Giving an Answer – Part 19
Resurrection: The Seal, the Guards, the Empty Tomb, the Grave Clothes, the Witnesses
Matthew 27:57–28:8; Mark 15:42–16:14; Luke 23:50–24:43; John 19:38–20:29
1 Peter Lesson #101
July 27, 2017
“Our Father, we’re thankful that we have a great salvation. We’re thankful for the evidence that You’ve given us in Your Word. We’re thankful for the fact that You expect us to engage our minds and to think about Your Word, to think about the rationales that are embedded in Your Word, to think about the evidence that You set forth in Your Word and to realize that our relationship with You is not one where we put our brain in neutral.
“Faith is not, as some people say, “emptying out your mind.” It’s not the absence of thought. It’s not even the absence of logic or evidence. Biblical faith is based on understanding Your Word which involves reason, involves evidence, involves logic, but it is not independent.
“Father, as we continue our study understanding the evidence of Christianity, specifically in relation to the Resurrection of Christ, we pray that You would help us to understand these things, to assimilate them, to make them part of our mental package, so that when called upon to witness, when asked a question about the Resurrection, we can give clear and cogent answers, and direct people to more significant information.
“Now, Father, we pray that You would help us to assimilate what we learn, that we can apply it consistently. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.”
We’re in our 19th installment on “Giving an Answer,” an applicational framework from 1 Peter 3:15. This is the passage that we stopped on, because the expectation, the challenge, the mandate there is that we all need to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in us. We need to know what we believe and we need to know why we believe it.
We can come to Bible class and we can hear somebody teach it, but unless we take the time to take notes, to sit down on our own with our Bibles to work through the information, that’s how it really becomes embedded in our souls. Not just answers in relationship to why Christianity is true, but all areas of biblical study are that way. We need to have that time where we think about it in a more personal sense in terms of our own personal study.
The area we’re in now is dealing with the Resurrection—the evidence of the Resurrection—which is for many people the most important aspect of Christianity. Paul says so. Scriptures indicate this, that without the Resurrection there is no biblical Christianity. The week before last we looked at the evidence of Christ’s death. Then last week we looked at it in terms of the burial, what was involved in the burial, and what was involved in the tomb itself.
This week we’re going to look at what happened to secure that tomb. And that relates to the seal, the guards—the nature of the Roman guards, the evidence of the empty tomb, how we know that the tomb was empty, the grave clothes that were seen in the tomb—the evidence there—as well as the post-Resurrection witnesses.
So when you think through this … I’m going to come back at the end of this—probably next Thursday night—and summarize this in terms of putting together five or six categories. And most of this you can summarize pretty quickly—at least in your head—or recognize what the evidence is, so that it becomes more usable when you’re witnessing to somebody.
So, in the last part of this series, we looked at the basic questions that unbelievers might ask—or even some unbelievers. Questions maybe your kids ask. And one of the things that you might be interested in is a series of books that Answers in Genesis puts out called The Answer Books. And we’ve got those back in the library. And you can look at those, but they’re just questions that many people ask about the Bible. What about this? What about that? And they give very good one or two paragraphs answers. It doesn’t go into things in a lot of detail, but they’re very good.
I remember when I was in college I got a book by Henry Morris, the founder of the Institute for Creation Research, called The Bible Has the Answer. And it was a 382-page book that was just a lot of questions. And I read through that and just learned a tremendous amount of how to answer the kinds of questions—not only that unbelievers ask, but that Christians ask.
So these are just three that come up.
1. Can we trust the Bible?
What’s the evidence for the Bible being what it claims to be?
2. Who was Jesus?
Understanding exactly Who Jesus was, who He claimed to be, Who He is, and how we know that He is what He claimed to be.
3. Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
The Resurrection. We’ve already spent two nights on this, and we’ll spend tonight on it, and probably wrap it all up tomorrow night.
So the basic passages on the Resurrection itself are in Matthew 28:1–10, Mark 16:1–11, Luke 24:1–12, and John 20:1–18. You might want to add 1 Corinthians 15. They’re not dealing with the historical situation. That’s Paul’s, as it were, theological defense of the Resurrection.
Now, as I’ve addressed this in terms of basic topics that you need to think through in regard to the Resurrection, there’s the burial. We looked at the summary of the passages last time and what they talked about.
Then we began to look at the securing of the tomb. And we stopped just about when I finished up talking about the seal that was placed on the tomb.
So, tonight I want to go through what we know about the guard at the tomb, and then the evidence of the desertion of the disciples. Followed by the reality, or the fact, of the empty tomb. And the grave clothes—what the disciples saw when they looked in the tomb, and how the grave clothes were left. And then the post-Resurrection witnesses.
