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TITLE: THE EMPTY TOMB
Subtitle: Strong Circumstantial Evidence Concerning The Resurrection Of Jesus Christ From The Dead
I am convinced many people--believers and unbelievers alike--still do not understand how the absence of the Lord's body could possibly be proof of a supernatural resurrection. And because the "Easter" season is upon us and millions of people will once again purge themselves of another years' accumulated religious fervor by honoring a local Church with their presence, this article should be timely. I put "Easter" in quotes because it is actually a pagan holiday that found its way into Roman Catholicism and was used as a substitute for the Jewish feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits--all observed on three successive days during the first week of the Jewish new year. God intended that these feasts be "types" of the future Messiah and they were all fufilled to the very letter as "antitypes" in the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
But how could the mere absence of a body be so astounding as to inspire belief in those who viewed the empty tomb? Why was the cover story by the chief priests and Pharisees that the disciples stole the body not believed by the people? The answer may surprise you, but the tomb was not actually empty!
To refresh our memories, we need to review the following passages of Scripture taken from the Gospel accounts:
" When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus.  He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus, and Pilate ordered that it be given him.  And Joseph took the body and rolled it up in a clean linen cloth used for swathing dead bodies,  And laid it in his own fresh [undefiled] tomb, which he had hewn in the rock; and he rolled a big boulder over the door of the tomb and went away..... The next day, that is, the day after the day of preparation [for the Sabbath], the chief priests and the Pharisees assembled before Pilate [63 And said, Sir, we have just remembered how that vagabond Imposter said, while He was still alive, After three days I will rise again.  Therefore give an order to have the tomb made secure and safeguarded until the third day, for fear His disciples go and steal Him away, and tell the people that He has risen from the dead, and the last deception and fraud will be worse than the first.  Pilate said to them, You have a guard of soldiers; [take them and] go, make it as secure as you can.  So they went off and made the tomb secure by sealing the boulder, a guard of soldiers being with them and remaining to watch" (Matthew 27:57-60; 62-66; Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible commentary)
" Joseph, he of Arimathea, noble and honorable in rank and a respected member of the council (Sanhedrin), who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, daring the consequences, took courage and ventured to go to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.  But Pilate wondered whether He was dead so soon, and having called the centurion, he asked him whether [Jesus] was already dead.  And when he learned from the centurion [that He was indeed dead], he gave the body to Joseph.  And Joseph bought a (fine) linen cloth [for swathing dead bodies], and taking Him down from the cross, he rolled Him up in the (fine) linen cloth; and placed Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of a rock. Then he rolled a [very large] stone against the door of the tomb" (Mark 15:43-46, Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible commentary)
" Now notice, there was a man named Joseph from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council [the Sanhedrin], and a good (upright, advantageous) man and righteous--in right standing with God and man,  Who had not agreed with or assented to the purpose and action of the others, and he was expecting and waiting for the kingdom of God.  This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  Then he took it down and rolled it up in a linen cloth for swathing dead bodies, and laid Him in a rock-hewn tomb, where no one had ever yet been laid......[24:1] But on the first day of the week at early dawn [the women] went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had made ready.  And they found the stone rolled back from the tomb,  But when they went inside they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  And while they were perplexed and wondering what to do about this, behold two men in dazzling raiment suddenly stood beside them.  And as [the women] were frightened and were bowing their faces to the ground, the men said to them, Why do you look for the living among [those who are] dead?  He is not here, but has risen! Remember how He told you while He was still in Galilee,  That the Son of man must be given over into the hands of sinful men [that is, men whose way or nature is to act in opposition to God], and be crucified, and on the third day rise (from death).  And they remembered His words,  And having returned from the tomb they reported all these things (taken together) to the eleven apostles and to all the rest.  Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who reported these things to the apostles;  But these reports seemed to the men as an idle tale--madness, feigned things, nonsense--and they did not believe the women.  But Peter got up and ran to the tomb, and stooping down and looking in, he saw the linen cloths alone by themselves, and he went away wondering and marveling at what had happened" (Luke 23:50-53; 24:1-12, Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible commentary)
" And after this Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. And Pilate granted him permission. So he came and took away His body.  And Nicodemus also, who at first had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, [weighing] about a hundred pounds.  So they took Jesus' body, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices (aromatics), as is the Jew's customary way to prepare for burial.  Now there was a garden in the place where He was crucified and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had ever [yet] been laid.  So there, because of the Jewish day of Preparation [and] as the tomb was near by, they laid Jesus. [20:1] Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw the stone had been removed from--lifted out of [the groove across the entrance of]--the tomb.  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus tenderly loved, and said to them, They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him!  Upon this Peter and the other disciple came out and they went toward the tomb.  And they came running together, and the other disciple outran Peter and arrived at the tomb first.  And stooping down he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not enter.  Then Simon Peter came up, following him, and went into the tomb, and saw the linen cloths lying there.  But the burial napkin (or kerchief) which had been around Jesus' head, was not lying with the other linen cloths, but was [still] rolled up--wrapped round and round--in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, went in too, and he saw and was convinced and believed.  For as yet they did not know (understand) the statement of Scripture that He must rise again from the dead" (John 19:38-42;20:1-9, Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible commentary, emphasis mine).
These parallel accounts were written by different men and contain vital fragments of information which we must piece together in order to obtain a complete picture of what took place during that earth-shaking point in time. And as we carefully note the exact wording, we will discover why "the other disciple" in the Gospel of John (most scholars believe it was John himself) only had to see the evidence to believe that the Lord had truly risen from among the dead! What did he see that was so convincing? Remember I said at the outset that the tomb was not actually empty--the linen burial cloths were left behind. And the manner in which these cloths were found is the key to understanding what is usually missed by a casual reading of the narrative. But first of all, let me point out that there were cloths--plural. Note that in verse 7 of John's account above, that the burial napkin is described as being distinct from the other cloths--so the plurality does not exist between the napkin and another cloth, singular. The reason I want to call attention to this is because of the so-called "Shroud of Tourin"--held by the Catholic Church to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. According to what I have been taught about the burial ritual of the Jews, many strips of linen were used to wrap the body and not just a single sheet of cloth, as is the case with the "Shroud." Depending upon the social stature and wealth of the individual to be buried, many pounds of expensive spices were used to "embalm" the body (hence the etymology of the word) and were interspersed among the various linen strips wound about the corpse. In this particular case, Nicodemus brought "about a hundred pounds" of spices--which, according to tradition, must have meant that the Lord weighed about 200 pounds, because the approximation was supposedly one pound of spices for every two pounds of body weight. The strips were wrapped about the body up to the neck and the final cloth, or napkin, was wound about the head--in a "mummy" fashion, perhaps a burial custom learned centuries earlier during Israel's stay in Egypt?
So the scene that confronted the visitors to the tomb was a cocoon of linen strips and spices minus the body! Plus the head covering was still intact, but at some distance away from the rest--giving even more evidence of a supernatural resurrection. Common sense was all that was required to recognize the obvious and even the most ignorant among the populace was able to comprehend what had taken place. But like true children of the devil, the chief priests and Pharisees did not allow this minor detail to keep them from hatching up a "plausible explanation." as we see in the following passage:
" Then Jesus said to them, Do not be alarmed and afraid; go and tell My brethren to go into Galilee, and there they will see Me.  While they were on their way, behold, some of the guard went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had occurred.  And when they had gathered with the elders and had consulted together, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers,  And said, Tell people, His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we were sleeping.  And if the governor hears of it, we will appease him and make you safe and free from trouble and care.  So they took the money and did as they were instructed, and this story has been current among the Jews to the present day" (Matthew 28:10-15, Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible commentary).
The action taken by the soldiers clearly indicates that they were terror stricken. Roman soldiers who lost that which they were supposed to guard, either took the prisoner's place or were summarily executed on the spot! And "sleeping on the job" was not tolerated, unless someone remained awake as a sentry. Therefore, the Jewish officials providing them with a cover story, a bribe (apparently large), and a promise to intervene if Pilate found out the truth, speak volumes about the reality of what had occurred. There was no love lost between these rulers and the Romans, so no other explanation but a supernatural resurrection will suffice to explain why they went to such great lengths to cover it up.
Yet, the word spread throughout Jerusalem and the surrounding area like wildfire. We know this to be the case because of verse 15 of Matthew 28 above, and a comment made by the apostle Paul in the Book of Acts when speaking before King Agrippa:
"For the king understands about these things well enough, and [therefore] to him I speak with bold frankness and confidence. I am convinced that not one of these things has escaped his notice, for all this did not take place in a corner--in secret" (Acts 26:26, Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible commentary, emphasis mine).
The evidence of the resurrection and the subsequent appearance of the Lord to His disciples in the upper room, transformed those men from cowering in fear to giants of the faith--faithfully proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ far and wide. People do not make such a radical change without having witnessed something stupendous--and this is something skeptics should seriously consider when they are tempted to dismiss the facts. "He is not here, but is risen!"--Praise the Lord!!
If you have been born again and received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, but have been very lukewarm in your spiritual walk with Him, you need to immediately ask Him for forgiveness and for renewal. He will instantly forgive you, and fill your heart with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Then, you need to begin a daily walk of prayer and personal Bible Study.
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