleep” (1 Thess. 4:13-18)?
  • If someone were to ask why you’re confident that Christ rose from the dead, what would you say?
  • What excites you the most about Jesus’ resurrection?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of a personal relationship with the risen Christ, who never leaves my side. Thank You that I can look forward to eternity in a perfect resurrected body. This Easter, awake in me a fresh delight in the miracle and meaning of the empty tomb. Amen.

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