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Resurrection! – The Empty Tomb

May 16, 2009

We are in week two of a deeper study on the Resurrection of Jesus – the central event of Christianity. Without the Resurrection of Jesus, Christianity could not stand. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Cor 15:14-19 “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep [metaphore for death] in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”

Some do not believe that Jesus was resurrected; others believe his resurrection was not physical. We will seek the truth as we explore various aspects of resurrection and return to our study of the Gospel of John when we finish this study, unless interested readers lead us in a different direction.

The primary source of my research is the Bible. The evidence for what the Bible says being true is extreme. The historicity of the Bible is well supported by events and people written about in other historical books, and by a staggering amount of archeological evidence, original transcript evidence and Messianic prophecy evidence. I also researched this topic using a book called “resurrection” by Hank Hanegraaff and other sources referenced in the book “resurrection”. If you wish to learn more about “resurrection”, the book is available for purchase at http://www.christianbook.com. Hank Hanegraaff heads the Christian Research Council. Thanks to Hank, our topic of study can be neatly arranged and memorized based on the acronym FEAT:

Fatal Torment
Empty Tomb
Appearances of Christ
Transformation

Jesus’ Tomb was Empty

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. 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. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 15:42-16:8)

The author of “The Case for Christ”, Lee Strobel – who was an atheist until he research Christianity for himself, said “when you understand the role of women in the first century in first century Jewish society, what’s really extraordinary is that the empty tomb story should feature females as the discoverers of the empty tomb.” In fact, “any later legendary account would have certainly portrayed male disciples as discoverers of the empty tomb, Peter or John for example. The fact that women are the first witnesses to the empty tomb is most plausibly explained by the reality that – like it or not – they were the discoverers of the empty tomb! This shows that the gospel writers faithfully recorded what happened, even if it was embarrassing.”

The Female Factor

The testimony of women was regarded as so worthless that they could not even testify in a court of law. If a man committed a crime and only women witnessed the crime, he could not be convicted on their testimony. Women were on a low rung of the Jewish social ladder. Prior to the coming of Christ, women were so disparaged that one the early Jewish prayers from the era of Jesus stated “I thank you that I am not a woman”.

If Jesus had been the traditional Rabbi, he would not have allowed women to be his disciples. The biblical record is clear. Jesus not only allowed women to follow him; he encouraged it. There are other examples in the Bible where Jesus broke cultural norms as he encountered women. Consider for example that Jesus invited women to follow him on his journeys and spoke to the Samaritan woman (being a Samaritan [Jews considered Samaritans unworthy because they were not fully Jewish] and a woman, the typical Jew would not have spoken to her at all). Jesus didn’t think that it was odd for Mary to sit at his feet to learn and he encourage Martha to do the same. Jews segregated men and women in both the Temple and in Synagogue, but the early church did not segregate their congregations. The apostle Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). If someone had been trying to fictionally create the Bible, women would have never had a prominent place in the Ministry of Jesus. It is because the account of an empty tomb is true that the story features the women who discovered the empty tomb.

First Response

The first Jewish response to the empty tomb pre-supposes the empty tomb. Instead of denying the empty tomb, Christian antagonists accused the disciples of stealing the body of Jesus. Stories saying that Jesus body was stolen from the tomb continued for centuries. While these stories have no historical merit, they underscore one of the oldest evidences – the empty tomb. In fact, Christianity could not have survived an identifiable tomb with the body of Jesus still in it. If those who denied Jesus could have pointed to a tomb with the body of Jesus in it they could have quickly discredited the disciples and their teachings. Even antagonists of the Christian faith must acknowledge the historicity of the empty tomb!

Next week we will look at the Appearances of Christ, a special type of Empty Tomb proof.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Murray permalink
    May 21, 2009 5:51 am

    “Christianity couldn’t stand without the resurrection.”

    Can it stand when Jesus said he was coming back imminently and the church says he didn’t? When Paul said it was better not to marry because the end time was so near?

    Unless….. he did come back. Having searched the scriptures, my view is that he did come back because if he hadn’t, he and Paul would have been false prophets.

    He came back just before, or in 70AD, and took his ‘house of Israel’ saints to the New Heaven as he had promised them.

  2. Jeff Henson permalink
    May 21, 2009 5:13 pm

    Which scriptures are you referring to? Matthew 24 and Jesus comment that “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” (Matt 24:34)? Or are you referring to something else?

    Matthew 24 is misunderstood by many. The disciples of Jesus had asked what would be the sign of the end of the age. I believe Jesus answered aspects of their question in three sections of Matthew 24. Jesus starts by saying that “not one stone here will be left on another. This was literally fulfilled in the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. The disciples followed up by inquiring as to (1) when all this would happen and (2) what would be the sign of Jesus coming and (3) and what would be the sign of the end of the last days (last days refers to the period between Jesus’ incarnation and his second coming). It seems to me that Jesus answered these questions as follows: In verses 4 through 14 (3) Jesus describes the last days (the period we are now in). In verses 15-22 (1) Jesus describes the destruction of Jerusalem and the persecution of Christians (which is why it would be “dreadful…in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!” [Matt 24:19]). In verses 23-31 (2) Jesus describes his second coming. Jesus says of his second coming as visible as lightning that comes from the east and is visible in the west – in other words, everyone will know that Jesus has come. The evidence of his coming will be very plain to all. As to Jesus comment that “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened, Jesus is either referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD or a future generation that would see the second coming of Jesus.

    It is important to remember as we consider these types of passages that not everything in the Bible should be taken in a wooden literal way. Much of the language Jesus used in Matthew 24 would have instantly reminded those who heard Jesus’ words of old testament passages using similar language (for example Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4 as well as Daniel 7:13). They would have understood what Jesus was saying in light of the related Old Testament passage and its meaning. Similarly, you would understand if I described a boxing ring where an elephant and a donkey were boxing that I am speaking of a political contest.

    If you refer to the passage you have in mind, we can consider what that passage says.

    Keep the Faith, Jeff

  3. Jeff Henson permalink
    November 19, 2011 3:50 pm

    Clearly you are correct. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me…Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

    I need to know what passage you are referring to that says Jesus is coming back imminently. Is it Mark 9:1 “And he said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power’.” If so, I would say that the kingdom came with power when Christ was raised from the dead. I do not believe that Christ reigns over a physical kingdom. The Jews believed that the Messiah would bring victory over Rome and reign in Jerusalem. When the Messiah came, many of them did not recognize him. I believe that Christ is already reigning in in heaven. When he returns then all of us who are his shall be raised with him and he will reign in the fullest sense.

    If you are referring to the varying views Christians have about apocalyptic writings (like the book of Revelation, I believe in an a-millennial view. I do not believe Christ will literally reign for 1,000 years on earth. I believe that the 1,000 years referred to in Revelation 20 is not literal but rather a figurative number referring to a complete amount of time. Further, time and space are human concepts. God is truly infinite, not bound by time or space. If you let me know what passage you are referring to we could discuss it with the desire of seeking truth.

    Jeff

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