Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou?…
— John 20:11-13
By Rick Renner
When Peter and John left the garden, Mary Magdalene remained behind. She had followed the two men, possibly hoping to obtain a clearer understanding of what she had experienced that day. All she knew was that her day started with a desire to come to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. But when she arrived, the stone was rolled away, and an angel was sitting on top of the great stone (Matthew 28:2)! Then when she entered the tomb, she first discovered another angel (Mark 16:5) and then suddenly found herself in the presence of two angels inside the tomb (Luke 24:4)!
The angels had told Mary, “He is not here, but is risen…” (Luke 24:6). But if Jesus was risen as the angels had said, where was He? How could she find Him?
Feeling dejected and alone, Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. The Greek tense meanscontinually weeping, highlighting the fact she was extremely troubled about the inexplicable events that were happening. Most of all, she wanted to know what had happened to Jesus. John writes, “…she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre.…” The word “stooped down” is parakupto, the same word used in John 20:5 to portray John taking a peek into the tomb. Now it was Mary’s turn to bend low and peer into the empty sepulcher — but when she looked inside, she saw something she didn’t expect!
John tells us, “…She stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain” (John 20:11,12). The word “seeth” is the Greek word theaomai, which tells us assuredly that Mary fixed her eyes on the angels and determined to look them over and to take in the whole experience. First, she saw that the two angels were “in white.” This agrees with all the other experiences of angels that eventful day. All of them had been dressed in shining white with a lightning-bright appearance. All the angels seen that day also wore the same type of robe — like the long, flowing regal robes worn by warriors, kings, priests, or any other person of great power and authority. The usage of the word theaomai (“seeth”) tells us that this time Mary visibly studied every single detail of the angels she saw in the tomb.
John goes on to inform us that Mary saw these angels “…sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.” This statement is in perfect agreement with the interior of a rock-hewn tomb during biblical times. Past the entrance of such a tomb, a smaller separate room with a table-shaped pedestal, also carved from stone, was usually located to one side. On this rock slab the body was laid to rest after being dressed in burial clothes and perfumed by loved ones. The head would be slightly elevated, causing the trunk of the corpse to lie in a sloping downward position with the feet resting against a small ledge or in a groove, either of which were designed to keep the body from slipping from the slab.
When Mary saw the angels, she noted that one was seated at the top of the burial slab and the other was seated at the foot. In between these angels, she could see the empty place where she had personally viewed Jesus several days earlier. Luke 23:55 tells us that after Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb, Mary Magdalene and other women who came from Galilee “…beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid.” The word “beheld” (theaomai) means to gaze upon, to fully see, to look at intently. These women inspected the tomb, gazing upon the dead body of Jesus to see that it had been honorably laid in place. Because Mark 15:47 uses the imperfect tense to tell us how the women looked upon Jesus’ dead body, it means these women took plenty of time to make certain He was properly laid there. Now Mary saw the same spot where she had so carefully labored days before, but the dead body she cherished was no longer there.
As Mary looked and wept, the angels asked her, “…Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus” (John 20:13,14).
Stricken with sorrow, Mary withdrew from the tomb just in time to see a man standing nearby. Due to Jesus’ changed appearance, she was unable to recognize Him. Verse 15 tells us what happened next: “Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.”
At that very moment, Jesus tenderly said, “Mary.” Upon hearing that voice and recognizing the old familiar way in which He called her name, “…she turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master” (v. 16). Although Jesus’ appearance was different now, Mary knew Him by His voice. This reminds me of John 10:27, when Jesus told His disciples, “My sheep hear my voice.…” Mary knew His voice and recognized that it was her Shepherd who stood before her.
In Revelation 1, John tells us about his vision on the island of Patmos. In the midst of this phenomenal divine visitation, he says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet…. and I turned to see the voice that spake with me…” (Revelation 1:10,12). Like Mary, when John heard that voice, he recognized it as the voice of Jesus. This is why John writes, “…I turned to see the voice that spake with me.”
Of course, it is impossible to “see” a voice, but John recognized the sound of that voice and turned to match the face with the voice he heard. He knew it was Jesus. But as Mary had also discovered, Jesus’ physical appearance looked radically different from the Jesus whom John had known in His earthly form. But the voice of Jesus never changed, and John immediately recognized it.
It appears that Mary reached out to cling to Jesus with her hands, but Jesus forbade her, saying, “…Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (John 20:17). With this one statement, Jesus let it be known that everything had changed because of the Cross. Now a new relationship with God was available to the apostles and to all who would call upon the name of Jesus Christ! John 20:18 goes on to say, “Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.”
Today we rejoice that Jesus is alive! Because of what He did for us at the Cross, now we have access to God the Father. This was the purpose of the Cross: To redeem mankind and to put man back in right relationship and fellowship with his Heavenly Father. Jesus paid it all! He finished the work of redemption so that today we can be in right relationship with God by accepting the work of Christ on Calvary by faith.
I encourage you to be bold in recognizing the voice of Jesus. If you belong to Him, then you do know His voice. Mary knew His voice; John knew His voice; and your born-again spirit knows His voice. If you’ll take the time to listen, you will hear the voice of Jesus calling out to you just as He tenderly called out to Mary that day in the garden. He knows you by name, and He wants to enjoy close fellowship with you. So take the time to listen for Him.