Just a reminder in Acts1:3. Acts 1, at the beginning, summarizes what happens just before Jesus ascends to heaven. And in the first three verses, Luke is summarizing what he has said earlier in the Gospel of Luke. Talking about Jesus, he said, “to whom [that is, the disciples] He also presented Himself alive ...” That’s the Resurrection. They knew He was dead.
One of the complaints is, “Maybe Jesus passed out.” Well, if Jesus just passed out, and then He showed up, they were smart enough; they’re not these back woods rubes that don’t know anything. They are smart enough to be able to determine if He’s been raised from the dead or not.
And what would one of the evidences be that it would be clear that He was not in His mortal body? Well, He would just materialize in the middle of a room. Or He would walk through the door. He would do things that you couldn’t do in a mortal body. And the Scripture says that He presented Himself by many infallible proofs—it was evident to them.
So, again, it’s not that we don’t believe in evidence; it’s how you use the evidence. And that evidence indicates that Christians don’t believe in a vacuum. We’re not just believing something because it’s a nice story and somehow it gives meaning to our lives. We don’t look at what we believe as some sort of psychological drug that gets us through life. Marx is famous for saying that Christianity was “the opiate of the masses.” And that’s just not true at all. There is evidence, that is, factuality, and there’s historical evidence and proof that you can go to.
Now there are people who are going to say, “Well, we just don’t believe it.” Well, there are always going to be people like that, because the bottom line is volition and choosing whether or not you want to believe. It’s not a knowledge issue. It’s not an IQ issue. It’s not an intellect issue. It’s a spiritual issue of submission to God, Romans 1:18-22.
So He presented many infallible proofs of His Resurrection. And He was seen by them for 40 days. So they saw Him in lots of circumstances. They saw Him eat and drink. They had breakfast on the beach there at the Sea of Galilee. They saw Him in Jerusalem before they met Him up in Galilee. And they heard Him teach—many other things.
So, at the beginning last time we looked at the burial and talked about the significance of what is said in the Scripture, the evidence that’s presented about the fact of His burial. The week before we saw that He died. It was clear that He died; you can’t get away from the evidence that He actually died and that He was buried.
And then that they secured the tomb.
Then I showed you a few pictures of different 1st-century tombs that you can see in Galilee and also around Jerusalem.
You can’t see the empty tomb that Christ was in because that is hidden in this thing called an Edicule, which is built over—nothing. It is just built over a flat slab, because the Muslim Egyptian Khalifa in the early 11th century just obliterated the hill that this grave was in. He wanted to obliterate all evidence of Christianity, but you have these places. If you just look at this picture, you can see that through these arches at the bottom there are some openings.
If you go through this opening [that’s a full-size doorway] and you make a left, there’s a room that has these old tombs in it. And you can get down and you can look inside. You can take pictures and use your flashlight. So this shows that this area that the Edicule is built over and in—all this area—was, in the first century, an area where there were tombs. So that’s why the Scripture says that there was a garden nearby, that those tombs were there.
Israel and Jerusalem are very small, small areas. That surprises a lot of people. But, in fact, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that you had the first settlements outside the walls of the Old City develop. So it was larger than the Old City at the time of Christ. But due to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 and then again in 135, through most of the period from 135 up until the latter part of the 1800s, you didn’t have any settlements or any suburbs. Everything was inside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem as we know it today.
The idea on the tombs, as I pointed out, was that you would bury the body in a tomb. Not bury it underground, but you would put it in a tomb.
You would go back a year later after the body has completely decomposed, and you would collect the bones and put them in a bone box, something called an ossuary. And we’ve recovered many of these. Then that’s how they would reach their final burial.
At the tomb there was a seal placed on it. We looked at this last time. Now these verses are very important. We’ll go through this again when we get to Matthew 27 in our study of Matthew, which isn’t that far off.
You might want to turn with me. We’re going to spend a little time on these verses again, Matthew 27:65 and following. I want to start just before that. In verse 62 it says, “On the next day [that would be the day following the crucifixion], which followed the Day of Preparation …” Now what we’ll see is that the “Day of Preparation” is a technical term. It’s not used of preparation for Passover; it’s used for preparation for Shabbat. And that’s important. A lot of people have taken that term to talk about Passover so they can move the day of crucifixion away from Friday to Wednesday or to Thursday. But when you study this in its usage, both in the Scripture and outside, it’s a technical term for the Friday before Shabbat—preparation for Shabbat.
The next day, the chief priests and Pharisees come to Pilate. And they say, “ ‘Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise.” 64 Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, “He has risen from the dead.” So the last deception will be worse than the first.’ 65 Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.’ 66 So they went and made the tomb secure, [by] sealing the stone and setting the guard.”
We saw this last time. The word for “secure” is the word ASPHALIZO, and it means “to make something secure,” or “to make something safe.” It is secured, and you do it by “sealing” the stone, and that’s the word SPHRAGIZO. Now that word is the same word that is used in Ephesians 1:3, that we have been “sealed” by means of the Holy Spirit. And in Ephesians 4:30, repeating again that we’ve been “sealed” for the Day of Redemption.
So, this is an important term. This is a literal seal that is securing the tomb. And that relates to our understanding of our eternal security, because we have been sealed; that secures us. We’ve been sealed by the Spirit. And we’ve been sealed for the Day of Redemption. God has put His seal on us so that we won’t lose our salvation.
Now, this is one artist’s depiction of that seal—a rope going across the rock and being secured. In both this artist’s conception and the one you’ll see in a minute, secured by nails into the rock. And then they would have placed a wax seal on that. It was a penalty punishable by death to break that Roman seal. So, this is very significant that this is sealed in that way.
Today I spent some time reading through some of the comments on various blogs related to the Resurrection. And one of the objections that came up again and again by somewhat caustic unbelievers, which shows that they weren’t thinking too deeply about this, is that when you look at the context of Matthew 27, it’s clear that Jesus went into the tomb Friday, just before sunset. And He’s been in the tomb—no guard—all night, and a little bit the next morning. So their contention is, “Gee, they could’ve stolen the body overnight!”
Well, that’s not giving much credibility to these professional guards and executioners in the Roman army, because if that body were stolen, they were going to die, because they failed in their mission. So, when they went to the tomb, given the mission to secure it to make sure no one stole the body, the first thing they would do would be to look inside the tomb to make sure the body was still there, and that they wouldn’t be caught by surprise. If they got there and the body wasn’t still there, then they would go back and report that. So, they would have made sure that it was still there. So, this is the idea in the seal.
There was a guard at the tomb. Now what do we know about a Roman guard?
Here is another artist’s depiction of the tomb with a guard detail in front. Now, think about that picture a minute. Look at that picture. What do you think is wrong with that picture? How many guards are there? Three. How many do you think were there? More than three. Often we have these misconceptions that come out in pictures. We talk about what? The three wise men? They are not wise men—they are Magi—and are not three. There were three gifts, but there were many more than three.
So we have these things that Christians sort of pick up inadvertently over the years through the mis-telling of the story. So, we have to understand that this perpetuates a misunderstanding that there were only two guards, or three guards. Then, if one fell asleep, or two fell asleep, and somebody maybe came in and could steal the body.
So, let’s look at exactly what is being said here again, when Pilate responds to the question.
“65 Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard.—Now why does he say that? He says that because the request in verse 64 is—Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day.’ ” The Pharisees and chief priests are asking him to command that a guard secure the tomb.
So he has this statement, “You have a guard.”
And we have to understand what that means. This relates to part of the debate and discussion about the nature of the guard detail. When he says, “You have a guard,” he could simply be addressing them as the chief priests, the Pharisees, the religious leaders, and saying, “You guys already have a guard. You’ve got the Temple Mount police, and they can go out and guard the tomb.”
“You have a guard, so go secure it yourselves.” That’s grammatically possible, because the form of the word ECHO here could be either an indicative, which states reality or perception of reality, or it could also be an imperative. Now the question is, which is more likely? That he’s just stating a fact? “Well, you guys have a guard.” Now, some people try to argue that the guard that was placed at the tomb were just temple police, but the context suggests otherwise.
First of all, he’s responding to this request to command that the tomb be made secure. Pilate doesn’t command the temple guard; Pilate commands the Roman soldiers. So, they’re going to a Roman governor to issue a command to secure—and they don’t need to do that other than maybe to get permission. Because it’s not certain that the temple soldiers, the temple guard, could go outside of the temple and execute their job.
The other thing that we see, if we take it as an imperative, he’s saying, “Take a guard. You have one—take it—go!” Then it’s followed up by the fact that the word for guard is the Greek word KOUSTODIA. What English word do you think comes from KOUSTODIA? Custodian. That’s like a janitor. Or “custody,” which also has a legal connotation. So, we get several English words from that Greek word.
But at that time, KOUSTODIA referred to an undetermined number of soldiers. It specifically related to a group of Roman soldiers. So KOUSTODIA would not be a term used of the temple police.
The other line of evidence here to help us understand what is going on, and why this is not just the Jewish temple police, is what we find happening after the Resurrection. After the Resurrection.
There we see the statement, “Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard [this is talking about while the women came and discovered the empty tomb].”
“… Some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened.” Now, some people say, “Well, see, they went to the chief priests. If they were Roman guards, they would’ve gone to Pilate.” There are two reasons Roman guards would not go to Pilate. Reason number one is that they would lose their life, because they had failed in their mission. So, they’re going to go to the chief priests to see if there’s some way out of this.
Secondly, we see the phrase “some of the guard.” Now, what does “some of the guard” mean? First of all, “some of the guard” means that others of the guard detail went somewhere else. So, some would’ve gone to the chief priests and, probably, the others went to report to Pilate.
“… Some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests.” And then we see something happen. They come in and report the things to the chief priests, and then they bring the elders together and they have a consultation. “Well, what are we going to do? The body’s gone. We can’t let people get the idea He rose from the dead, so how are we going to handle it?”
They came to a decision, and they bribe the guards, first of all, to not tell anybody. So, that’s an indication that they accepted the story that the tomb was empty. That gets to a point a couple down when we’re talking about the empty tomb. The religious leaders never disputed the reality of the empty tomb. If Jesus’ body was still in the tomb, they would have produced it. If Jesus’ body was somewhere around, they would have—and probably did—search for it. But because they never found it, there was no evidence that He had not died, and that He had not resurrected. So, that is an important point.
So, they bribe the guards. They say, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away…’ ” So, they’re perpetuating a lie, a deception: “We’re going to blame it on the disciples.” Now that’s the earliest attempt to explain away the Resurrection.
Then they said, “And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” We will intervene so you won’t be punished, and you won’t lose your life. Now that’s a funny thing, unless they recognize the tomb really is empty and it’s not their fault. I think they realized, at some level, that this wasn’t the guards’ fault, otherwise, they would have insisted on them being punished as well.
Now, the other thing that we ought to talk about in terms of the guard at the tomb is the size of the guard. How many guards were there? And the size of the unit is not specified in the Scripture. And if you read through various discussions on this, there’s some fluidity there.
Some people, on the basis of just pure supposition, will say that there were probably 30, 40, or 50 guards. But there is no basis for that whatsoever, except just sort of what I call autonomous logic. One of the arguments is that there were probably 2 to 3 million people in Jerusalem for Passover. That’s based on figures given by Josephus.
If you’ve got that many people in Jerusalem, and the population regularly was probably 150,000 or less, then where are all those people going to be? They’re camped out all around the hills all around Jerusalem. So, even just outside that wall where Jesus was crucified, and then you have the graveyard, that would’ve been an area that would’ve made them ceremonially unclean. So, they wouldn’t have camped there, but they would’ve camped as close to it as they could have.
So, every empty space surrounding Jerusalem was going to be filled with people and tents. A lot of those people were followers of Jesus, not just the 11 disciples. So, their supposition—which may be accurate, but we have no evidence of it —is that if they’re trying to prevent Jesus’ followers from stealing the body, they’re trying to prevent more than just the 11 from stealing the body, so the supposition is they would have more than three or four guards there, because they wouldn’t want to be overwhelmed by a large group. And otherwise they might be. I think that’s just wishful thinking to a certain degree.
But we have hard evidence of what this guard detail would be like. In the Roman army, the basic unit that was under the command of a centurion was somewhere between probably 60 and 140 soldiers. And a small unit was a unit that was described by a term that was probably about eight people. That was the smallest unit. So it would be about the size of what we think of in our military as a squad or a little bit larger. A squad is usually about five or six people.
So, in that view, there would be a minimum of eight guards. Others suggest four guards. But in either case, they argue that they had enough guards to put a full watch—which would be either four or eight—around the tomb in each watch of the night. There are four watches during the night. So you either have 4×8 which would be 32 soldiers that are watching. If eight is the minimum, then you would have eight on duty, and the other 24 would be resting. Or you would have four on duty, and the other 12 would be resting—something like that.
So, you’ve got a minimum of 16 guards, probably, watching the tomb. At the very least, if you just want to reduce it to the minimal, it would be four. But I think it’s more along the line of 16 or maybe 32 guards. That’s a lot.
And you have to remember that throughout this period there have been a number of these “messiahs” that have come forth that have stirred up a lot of trouble, a lot of rebellion in Judea. And Pilate had put some of these down very harshly already and executed quite a number of Jews. So, the idea that something may disturb the peace and cause a problem by a claim that this Messiah had been raised from the dead was something that he truly wanted to avoid, so he would have put enough guards on the tomb to secure it, and to make sure nothing could happen, and the body couldn’t be stolen.
So, the idea that this guard detail is small—one or two guards—just doesn’t fit the facts of what we know about the Roman army, or about the circumstances or situation in Judea at the time. And it was much more likely to be eight to 16 that were on duty, maybe as many as 32.
