Skip to content

The Empty Tomb

April 11, 2022

The 14th Station of the Cross; the chapel built on the site of the tomb of Jesus Christ (Church of the Holy Seplucher, Jerusalem, DCR 3/13/22)

“Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen. . . (Luke 24: 5)

In his lecture on the Passion, Dr. Bill Creasy describes an imaginary conversation between Joseph of Arimathea and his wife when Joseph arrived home on Good Friday night after burying Jesus in the new tomb that he had purchased.  He tells his wife that he placed Jesus’ body in their tomb. “What?!!” she exclaimed.  “You gave that new tomb away?  Do you know how much it cost?”  To which Joseph replied, “Don’t worry, he only needs it for the week-end.”

But the disciples hadn’t yet grasped that fact.  The women were surprised and perplexed when they arrived with spices for the body early Sunday morning and found the stone rolled away and the body missing. Two angels, appearing as “men . . . in dazzling apparel . . . 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: 2-8). They ran to tell the others, who were skeptical—“their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24: 11).[1]  

It wasn’t until Jesus appeared to them later that day that they finally grasped the reality of Jesus’ resurrection: ”While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. ” (Luke 24: 36-37).  Their surprise soon turned to “joy and amazement” (Luke 24: 40) when reality began to set in. 

One of the psalms for Easter Sunday sets the tone for our rejoicing over the empty tomb:  “This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).  We rejoice on Easter because of the resurrection of Jesus, by which we are assured that we will also experience new life with him when our time on earth is over.  David sings “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead . . . you make known the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16: 9-11).

Christians don’t have to speculate about whether or not we will continue to live with God after our time on earth has ended. Paul assures us that “[I]n fact Christ has been raised from the dead . . . For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive“  (1 Corinthians 15: 20-21).  Jesus showed us how it is done—how believers will be resurrected into new life.  We celebrate the resurrection of Christ in every mass and worship service because it gives us great hope and assurance for our own future after death, as well as that of our loved ones.  

But can we trust the resurrection story, or is it a convenient myth?  The late Dr. Norman Geisler, a highly respected theologian and scholar, explained, “Evidence for the resurrection of Christ is compelling.  There are more documents, more eyewitnesses, and more corroborative evidence than for any other historical event of ancient history. The secondary, supplementary evidence is convincing; when combined with the direct evidence, it presents a towering case for the physical resurrection of Christ.  In legal terminology, it is ‘beyond all reasonable doubt.’”[2]

The following is a brief summary of the evidence in support of the resurrection, and answers to popular objections:

