THE EMPTY TOMB
The purpose for which John wrote his account of Jesus's life is so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He illustrated the effec of the evidence on him and his companions. After Jesus cleansed the temple and said that when the Jews destroyed the temple of His body He would raise it up in three days, John wrote, "Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them, and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said" (John 2:22).
Fully one-third of the book of John by verses is devoted to the last 24 hours of Jesus's life. The object of the whole is belief. In the cross unbelief and belief reach the climax of their conflict. In the resurrection, His claim to deity is verified and His victory complete. The empty tomb stands as a roadblock in the way of all unbelief.
To understand the empty tomb, we must first look at the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus (all scripture references are in John unless otherwise noted). At His arrest in the garden, His frankness startled the Jews (18:1-8). The Jewish trial was first before Annas then Caiaphas (18:12-24). The Roman trial took place before Pilate (18:28--19:15).
After questioning Jesus, Pilate declared Him innocent and attempted to release Him, but the Jews demanded His crucifixion and Pilate relented. The crucifixion took place on Golgotha between two thieves, and Pilate placed above the cross an ironic statement (19:16-37). John does not emphasize the details of Christ's physical suffering but rather the reality of His death. The purpose is to show that He fully accomplished His mission, and this is demonstrated by the separation of the blood. Also, several prophecies are cited as being fulfilled.
Next, we must look at the evidence of the resurrection and the empty tomb itself. John remarks on the character of the body and the tomb (19:38-42). The body was only partially anointed because of haste in preparation for the Sabbath, thus making it likely that people would come back to finish the anointing, and it was a new tomb where man had never been laid so there would be no confusion with other dead bodies. Three days later, the stone was rolled away and the tomb open (20:1). Who rolled the stone away? Was it Jesus's friends or His enemies? Other accounts indicate that it was an angel. But why? Was it to let Jesus out? Perhaps, but that would not be necessary. It may well have been to let the witnesses in to examine the evidence. After the announcement by Mary Magdalene to the apostles that the stone was rolled away, Peter and John ran to the tomb and made a careful survey (20:3-10). They saw the linen clothes empty and the facial napkin neatly folded by itself, thus indicating that there was no hurried theft of the body, and it was at this point that John understood and believed.
Finally, we must look at the effect of the resurrection on the lives of those who witnessed the risen Lord. Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene (20:11-18). At first Mary was frustrated because she thought that someone had taken the body, but after she saw and recognized Jesus, she was full of joy and good news. Later that day, He appeared to the disciples (20:19-23). Even though He had repeatedly told them of His coming death and resurrection, they apparently did not believe Him--then, or even after the resurrection at first! Yet, it was not long before these men were preaching the resurrection of Christ in the face of ridicule and persecution (Acts 2:22-36, 4:18-20, 5:27-42). And then, a week later, He appeared to Thomas (20:24-29). This one, who even with the testimony of the others had refused to believe, upon seeing Jesus for Himself went from a skeptic to a firm believer.
How can such changes be accounted for? "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3). It was the certain knowledge of Christ's resurrection that enabled these people to have the courage to stand up for Jesus no matter what happened to them because it gave them hope.
The conflict between belief and unbelief has been presented. The triumph of truth is absolute. The evidence is sufficiently conclusive to convince any honest individual that Jesus was raised from the dead. Therefore, He is the Christ of God, just as John wrote. "And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name" (20:30-31).
By Wayne S. Walker
THE DEFENDER Volume 47; January 23, 2005; Number 4
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