Two men ran through the streets of the city, trying to see if it was true. Over the final sprint one outran the other and arrived on the scene first. Stopping, he stooped down and looked into the space and noticed the linen cloths that had once wrapped a body. Astounded, he didn't immediately enter.
His friend, not hesitating, tucked his head and went inside. He also saw the same linen cloths, with a separate piece lying nearby. He too was stunned.
Then the other joined him inside. Staring at the empty, rock-carved room, they came to realize something beyond human belief had occurred.
These two men, Peter and John, were standing in the empty tomb where a little more than three days and nights earlier the dead body of their Master and Teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, had been placed (see John 20:1-10).
They had come to an empty tomb and, on soon discovering what this meant, their lives were transformed. Jesus was not there. He had risen from the dead. Everything had changed.
A defining teaching
Have you looked into that tomb and considered what it means? Have you seen that Christ is indeed risen from the dead? Have you allowed your life and your thinking to be transformed by this event?
Jesus Christ's resurrection is a defining teaching of the Bible. So let's examine it directly from Scripture, without traditions that were added later.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ formed a central part of the announcement that the apostles took to the world. Peter stated in his first recorded sermon:
"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it . . .
"This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear . . . Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:22-36).
Over the next 40 days some of these men and women personally saw the resurrected Christ and heard His teaching about the Kingdom of God. They saw and accepted this as a fact that confirmed their faith and enabled them to take the gospel to the peoples of their day.
Their testimony, written in the book of Acts and the epistles of Paul, is firsthand evidence—eyewitness testimony of Christ's resurrection.
The apostle Paul showed that the resurrection is central to the Christian hope: "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures . . . Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 1 Corinthians 15:12).
Did it really happen?
The chief priests and Pharisees went to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate to request security guards at the tomb so that Jesus' disciples would not come and steal the body to claim He had been resurrected. They remembered that Jesus said He would be raised after three days and nights in the tomb. Pilate gave them a guard detail, and the stone that had been placed in front of the tomb entrance was shut with a seal (Matthew 27:62-66). The authorities knew this, both Roman and Jewish. Precautions were taken.
Matthew's account goes into detail to show there were eyewitnesses to an earthquake and that an angel had rolled back the stone covering the tomb entrance. The guards shook with fear to the point of being frozen into inaction (Matthew 28:2-4).
These same guards—and keep in mind they were not Christ's disciples—went and reported what had happened, what they saw with their own eyes, to the authorities. They were bribed by the officials to keep quiet. This was a commonly known fact among the Jews for many years (Matthew 28:11-15).
People knew about the resurrection of Jesus. There were multiple eyewitnesses.
Paul reported that the risen Christ was seen by all the apostles and that He was also seen by more than 500 others (1 Corinthians 15:5-8)—these in turn having given eyewitness testimony to thousands!
The point is that this was not done in a corner, covered up and then dragged out to dress up an effort to create a new sect the disciples wanted to start.
Think about this. These unlearned fishermen, tax collectors and women were the least likely of people to start a new religious movement—especially one built on the story of a man who had been crucified as a criminal and then raised from the dead!
Paul makes the case to the Christians in Corinth that they have a Savior and a hope of salvation. He wanted there to be no doubt in their mind of this truth. For you and I there can be no doubt as well. Paul goes on to show the implications of a faith without a resurrected Savior:
"But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty . . . And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable" (1 Corinthians 15:13-19).
Either Jesus Christ rose from the dead or He didn't. This is a deep issue of faith for a believer. Our modern world is geared to rip from our mind and heart any belief in God or that Jesus of Nazareth was the divine Son of God, sent to earth, born of a virgin, who died and was resurrected to life eternal and sits today at the right hand of God the Father, waiting for the time to return in all power and glory.
This is the most important of matters in this life for you and me to resolve!
The empty tomb
Faith for me is a lifetime project. It began in my youth. I had an unusual opportunity to think deeply about this while in Jerusalem for a summer of work and study, walking over the same land where Jesus lived and taught.
There is a site in Jerusalem called the Garden Tomb. Years ago some proposed it as the tomb where Jesus was laid after His death. Further study has proven this to not be the case. Nevertheless, it does give an idea of what a rolling-stone tomb of the first century A.D. looked like—and it sits in a beautiful garden setting, as Christ's tomb did. Today you can visit that empty tomb in Jerusalem and get a good idea of what the disciples saw.
I used to walk down to this site and sit for a time thinking about the impact of the resurrection. In a rock-cut tomb like this you can imagine all the events described by the Gospel writers.
Christ's body was carried in and laid on a rock-cut bench inside the tomb. Oils and special herbs would be applied to the body, which was then wrapped in linen cloth. The round stone was then rolled across the entrance, sealing the room in darkness.
Three days and nights passed in silence and darkness. And then a flash of light penetrated the dark, and life returned to the body—not the same physical life but a spirit life beyond what any human being had ever experienced. The fullness of God energized the lifeless form, and it was transformed into spiritual glory. Jesus Christ had risen from the dead, and mankind had a Savior!
