The angels at Jesus' tomb

Matthew 28:1-7

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you."

Mark 16:2-7

Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?"

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

"Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'"

Luke 24:1-8

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with 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; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'" Then they remembered his words.

John 20:11-13

Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?"

"They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him."

Matthew's account of the angel rolling away the stone probably occurred while the women were en route to the tomb, so that only the guards saw the angel sitting on the stone. (See Steve Poling's article, C18, for an explanation of why Matthew can be read this way.)

John's account of Mary Magdalene and the angels is a separate event; Mary had likely gone back to get Peter and John before the other women encountered the angels. (See the harmonization of the tomb visit.)

Clearly there were two angels, as described in Luke and John. The second angel may or may not have appeared to the guards, but did appear to the women entering the tomb. It's likely that only one angel spoke, hence Mark only mentions one angel. While Mark and Luke refer to men instead of angels, the men are wearing white/"in clothes that gleamed like lightning" and their appearance causes the women to be greatly distressed, which is consistent with Matthew and John's descriptions of the angels (as well as other descriptions in the Bible of people encountering angels).

Were the angels standing or sitting? Apparently, the phrase "stood beside" could also be translated "appeared."1 Therefore the angels were probably sitting when the women saw them; they may or may not have been seated as Mary Magdalene saw them later, one at the head and one at the foot.

The three speeches are easily merged into one speech - see the harmonization of the tomb visit.


1. See Resurrection Puzzle by Steve Hinrichs, point 3.7

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