Spices and Visits to Christ's Tomb


There has been much confusion about the sequence of events surrounding preparation of spices and the visits to Christ's tomb, because there seems to be no chronological order to the events as recorded in the gospel accounts. This study provides a plausible sequence of events by reviewing them in four segments: The time frame, Jesus' burial, the women's spice preparation, and the visits to the tomb.

The Time Frame

Long before the beginning of the Sabbath, Pilate gave his permission for Jesus to be crucified (Mk.15:13‑20). Everyone knew that, unless there were divine intervention, Jesus would die a slow, agonizing death. The duration of a crucifixion would allow ample time to purchase and prepare the materials for Jesus' burial required by Jewish tradition.

Mark gives us the complete chronological time frame of the crucifixion process. He reveals that Jesus was crucified at the third hour—9 a.m. (Mk.15:25), that there was darkness from the sixth hour until the ninth hour—12 p.m. 3 p.m. (Mk.15:33‑37) and that, after the 9th hour, Jesus died. This tells us that there were about nine hours from the beginning of the crucifixion process until sunset, which began the Sabbath. In 30 A.D., this Sabbath began the first day of Unleavened Bread.

The Burial

All four gospel accounts record that Joseph of Arimathea requested Jesus' body from Pilate, but only John's account reveals that Jesus was prepared for burial in the traditional manner prior to being placed in the tomb:

"Afterwards Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jewish leaders, boldly asked Pilate for permission to take Jesus' body down; and Pilate told him to go ahead. So he came and took it away. Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night, came too, bringing a hundred pounds of embalming ointment made from myrrh and aloes. Together they wrapped Jesus' body in a long linen cloth saturated with the spices, as is the Jewish custom of burial. The place of crucifixion was near a grove of trees, where there was a new tomb, never used before. And so, because of the need for haste before the Sabbath, and because the tomb was close at hand, they laid him there" (Jn.19:38‑42 TLB).

Although a paraphrase, The Living Bible clearly shows that there was enough time between Jesus' death and burial to prepare his body according to Jewish tradition.

Some sources say that there were only seventy‑five pounds of myrrh and aloes used to prepare Jesus' body for burial. Whether it was seventy‑five or one hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes, Nicodemus brought enough of these expensive embalming materials for use in a hundred or more common Jewish burials. Historical records show that the more respected an individual was, the larger the quantity of these costly materials used in the burial perpetration. Josephus records that forty pounds of spices were used at the funeral of the highly respected elder R. Gamaliel (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 17c.8, s.3).

Aside from a high degree of respect for Jesus, another plausible reason for using such a large amount of costly embalming materials may concern the fulfillment of the following prophecy about the body of the Messiah:

"For you will not leave my spirit in the grave; neither will you allow your Holy One to see decay" (Psa.16:10 Para.). See also Psa.49:9; Acts 2:27, 13:35.

Although it is unlikely that there were more than three hours between Jesus' death and sunset, because of Joseph's and Nicodemus' preparations for Jesus' burial, there was ample time to wash the body, apply the embalming materials, wrap the body in linen, and place it in the tomb before the Sabbath began.

Women Bring Additional Spices and Ointment

Were more spices and ointment necessary to finalize the embalming process? The historical record is vague on this point. However, we know that the women who prepared the spices felt it was necessary to apply more spices and ointment to the body, either as an additional show of honor and respect or out of necessity in order to finalize the process. See Mk.16:1‑2; Lk.24:1.

Purchase and Preparation Time Line

"And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came to the sepulcher at the rising of the sun" (Mk.16:1‑2 KJV).

The English words 'had bought' in Mark chapter 16, verse 1, are translated from the Greek verb 'agorazo' which can mean; properly, to go to market, i.e. (by implication) to purchase; especially, to redeem.

Some biblical researchers assume that there was not enough time between the time of Jesus' death and sunset for the women to purchase and prepare spices for the anointing of Jesus' body on the day after the Sabbath. Others assume that the spices were purchased before or after Jesus' death and prepared after the Sabbath. The following shows a number of problems with both assumptions:

These women had purchased the spices in preparation to anoint Jesus' body; however, this account does not say when the spices were purchased. Any assumption that the scriptures show that the spices were purchased and prepared before or after the Sabbath is not supported by the Greek text. The Greek text does not reveal a specific time of purchase or any spice preparation; it merely states the fact that the spices had been purchased and that the women brought the spices with them.

A logical assumption is that the spices were not purchased on the weekly Sabbath which was also the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread that year. Therefore, it seems logical that the spices were purchased on the preparation day before the Sabbath or after sunset at the end of the Sabbath, which is the first day of the week.

