Hey I’m Josh Hawkins, welcome to Episode 151 of Opening Up the Gospels. In Episode 150, we looked at the Gospels’ record of the burial of Jesus. We saw how two high ranking Jewish officials, Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus, and Nicodemus, who may have been a disciple but at least was sympathetic to Jesus, helped give the Lord a proper burial after His death on Friday afternoon. The Gospels record only one event on the Sabbath, or Saturday, and that was recorded in Matthew 27 where the Jewish authorities come before Pilate and ask for Jesus’ tomb to be secured because they feared the theft of His body. We can only imagine how those closest to Jesus, like His mother and His disciples, must have been feeling after these events. Not only was Jesus brutally killed as an insurrectionist before their very eyes, but all of their hopes in who they had believed Him to be as that long-awaited king of Israel had been dashed. This king was prophesied to crush Israel’s enemies and reign forever, and now He was rotting in the grave. I can just picture two sleepless nights for them not only because of the death of Jesus, but also because of fear of the Jewish authorities and the Romans. To be associated with a condemned insurrectionist in one way or another meant that persecution or death might be your portion too. Had Jesus’ disciples wasted over two years of their life for just another Messianic pretender? Had Jesus been defeated by the Romans just as easily as all of the others in the recent past of Israel? Well, the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament answer those questions definitively with a resounding “no”. God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day, just as He had said. He did not stay in that tomb, and this history-shaping event is the very thing that sets apart our faith from every other faith in the world.
There’s so much that can be said about the resurrection of Jesus. According to the Apostle Paul, it’s the point on which everything in the faith rises and falls. He says this in 1 Corinthians 15:
"And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied."
(1 Corinthians 15:14–19 ESV)
Paul stakes everything on the veracity of the resurrection. In the same chapter in 1 Corinthians, he writes about the large amount of eyewitnesses, which, from a historiographical perspective, is more than ample evidence to support the historicity of the resurrection. Now there are a couple of important points I want to make before we look at the story from the Gospels. First, Jesus’ resurrection is a confirmation that Jesus’ and the apostles’ way of interpreting the scriptures was correct. The writings of the New Testament constantly use Jesus’ resurrection as the “interpretive lens” to understand and confirm the things that God promised. It was the quintessential, ideal way to show that God would accomplish everything that He said, as He said it, in the Law and the Prophets. And secondly, the resurrection gives special weight to Jesus’ words and His manner of life. Because He alone has the words that bring eternal life, as passages like John 6 say, and He was the only man to ever come out of the grave with eternal life thus far, His pattern of living becomes the point of reference, the standard, of submission and devotion to God. This is why the Apostles continually point to Jesus as the example, the one they imitate in their manner of life, and how they call others to look at Jesus and model Him.
Well, let’s turn to the Gospels now and look at the story. All four of them record details about the resurrection, and it can be fairly difficult to harmonize them because we don’t know all of the finer details on how it played out. What we can be confident in, though, is the major details that are confirmed, and that there were reliable eyewitnesses to it all. So let’s start from John’s account in John 20:
"Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”"
(John 20:1–2 ESV)
The first important detail John gives is that it’s the first day of the week. Matthew adds the detail saying that it was “after the Sabbath”, which was on a Saturday. So we’re clearly talking about what we would call Sunday in our modern reckoning, which would be “the third day” after Jesus’ crucifixion, according to Jewish reckoning. Now John says that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark out. The other Gospels also say that the other women who were with Mary Magdalene at the cross also approached the tomb early in the morning as the week was dawning. John leaves us with the impression that Mary Magdalene had arrived first, and upon her arrival, was the first to see the stone rolled away from the tomb. Matthew’s Gospel adds these details:
"And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men."
(Matthew 28:2–4 ESV)
So there’s yet another earthquake, like we saw at the death of Jesus back in Episode 148, and Matthew says that the one who rolled back the stone of the tomb and scared the guards was an angel from God. It’s hard to place exactly when this happened in the whole sequence. Did Mary Magdalene witness this? Did this happen as she was approaching the tomb? Or did this happen before she even arrived? It’s hard to tell, because John records her almost immediate departure to Peter and John after seeing that there was no longer any stone covering the tomb.
Now Mark 16 records that the women, upon their approach to the tomb, were discussing among themselves who would roll back the stone so that they could go in and further embalm the body of Jesus. But upon their arrival and not seeing Mary Magdalene, the others must have been wondering how the tomb had been opened. Perhaps they thought Mary Magdalene had found some help. Whatever the case, they entered the tomb and saw something that shocked them. Luke 24 says:
"And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the 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 delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”"
(Luke 24:2–7 ESV)
So they go in, expecting a pungent smell and the sight of the body of Jesus wrapped in linen cloths per the burial custom of the Jews. But as they stood there in the dark tomb, baffled and confused, the area lit up as two angels appeared to them. Luke says they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground. As we’ve seen several times throughout the Gospels, the language used here surely falls short in describing how they felt. Their emotions must have been on a roller coaster the last several days. Now the angels themselves confirm that Jesus’ body hadn’t been stolen or lost, but that Jesus had in fact risen from the dead just as He had said when He was in Galilee. Jesus had told them this when He was on the road from Galilee to Jerusalem, as recorded in Mark 10 and Luke 18, a detail we looked at back in Episode 112. Luke 24 continues, saying:
"And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven 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 told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened."
(Luke 24:8–12 ESV)
So the women left the tomb and said not a word to anyone until they reached the apostles, all telling what they saw and heard. Luke says that the eleven did not believe them, and what the women had reported sounded like a fairy tale. But Peter arose and ran to the tomb, desiring to see if their report was indeed true. John also ran with him, according to John 20:
"So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes."
(John 20:3–10 ESV)
I love this - it’s still early Sunday morning and these two young disciples are running to the tomb, and John himself reports that he outran Peter and made it to the tomb first. He only stooped to look into it, and while he did see the grave clothes, didn’t go all the way in. This could have been for a couple of reasons: first, perhaps it was because he was afraid. Or second, as some commentators say, perhaps it was because he was of a priestly lineage, and thus entering a tomb would defile him. Whatever the case, John records that Peter showed up after him and went into the tomb. There, he saw the linen grave cloths as well as the neatly folded separate face cloth, which has been shown to be typical Jewish burial practice at the time by archaeologists. Peter’s reaction must have compelled John to enter the tomb, and after walking in, he himself saw and believed. John also records one final and important detail - that they did not yet understand the Scripture, that Jesus must rise from the dead. John has in mind much more than just understanding Jesus’ words that He was going to die and then be raised. Remember, “the scripture” here is not referring to the New Testament. John is talking about what I mentioned earlier - that the resurrection was the “interpretive key” to understanding how God was going to bring to pass everything that He had spoken in the Law and the Prophets. As we’ll see in the next episode, Jesus meets a couple of disciples on the road and walks them through the Old Testament. As we see from how the apostles preached in the book of Acts, Jesus isn’t saying “hey guys, I had to die and rise again so you could go to heaven with me someday.” We’ll see that He’s explaining how the promises God gave throughout the Old Testament will come to pass, and it how it was necessary first for that promised king of Israel to die and then rise from death before establishing those promises at the Day of the Lord.
Well, we’re almost at the end of our look at the Gospels and the story of Jesus’ life. Be sure to come back next time as I walk through some of the resurrection appearances of Jesus. In the meantime, you can find all the past episodes in this series on my website - www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, and come back next time.