The Empty Tomb

Luke 24:9-12 and John 20:2-10

About 6:30 am on Sunday the seventeenth of Nisan

DIG: What were the women feeling on their way to the tomb? What problems do they expect to find (Matthew 27:60, 65-66)? How do you think they felt when they left the tomb? Why do you think the women met the angels before the apostles? How did the talmidim respond to the report of the women? How did Peter and John respond to Mary Magdalene’s report? Who challenged the report that the tomb was empty?

REFLECT: How does Mary’s story tech us that we are the messengers to others that the gospel of Jesus Christ – the good news that Yeshua has defeated the Enemy without and the enemy within – is one in which we follow a living Savior?

At that time the resurrection fell on the festival of Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:9-14). On this day a delegation was sent out from Jerusalem in order to harvest a specially marked area of a barley field with Temple sickles. One sheaf from the standing harvest was brought to the priest. The lone sheaf was called "the sheaf of the first fruits." The priest was then to take this one sheaf and wave it before ADONAI in the Temple. Later, these firstfruits of the barley harvest were threshed and winnowed. Then the collected grain was milled. The flour was then made into an unleavened meal offering and presented to ADONAI on the bronze altar as a burnt offering (see my commentary on Exodus Fe – The Burnt Offering) and a grain offering (see my commentary on Exodus Ff – The Grain Offering). Nowhere in Isra’el could barley be harvested before this had taken place.

According to the Torah the offering of firstfruits should occur the day after the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:15). As Roger Liebi asserts in his classic book The Messiah in the Temple, an argument over the interpretation of this statement was ignited between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees held that this feast should always take place on the first Sunday that fell in the week of Pesach. On the other hand, the Pharisees believed that the term Sabbath in Leviticus 23:15 had a special meaning, in other words, they believed it was “a special feast day.” By this they meant that the fifteenth of Nisan was intended by this expression in Leviticus 23:15 to be the day on which the Passover lamb was eaten. Therefore, according to the Pharisaic view, the principle of the festival of Reshit Katzir should always be celebrated on the sixteenth of Nisan.

The situation in the year of Messiah’s crucifixion, however, was very special. That year when the sun went down to start the sixteenth of Nisan - the Sabbath began. The Pharisees believed that the firstfruits of barley should have been harvested that evening. But how could it be possible to harvest, to thresh, to winnow, to collect, to mill and to bake on the Sabbath? They had a problem.

So that year the fifteenth and sixteenth of Nisan together made up a double Sabbath; hence, in the year of the crucifixion, the firstfruits of the barley harvest could only be brought to the Temple on the seventeenth of Nisan, the day of the Lord’s resurrection! How is this a type of Christ?

In predicting His death, Yeshua says that putting grain in the ground is an image of dying: Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds (Yochanan 12:24). This is symbolic of plants shooting up after the dying seed produces a great crop. Therefore, the Temple feast of the resurrection fell on the very day of Messiah’s resurrection. This conclusion fully agrees with the fact that Rabbi Sha’ul repeatedly mentions this in his classic chapter on the resurrection: But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through one man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through one man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all we be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when He come, those who belong to Him (First Corinthians 15:20-23).1656

Evidently once Mary Magdalene saw the tomb was empty, she did not wait for the other women to arrive, but ran back, taking another route, to alert Peter and John. As Scottish pastor A. Moody Stuart (1809-1898), wrote, “She was privileged to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, to look on His cross, to watch at His tomb, to be the first witness of His resurrection, and even to be sent by Him as the messenger of His word, an apostle to the apostles themselves.” When [she] came back from the tomb, Miryam from Magdala told John and Peter that Jesus had risen from the dead.

When Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women arrived, they reported the message of the angels that the resurrection has occurred to all the other apostles (Luke 24:9-10). They said: They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him (John 20:2)! The tomb was empty.

The empty tomb never resists honest investigation. Believer’s don’t have to check their brains at the door to follow Yeshua. Christ demands faith, but not blind faith. “Come and see,” the angels invite. Shall we?

Take a look at the vacated tomb. Do you know the opponents of Messiah never challenged its vacancy? No Pharisee or Roman solider ever led a contingent back to the burial site and declared, “The angels were wrong. The body is here. It was all a rumor.”

