Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The Burial and Resurrection

As we discovered in my previous article, “The Beating, The Whipping And The Crucifixion,” the injuries Jesus suffered most assuredly led to His death. From His death, we move to His burial and resurrection.

Day 1 – Jesus died at approximately 3PM. The Sabbath was quickly approaching and His body needed to be buried before sunset (Deut. 21:22-23 / Gal 3:13). Everyone had to move quickly. Joseph of Aramathea sought and received permission from Pilate to claim Jesus’ body. The nails used to pin Jesus hands and feet to the roughly hewn cross, the Roman’s execution device, were removed so that Jesus could be freed. His limp and lifeless body was quickly carried to the tomb that Joseph of Aramathea had originally built to house his own body. The tomb was located among the gardens, close by the site of Jesus’ execution (Jn. 19:41-42).

The act of ensuring a proper burial was regarded as one of the greatest acts of benevolence one could bestow upon another. Great care was taken when preparing a body for burial, but there was barely enough time to provide such care for Jesus. They had to move quickly!
It was customary in Jesus’ time to use great quantities of spices for embalming the dead, especially for those held in high esteem. Joseph of Aramathea and Nicodemus brought with them about 100 pounds of aloe and myrrh.

“In preparing a body for burial according to Jewish custom, it was usually washed and straightened, and then bandaged tightly from the armpits to the ankles in strips of linen a foot wide. Aromatic spices, often of a gummy consistency, were placed between the wrappings or folds. They served partially as a preservative and partially as a cement to glue the cloth wrappings into a solid covering…” Tenney, Merrel C., The Reality of the Resurrection, Chicago: Moody Press, 1963.
After wrapping Jesus’ body, Joseph and Nicodemus left the tomb. The stone was rolled over the entrance, leaving Jesus’ body to lie alone in the dark.

Day 2 – It was the Sabbath and the chief priests and Pharisees weren’t done with Jesus just yet. They went before Pilate to request that guards be placed at the tomb. They told Pilate that Jesus had declared He would rise from the dead in three days and the chief priests and Pharisees didn’t want Jesus’ followers to steal His body and then falsely claim that He had risen. Pilate granted their request.

The chief priests and the Pharisees headed to the tomb, taking with them a few Roman soldiers. At the tomb, the chief priests and the Pharisees “sealed” the tomb (most likely using clay, in order to leave their mark by pressing their signet rings into it). This, of course, would have been done in the presence of the Roman soldiers. Why? The soldiers were posted to make sure the disciples didn’t gain access to the tomb and the seal was used to ensure that there would be no collusion between the Roman soldiers and the disciples. If the seal was broken, both the disciples and the soldiers would be held responsible.

Throughout that day and throughout the long, chilly night, Jesus’ body lay in the tomb as the guards stood watch just outside the entrance.

Day 3 – Jesus’ lifeless body remains in the sealed tomb. The guards have kept watch all night. No one has approached the tomb. Sunrise was moments away.

It was the beginning of a new week. While it was still dark, Mary Magdeline and Mary the mother of James and Salome gathered the spices they had prepared to anoint Jesus’ body. They made their way to the tomb in the early morning light. As they fought off the chill of that early hour, they wondered if they would be able to find help to move the stone from the entrance of the tomb.

At the tomb, the guards kept watch. Without warning, the earth trembled and then shook. The earth quaked as an angel of the Lord descended. The guards stood in astonishment as the angel, by himself, easily rolled the stone away from the entrance of the tomb, breaking the seal. This angel, whose had the “appearance of lightening” and who had clothing “as white as snow,” then took a seat on the top of the stone. The Roman soldiers, seeing this mind-boggling site, either passed out or were slain in the spirit, almost mimicking the incident that occurred in the garden of Gethsemane just days before (Jn. 18:4-6).

Since there is no mention in the Gospels about the women noticing the Roman soldiers on the ground, it can be assumed that they had quickly recovered as those at Gethsemane had and had fled the scene by the time the women arrived. The guards went to the chief priests and reported all that they had seen. After the chief priests discussed the matter, it was decided that the guards would say that they fell asleep at their post and that the disciples had come during the night and stolen away the body of Jesus. The guards were also told that if the news of the incident reached the ears of the governor, then the religious leaders would take care of the matter and the guards would not suffer punishment. Unfortunately, the guards agreed to participate in this deception.

When the women arrived at the tomb, the angel was still sitting atop the stone. He told them not to fear; that Jesus had risen from the dead. He instructed them to tell the disciples and Peter about Jesus’ resurrection and to let the disciples and Peter know that Jesus would meet them in Galilee. The women, at the angel’s prompting, entered the tomb where they found three angels. One was sitting on the right side of where Jesus had been laying. The other two were standing beside the women. The women fell with their faces to the ground in fear of the Lord at the glorious appearance of the angels. The angels repeated what the first angel had told them and revealed some of the prophecies that Jesus had to fulfill with His suffering and death. As the women left the tomb, they were filled with fear and joy.

