Giving an Answer – Part 18
Resurrection: Burial, the Tomb, the Seal, the Grave Clothes
1 Peter Lesson #100
Matthew 27:57–28:8; Mark 15:42–16:14; Luke 23:50–24:43; John 19:38–20:29; 1 Peter 3:15
July 20, 2017
“Our Father, we are so thankful we can come together tonight to study Your Word. We are thankful for another day that we have to live for You, to apply Your Word, and to be a faithful witness to those around us.
“Father, we pray that we would take advantage of the opportunities that we have to stop and talk to people and to be a verbal witness as well as a witness with our lives. Father, help us to be able to think clearly and to respond correctly to questions, to opportunities, to circumstances; to not be in such a hurry to get on about our business when we can stop and perhaps ask questions and probe people’s thinking just a little bit as we have those opportunities.
“Father, we pray that God the Holy Spirit would bring to our minds the things that we have learned, the things that we have studied. And as we continue in our study on Giving an Answer for the hope that is in us, we pray that You would help us to see the tremendous evidence that You have provided for us to validate and verify the accuracy, the truthfulness, the veracity of Your Word.
“Father, we pray that You would help us to focus on what we are studying and learning tonight. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Today, as I was preparing for the lesson tonight, I was going back over various pictures, photographs that I’ve taken over the years in the trips to Israel, looking for various photos that would help us to visualize some of the things I’m talking about tonight. And one of my favorite files that I’ve kept over the years is a file of photographs of somewhat unusual signs that you will run into in Israel. We all know there are a lot of problems in the church as a whole—the visible church and Christianity today—and I’ve always gotten a great chuckle out of this sign that was posted on the wall outside of a church in Jerusalem, “Please: No explanations inside the church.” That’s the problem today; nobody’s explaining anything.
We’re moving into our 18th lesson on Giving an Answer, based out of 1 Peter 3:15. We’re talking about the resurrection tonight, and we still won’t quite get to the final part of the evidence of the resurrection. Last week I focused on the death of Christ. That is so important, because one of the ways people seek to deny the resurrection or deny the truth of Christianity is to say that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead; He just passed out or swooned or something to that effect. There are only two things you can do: to say either the body was stolen or somehow He didn’t really die.
Last week I spent a lot of time talking about what happened in terms of the torture leading up to the crucifixion, the horrible physiological effects of the crucifixion to make it clear that it is impossible that someone who had gone through all of that torture, the blood loss, everything else, going into the tomb would be able to come out of the tomb.
We are going to see a little bit more about that when we look at what was involved in the burial tonight. We will look at the tomb and what was involved with the tomb—the sealing of the tomb, the guards that were placed at the tomb, the security that was there, and then the grave clothes.
What I put up are the lengthy passages that we are covering, so that you have that. Matthew 27:57–28:8 covers a good bit of this. Mark 15:42–16:14, Luke 23:50–24:43 and John 19:38–20:29. Scripture spends a tremendous amount of time covering the period of His burial, the security of the tomb, what happens during the intervening period through the resurrection. These verses cover all the way through the resurrection and His appearances as recorded in the Gospels. Then there are some other places outside of the Gospels, in the Epistles, where additional information is given.
The Scripture gives us a tremendous amount of information about the burial of Jesus Christ. In fact, we know more about the burial of Jesus Christ in the first century AD, than any other person in ancient history. You can think about Julius Caesar; you can think about Alexander the Great; you can think about any number of pharaohs. We may have discovered some archaeological remains, but we don’t have the inscriptional evidence, the written evidence. We know more about the burial of Jesus than any other person in history—infinitely more.
We know who took His body down from the cross. We know how they treated it, how it was wrapped at the scene and with what. We know what the burial clothes were. We know the precise location of the tomb. We know who owned the tomb; we know who he was, what he did, where he was from. We know much more about Jesus’ death than anybody else. Nothing comes close to the kind of documentary evidence for His death than any other person in the ancient world.
What we’re doing in this concluding section of our study on apologetics is addressing three popular questions that people run into.
- Can we trust the Bible?
- Who was Jesus?
- Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
The first goes to validation. “Well, that’s just what the Bible says. But, you know, that was a collection of myths, and that was written several hundred years after any of those things happened. And they made a lot of mistakes.” and those kinds of things. I tried to go through that, summarize it, and give you just some real crisp information that you can use.
Then, “Who was Jesus?” We looked at His claims; we looked at prophecies that were fulfilled at the first coming. We looked at the classic argument for the identity of Jesus: Lord, liar or lunatic? When you look at His claims, you’re only left with three options. He was Who He claimed to be, or He was telling a lie. If He was telling a lie, He was either intentionally deceptive or He was self-deceived. In either case, he’s either one of the worst criminals and deceivers in all of history, or He was an absolute psychotic.