  • Archaeology and history support the Bible’s reliability:  Geisler examined Luke’s references to 32 countries, 54 cities, and 9 islands, and didn’t find a single mistake.  Renowned archaeologist Sir William Ramsay writes, “Luke’s historical accuracy, supported by archaeological evidence, provides credibility to his depiction of Jesus Christ and the accuracy of his writings . . . the book of Luke is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.”[3]    
  • Evidence for Jesus comes from many documents from the first century:  In addition to the New Testament, 39 ancient sources, such as Pliny, Josephus, and the Talmud, refer to the life of Jesus, his teachings, crucifixion, and/or resurrection. 
  • Jewish historian, Josephus: Even the first century Jewish historian, Josephus, who was not a believer, reported “At this time there was a wise man called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. Many people among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets reported wonders. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.” [4]
  • Jesus first appeared to a women (John 20:15-18; Matthew 28: 8-10). The first appearance of Jesus to women is “an unmistakable sign of authenticity . . . in a male dominated culture . . . In the first-century Jewish culture, a writer inventing a resurrection account would never have taken this approach. A woman’s testimony was not even accepted in court.” [5]
  • The transformed disciples are evidence of the truth of the resurrection: This fact is highly persuasive; if they were spinning a yarn, they would not have hid and been afraid.  Even more convincing is that they were still skeptical when the first reports of his resurrection were reported.  They didn’t actually accept it until Jesus appeared to them. And Thomas, who was not present when he initially appeared to them, continued to disbelieve the reports of Jesus appearances.  But a few weeks later, these same people were boldly proclaiming the resurrection of Christ, even to the chief priests who were responsible for Jesus’ death. 
  • The reaction of the Jewish authorities is confirms the truth of the resurrection.  They did not dispute the missing body or search for it, but instead, bribed the soldiers to lie (Matthew 28:11-15). 
  • Jesus appeared many times after his death, in his physical body, to his disciples and to others.  “Jesus appeared to more than 500 people over a forty day period of time. (Acts 1: 3). to Peter (1 Corinthians 15:5; John 20: 3-9; Mark 16: 12; Luke 24: 13-35); to ten disciples (Luke 24: 36-49; John 20: 19-23); to eleven disciples (John 20: 24-31); to seven disciples (John 21); to commission the apostles (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16: 14-18); to five hundred (1 Corinthians 15:6); to James (1 Corinthians 15:7): “Jesus’ brothers were unbelievers before his resurrection. The Gospel of John informs us that ‘even his own brothers did not believe in him’ (John 7:5). But after his resurrection, at least James and Jude became believers . . . James became a pillar of the early church.” (Baker Encyclopedia, p. 654); at the Ascension (Acts 1: 4-8); to Paul (Acts 9: 1-9; 1 Corinthians 15:8). On all . . . occasions Jesus was seen and probably heard. Four times he offered himself to be touched.  He was definitely touched twice. Jesus revealed his crucifixion scars on two occasions.” There are four accounts of the empty tomb, and he was witnessed eating food on four other occasions—all of which confirm that Jesus rose from the dead in a physical body” (Baker Encyclopedia, p. 655).
  • The early church consisted of Jews, who proclaimed that Jesus was God.  For their testimony as to Jesus as the Christ, they were beaten, persecuted, threatened with death and martyred.  This is strong evidence in support of their encounter with the resurrected Christ. 
  • Other theories against the resurrection accounts (the wrong tomb theory, the swoon theory, the stolen body theory, and others) have been debunked by scholars. Paul Maier summarizes that scholarship In The Fullness of Time.[6]

The scholarship of the past two thousand years supports Jesus’ resurrection.  The lives of millions of Christians who have experienced life with the living Jesus is also clear testimony that Jesus lives.  J. P. Moreland, a distinguished philosopher, stated to Lee Strobel that “the final confirming proof  [of the resurrection] is the ongoing encounter with the resurrected Christ that happens all over the world, in every culture, to people from all kinds of backgrounds and personalities—well educated and not, rich and poor, thinkers and feelers, men and women. They will testify that more than any other single thing in their lives, Jesus Christ has changed them.” [7]

Easter is a time for rejoicing for the resurrection proof that Jesus was raised from the dead and lives today. We give thanks for the gift of salvation that he secured for us.  St. Augustine of Hippo, often quoted by Pope John Paul, counseled: “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song.”  The transformation experienced by people all over the globe testifies to the truth of the gospel message and that Jesus lives today.  Believe it, rejoice in it, and be transformed by the Easter message.  He is Risen! Alleluia!

Prayer: Lord, forgive us and soften our hearts to become more receptive to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.   We praise and thank you for your sacrifices for us.  We praise and thank you for your witness after your resurrection, which brought to light your truth.  We praise and thank you for bringing love and joy into our lives. Lead us to your light.  Amen 

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for Easter Sunday are Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 16; Psalm 118: 15-29; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12.

[2] Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Books (1999), pp. 651-664.

[3] Ramsay, W. M., The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament. Baker Book House (1953). 

[4] Josephus: The Essential Works, translated by Paul L. Maier, Kregal Publications (1988), pp. 269-270. 

[5] Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 651.

[6] Paul L. Maier, Kregel Publications (1991), pp. 189-205.

[7] Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, Zondervan, (1998), p. 255.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: