John 20:9-15b
Two Angels
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

John 20:9 (Holman) For they still did not understand the Scripture that He must rise from the dead.

The disciples are sometimes accused of inventing the Resurrection. Some say it was a figment of their imagination, or something they manufactured to concur with their preconceived notions.

Not true! Resurrection was the farthest thing from their mind. Jesus had mentioned it, but it was too foreign a concept for them to grasp.

They had no preconceived ideas about a rising from death. Such a notion was contrary to all reason, and the disciples were totally unprepared for it.

The Resurrection completely surprised Jesus’ followers. While Jesus was alive performing miracles, His followers thought He could never die. Once He was dead, they thought He could never live.

Those who were the first to believe in the Resurrection were not convinced by words they had read in Scripture, nor by something Jesus had said. They were convinced, yea compelled to believe, by what they saw.

John 20:10-11a Then the disciples went home again. But Mary stood outside facing the tomb, crying.

Believing nothing more could be learned on the spot, Peter and John went home. Mary stayed. Love, the concentration of purified desire on an object, is what we see here in Mary. She could not leave the tomb. Love compelled her to stay nearby. Devotion riveted her to the last place Jesus’ body had been seen.

Mary felt trapped in a nightmare. The word “crying” literally meant sobbing and convulsing. Her whole world seemed like a cold dark empty grave.

She had lost not only Jesus, but also His dead body. The corpse at least gave a focus to her love. Losing the body meant losing all there was left to love. When a loved one is gone, love re-directs itself toward objects reminiscent of the beloved – a picture, ring, note, letter – anything can suddenly become precious to love. For Mary, the “something precious” was Jesus’ body.

Mary was caught in a web of despair. Don’t miss the irony here. Had she found Jesus’ body, she would have needed to weep even more, and we would all be weeping for eternity. If His dead body ever is found, faith will crumble, and hope will be lost in the darkness of everlasting night.

John 20:11b-12 As she was crying, she stooped to look into the tomb. She saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where Jesus’ body had been lying.

To mark the site of Christ’s resurrection, two angels came in shining garments, the same kind of garments you and I will someday wear because of Jesus (RV 3:4). We humans gave Jesus two malefactors, God the Father gave Him two angels. These advance guards of the King were reverently marking the place where their Lord’s body had been.

The angels came in their robes of state. White garments were symbols of heavenly purity and majesty. They had come from a world of light on official business, to grace the resurrection of Jesus, and honor the sepulcher. Since the angels looked like men (LK 24:4), Mary did not recognize them as celestial beings.

We know they were angels. Had they been human, they would have been arguing over which one would have the privilege of sitting at the head.

At Jesus’ birth, a multitude of the heavenly host filled the sky. But only two could fit in the sepulcher. Bethlehem was marked by joy and adoration. Here the reaction was subdued wonder, stupendous awe.

The angels showed no evidence of haste or tension. They sat, thereby picturing the rest Jesus had secured in this place for His people.

They felt no need to stand, as if the site had to be defended. The battle was over, the victory won. They were sent not with flaming swords to keep sinners out, but came as gentle messengers to welcome us in. They were relaxed in the grave to teach us not to fear it. No one has to stand by a grave and weep in despair any more.

Two angels positioned at the ends of a slab was a copy of the Temple’s Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies. The Ark of the Covenant, which bespoke God’s presence, was covered by a lid called the Mercy Seat. It represented the fact sinners can come into God’s presence. It was appropriately called “Mercy”, because only God’s grace lets sinners come to Him.

When Jesus died, the curtain guarding the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom. God thereby said He was finished with that room and its furnishings. Did this mean mercy is no more? Are we now forbidden access to God? Did the death of Jesus so anger God the Father that sinners are forever barred from Him?

No. Look at this scene in the tomb. What do we see? Two angels at the ends of a slab. God’s Mercy Seat no longer sits in a temple. It is now found in what happened in this tomb. The Mercy Seat is no longer a place, but a Person.

Due to His Resurrection, Jesus is the meeting-place between God and sinners. Redemption is accomplished. Reconciliation is possible.

John 20:13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “Because they’ve taken away my Lord,” she told them, “and I don’t know where they’ve put Him.”

When Mary peeked into the tomb, the angels asked why she was weeping. They tried in vain to redirect her thoughts. Mary had completely lost control of herself. An earthquake, a stone rolled away, the body gone, a neatly folded napkin, talking angels – none of these had helped her at all.

Can her broken heart not be healed? She loved Jesus, and expected better, yet all she has now is ashes. Isn’t there a happier ending than this? Won’t someone please help this lady? Can’t anybody do something to ease her pain?

John 20:14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not know it was Jesus.

Her grief compelled her to act. She had to do something, to keep seeking. She started to turn around, and was arrested in her steps. She realized someone was approaching. She saw the form of a man, but tears coupled with a hazy early morning light kept her from recognizing Him. Naturally embarrassed about her tear-filled eyes, she could not bring herself to look directly at Him.

Mary did not know it yet, but Jesus had come. All she needed to do was look to see it. We can all at times see ourselves in this momentary tragedy. We, too, have times when we are unconscious of Jesus’ presence.

We despair and worry, as if Jesus were gone, but He is always here with us. However blind we are to His presence, or however insensitive we are to His Spirit, He is here with us, not only beside us, but also inside us.

John 20:15a “Woman,” Jesus said to her, “why are you crying?”

Jesus’ first words after His resurrection were appropriately directed toward relieving human grief. He came to earth to heal the broken hearted (LK 4:18), and will someday wipe away all tears from our eyes (RV 21:4).

Even now, Jesus comes to us with consoling words. “Why are you crying?” are still His first words to sad hearts. Despair is not necessary. All can be well. You could be rejoicing.

Why could Jesus speak with such bold authority? What was the secret to His healing ability? The answer is found in His second question.

John 20:15b “. . . Who is it you are looking for?”

Notice, He did not ask “what” are you seeking. Mary had been looking for a what, a corpse. Jesus pointed her to a “Who”. Our tears and hopelessness fade away when we find not the right what, but the right Who.

Only in Jesus can our fountains of grief be stopped. Let all our heartaches point us to a Who. Turn to a Bible promise, and make sure the promise directs us to Jesus. Consult a Pastor, and in your heart continue on to Jesus. Let hurts turn you toward Jesus. Once we find Him, we will despair no more.