The Empty Tomb

What differentiates Christianity from all other religions is the empty tomb. Christianity stands or falls with the resurrection of our Lord. No wonder that no fact of Scripture is more vehemently assailed. It would seem that the Lord anticipated this. Certainly, no other redemptive fact stands more indisputably attested. The various accounts of the resurrection as found in the gospels could not possibly be fabrications. No artist of the most consummate skill could have invented them. For in such a case we would find the disciples believing the reports and the enemies disbelieving. But the very opposite is the case. The disciples regarded the story as “idle tales,” while the enemies believed it. They remembered his words about his resurrection and asked for a watch. And when the watch reported the happenings of the Garden to the chief priests, don’t think for one moment that they had any doubts as to what they most feared had come to pass. The Lord so directed the events, and had them so recorded that denial of the resurrection is not only wickedness but extreme stupidity. Who would take the lie of the chief priests seriously?

We can be grateful for John’s story of the empty tomb. What a lively and fascinating story it is. Remember the dual purpose of his gospel: to prove that Jesus is the Son of God, and that believing we may have life through his name. That argument is clinched in his description of the resurrection. And in his record of all the encounters with the living Lord we see life emerging: in that of John himself, of Mary Magdalene, of Peter, of the disciples in the evening, and of Thomas a week later. And so positive is John in producing that effect that all further argument is futile. Anyone who does not bow before these facts will not be persuaded by any other evidence. Many other things he could relate but, if this does not do it, further argument is superfluous. So let’s examine his story of the empty tomb.

Three leading characters appear in the story: Mary, Peter, and John himself. Each came to the tomb and examined it. They used their eyes. Everything dependent upon seeing. But people looking at the same thing do not necessarily see the same thing. It is arresting that John uses a different word for seeing in each of the three individuals.


MARY MAGDALENE. She came and saw the stone rolled away. John uses the word blepei, the word for ordinary seeing. It refers to factual observation. She came with the other women, saw the stone rolled away, and dashed back to Jerusalem to inform Peter and John. She thought of Jesus’ enemies. So intense was their hatred for Jesus that they would not even leave his remains rest in peace. They have desecrated the grave and profaned this most hallowed spot. They had stolen the body.

PETER. John comes and stands in awe outside the tomb looking in. Again the word blepei is used. Here again: just factual observation. But now comes Peter. He elbows his way past John and rushes into the tomb. He saw the. linen clothes lying, vss. 6,7. However, John now uses the word theorei for seeing. That means to look intently, critically. Let me illustrate the difference. Suppose you are driving and come to a traffic light when it is red. You stop and watch. What do you see? Cross traffic. You see cars passing in front of you. That is blepei. But now suppose a detective who is looking for a stolen car drives up along side of you. He ,vill watch that cross traffic and see much more than you do. So Peter. He saw, i.e., he “theorized.” Note, he does not yet believe in the resurrection. Luke tells us he went away wondering. What did he “theorize”? For one thing, he knows Mary’s contention was wrong. Whatever may have happened here, no profane hands have done their devilish work here. The tomb could not be in this condition if such had been the case. Moreover, if the body was stolen why were the clothes left behind? What then? Perhaps God took the body away. After all, did he not hide the body of Moses that no one might ever know his grave? In any event, Peter went away wondering.

JOHN. Next, John himself now enters the tomb. He saw, but now he uses the word eido, meaning: seeing with the mind, understanding. We too use the word in that sense. It means intellectual perception. Anyway, John is the only one who believes the resurrection without seeing the living Lord. What does he do? Does he rush to Jerusalem to proclaim to any and all what he believes? Not at all. He thinks that if Jesus is living he will show himself, and then it is better to wait.

But is not John acting a bit out of character here? Does he record this so the whole church throughout all the ages will be reminded that he, John, was the only one who believed the resurrection without seeing—and that on his own testimony? How mistaken that notion is. As John pens these words some fifty years later, I see him throw down his pen and see the blush of shame rushing to his face. He wants you and me to know that all this seeing should not have been necessary. He wants us to know precisely that he was no better than the rest. If they, himself included, had heeded the words of Jesus and believed them, all this seeing and examining would have been unnecessary and was but an evidence of their unbelief and hardness of heart.

Well, what did they believe? The resurrection, of course. But they did not believe it as a mere cold, historical fact. It was a believing by which they had life in his name. That Jesus was the Christ John had believed long ago. But now there surges through his soul the power of a resurrection life. That eternal life is now sealed, not in the teaching of Jesus, not in his moral code, but in the person of the Son of God as crucified and raised from the dcad. That is the heart of Christianity. With it, Christianity stands. Without it the Christian religion is the greatest fraud perpetrated upon mall.

Now, one would think, John can put down his pen and close the book. Wrong again. One more story needs to be told. Once that is told, all other argument is useless. “That ye may have life through his name.” What then, essentially and precisely, is this life? This: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified, raised from the dead, is MY LORD AND MY GOD.