In terms of understanding the responsibilities of the guards, they were responsible for carrying out their mission. And if they failed to do so, the punishment was harsh. The easiest punishment that would come would be having to go through a gauntlet, where the men held clubs and whips and would beat them within an inch of their life. And if they survived, then they would be returned to duty.
Also, in many cases, in 40 percent of the cases where a guard let a prisoner escape, the penalty was immediate death. It wasn’t always death, but it was, in 40 percent of the cases, immediate death. So, that indicates that they would expect to be treated very, very, very, very harshly.
So, when we put that together, we realize that they are going to be highly motivated to secure the tomb and to make sure that body isn’t stolen, and that nothing whatsoever happens. So, it was secure.
So, we are certain that Jesus died. From all of the evidence, He clearly died. He would not have had the strength to do anything to get out of the tomb. Second, we see that He is buried according to all of the regulations of the Torah, that He’s placed in the tomb, and then that tomb is secured with a large stone that no one or two people could move. And then it is secured by a seal and by the Roman guard.
Now, the next line of evidence for the reality of the Resurrection is what happens to the disciples. The disciples fled from Jesus the night after He was resurrected.
In Matthew 26:56 we read, “ ‘But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.’ Then—this is right after He is arrested at Gethsemane—all the disciples forsook Him and fled—not most of them—all of them”. They all scattered.
I think John came back, but initially they all got out because they could be arrested as being involved with Jesus. And, as a result, they, too, could be crucified, so they didn’t want to be anywhere around.
So then they all forsook Him and fled. Mark says the same things.
So, what we see is that on Friday evening the disciples are controlled by fear and flight. They are disorganized. There’s no cohesion. They are totally under the control of fear. They’re afraid of capture, punishment. Peter denies three times that he ever even knew Jesus. And yet, on Sunday, they are willing to proclaim the reality of His Resurrection, and none of them will ever turn back. The 11 are left, because Judas will hang himself. And of those 11, all but John die a miserable, painful death, taking a stand for the reality of the Resurrection.
Now, if you know it’s a lie, you’re not going to give your life for it. They’re not going to claim that you will be brought back to life just like the Savior was. So, you’re not going to march with courage to your death in the Coliseum, or in some other horrendous way, if you’re giving your life for something you know to be a lie.
So, what we see here is something very, very clear—that something changed.
And what changed is the fact of the empty tomb. They knew that Jesus had risen from the dead. The tomb was empty. He appeared to Mary, and the other Mary, and Salomé, and He appeared to Peter and John, and then to the rest of the Twelve. And they all knew that He had been raised from the dead.
And what’s interesting is in the story, the first people that He appears to, and the primary witnesses to the Resurrection, are women. Now, in the first century, a woman’s testimony was absolutely, totally worthless and insignificant. So, if you’re going to manufacture a story, and you want to present the best witness possible, you’re not going to manufacture a story where the first people that the resurrected Lord appears to is a woman. You would never write that. That would be a totally bogus thing to do. It would discredit your story from the very beginning. In fact, women were not even allowed to give testimony in a court of law, unless it was an extremely, extremely rare situation.
So, when we look at the fact of the empty tomb, we need to realize that there is no fact in ancient history that is as well attested as the empty tomb. In fact, in previous generations this was one of the points that were challenged. But so much evidence has been brought forth from the context of the Gospel recordings, as well as understanding the impact that the Resurrection had on the church.
Very few, if any, critics try to attack the reality of the empty tomb. What they try to do is explain some bogus way in which the tomb became empty. So, if the tomb wasn’t empty, there’s nothing easier for the religious leaders of that time to do than to produce the body. If it’s a lie, and the disciples are going to the Temple Mount 50 days later at Pentecost and saying that the tomb is empty and Jesus rose from the dead, all they have to do is produce the body. But if there is no body to produce, then they can’t do it.
And not only that, but from the account in Acts, that’s never challenged. The Pharisees and Sadducees, the Sanhedrin, never, ever challenged the reality of the empty tomb. They may challenge the interpretation, that is, resurrection; but they never challenged the fact of the empty tomb.
You work out the chronology on the Apostle Paul. He goes to Jerusalem right after he is bar mitzvahed in Tarsus, and he’s 13 years old. And he begins to be trained under Gamaliel for the rabbinical ministry. He is saved in AD 39. He is saved about six or seven years after the Crucifixion.
So, by the time we see the Apostle Paul, he’s been persecuting Christians for probably at least three or four years. He is clearly in his mid-to late20s. In fact, let’s just assume he’s 25. That’s a young age, 25. That means he’s been in Jerusalem since he was 13; he’s been in Jerusalem for 12 years. If he did not begin to persecute any Christians until right before he was saved in AD 39—let’s say he began in 38—12 years earlier is 26. Twenty-six is four years before Jesus started His public ministry. So Paul was probably at least 17 or 18 years of age, maybe older, when Jesus began His public ministry.
