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How many angels were at the tomb?

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most significant events in human history. All four gospels describe the resurrection, with varying details about what happened at the tomb where Jesus was buried. One detail found in the gospel accounts is the presence of angels at the empty tomb who interacted with Jesus’ followers. But how many angels were there? The gospels give differing accounts, which has led to some confusion over the exact number present.

In this article, we will examine what each gospel says about the angels at the tomb. Looking at both the specific references and the general context of the accounts, we can draw some conclusions about how many heavenly beings were actually there to announce the resurrection. Gaining insight into this detail is important, as the resurrection is essential to Christian faith and the gospel narratives shape our understanding of this pivotal event.

What Matthew’s Gospel Says

The gospel of Matthew provides a fairly straightforward account of the angels at the tomb. Chapter 28 describes how Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” went to Jesus’ tomb after the Sabbath, encountering an angel who rolled back the stone:

And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.

(Matthew 28:2-4)

So Matthew’s account specifies that an angel descended from heaven and rolled back the stone from the tomb. No other angels are mentioned in the narrative. When the women arrive, this angel speaks to them, telling them not to be afraid and to go tell the disciples that Jesus had risen (Matthew 28:5-7).

The singular “an angel” indicates there was only one heavenly messenger present at the tomb according to Matthew’s account. This matches the details provided in the preceding story, with no indication that other angels were there.

Key Points from Matthew

  • Only one angel specifically described
  • “An angel” rolled back the stone from the tomb
  • This angel spoke to the women at the tomb

So Matthew’s narrative focuses on a single angel interacting with the women at the resurrection, providing a clear picture of one angel present at this event.

What Mark’s Gospel Says

The gospel of Mark also presents a straightforward account of the angels at the tomb. Chapter 16 describes how Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb and found the stone already rolled away. Entering the tomb, they encounter a young man:

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.”

(Mark 16:5-6)

Again this account specifies a single individual, described as a young man dressed in a white robe inside the tomb. He speaks to the women and tells them not to be alarmed, delivering the message that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Use of the singular “a young man” indicates one angelic figure present. Mark does not mention any other angels at the tomb, keeping the focus on this one messenger speaking to the women.

Key Points from Mark

  • One “young man” described inside the tomb
  • This figure is dressed in a white robe
  • He delivered the resurrection message to the women

So in Mark’s gospel, the account points clearly to a solitary angelic messenger speaking to the followers at the tomb to announce the resurrection.

What Luke’s Gospel Says

The gospel of Luke provides a few more details about the angels at the tomb. Chapter 24 describes how the women went to the tomb and found the stone rolled away. Entering the tomb, they encounter two angels:

And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

(Luke 24:5-6a)

This account specifies there were two angels, described as men, inside the tomb. They speak to the women and ask why they are seeking Jesus there when he has already risen.

Later in the narrative, these two angels are mentioned again:

“And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.”

(Luke 24:8-12)

This follow-up indicates that the women told the disciples about the two angels they had encountered, as part of recounting the full experience at the tomb.

Key Points from Luke

  • Two angels described as being inside the tomb
  • These two angels speak to the women
  • The women later describe seeing the two angels

Luke’s narrative thus contains the most specific details about there being two angels present at the tomb to interact with the women. This provides a clear picture of exactly how many heavenly beings were involved in announcing the resurrection.

What John’s Gospel Says

The gospel of John has a slightly different take on the angels at the tomb. Chapter 20 describes how Mary Magdalene went to the tomb alone and found the stone already removed. She runs to tell Peter and another disciple, who then race to the tomb:

Now 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?”

(John 20:11-13)

In this account, Mary does not initially see the angels when she arrives at the tomb. It is only after Peter and the other disciple leave that she looks back in the tomb and notices two angels inside.

The passage specifies “two angels in white” seated where Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the foot. This matches the number given in Luke’s account. But the details about when and how the angels appear differ between these two gospels.

Key Points from John

  • Two angels described inside the tomb
  • Mary notices them only after returning to the tomb
  • They are seated where Jesus’ body had been

So John’s account points to two angels making an appearance to Mary Magdalene, though some details differ from Luke’s telling. Together, these two gospels specify two angels present.

Comparing the Accounts

To get a clear picture of how many angels were at the tomb, we can compare the key details from each account:

Gospel Number of Angels Mentioned
Matthew 1 angel
Mark 1 angel
Luke 2 angels
John 2 angels

Based on these accounts, Matthew and Mark only mention one angel present at the tomb. Luke and John specify there were two angels.

Though the details differ, the accounts in Luke and John agree that there were two angels involved in revealing the resurrection to the followers of Jesus. Examining the textual evidence, this seems the most likely number of angels present.

Significance of the Differing Accounts

The discrepancy between the single angel in Matthew/Mark and two angels in Luke/John has sparked some debate. Some charge it is a true contradiction that shows the gospels are unreliable. Others argue the difference can be reconciled considering the broader context and perspectives of the writers. Several factors may contribute to the discrepancy:

  • The gospel writers shaped their accounts for different audiences and purposes
  • Some details were emphasized or simplified based on those specific audiences
  • The writers drew on different sources and traditions about the resurrection
  • Minor details like the number of angels were not the main focus in any account

Additionally, seeming discrepancies were more acceptable in ancient biographical writing, which was concerned with the overall message rather than precise factual details. The evangelists’ purpose was conveying the grand message of Jesus’ resurrection, not resolving petty numerical differences.

Given these considerations, the theological truth and significance of the resurrection account remains intact despite variances in the subsidiary detail of how many angels were present. The accounts harmonize in the crucial facts – Jesus’ tomb was found empty and he appeared risen from the dead. Differences in peripheral details reflect the authors’ methods and purposes, but do not undermine the unified witness to the resurrection.


Examining what each gospel says about the angels at the tomb provides insight into this important detail of the resurrection narratives. Matthew and Mark mention one angel while Luke and John describe two angels speaking to Jesus’ followers, announcing his resurrection. The accounts differ in the specifics, but agree on the critical truth that angels were present as divine messengers proclaiming Christ’s conquest of death.

Though some dispute arises from the discrepancy in number, this does not negate the reliability of the overall story. As witnesses to the pivotal event of Jesus’ life, the gospels give us assurance of both the historical truth of his resurrection and its eternal significance for all who put their faith in him. The angels witnessed at the tomb remind us of heaven’s joy as Christ’s promises were gloriously fulfilled.