The evidence doesn’t fit any of those options, so people are not free to hide behind the idea that He was a good man, He was a good teacher, He was a moral reformer. Those options are not left to anybody.
Then the most important sign, as we said, is His resurrection. Remember that in Acts 1, Jesus had appeared to His disciples with many convincing proofs. That’s the evidence. I pointed out in the first part of this series that the issue isn’t evidence; the issue is how we use the evidence. Some people treat evidence as if it’s just neutral, as if the interpretation of evidence is not affected by man’s sinfulness, corruption, total depravity, and negative volition.
For the believer, as you look at a fact, what you think of maybe as a brute fact is not the same. It’s already interpreted; you’ve already interpreted it. That’s not the same as the unbeliever. How we go about that is what we focused on in the initial part of the study.
These are the key passages on the resurrection of Jesus: Matthew 28:1–10, Mark 16:1–11, Luke 24:1–12, and John 20:1–18.
Last time I talked about the death of Christ, the brutal torture before, and I ran across this picture. I think this is on the side of the church that is located there at the Garden of Gethsemane, a depiction of Jesus being bound and being hauled to Pontius Pilate while they are beating Him and whipping Him along the way.
What we’re going to look at in this last section tonight and next week is the burial, what was involved in the burial, and just read through and summarize the passages so we can see that. We’re going to talk about what was involved in securing the tomb. We know that they knew; the Pharisees came to Pilate and said, “This man said that He would rise from the dead in three days, so we need to prevent the disciples from creating a fulfilled prophecy here. So we need to put a guard on the tomb to keep them from stealing the body.”
What was involved in securing the tomb. That involves also the seal that’s placed on the tomb—what the nature of that was. The guard at the tomb. The nature of the Roman guards and the guard detail.
The desertion of the disciples. That’s real evidence because these guys completely deserted Jesus at the time of His arrest, and yet two days later, they’re willing to die for Him, so something significant happened in the intervening period.
The fact of the empty tomb itself, which never gets debated in any of the literature. Nobody ever denies that the tomb was empty in the first century. The grave clothes. What does that tell us? Then the issue of the witnesses after the resurrection.
What I want to do to begin is to just read through the different accounts. You can turn in your Bibles with me to Matthew. We will just work through the four Gospel accounts. Matthew’s account starts in Matthew 27:57–61. This is sort of a prelude to what we will cover when we get into Matthew. So when we get to this point in probably a month or two in Matthew, we will be reviewing this again. That’ll be important for everybody.
57 “Now when evening had come [this would be the evening just after the crucifixion], there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. 58 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. 59 When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. 61 And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.”
Then we turn to Mark 15:42–47 for Mark’s account. 42 “Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. 45 So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47 And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid.”
Then we go to Luke’s account. This is in Luke 23:50–54. Notice how each account complements the other. They’re not identical. Even though there are many scholars who think that the other accounts are all dependent upon Mark, they have additional information. I don’t think Mark was first at all; I think that’s just something that comes out of the liberal theology of the 19th century. Matthew was first under the principle, to the Jew first and then to the Greek.
Luke’s account, beginning in Luke 23:50. “Now behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, [he, like Mark, emphasizes his involvement in the Sanhedrin], a good and just man. 51 He had not consented to their decision and deed. He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain before. 54 That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near.”
Then we turn to John’s account in John 19:38–42. 38 “After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. 39 And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. 40 Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.”
Let’s look at this and summarize what we learn in these passages related to the burial. Before I begin, I just want to make four observations. First of all, the standard operating procedure for the Romans was to leave the bodies on the cross until they were eaten away by the carrion birds and the flesh rotted off the skeleton. The reason was to put fear into people. They would usually crucify along major traveled roads or highways, so that as people walked from one place to another, they would see what had happened. They just left the bodies up there. They did that unless it violated local customs.
In Israel, the Jews had respect for the bodies. That wasn’t part of paganism; they didn’t have respect for the body. Jewish custom was to respect the body and to bury the body after death as soon as possible, hopefully before nightfall.
Josephus records an instance where Titus had crucified three Jewish criminals, but Josephus was able to appeal to him to take them down from the crosses before they died. What that points out is that even though they had set policy, there was a degree of flexibility in how they handled that policy based on local customs and other factors.
Also, relatives could gain permission to bury the person that was condemned; they could come to the official. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was there at the cross, so it’s possible that she could have requested the body, but Joseph of Arimathea, who is the one who focuses on this, seems to be the one that’s involved; there’s no mention of Mary being involved. Since he is one of the members of the Council, a member of the Sanhedrin and highly respected, he would be in a position of authority where Pilate would be inclined to respond to his request.