So, the whole time that Jesus is in Galilee and in Jerusalem—the whole time that Jesus is conducting His public ministry—Saul of Tarsus is part of the Pharisees that are being trained and functioning in Jerusalem. Most people never put that together. But chronologically, Saul of Tarsus had to have been there. So, he would be very much aware of the claim that the tomb was empty. And yet, he’s not one who doubts that. He’s trying to quiet the people who are making that claim, but he never, ever refuted that.
And if the tomb were not empty, he never would’ve believed. Why would he believe a claim that the tomb was empty if he knew that it wasn’t? So, it just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever for anyone to claim that the tomb was actually not empty.
In Acts 1:21-22 we read, “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” This is Peter talking when they’re going to replace Judas among the disciples, and it’s going to end up being Matthias. But the point is that he is saying it has to be someone who’s a witness of the Resurrection. And what I’m pointing out here is, starting with these couple of verses in Acts 1, all the way through Acts you have one statement after another affirming the Resurrection. Acts hangs on the reality of the Resurrection. Without the reality of the Resurrection in the disciples’ minds, nothing in Acts was going to take place.
In Acts 2:23–24 and Acts 2:31–32, Peter is preaching. In verses 23 and 24 he talks about Jesus as being crucified and put to death, and He’s the one “whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death.”
And in verse 31, he talks about the Resurrection of the Christ, “that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.” That’s at the very core of his message on the Day of Pentecost.
Then, the next day, he and John are back at the temple, and again they emphasize, in Acts 3:15, “[You] killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.”
And then, in verse 26, “To you first, God, having raised up His servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you …”
In Acts 4:10, “[talking about] Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.”
In Acts 5:30, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.”
In Acts 10, when Peter is going to Cornelius. Cornelius is a centurion. That’s kind of a combination of a first sergeant, or sergeant major, and a company commander within the Roman army. These guys were tough, and they were knowledgeable. He is not living in a vacuum; he’s living in Caesarea by the Sea, and he would’ve heard all of these things by this point. It’s about, probably, three years or so after the Crucifixion.
So, when Peter comes to him, he talks about Jesus as the One Whom “God raised up on the third day.” You see, their message—over and over again—is always built on the Resurrection.
Acts 13, when Paul is taking the message to the Gentiles. “But God raised Him from the dead,” Acts 13:30. Then he emphasizes that, “He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses …”
And it goes on further. Acts Chapter 13 talks about the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead. It quotes from Psalm 16:10. “‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’ That this could not have referred to David, but it referred to “He whom God raised up saw no corruption” in Acts 13:37.
Then, in Acts 17, when he’s in Athens and he’s talking to the philosophers there, He preaches to them “Jesus and the resurrection.” And he says that God has given assurance of this “by raising Him from the dead.”
Acts 26:23 says, “that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”
Then, in the epistles you have Romans 1:4, that God “declared [Jesus] to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” Romans 6:5, “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection.”
The whole chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, is a defense of the physical, bodily Resurrection of Christ.
In Philippians 3:10 Paul says, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings.”
1 Thessalonians 4:14, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” Resurrection is at the heart of the message.
It is at the heart of Peter’s message. In 1 Peter 1:3, talking about 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.” And then 1 Peter 3:21 again talks about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, this is foundational to the whole message—all the way through the Gospels and the Epistles. The foundation of the Christian message is on the reality of the empty tomb and the Resurrection of Jesus.
Now, the next line of evidence comes from what Peter and John saw when they visited the tomb. When they came in, John runs up, he stops, and he looks in. And Peter, who is always the bold one, runs right past him, and goes right into the tomb.
Slides 41 and 42
So, what do they see? Well, this is the grave clothes issue. What exactly do they see?
We read in John 20:3, “Peter therefore went out—after he heard from Mary that Jesus wasn’t in the tomb,—and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple …” John never names himself. He is always the “beloved disciple,” or the “other disciple,” so that’s how we know it’s John.
“The other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in.”
“6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed.”
These were the grave clothes. The body was taken, he was wrapped in strips of linen, and then they put the spices in there, and wrapped those in with those various strips of linen. Then they would have taken a separate cloth, and they would have put that around His head to cover His face. So, when that body is then placed on the ledge, when His body dematerializes, the strips of cloth that are covering His body, without a body there, they just fell flat. And then, separate from that, you had the cloth that covered His head—and that just fell flat.
They’re not scattered. It’s wasn’t as if somebody stood up and is pulling all of the linen off of Him, and all of the grave clothes off of Him. Because that’s what would’ve been necessary. With the myrrh and the spices, as I pointed out last time, this would’ve caused that linen to stick to His body, to adhere to it like adhesive tape. And that doesn’t come off in an easy, neat manner; it’s not going to be all folded up afterwards.
It’s not the idea that it was somehow folded. We need to look at this for just a minute. The handkerchief. Now some translations translate that a “napkin.” And that has led to a one of those Internet myths that goes around that I’m going to address.
The word for “handkerchief” here is the word SOUDARION, which means “a handkerchief or a face-cloth in burial.” It’s not a dinner napkin.
It is a face-cloth. And then, when the body just dematerializes, it’s just going to collapse. So, it’s already been folded around the head.
That word is ENTULISSO. which means “something that is wrapped up or rolled up.” As it would have been rolled up—the way it was placed around the head. So, it’s just talking about that wrapping. It’s not talking, necessarily, about something that is neatly rolled up.
So, let me read this thing to you. I get this about once a year. It’s amazing how many people will read this. And because they’re not well-taught or informed, they think, “Oh! Isn’t that just wonderful?” Christians are the most gullible people in the world—and we shouldn’t be! We should be critical thinkers.
This is what it says. “The Gospel of John tells us that the napkin …” See, that’s not even a good translation of that term. “… that the napkin which was placed over the face of Jesus was not just thrown aside like the grave clothes.” They weren’t thrown aside, either. You’ve got to think critically.
“The Bible takes an entire verse to tell us that the napkin was neatly folded.”
Doesn’t that just speak to your heart? I know. I’m being facetious.
It was on, “Early Sunday morning while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved [that’s John]. She said, ‘They’ve taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb and I don’t know where they’ve put Him.’ Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb to see. The other disciple outran him …
“When Simon runs in, he notices the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying to the side. Was that important? Oh, absolutely! Is it really significant? Oh, yes! In order to understand the significance of the folded napkin, you have to understand a little bit about Hebrew tradition of that day.
“The folded napkin had to do with the master and servant, and every Jewish boy knew this tradition. When the servant set the table for the master, he made sure that it was exactly the way the master wanted it. The table was furnished perfectly, and then the servant would wait just out of sight until the master had finished eating. And the servant would not dare touch the table until the master was finished.
“Now if the master were done eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers, his mouth, and clean his beard, and would wad up that napkin and would toss it onto the table. The servant would then know to clear the table. For in those days, the wadded napkin meant, ‘I’m done.’
“But if the master got up from the table and folded his napkin and laid it beside his plate, the servant would not dare touch the table because the folded napkin meant …” Are you ready? “I’m coming back.” Praise God. I just get … I hate this stuff!
Then it says, “If this touches you, you may want to forward it.” If you’re a fool. I shouldn’t be that caustic towards my Christian brethren, but it drives me … It’s always driven me nuts—the silly stuff that Christians will believe.
First of all, this makes several errors of fact. It’s just collapsed. It’s not folded up. Number one.
Number two, it’s not a napkin.
Number three, this whole idea of this tradition. I can’t find any documentation of that from anybody. One of the most knowledgeable people that I know on this is Randy Price, archaeologist, PhD, studied over there, has done a lot of work, and he’s never heard of this.
I’ve asked numerous scholars about this, who’ve specialized in this, and nobody’s ever heard of this. This is just something some well-meaning preacher made up, and it sounded good, and people fall for it because it fits their prejudices. And we’ve got to be better than that! And it doesn’t fit any kind of exegesis. So we just can’t go along with this kind of silliness.
One of the great lines of evidence for the Resurrection is the post-Resurrection witnesses. Now, in a court of law in America, how many witnesses are necessary to confirm something? Two, and that can be two people who were eyewitnesses of a crime, or it can be DNA. DNA can stand as a witness, as a legal witness, as an impersonal witness. Or fingerprints can stand as a witness. But you have to have a minimum of two witnesses.
And two or three witnesses will verify a fact. Where did we get that? We got that out of the Mosaic Law in Leviticus. According to the Law of Moses, the Torah, any charge against anybody had to be validated by a couple of different witnesses. You can’t just have people making stuff up out of thin air and accusing somebody of something, and have it taken as true. That’s why they were trying to find witnesses. The Pharisees were trying to bribe witnesses to bring some accusation against Jesus, because they needed to have at least two or three witnesses.
So, according to law, all you need is two witnesses. But Jesus appeared physically and bodily to over 500, some of whom did not believe the Resurrection before they saw Him, others of whom were able to touch His body. They sat down with Him. They ate with Him. They drank with Him. They observed. They saw Him materialize and dematerialize, and pass through the walls and closed doors. They were eyewitnesses. And not just one or two, but over 500.
