John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John 20:10-12, How many angels at the tomb? Part II of II

Then the disciples went back to their homes, but 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.

//Yesterday, I pointed out the growing legend of angels at the tomb of Jesus. The three Synoptic Gospels portray first a man in white, then an angel in white, then two men/angels in white. In Mark and Matthew, the angel is sitting outside the tomb, on the stone door. In Luke, the two angels are inside the tomb, standing.

Will the final Gospel settle the argument?

The first thing to notice is that John sets one record straight: Luke is right. Two angels, and they’re inside the tomb, not outside. They sit (no longer stand) precisely where Jesus was laid.

In John’s Gospel, the two beings are called angels, but with a twist. Peter and John themselves, standing inside the tomb, see no angels. But they see something else, and it makes one think.

They see two white piles. A pile of linen, and a burial cloth. John takes pains to point out that they are in two separate piles. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Could he be subtly giving us a clue, here?

Now, Mary, peering into the darkness of the tomb after Peter and John have gone home, sees two “angels in white,” precisely where the piles of white rested.

Is the mystery solved?


  1. Lee, I hadn’t looked at this verse from John before the way you’ve laid it out. You got me thinking, and for me, it indicates that once the “human clothing” (burial shroud and head cloth) have been removed, Mary was able to the “see” (in a vision?) the Light/Glory/Wisdom that remained behind or took their place, symbolized as angels, or messengers of God, thus revealing who Jesus really was/is. To put it more simply, when the human clothing is removed, what is visible to the ideal disciple or believer is the light/glory/image of God — the original, perfect Adam — that Jesus was, had become, and always is.

    Originally, when I’ve read that verse, what came to mind was the ark of the covenant — two angelic beings, one at the head, and one at the foot. If Jesus was the Word made flesh, when the physical body was gone/transformed in resurrection, what remains is the angelic symbol of the ark — which contained the Word of God. As John saw it, Jesus *is* the ark that embodies the Word.

    As always, great insight, Lee. Thanks!

  2. My husband has always indicated that Mary saw two in the tomb. He has been somewhere.

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