Many believe that it took a considerable amount of time and effort for the women to purchase and prepare the spices; however, nowhere in the biblical record are we told the quantity or type of spices purchased by the women. Therefore, any assumption as to the length of time and the effort required to prepare these materials has no basis in fact. Remember also that Jesus' body had already been prepared for burial using the extremely large quantity of embalming materials provided by Nicodemus; therefore, since his body had already been prepared, it would seem that any additional anointing of the body would have been minimal.

Luke's Account

Many people assume that the women of Mark 16:1‑2 are the same ones referred to in Luke's account. However, this is an assumption without scriptural proof:

"And that day was the preparation, and the Sabbath drew on. And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulcher, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment. (Lk.23:54‑56 KJV). Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the sepulcher, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them" (Lk.24:1 KJV).

Because Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome are mentioned in Mark's account, most people assume that these three are the only women referred to by Luke and the only ones that purchased and prepared spices to place on Jesus' body. However, this assumption could be in error because there were many women that followed Jesus and assisted him in his ministry:

"And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils; And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered to him of their substance" (Lk.8:2‑3 KJV).

Some of the other women that were associated with Jesus are the mother of Zebedee's children, Jesus' mother, his mother's sister, and Mary the wife of Cleophas. Just because no other women's names are mentioned in Luke 23:54‑56 does not mean that they were not there. The fact that other women were there is recorded in Luke 24:10:

"It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things to the apostles" (Lk.24:10 KJV).

Whether or not Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome are the women that Luke refers to as coming from Galilee and preparing spices and ointments before the Sabbath, the accounts of Mark and Luke concerning the preparation of the spices in no way contradict each other. Moreover, these accounts do not preclude any number of women purchasing and preparing spices for the anointing of Jesus' body.

Mark and Luke's accounts have also been used in an attempt to prove that there was a day in between the weekly Sabbath and the First day of unleavened Bread which is an annual High Day. However, accounts in Mark, Luke, and John prove that this day was both a Sabbath and an annual High Day. The weekly Sabbath is the only day with a preparation day and the word Sabbath in both Mark and Luke's accounts is the Greek word 'sabbaton' ( the weekly Sabbath), which is followed by the first day of the week (Sunday). The apostle John records that this Sabbath was also a High Day (i.e., an annual festival day). See Jn.19:31.


The following is a chronological sequence of the four gospel accounts of the women's visit to the tomb after the end of the Sabbath.

After the Sabbath

After the Sabbath and just before sunrise on the first day of the week, many women who were followers of Jesus came to the tomb to anoint his body with spices and ointments. See Matt.28:1; Mk.16:1‑2; Lk.23:56, 24:1‑2; Jn.28:1.

"In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulcher" (Matt.28:1 KJV).

"And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came to the sepulcher at the rising of the sun" (Mk.16:1‑2 KJV).

"Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the sepulcher, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them" (Lk.24:1 KJV).

"The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, to the sepulcher . . . " (Jn.20:1 KJV).

Standing before the tomb, the women asked, Who is going to open the tomb for us? See Mk.16:3. Remember that the tomb had been sealed and guards were sent to prevent someone from stealing Jesus' body. See Matt.27:62‑66.

"And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher?" (Mk.16:3 KJV).

"Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together to Pilate, Saying, Sir, we remember that, that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulcher be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say to the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said to them, You have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as you can. So they went, and made the sepulcher sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch" (Matt.27:62‑66 KJV).

As the women stood before tomb wondering how they were going to get it open so that they could anoint the body, there was a great earthquake and an angel appeared in blazing light and rolled back the stone that covered the entrance to the tomb. See Matt.28:2‑4; Mk.16:4; Lk.24:2; Jn.20:1.

"And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men" (Matt.28:2‑4 KJV).

"And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great" (Mk.16:4 KJV).

"And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulcher" (Lk.24:2 KJV).

" . . . and see the stone taken away from the sepulcher" (John 20:1 KJV).

The angel tells the women that Jesus is not in the tomb and to come and see for themselves. See Matt.28:5‑6.

"And the angel answered and said to the women, Fear not you: for I know that you seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay" (Matt.28:5‑6 KJV).

All the women enter the tomb and find that Jesus' body is indeed not there. See Mk.16:5‑6; Lk.24:3.

"And entering into the sepulcher, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were afraid. And he said to them, Be not afraid: you seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him" (Mk.16:5‑6 KJV).

"And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus" (Lk.24:3 KJV).

While the women are still in the tomb two angels appear to them and begin to explain to them what had happened in the context of prophecies concerning the Messiah. See Lk.24:4‑7.

"And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said to them, Why seek you the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake to you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words" (Lk. 24:4‑8).

The women are told to quickly go and tell Peter and the other disciples that Jesus is alive and will see them in Galilee. See Matt.28:7; Mk.16:7.

"And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goes before you into Galilee; there shall you see him: lo, I have told you" (Matt.28:7 KJV).

"But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goes before you into Galilee: there shall you see him, as he said to you" (Mk.16:7 KJV).

All the women leave the tomb to tell Peter and the other disciples what happened: See Matt.28:8; Mk.16:8; Lk.24:8‑9.

"And they departed quickly from the sepulcher with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word" Matt.28:8 KJV

"And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulcher; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they anything to any man; for they were afraid" (Mk.16:8 KJV).

"And they remembered his words, And returned from the sepulcher, and told all these things to the eleven, and to all the rest" (Lk.24:8‑9 KJV).

Mary Magdalene tells Peter and John

At this point Mary Magdalene runs to tell Peter and the other women hurry to tell the other disciples what they have just experienced and that Jesus is not in the tomb:

"Then she [Mary Magdalene] runs, and comes to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved [John], and said to them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid him" (Jn.20:2 KJV).

Upon hearing what Mary told them Peter, John, and Mary run to the tomb.

"Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulcher. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulcher. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulcher, and sees the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulcher, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again to their own home" (Jn.20:3‑18).

"Then arose Peter, and ran to the sepulcher; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass" (Lk.24:12 KJV).

After examining the tomb and wondering what had happened, Peter and John leave the tomb and go back from where they came.

Mary Magdalene Stays Behind

After Peter and John leave the tomb, Mary Magdalene stays behind weeping and Jesus appears to her and tells her that he is going to ascend to appear before his heavenly Father.

"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?'" (Jn.20:11‑13 NIV).

"They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" "Thinking he was the gardener, she said, " "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!"(which means Teacher)" (Jn.20:14‑16 NIV).

"Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" (Jn.20:17‑18 NIV).

Jesus' instruction to Mary not to touch him is important, because it shows that he is about to leave earth and appear before his Father to be accepted as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of humanity.

Jesus Meets the Other Women

While the other women are still on the way to tell the other disciples what the angels told them, Jesus meets them and tells them to tell the disciples he will meet them in Galilee:

"And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshiped him. Then said Jesus to them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me" (Matt.28:9‑10 KJV).

Notice that the women touched Jesus. This tells us that, in between the time that Jesus spoke to Mary Magdalene and forbid her to touch him and his meeting this group on women on their way to the other disciples, he had ascended to his Heavenly Father, been accepted as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of humanity and had returned to earth.

While the women were still on their way to tell the other disciples what had happened, some of the men who were guarding the tomb informed the chief priests of the events that occurred at the tomb:

"Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and showed to the chief priests all the things that were done. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money to the soldiers, Saying, Say you, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day" (Matt.28:11‑15 KJV).

As the first day of the week wears on and the apostles and other followers of Jesus gather in various groups to discuss the events of the past few days, Mary Magdalene and the other women tell of their experiences at the tomb and their meeting Jesus, but they are not believed.

"Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things to her" (Jn.2:18 KJV).

"Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not" (Mk.16:9‑11 KJV).

"It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things t to the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not" (Lk.24:10‑11 KJV).

During the first day of the week after the women told of their various experiences that morning, Jesus appeared to two men on the road to Emmaus, to Peter, and to the other disciples while they were eating. See Lk.24:13‑51: Mk.16:14: 1.Cor.15:5.

The following is a plausible chronology of the events concerning the burial spices, their purchase and application, and the visits to the tomb by the men and women:

  1. After Pilate had given his permission for the crucifixion of Jesus, Nicodemus purchased the required burial materials for Jesus' burial according to Jewish tradition.

  2. Pilate grants Joseph of Arimathea permission to remove Jesus' body from the place of crucifixion.

  3. Joseph and Nicodemus remove Jesus' body and together they prepare Jesus' body and place it in the tomb.

  4. The women have either purchased spices and prepared them before or after the weekly Sabbath which was also the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread.

  5. The women arrive at the Tomb before sunrise on the first day of the week, see the tomb sealed, and ask for someone to roll back the sealing stone.

  6. While they are standing in front of the tomb, there is an earthquake as an angel descends from heaven and rolls back the stone from the tomb's entrance.

  7. As the women stand there in fear, the angel comforts them and tells them that Jesus is not in the tomb, but he is alive and they should go into the tomb and see for themselves.

  8. The angel explains what has happened and tells the women to go tell the disciples.

  9. Mary goes to tell Peter and the other women go to tell the rest of the disciples.

  10. Peter and John run to the tomb, look in and go back to where they came from.

  11. Mary Magdalene stays at the tomb where Jesus appears to her.

  12. Jesus meets the other women on their way to inform the other disciples.

  13. Mary Magdalene and the other women tell the disciples of their meeting Jesus and that he is alive, but no one believes them.

By B.L. Cocherell b5w79