We learn from John’s account that Nicodemus was also involved and that both of these men were Pharisees, still on the Sanhedrin, but they were secret believers. The grave itself that we know of—I’m pretty sure we know of its location—was destroyed in 1009, which is roughly a thousand years ago, by al-Hakim who was the caliph of Egypt at the time. He was kind of a radical religious nut job, and he wanted to completely eradicate any evidence of Christianity or Judaism from any of these religious sites in Israel. He was not on the throne very long.
That’s one of the occasions for the Crusades is that he was defacing and destroying, literally. The word “deface” kind of minimizes it; they were trying to completely eradicate anything that was related to historical evidence of Christianity. He basically had the hillside, where this tomb was located, completely destroyed; it was just taken down to level ground. I’ve got some pictures of it in here. That’s why when you go into what is called the Edicule inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, you look down, and there’s a piece of glass over rock. You’re thinking, “Well, where’s the cave?” There is no cave. This is the base of where the cave was, but there’s nothing there.
That’s one of the reasons that the patriarch of Constantinople requested aid from the pope in Rome to send soldiers, because as Christians were making their pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to Jerusalem, they were being attacked by Moslems along the way. The Moslems were destroying these Christian holy sites, so the Crusades were not an initiated attack against Islam; they were a response to the assaults of Islam against Christianity and against Christians. But, of course, you’re never told that in any public school classrooms because they’re into propaganda; they’re not into truth.
That’s all that’s there now. There’s no empty cave that you can go to. Actually, there are a lot of empty caves because all of those bodies are all gone now. We see a lot of empty tombs, and I’ll show you some of the pictures in a little bit so you get some idea of what those tombs were like.
To summarize the passages, what we see is Jesus has died, probably around 3 PM in the afternoon. Joseph’s got three hours until the sun sets and it’s time to eat Passover, so he goes to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus. This is described in Matthew 27:58, Mark 15:43, Luke 23:52, and John 19:38. It is also identified as the evening of the Preparation Day.
Probably, in a couple of weeks, I’m going to finalize what I’m doing on the chronology of that last week, and we’ll do it on a Tuesday night probably. After I finish 1 Samuel, we’ll take a break for one night before we go into 2 Samuel.
Preparation Day is a technical term for the day before the Sabbath; it’s preparation for the Sabbath. It’s not preparation for Passover; it wasn’t used that way. That’s one of the, I think, errors, misconceptions that was often used to try to argue for either a Wednesday or a Thursday crucifixion. We’ll get into some of the other issues as we get into that chronology.
It’s Friday afternoon, and Joseph hurries to Pilate. He doesn’t have far to go; it’s less than 200 yards to get from the site of Golgotha to the praetorium where I believe it is. This isn’t taking a lot of time. That was one of the arguments that was used by Graham Scroggie to argue that all of this couldn’t be done in one afternoon. He talks about how it would take Joseph all this time to get to the praetorium because, for a long time, they thought it was over by the Temple Mount. It’s only been recently that they’ve discovered that it wasn’t; it was over by what is now the Jaffa Gate.
It’s not that far, so he goes back and forth. Then he has to go buy spices. That’s another maybe 100-yard trip to go buy spices. This isn’t something that’s going to take him all day. He’s not going to have to fight the traffic to get to the Galleria and then go through the Galleria, park, and take half a day just to pick up a couple of things. It’s a fairly quick process. That’s the first thing that we’re told happens.
The second thing is when he comes to Pilate, Pilate is skeptical that Jesus is already dead. He needs a little validation, so he called for the centurion to come for confirmation. Now that’s going to take a little bit of time. He’s got to send somebody, but it’s not that far—150 yards maybe. He gets the centurion, and the centurion comes back and says, “Yes, He’s dead.” “How do we know that?” “Well, when we got to His body to break the legs, He was already dead. So I rammed my spear up in His side, and the blood came out—blood and water—indicating that He was dead. This is what we’ve seen.” These are experienced executioners, so they knew that Jesus was dead at that point. That confirms the death of Jesus; He’s not just passed out. That’s in Mark 15:44, 45a, and you can compare that to John 19:34, 35.
Then we’re told some things about Joseph. We’re told that Joseph is a wealthy man from Arimathea. This is a small town. That’s in Matthew 27:57a.
We’re told he’s a prominent member of the Sanhedrin, so he is a ruler of the Jews as well; he’s on the Council. So he’s highly respected. This tells us that he has gone through rabbinical training. We’re told that he would have known from that the Old Testament backwards and forwards. He is a well-educated man. He is prominent member of the Sanhedrin; he has authority, responsibilities. This is in Mark 15:43a and Luke 23:50b. You sort of break verses down into three or four sections to get to the individual section.
We’re also told that he, in the meeting with the Sanhedrin, doesn’t consent to their decision or what they were doing to condemn Jesus. That tells us that he wasn’t so secret. He and Nicodemus, probably, when they took a vote, they stood against the rest of the Sanhedrin. It tells us that they took some kind of a vote, and they were able to express their opposition to what had taken place. He stood his ground as a disciple of Jesus. That’s in Luke 23:51a.
