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Angels and the Resurrectionby Duane Mabee on March 23, 2023
Angels are interesting beings. Sometimes their appearance is so awe-inspiring people pass out like the guards at the tomb, (Matt. 28:3). At other times, they seem so ordinary they almost fade into the background. The angels that greeted Mary Magdalene when she returned to the tomb with Peter and John must have looked pretty ordinary. At least, they didn’t seem to make much of an impression on Mary. She almost ignored them.
After Peter and John left, Mary stayed behind weeping. Something prompted her to look in the tomb again and when she did, “she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet,” (John 20:12 ESV). When they asked her why she was weeping, she simply responded and turned away. Apparently, she wasn’t terribly impressed by them. One reason, of course, was the depth of her grief. She didn’t even recognize Jesus at first, but that’s a conversation for another time.
In the simplicity of that scene, there is a detail that I’ve seen before, even questioned, but never paid much attention to. John is very specific. The angels were sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, “one at the head and one at the feet”. The fact he was so specific about their location told me it was significant, but I had no idea why. Most commentators pass over this detail. Then I read Bill Crowder’s statement, “Their appearance was fascinating, for they were seated at either end of the burial slab – looking very reminiscent of the Ark of the Covenant of old, where angels guarded the mercy seat!” What an intriguing thought!
Here's the background. In the Old Testament, God instructed the people of Israel to build a small chest or box, called the Art of the Covenant. It was completely covered with gold and the stone tablets containing God’s law were kept inside, along with some other items. On top of the Ark, they were to construct a Mercy Seat. It was made of solid gold and was flanked by two golden angels. The glory of God dwelt over the Mercy Seat, between the two angels.
Once a year, the High Priest would sprinkle blood from the Sacrifice of Atonement on the Mercy Seat, which sat above the copy of the law. God promised that when He saw the blood of Atonement, overshadowing the Law, He would forgive the sins of His people. That’s it! The angels on either side of the burial slab were a visual reminder that now, when God looks down at the empty slab where the body of His Son was lain, He sees Christ’s blood and forgives our sins based on Christ’s atoning sacrifice. The angels weren’t meant to be impressive because we are intended to stand in awe of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the only basis on which our sin can be forgiven.