He appeared to Mary Magdalene in Mark 16:9 and John 20:14. “Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons.” John 20:14 says, “Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.”
He appeared to the women returning from the tomb in Matthew 28:9–10. “And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘Rejoice!’ So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.” So they touched Him. They knew. It was a physical body, but it wasn’t like the body He had had before he died.
Some of these passages are pretty long; that’s why I didn’t put them up on the screen. He appears to Peter. Third section. He appears to Peter later in the day, according to Luke 24:34 and 1 Corinthians 15:5.
Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 15. We’ll look at what’s listed there, because you can break each of these down. 1 Corinthians 15. Paul is outlining the evidence. Verse 4, “and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas—that’s the Aramaic name for Peter.” Actually, it should be pronounced, KEE-fuhs.
“5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once.” He lists Peter as first. And then He appears to 500; that occurs up in Galilee. Paul says, “of whom the greater part remain to the present.” “If you don’t believe me, you can go to Israel and you can interview them!”
“7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.” So He is seen by the 11 plus James, the half-brother of Jesus. [And Peter is one of the 11.] “8 Then last of all He was seen by me also.”
He appears to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. And this is in Luke 24. This is one of my favorite stories. I was going to spend a little time on this. We’re not going to quite finish everything tonight. Maybe I’ll come back and talk about this a little bit.
The road to Emmaus. Emmaus is a small village outside of Jerusalem, maybe five miles away, and these are two disciples. Now they’re not part of the 11. They are two disciples, followers of Jesus, students of Jesus, and they’re going to Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem.
And they talk together about all the things that happened. They can’t understand it. This is Sunday. The Resurrection occurred that morning. They don’t seem to know about the Resurrection yet. So they’re going home dejected, defeated. Luke 24:15–16,
“15 So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.” God the Holy Spirit put a veil over their eyes so they did recognize Who that was walking with them. Just another traveler who came up and started to engage them in conversation. And He overhears what they say, and He says, “What are you talking about?”
“17 And He said to them, ‘What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?’ 18 Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, ‘Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?’ 19 And He said to them, ‘What things?’ So they said to Him, ‘The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. 21 But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened.’ ”
Now, that’s a verse I haven’t seen referred to in too many places. And I ran across it when I was studying for this a couple of months back. If this is Sunday—and this is the third day—Saturday was the second day, and Friday’s the day it happened. Certainly can’t get three days and go back to Wednesday—that’s impossible. You might be able, through finagling the idiom, get to Thursday, which a couple people I know have tried to do, but that just violates the normal use of language. If Sunday’s the third day, you can’t get far beyond Friday as the day of crucifixion. That pretty much puts the nail in the coffin for the Wednesday crucifixion theory.
So they say, “Today is the third day.” Literally. That’s what they’re saying, “Today is day three.” Now they’re not saying, “three whole days” or “72 hours.” They say, “This is the third day.” Period. Really clear!
So what happens after that? “ ‘22 Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us.’ ” So, they had heard of the Resurrection.
“ ‘23 When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. 24 And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.’ 25 Then He said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!’ ” See, they haven’t been able to process it yet.
I’d love to have been in this Bible study, because in verse 27 Jesus goes back to Moses. And He starts at Moses and all the prophets, and He expounds to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. Now that would be a Bible study to be in. Starting with the Torah, He goes through, book by book, chapter by chapter, to show everything that points to Him. What a great episode! But He now has appeared to those two on the road to Emmaus.
I have some other passages I want to read through before we summarize everything. So, we’ll come back to wrap this up, but it tells us that there are objective witnesses to the Resurrection, that this isn’t something that people just made up 10, 20, 30 years later, or 100 years later. But at the time that it occurred, there were eyewitnesses, and they wrote it down in such a way that you could tell people, “Go talk to so-and-so.”
In fact, we read a couple of weeks ago that Ignatius is writing. He is a disciple of John the Apostle, and he writes in one of his epistles that, at his time, there were still people alive who were witnesses of the Resurrection. Maybe they were children at the time, and this was some 70 years later. But he knew of that; there was evidence of that.
So, this isn’t something we just believe because it’s a nice story, or because it’s something that we were told by our parents. But we are smarter than they were. Those are the things that people—especially college professors—try to get to kids on. There’s evidence! We use our minds to analyze the evidence, and the evidence validates what Scripture says.
“Father, thank You for this time to go through this evidence on the Resurrection. Father, we pray that You would help us to be well prepared to be able to communicate this to people we witness to—and people who are believers, maybe, that are uncertain of their faith.
Because if the tomb is empty, then nothing else other than our Christianity makes sense, and nothing else other than knowing You and understanding what the Lord has provided for us is important in our life. That should govern everything. Father, we pray that You would strengthen our faith. In Christ’s name. Amen.”