Why is it significant that women were the first to find the tomb empty? What were they doing there when it was still dark? Why is it important that Yeshua (Jesus) was anointed by a woman before His burial?
We are going to look into the topic and meaning of anointing oil, look at the traditions and ritual of the Jewish burial, as well as discus the timing of Yeshua's death, and how this connects with anointing oil and the women form the Galilee.
First lets look at John 20:1. "Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb." Also in Mark 16:1 "When Shabbat was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him."
Lets keep in mind the word "bought" we will come back to that in a moment. And it is interesting to note here that they waited until the shabbat was past, and they were planning on anointing Yeshua on the third day. Why didn't they go to anoint Him on the second day? Lets continue.
Anointing oil is first mentioned in scripture in Exodus 30:23-37 when God is talking to Moses giving him instruction on how to make the holy anointing oil. Reading on in Exodus 30:26 we see that the holy anointing oil was used for everything inside the tabernacle as well as Aaron and his sons to minister as priests. This oil was used for sanctification and setting the priests apart, empowering them to operate in the realm of the sacred, this oil was used for the most holy. From early Biblical days anointing oil has been used in acts of consecration, purification, and worship. Anointing oil has been used for the coronation of kings, to anoint prophets, to heal sickness and disease, and as a change of status. It was also used in the traditional Jewish burial ritual called the Tahara.
The Tahara is a ritual act of purification before the body is buried. It includes washing and dressing of the body after death, anointing the body with oil, and preparing the body for its final rest. By preforming this ritual it is known as a "chesed shel emet" a true act of kindness. This is done to bring honor and respect to the person most recently passed away. The Tahara is a dignified ritual that allows one to meet his/her maker with the utmost respect and dignity. By properly burying the dead it was a way the community could pay their last respects to the one who died. The customs included; closing the eyes, a kiss of love, washing the body, then annointing the body with perfumes and oils, then dressing the body.
The most common oil used in the Tahara during biblical times was a nard, a spikenard. Myrrh and aloe were also used. Spikenard was traditionally used to anoint people of high honor, it calms the mind, uplifts the mood, and the emotional equivalent of spikenard resembles packing up and leaving the old ways of thinking and reacting behind. It can resemble doing a sweep emotionally and beginning again. It is an oil of forgiveness helping us at the time of approaching death to feel at peace.
Going back to the burial of Yeshua, they weren't allowed to prepare His body before burial because it was a Shabbat. Caring for the dead on a shabbat was prevented in the Torah because coming into contact with a dead body would make one unclean. Numbers 19:11.
Since Yeshua died about three hours before the start of the Shabbat which was Passover, they were in a hurry to get Him into the tomb before the shabbat started. So they buried Him without completing His body for burial. They didn't have enough time to give Yeshua a true Tahara, or to anoint His body with oil. It was the eve of Passover, the High Holy day, they wrap Yeshua in linen, and lay Him in a brand new tomb. Luke 23:52-56. "This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of a rock, where no one had ever lain before. That day was the Preparation and the Sabbath drew near. And the women who had come with Him from the Galilee followed after, and the observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment." They had to get His body down, wrapped and buried all before the start of Passover. When reading the four gospels it never says that they anointed His body before burial. The women prepared spices before Shabbat but lets go back to the word "bought". Mark 16:1 says when the Shabbat was over they bought spices. So they bought spices after the Shabbat but prepared them before the shabbat. How does that make sense? Since it was the Passover, they had to lay Yeshua in the grave before it started. That is the Shabbat that they bought the spices after, but Friday evening was starting the normal weekly shabbat. So they had to make the spices, oils and perfumes before the start of the weekly Shabbat. Mark 16:1. The women had to wait until the weekly Shabbat was passed to go and anoint their Savior. They went as soon as they could in hopes to complete the burial process. But they were unable to because He was risen and the tomb was empty.
Does this mean that Messiahs body was not anointed and properly prepared for burial? When we look at the following scriptures we will find that He in fact was anointed, but while He was still living. Luke 7:36-50, Matthew 26:6-12, Mark 14:3-9, and John 12:1-7. They all reference the same story, but we will look at John 12:1-7.
"Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead whom he had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, who would betray Him, said, 'Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?' This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and had the money box and used to take what was put in it. But Jesus said, 'Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of my burial.'" And we also see in Mark 14:8 "She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial."
Yeshua was not supposed to be anointed while He was dead. He was anointed while living because he wasn't going to remain dead. His body wasn't meant to stay in the tomb. Yeshua the anointed One, was anointed for burial while he was still alive because He is life, He is our High Priest, and He would rise again!
I'm not sure if Mary knew that she was anointing Him for burial or not, but, her along with the other women from the Galilee were so dedicate in giving their Savior a proper burial. By remaining so dedicated to honoring their savior, they were rewarded be being the first ones to witness Yeshua raised from the dead, and they were the first to see Him alive.
So don't delay when you know to act because we never know the reward He has for us. Even though it might be something that has already been done, just go ahead and do it again because we never know what He has in store for us. And we never know what His plan is.