Jesus has died. His body has been handed over to followers, placed in a tomb, and left for the Sabbath. By tradition, the body would next be anointed with spices. Normally, the role of anointing a body of a deceased person is undertaken by women. Perhaps the reference to washing the body of Tabitha after her death (Acts 9:37) refers to this?
Josephus describes the rites relating to the body of the young Jonathan III Aristobulus, a High Priest who was murdered in 35 BCE. After his death, there was “great preparation for a sepulchre to lay his body in; and providing a great quantity of spices; and burying many ornaments together with him (Antiquities 15.4). This was a lavish provision for a high status person; we can deduce, by analogy, that similar funeral rites were offered to the bodies others of lesser status on their death.
Indeed, two of the Synoptics note this practice: when the women came to the tomb, they “bought spices, so that they might go anoint him” (Mark 16:1); they came, “taking the spices that they had prepared” (Luke 24:1; see also 23:55–56). Matthew, by contrast, simply states that the women “went to see the tomb” (Matt 28:1); there is no mention of spices in this version, where the focus is more on the claim that the disciples stole the body (Matt 27:64–66; 28:13–15).
This anointing of the body was to be done, at the first possible opportunity, after the Sabbath. Yet, although the women come to the tomb, prepared to anoint the body (Mark 16:1–2), they are curiously unprepared with any plan to roll away the stone that had been placed over the mouth of the tomb (Mark 16:3; perhaps this inferred at Luke 24:1–2 ?).
Matthew, of course, tells of the exact moment that “an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it” (Matt 28:2). This is one of two dramatic apocalyptic events that Matthew recounts. When the curtain in the temple is torn in two, the scene evokes the apocalypse: the earth shook, the rocks were split, the tombs were opened, the saints were raised (27:51–53).
So, when the women arrive at the tomb, and the angel rolls back the stone, there is another such moment; “his appearance was like lightning, his clothing white as snow” (28:3); the guards at the tomb “shook and became like dead men” (28:4). Both scenes evoke the apocalyptic scenario that Matthew has had Jesus point to before his arrest (24:29–31, referencing Isa 13:10–13).
In John’s Gospel, by contrast, there is an interesting twist. John reports that the anointing of the body was undertaken immediately by the two men who had taken custody of the body of Jesus—Joseph of Arimathea, “who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the [Jewish authorities]” (John 19:38), and Nicodemus, “who had at first come to Jesus by night” (19:39).
The two men had a large amount of “myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds”, which they wrapped “in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews” (19:40). I can’t find a specific reference that substantiates what those burial customs were in the first century (the relative dearth of historical sources for this time is a regular problem encountered in biblical studies). There are laws relating to this from later centuries. Did they apply in the first century?
James McGrath, in his book on “The Burial of Jesus: History and Faith”, 2008 (see https://www.amazon.com/Burial-Jesus-History-Faith/dp/1439210179) argues that “the account in Mark’s Gospel itself seems to suggest that some of the concerns of later Jewish laws preserved in rabbinic sources existed at the time of Jesus”—laws such as not leaving the body exposed overnight, not giving the body of the deceased to the family immediately, and placing the body in a nearby tomb used for the bodies of those executed. He thinks that later changes to the story reflect the discomfort and embarrassment of the earliest followers of Jesus regarding the burial of Jesus; an hypothesis that has much merit.
The story of the anointing of the body of Jesus this grows over time; the respect accorded to Jesus has been overlaid across the bare narrative of the earliest account. The notion that the body of Jesus could be left out for the vultures, or thrown into a communal grave, is anathema to the faithful Jewish followers of Jesus.
Powerful figures step into the story, to request the body and deal reverently with the body. The story grows in each telling, with another small element being added, to ensure that the holiness of the body of Jesus is maintained. Even in the despair of death, the story claims the importance of Jesus. Such is the power of the storytelling amongst the earliest followers of Jesus.
On Jewish burial customs, see https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/people/related-articles/burial-practices-in-first-century-palestine