They would have if they could have. Within a few weeks disciples occupied every street corner in Jerusalem announcing the risen Messiah. What quicker way for the enemies of the Prophet of Nazareth to shut them up than to produce a cold and lifeless body. Display the cadaver and messianic Judaism would be stillborn. But they had no cadaver to display.1657

It is hard to imagine the extreme mood swing that Mary Magdalene and the other women experienced. They expected to see the tomb just as Joseph left it. So it was a terrific shock to see the heavy stone slab removed – lifted out of the groove and lying flat on the ground – and Jesus’ body missing. Immediately they assumed foul play.

It was an awkward assignment, to say the least, for the woman who courageouslystayed through the entire ordeal to address to men who succumbed to their fears and retreated into hiding. But when they reached the men, all of the apostles but Peter and John did not believe the women because their words seemed to them like nonsense (Luke 24:11). The statements from the other women went against the culture’s view of them. Yeshua clearly expected the men whom followed Him to see the situation from His perspective and to value the women as He did. The women weren’t second-class talmidim, but crucial to Jesus’ ministry. He didn’t give them small jobs. He gave Miryam two to of the most significant - as the first witness to His resurrection and as an apostle to the apostles.1658

However, when Peter and John received the report of the empty tomb from Mary Magdalene, they got up and started running to investigate (John 20:3). The grey light of early spring had broken the heavy curtain of mist. Red and golden sunlight lay on the edge of the horizon. The garden was still, and the morning air stirred the trees that the dark night had seemed to keep watch over the dead. Then, with hearts pound and out of breath, they arrived at the tomb.

The Greek language has no less than six verbs translated to see, but they have different nuances and specific uses. In John 20:5-8, the Gospel writer uses three different forms – blepo in verse 5, theoreo in verse 6, and eidon in verse 8 – to describe the different kind of “seeing” experienced by Peter and himself.

Upon hearing Mary’s report both took off running, but John, being the younger man, outran Peter and reached the tomb first. Bending over and peering in, he observed without understanding (blepo) Yochanan clearly saw that there was no body although the strips of linen were lying there by themselves. That means that Jesus was resurrected right through the strips of linen used to wrap His body. Therefore, there was no need to unwrap Yeshua as there was in the case of Lazarus (John 11:44). The point is that the strips of linen were wrapped around the body of our Lord, but after His resurrection they were still lying by themselves as if they were still around His body. But the body was no longer there. But John did not go in at first. Initially, he went away confused, wondering to himself what had happened (Luke 24:12; John 20:4-5).

Then Simon Peter came along behind him moments later and went straight into the tomb to investigate (theoreo) the curious condition of the burial clothes. He also saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. The fact that the strips of linen cloth were undisturbed and that the cloth that had been wrapped around Messiah’s head were neatly folded up by them was evidence that the body had not been stolen. Thieves either would have left the burial clothes in disarray in the tomb, or, more likely, have carried the body off wrapped, leaving no cloths behind. The condition of the cloths further indicates that there was no undue haste associated with the resurrection. Had there been, the cloths would not have been laid aside so neatly. Finally, John, who reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw . . . and left the tomb perceiving with understanding (eidon) and believed (Yochanan 20:6-8).1659

Then John explains the reason for their slowness to comprehend the full meaning of what they saw (John 2:22). They still did not understand the necessity from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead (Yochanan 20:9). They were still struggling with the Jewish concept of two Messiah’s (see Mv – The Jewish Concept of Two Messiah’s). In the days and weeks to come, before Yeshua ascended back to the Father, they would come to the full meaning of what they had seen because Christ Himself would, like the two on the road to Emmaus (see Mh – On the Road to Emmaus), would explain everything to them.

These two men had not grasped the fact of the resurrection even though Jesus had repeatedly declared it. Even the news brought by Miryam from Magdala did not persuade them. It was not until they saw for themselves the empty tomb that they believed that Messiah had actually been raised from the dead. Then John and Simon Peter went back to where they were staying, firmly convinced of the fact of the Lord’s bodily resurrection for the dead (John 20:10).1660


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