The women ran from the tomb. Mary delivered the message to the disciples and to Peter. Peter and James raced to the tomb. James got there first and just peered in. He saw the linen clothes lying where Jesus’ body had been. Peter, upon his arrival, went into the tomb. He, too, saw the empty linen clothes. They both noticed, folded and placed by itself, the face cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. (This may be a good place to note that as I understand it, in Jewish custom, when a guest folded their napkin at the table and left, it meant that they were returning to finish their meal. Could the folding of the face cloth be seen as a message from Jesus that He would be back?) The disciples left the tomb.

Later Jesus appeared in the midst of the disciples. He even encouraged poor doubting Thomas to examine the wounds to His hands, feet and side so that he would be convinced that Jesus had truly risen from the dead. After forty days, Jesus gathered His disciples and was lifted up into the sky on a cloud until He had disappeared from their sight. Two angels appeared, standing beside them, and told them that Jesus would come back in the same manner in which He left.

Now some may claim that Jesus never died, that somehow He managed to survive the beatings, the whipping and the crucifixion. Of course, this is nonsense. If He had survived, surely the disciples, Joseph of Aramathea, Nicodemus or one of the Roman soldiers witnessing His execution or removing Him from the cross would have noticed (Romans were experts in death). Even if Jesus had some small spark of life left in Him, remember that He was mortally wounded. Could He really survive all that time in a cold tomb with no medical attention for His injuries? Surely He would have died from shock, exposure, dehydration or blood loss. No. Jesus was dead.

Could the disciples or some of His other followers have stolen His body? That’s highly unlikely and here’s why:
• His resurrection was still a mystery to the disciples at that time. That’s why they were grieving His death. They had not yet comprehended what he meant when He said that He would rise again.
• If the disciples or some of Jesus’ other followers had stolen His body, would they take valuable time trying to carefully remove the tight wrappings in one piece like a cocoon (which would have been very difficult because it would have been stuck to his body with the gummy spices that had been applied) or to carefully fold the linen cloth that covered His face? Wouldn’t they have taken Him, linen and all, so that they could spend as little time at the scene of the crime as possible?
• Could they have arrived, moved the stone and stolen Jesus’ body without making a sound or being seen by the guard?
• The official story that the Jewish leaders spread was that the guards said that they had fallen asleep and that Jesus’ disciples stole the body. Question: If they were asleep, how would that know who stole the body? The bible states that the Roman guards saw and reported what really happened and that they were bribed by the Jewish leaders to change their story.
• The chief priests and Pharisees did not go out to inspect the tomb. Their lack of concern for viewing the scene of the crime screams cover-up.
• Breaking the seal on the rock in front of the tomb was a punishable offense. None of the disciples were ever charged with such an offence.
• The Roman soldiers couldn’t have been in collusion with Jesus. Not only was their allegiance sworn to Caesar, Jesus (if He was just a man) could not have possibly known which guards would have been chosen to guard the tomb.

There is always the possibility that Jesus was never placed in the tomb to begin with, but that isn’t possible either. There would have been too many witnesses to His burial to try a stunt like that. If the chief priests and Pharisees weren’t sure of His presence in the tomb, then they never would have sealed the tomb and posted the guard. Groups, both for and against Jesus, witnessed His burial, we can be confident of that. He was a high profile and very controversial person. We can be sure that a crowd was at His execution and burial, including the chief priests and Pharisees.

So, if Jesus did not survive the crucifixion, if He wasn’t taken by His disciples or other followers under the cover of darkness, if He was in fact placed in the tomb on the first day and then sealed in by the chief priests and Pharisees, then what is the alternative?

“What does the critical historian do when the evidence points very strongly to the reality of an event which contradicts his expectations and goes against the naturalistic view of reality? I submit that he must follow his critically analyzed sources. It is unscientific to begin with the philosophical presupposition that miracles cannot occur. Unless we avoid such one-sided presuppositions, historical interpretation becomes mere propaganda. We have a right to demand good evidence for an alleged event which we have not experienced, but we dare not judge reality by our limited experience.” (Ronald Sider, A Case for Easter, HIS magazine, April 1972)

“We have no right to begin with the presupposition that Jesus can be no more than a man. For then, obviously, our conclusions may simply reflect our preconceptions instead of representing the actual content of the documents. We must, in other words, objectively try to discover the picture Jesus and his contemporaries had of him, whether we agree with it or not. The question of us is not whether Jesus is pictured as a man. Virtually no one today would question this, for the records tell us that he was hungry and tired, that he wept, that he suffered and died, in short, that he was human.

The question we face today is whether he was depicted as no more than a man.” (John Warwick Montgomery, History and Christianity, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1971)

Could He be who the scriptures say He is? We'll take a look at the validity of scripture in my next article.

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