The Empty Tomb

The Empty Tomb

David Leathem

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead is the foundation stone of Christianity and in many respects the most important fact in history. It has been called “the Gibraltar of Christian evidences”, and “the Waterloo of infidelity.” The cross of Christ is meaningless without the resurrection, as Paul writes, “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain,” (1 Cor. 15:14). The writer of The Acts tells us, “He showed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God,” (Acts 1:3). Verse 2 of this same passage tells us that it was the apostles to whom He showed Himself, but to these witnesses might be added more than five hundred brethren which saw Him on another occasion (1 Cor. 15:6). In these days of shameless unbelief and of intense attack upon the great truths of revelation we need for our own profit, more and more to study the cardinal facts of our Christian faith.

When the Lord made known to His disciples for the first time that He would rise from the dead (Mark 9:9), “They began questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean.” Apparently, even after they had seen the empty tomb, they were still unable to grasp its significance, for we read, “As yet they knew not the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead,” (John 20:9). In spite of this, these very men became fearless witnesses of the resurrection, for, “With great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,” (Acts 4:33). In several instances they sealed their testimony with their blood. The veracity of all Christ’s statements and the vindication of His character are inseparably linked with the resurrection.

Now, although this was the Lord’s first intimation to His own that He would rise from the dead, the Old Testament Scriptures abound in figures, types, and predictions of this wonderful truth. The event where Abraham offers his son Isaac and receives him back from the dead in figure, is a foregleam of
Christ’s death and resurrection. In Abraham’s intention Isaac died; in his expectation he rose again from the dead. The Only Begotten Son of God did die, and He did rise again, (Heb. 11:17-19). During the Feast of Firstfruits, celebrated on the morrow after the Sabbath, that is, on the first day of the week, the waving of the sheaf of first-fruits before the Lord, reminds us of that first day of the week when Christ arose and became the first-fruits of them that sleep, (1 Cot. 15:20-23). On the Day of Pentecost Peter applied the words of Psalm 16 to the resurrection of Christ declaring, “David… being a prophet and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that His soul was not left in hell, neither His flesh did see corruption,” (Acts 2:30-31).

The testimony to His resurrection is threefold, human, angelic, and divine. The devoted women who came to anoint His body with sweet spices found Him alive and, holding Him by the feet, worshipped Him, (Matt. 28:9). Reference has already been made to the fact that He showed Himself to the disciples. The story concocted by His enemies only serves to confirm that He rose from the dead. It is recorded that, “Some of the watch came into the city and showed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.” They were then given money by the elders to propagate a lie, (Matt. 28:11-12). The angelic messenger, as he sat upon the stone, that had earlier been sealed by Pilate’s decree, was heard to say, “He is not here, for He is risen. Come, see the place where the Lord lay,” (Matt. 28:2-6).

The literal resurrection of Christ is further proved in that upper room. His invitation to His own, “Handle Me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have,” leaves no room for doubt. Here we have a corporeal manifestation of the Lord. He also convinces them of His identity by turning their attention to His hand’s and feet. “It is I myself,” they hear Him say, (Luke 24:39). At a later dale, Peter tells Cornelius that He ate and drank with His disciples after He had risen from the dead, (Acts 10:41).

John in his Gospel presents a graphic picture of the touching scenes on that never-to-be-forgotten first day of the week. The fourfold vision of the sepulchre is of absorbing interest, and is progressive in its manifestation. Mary is found running from the tomb with tidings to Peter and John that the Lord’s body has been taken away. This sudden change in events causes the disciples to go with haste to see for themselves. John reaches the sepulchre before Peter and, “Stooping down, looking in, saw (blepo) the linen clothes lying, yet went he not in,” (John 20:5). This is the first part of the vision and suggests but a casual glance. John, characteristically, stands in awe; he learns what Mary has told them is evidently true, the tomb is empty, the body of the Lord is nowhere to be seen. Peter, who was following John, now arrives, and being naturally impulsive goes right into the sepulchre, “And seeth (theoreo) the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about His head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself,” (John 20:6-7). The word “seeth” (theoreo) in the second part of the vision suggests he took a complete survey of the contents of the tomb, and thus saw also the napkin. The napkin was “wrapped together,” or “rolled up,” as the words really mean, in a place by itself, but the grave clothes lay in their original convolutions. Christ had left behind Him the habilements of death. The linen clothes and napkin remained as mute witnesses of His resurrection. No hand had disturbed the rounded shape of those
clothes. This was the act of the Blessed God Himself, (Eph. 1:10-20).

Now in the third part of the vision, John follows the example of Peter and upon entering the sepulchre, “Saw (eidin) and believed,” (John 20:8). This look fully convinced the apostle. All doubt was gone in spite of the fact that, “They knew not the Scripture, that He must arise again from the dead,” (verse 9). It does seem strange that the two disciples should return again to their own home following this wonderful revelation. By so doing they missed the message of the angels, and the sight of their glorious Lord.

In our final scene, Mary, in true hearted devotion and love to her Lord is seen weeping, and as she weeps, “Seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.” (John 20:12). What a reminder these are of the Mercy Seat of old whereon sat the Cherubim gazing down on the blood sprinkled there! Actually there is no cloud of incense here, nor is there the sprinkling of blood, for the work that vindicated the throne of God, and satisfied offended justice has been fully accomplished. Here, in the empty tomb, we have a silent yet eloquent witness to the glorious triumph of Christ over death and the grave. The vacant sepulchre provides us with the negative evidence of the resurrection, but Mary in the garden finds the real positive proof that Christ had arisen for, “She turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.” The visible presence of the Lord, the true Shekinah Glory, is outside the grave, and there He appears to His own in the power of an endless life, and in the nearness of a new eternal relationship. As Mary waits and weeps, because of her personal loss, she is questioned by Him whom she supposes to be the gardener “Whom seekest thou?” In her zeal she replies, “Sir, if thou have borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away,” (John 20:15). Her faith and strength are but the expressions of her love to the Master. “Jesus saith unto her, Mary.” Mary, turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.” She knew His voice; it was He, Himself. He was indeed alive, and although for the present she must not detain Him, for Him she bears a message to His own, “Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord.”