Considering the centrality of the resurrection to Christianity, what historical facts form our foundation for authentic biblical faith? Why do we as Christians believe that Jesus literally and bodily rose from the grave? The answer to these crucial questions is open for discovery through the testimony of observers who documented the event as recorded in the New Testament. Matthew recounts:
“Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow.
And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.”
After the horrific events of the previous week, the disciples were afraid and confused.
It’s not hard to imagine Mary Magdalene’s state of mind as she approached the rock-cut tomb in the predawn darkness Sunday morning.
From all indications, she was the first to arrive. John’s account suggests she scarcely noticed the absence of the soldiers posted to guard the tomb. Her focus was on one conspicuous reality. The huge stone that had blocked the entrance to the tomb was gone!
She was so surprised to see the open entrance to the tomb that she merely recognized the most obvious reality. Instead, Mary quickly ran to find Peter, no doubt convinced that he would know what to do. Her assumptions upon seeing the open tomb were revealed in her frantic words:
“They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him” (Jn. 20:2).
Peter and John responded with action; they ran to the tomb. John arrived first. Although some commentators like to manufacture a spiritualized explanation, the simple truth is that John arrived before Peter because he was a faster runner (Jn. 20:4).
Possibly winded from the sprint, John stopped and looked into the tomb. He may have thought he had seen all there was to see.
The Greek word translated “saw” (blepei) suggests that John, like Mary, only recognized the obvious—the entrance was open and the linens used to wrap the body were still in the tomb, but Jesus’ body was not.
Whatever kept John from entering—whether fear of defilement or simply reluctance to go into a tomb—it didn’t stop Peter. A moment later, he pushed past John and was standing inside.
From the interior of the sepulcher, Peter surveyed the details. Here another word for “saw” (theorei) conveys the idea of studying or analyzing. Peter saw the linens still lying where the body had been laid. He noted they were undisturbed; they lay wrapped, but no longer encasing Jesus’ body. Peter was the first to observe that the napkin originally covering the face of the crucified Lord wasn’t with the rest of the grave clothes; instead, it lay off to the side (Jn. 20:6-7).
As Peter absorbed and processed the information, John finally entered the tomb. John “saw” (eiden) the same details, but the Greek word used here conveys the idea that he “perceived or grasped” the significance of the facts (Jn. 20:8).
While Peter was trying to make sense of the situation, John put the facts together and believed. He didn’t understand the finer points, but he knew one thing—Jesus the Christ (Messiah) had risen from the dead and was alive! How else could the linen strips be left in the grave undisturbed? What other explanation could there be for the napkin being folded and lying in a place by itself?
The stone had been rolled away from the door to reveal that Messiah had indeed risen bodily from the grave!
MAKING SENSE OF REALITY
How many times over the previous six months had Jesus specifically instructed the disciples:
“that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day?” (Mt. 16:21; cf Mk. 8:31, Lk. 9:22, 17:25).
John adds the explanatory comment,
“For as yet they [the disciples] did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead” (Jn. 20:9).
Not fully understanding the implications of what they had seen in the tomb, at least John left grasping the reality that Jesus was alive. It is apparent Peter came to the same conclusion as demonstrated in his sermon on the day of Pentecost. Quoting the 16th Psalm, he told those gathered to hear him preach:
“concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses” (Ps. 16:10; Acts 2:27).
By the time Mary returned, Peter and John were gone. Distraught and weeping, she took a closer look and noted the details much like Peter. Studying the interior, she noticed two angels sitting at either end of the rock-hewn body bench. She heard them ask why she was weeping, but the significance of the angels’ presence escaped her. Distracted, she answered,
“they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him” (Jn. 20:13).
Without waiting for an answer, she came face to face with Jesus. In response to His questions, “why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She implored,
“Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away” (Jn. 20:15).
He only needed to speak her name, and she immediately recognized Him. In a split second, her acute grief was replaced with unbounded joy. She grabbed Him and would not let go forcing Jesus to respond,
“Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father” (Jn. 20:17).
In that moment, Mary became the first to experience the reality that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. She heard His voice. She saw His face. She touched His glorified body. He was alive!
The resurrection was not an ethereal spiritual event. Jesus rose physically and bodily from the dead and the facts were open for the world to see. He was crucified in Jerusalem. He was placed into a tomb in Jerusalem.
On the third day, that same tomb in Jerusalem was empty.
Jesus appeared in His resurrection body to the disciples and large groups of people in the environs of Jerusalem numerous times for 40 days after His resurrection (Acts 1:3). The disciples began announcing His resurrection in Jerusalem. Even James, Jesus’ skeptical brother, ultimately believed that Jesus rose from the dead and placed His faith in Him.
On the day of Pentecost (Shavuot) fifty days later, three thousand believed in the resurrected Messiah as a result of Peter’s preaching in Jerusalem. The book of Acts records, “the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
The evidence was so compelling, they were convinced that Jesus physically rose from the dead and believed. And, the apostle Paul, who initially rejected the resurrection and vigorously persecuted Christians, ultimately placed his faith in the resurrected Christ.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a non-negotiable and foundational tenet of Christianity. The historical record is open for investigation; and, the evidence provided in eyewitness testimony documents the facts.
John’s account concludes with the words, “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31).
Hallelujah! He lives!
For more thoughtful reading, click on Holy Week.
IMAGES (Used for illustrative purposes):
1) Madeleine et les saintes femmes au tombeau (Mary Magdalene and the Holy Women at the Tomb). By James Tissot/Purchased by Public Subscription, Brooklyn Museum/[No known copyright restrictions]/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios
2) Madeleine dans le tombeau interroge les anges (Mary Magdalene Questions the Angels in the Tomb) (1886 – 1894). By James Tissot/Purchased by Public Subscription, Brooklyn Museum/[No known copyright restrictions]/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios
3) Saint Pierre et Saint Jean courent au sépulcre (Saint Peter and Saint John Run to the Sepulchre) (1886 – 1894). By James Tissot/Purchased by Public Subscription, Brooklyn Museum/[No known copyright restrictions]/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios
4) Jésus ressuscité apparaît aux femmes sainte (Risen Jesus Appears to the Holy Women), (1886 – 1894). By James Tissot/Purchased by Public Subscription, Brooklyn Museum/[No known copyright restrictions]/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios
5) Saint Pierre et Saint Jean courent au sépulcre (Saint Peter and Saint John Run to the Sepulchre) (1886 – 1894). By James Tissot/Purchased by Public Subscription, Brooklyn Museum/[No known copyright restrictions]/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios
Copyright © 2016 Charles E. McCracken, commentary only. Repost/Reprint with permission. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Charles E. McCracken is an international Bible teacher, long-time friend of Israel and advocate for the Jewish people. Rev. McCracken authentically communicates biblical truth making his presentations relevant for those seeking to understand the significance of Israel and the church in Bible prophecy. He staunchly supports the nation of Israel and the Jewish people’s right to exist and live in peace.
Categories: Holy Week, Resurrection Sunday
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