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The Meaning of Jesus’ Empty Tomb and His Resurrection

The Meaning of Jesus’ Empty Tomb and His Resurrection

The season surrounding Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s a time to look back at Jesus’ life, death, burial, and triumph over the grave at his resurrection. It’s a reminder of what his resurrection means for our lives today, and it’s an opportunity to remember what it means for our future. Since the first recorded observance of Easter in the 2nd century, the holiday has (like many observances originally rooted in faith-based traditions) taken on more secular symbolism, with bunnies, candy, and pastel colors. At times, these symbols can overshadow Jesus’ empty tomb and resurrection. However, for followers of Christ, his resurrection is critical to our hope and faith in Jesus. Luke 24:2-8 (NIV) tells us what happened when those who knew Jesus came to his tomb on the third day after he had been placed in the grave.

“They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered his words.”

So, what happened to Jesus after he died on the cross? More importantly, what does the resurrection of Jesus mean for us now and for eternity?

The burial of Jesus

The imagery of Jesus’ death is ubiquitous throughout Christianity, but after his death on the cross, where was his body taken? In all four accounts of Jesus’ death, Joseph of Arimathea, who is described as wealthy, good, upright, and a Jewish religious leader who opposed the decision to crucify Jesus, asked the Roman governor Pilate for Jesus’ body. Joseph and Nicodemus, another Jewish leader who had visited Jesus and asked about God’s Kingdom, followed Jewish custom by preparing Jesus’ body in strips of linen, myrrh, and aloe. After preparing Jesus’ body, they placed it in Joseph’s own tomb, which fulfilled the prophecy about Jesus found in Isaiah 53:9 (NIV).

“He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.”

According to Matthew 27:63-64, the Jewish leaders who wanted Jesus crucified requested that Jesus’ tomb be guarded to ensure that his body wasn’t stolen. These leaders knew about Jesus’ claim that he would rise from the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus

In Matthew 28:1-10 (NIV), the scripture describes something miraculous, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and his first appearance to his followers.

“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.’

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’”

Jesus overcame the grave, and his resurrection provides the hope that followers of Christ will be raised to new life with him as well. Jesus gave us this promise in John 11:25-26 (NIV).

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

For skeptics of Christianity, a savior returning from the dead may be too difficult to believe. However, consider these defenses of Jesus’ resurrection as historical fact from Desiring God and Cold-Case Christianity.

What does the resurrection mean?

Why is Jesus’ resurrection so important to Christians? Simply put, without it, we are hopeless. The resurrection is essential for the redemption of the world. Without it, the story is incomplete. Jesus was born, lived a perfect life, died, and was buried. If he didn’t rise from the dead, then Jesus was a liar, and God’s plan and path for our salvation hasn’t been fulfilled. It’s the end of the story that gives us hope. Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven (Acts 1:9-12) provide the final piece of the puzzle. Ligonier Ministries offers these four truths about the necessity of the resurrection.

1. The resurrection proves that Jesus is the Son of God

For many people in the world, Jesus was just a wise teacher — someone with good teachings to share but ultimately not a savior. The Apostle Paul rebukes that notion in Romans 1:4 (ESV), saying that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” Peter goes on to say in Acts 2:24 that God raised Jesus because death could not hold him in the grave. Like Jesus showed his God-given power by raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11, God shows his power and announces Jesus is his son by raising him from the dead.

2. The resurrection assures justification for believers in Christ

In his death on the cross, Jesus claimed to take the punishment for our sins (Isaiah 53:5), which is death (Romans 6:23). In rising from the grave, he overcame death, giving us a future that extends beyond when we breathe our last on this earth. If Jesus’ bones are in the tomb, then we are dead in our sins, and the debt is still owed, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthian 15:17 (ESV).

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

This is why we rejoice at the empty tomb and resurrection of Jesus. He was offered as a sacrifice for our sins, and he was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25).

3. The resurrection means Jesus is alive and interceding for us

If Jesus rose from the dead, it seems obvious, but it has to be stated. Jesus is still alive! Even more than that, Jesus is “at the right hand of God,” and he is “interceding for us,” according to Romans 8:34. But what does it mean that Jesus intercedes for us? Another way to think of it is that Jesus pleads before God the Father on our behalf, while the evil one accuses us. And Jesus’ death on the cross means that God always sees the debt of sin as paid, meaning the evil one’s accusations are falling on deaf ears.

4. The resurrection of Jesus guarantees the resurrection of the believers of Christ

Because Jesus rose from the dead, followers of Christ look forward to an eternity in heaven with him. Jesus took our place, paid the debt for our sins that we owed, and created a way to life with him. He said in John 14:6 (NIV), “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes extensively about the resurrection and heaven, saying that Christ “makes all alive.” He also writes that “the trumpet will sound, and the “dead will be raised imperishable” with Christ.

The Easter season is about making things new, and Jesus did just that by walking out of the grave and taking his rightful place in the Kingdom of God. There is much we don’t know and won’t understand about the resurrection until Christ returns. But there is hope in Jesus, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:56-58 (ESV):

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

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