“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body” (Mark 16:1). The women’s visit to the tomb is also mentioned in Matthew 28:1, Luke 24:1, and John 20:1, though Luke is the only other gospel writer to mention the spices they brought with them.
Luke 23:56 adds that, on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, the women “went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” John 19:39 reveals that Nicodemus had already used spices on the body of Jesus: “Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.”
The main reason a dead body was anointed with spices was to control the smell of decomposition. Jews did not practice embalming, and the funeral spices were a way to help minimize unpleasant odors. At the tomb of Lazarus, when Jesus asked for the stone to be rolled away from the mouth of the tomb, Martha objected: “By this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days” (John 11:39). The spices the women brought to Jesus’ tomb were intended to eliminate such an odor and honor the body of Christ.
The fact that the women brought spices to anoint Jesus’ dead body showed they did not expect Jesus to literally rise from the dead. After resting on the Sabbath (Saturday) according to Jewish custom, the women traveled to Jesus’ tomb early Sunday morning with plans to provide the traditional spices used on a dead body. This group of women included Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, Joanna, and possibly others (Luke 24:10). Their primary concern was over how the stone would be moved to allow them entrance to the tomb. When they arrived at the tomb, they were surprised to see the stone already rolled away and no body inside.
In their act of devotion, these faithful and reverent followers of Jesus became the first witnesses of the empty tomb and the first to see Jesus alive again. The spices they brought were unneeded, since Jesus was alive forevermore, but their zealous loyalty to the Savior was rewarded with the honor of becoming the first eyewitnesses of the resurrected Lord.