Without a resurrection, Christianity is nothing more than a human philosophy on par with all other creeds and teachings. With the resurrection, nothing else matters more than this central fact and truth. With it everything becomes possible.
Symbolism in His last meal before dying and the festival that followed
On the final evening before His death, Jesus had a meal with the disciples. Commonly called the Last Supper, it was actually a Passover meal. But on that evening Christ made some significant changes.
Notice what Paul tells us: "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'Take eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it [i.e., every Passover], in remembrance of Me'" (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
The events of Christ's death took place at the time of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. These festivals are first described in Exodus 12 at the time Israel departed from Egypt under Moses. Christ's death and resurrection breathed new meaning into these festivals.
The apostle Paul eloquently summed up these festivals to the group of believers in Corinth. He was drawing to the attention of this non-Jewish, mostly gentile congregation the fact that God's festivals are to be observed with new meaning and relevance.
Notice what he told them—and, by extension, us today: "Your glorying [a reference to their pride in tolerating sin in their midst] is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).
Jesus Christ, our Passover, fulfilled the symbol of the lambs killed for centuries as part of the Passover service. His sacrifice, once for all time (Hebrews 9:28), was part of God's plan of salvation from the outset.
Buried before the Holy Day and risen as foretold
Christ was laid in a new tomb cut from solid rock, a rolling-stone tomb common to first-century Jerusalem. The Gospels tell us this was done hurriedly since the Sabbath was coming on.
What most misunderstand about this "Sabbath" is that it was not the weekly Sabbath, which was always Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, but actually the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a different Holy Day that was also a Sabbath—a particular calendar date that could fall on different days of the week in different years. John 19:31 makes this day's distinction from the regular weekly Sabbath clear, pointing out, "That Sabbath was a high day."
As a prophetic sign that He is the Messiah, Christ said He would be in the grave for three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40). This came to pass exactly as He foretold. It was the one sign He gave to the skeptics that He indeed was who He claimed to be (see "Three Days and Three Nights: Did Jesus Keep His Word?").
When the disciples came to the tomb that morning they found it empty. The prophecies had come true. As foretold, the Holy One of God had seen no decay in the grave (Acts 2:25-27; compare Psalm 16:10).
Indeed, scores of Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled with these events (see "Do Prophecies About Jesus Prove He Was the Messiah?"). Over the coming weeks, Jesus' disciples would, with His help, put together the pieces and come to better understand how He fulfilled various aspects foretold about the long-awaited Messiah.
A mission and a message
His disciples then set out on the commission Jesus gave them to take the gospel, the good news of the Kingdom of God, to the world and make disciples of all nations—preaching far and wide to the world of their day. We see this fascinating story in the book of Acts, and through the teaching of the apostles we learn the importance of Christ's life and resurrection to our hope of salvation and eternal life.
Christ's death paid the penalty for sin. That judgment is lifted from us when we repent and accept His sacrifice for the remission of sins. This begins the process of salvation for us. But our hope of eternal life as part of God's family in the Kingdom lies in receiving the life of Christ within us. Understanding this vital key is critical. Look at what Paul writes in Romans as he conveys this truth:
"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation" (Romans 5:8-11).
"We shall be saved by His life"
Paul's statement that "we shall be saved by His life" is something we should understand. Many times devout and well-meaning people focus only on Christ's death for salvation and do not bring into proper perspective His life.
His passion and death are very important aspects of God's plan. His death provides us with the sacrifice necessary for the reconciliation with God and the forgiveness of sin.
But this only begins the process. That Christ lived again, was resurrected from the grave, and lives today is necessary for us to have any hope of eternal life. For it is the risen Christ who helps us to continue in obedience to God and intercedes with the Father when we fall short.
Yes, God forgives us and saves us through His grace—the gift of His divinely bestowed favor. We do not earn salvation (eternal life) through obedience. Nonetheless, God requires as a condition of His gift of salvation that we cease from practicing sin as a way of life and start obeying Him. Follow on in Romans 6: "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1-2).
Sin is a word that many don't like to admit today. People do not want to accept the idea of conduct that violates the law of God. Our physically saturated world dulls our sensitivities to a spiritual dimension of life that is real. So many tend to think the physical is all there is to life.
As a result, the existence of spiritual laws that govern how we live—that's right, I mean govern—is a thought foreign to many. Man is a physical being but with a spiritual dimension that allows us to connect with God and have a relationship with Him. The spiritual laws He revealed, when obeyed, enable us to live free of a lot of the pain and suffering brought on by bad decisions and behavior.
This is what Paul meant in Romans 12:1-2 when he wrote: "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will" (New International Version).
Most people don't realize that a wonderful, blessed life, a new standard, is in store for them if they are open to the transformation God offers (see "A New Life Leading to Eternal Life"). As Christ described it: "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together [to make room for more] and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Luke 6:38, NIV).
Christ's resurrection paved the way for us to experience, to taste and see, to know God better and to live the abundant life He has for us (John 10:10). We begin to think differently, and our lives have the potential to be more than we ever imagined—for they can be what God imagines!