We’re also told that he was “a good and just man.” That goes to his character. He is standing up for the truth. He is a man of integrity and virtue. That’s in Luke 23:50c.
He is also a disciple of Jesus. Notice that it’s Matthew who tells us this—John as well. But Matthew is the Gospel that emphasizes discipleship. Remember at the end of Matthew, in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus’ last words to the disciples are to go and make disciples.
All the way through Matthew, you have this emphasis on being a disciple. A disciple isn’t a believer in Jesus. A disciple is a believer in Jesus who decides to be more than just someone who is saved, but to grow to maturity and be a student of Jesus and to apply what He teaches. Anyone can be a believer and trust in Christ—that doesn’t make you a disciple. Being a believer is what gets you eternal life; being a disciple is what gets you maturity and spiritual growth.
He’s a disciple of Jesus who is “waiting for the Kingdom of God.” That’s in Mark 15:43c and Luke 23:51c. He understood eschatology. He understood Jesus came to offer the Kingdom, and he, like the 12, is waiting for that Kingdom to come. We’ve studied this before in Acts 1. Just immediately before the Ascension, the disciples said, “Well, Lord, is it now that You’re going to bring the Kingdom?” They didn’t quite get it, that it was postponed for a long time—at least 2000 years now.
The fourth thing we learn is that Pilate commanded that the body was to be given to Joseph, so he gives orders to the centurion, “Give the body to Joseph.” This is recorded in three of the Gospels (Matthew 27:58b, Mark 15:45b, and John 19:38c).
There is order here, and Pilate would not have given that order unless he was convinced that Jesus was dead. This idea that Schoenfield and others come up with, this swoon theory, is just purely bogus based on the evidence. They just have to deny all the written evidence as being inaccurate.
The fifth thing that we learn is that Joseph then took the body of Jesus. The way it’s written is as if he took it down; that’s probably not likely. He would’ve had somebody else there, but he’s the responsible party for taking down the body. Then he and Nicodemus wrapped the body in a clean linen cloth.
They would take strips of linen, and then they would wrap the body tightly with this linen. That’s important when we come back to this idea that, “Well, Jesus just passed out and He came to.” He’s wrapped tightly with this linen. Within the folds of the linen and the strips of linen, they would have put all of these spices, and that weighed about 75 pounds. The text says 100 pounds, but that’s a 12-ounce pound, so that’s about 75 pounds in terms of how we weigh things.
The sixth thing we learn is that Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, which was pretty standard, about 100 pounds. Which, as I said, would be 75 pounds as we weigh things with a 16-ounce pound. About 100 pounds, which were wrapped in the strips of linen, which was the custom. That’s John 19:40.
One of the things that’s interesting about that is the evidence we have from a statement from Chrysostom. They would wrap the body in linen, and then they would put the myrrh along the strips of linen and the aloes. But the mixture of the myrrh—I guess it was kind of a paste or something like that—would cause the strips of linen to stick to the body. Okay? Now that’s important.
Then you wrap another layer, and you wrap more spices in there. You continue to do this. This is going to not only stick to the body, but it’s also going to thicken up a little bit. If you’re wrapped like this, first of all, you don’t have any mobility; it’s like being in a straitjacket. And second, if you were to get out of this stuff, you’re going to have to peel it off like pulling adhesive tape off of your body.
This idea that here He’s gone through all these beatings and whippings and everything else, and now He’s got to somehow pull a Houdini and get out of this straitjacket (Where’s He got the strength to do that?) and He has to peel it off of His body, that just doesn’t fit any of the evidence whatsoever. That is the significance of this piece of evidence.
The seventh thing that we see is that the Scriptures emphasize that this is an unused tomb. It’s a new tomb that has been hewn out of the rock, which was pretty standard. They would use some caves, but usually they would have the tombs carved out. Depending on how many people were in the family, they would create various niches for the bodies to be laid for the first year. Then after the flesh had decomposed off of the bones, they would collect the bones and put them in an ossuary, which is a bone box. Then that would be sealed up and that would be placed on a shelf.
This was an unused tomb; it had never been used before. This is emphasized in three of the Gospels (Matthew 27:60, Mark 15:46, Luke 23:53). This was in a garden in the place where Jesus was crucified. Now I bet most of you never paid attention to that little phrase: “It’s in a garden in the place where Jesus was crucified.”
It always surprises people. It surprised me. The first time I went to Israel and went into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, it’s probably 75 yards or less from Golgotha, the site where they believe—and it could be anywhere in there—the side of the hillside where Jesus was crucified, to the site of the grave. It’s very close, maybe 50 yards. That’s very close. Probably from the distance of the front door of the church to the back door of the church. It’s just not very far, yet we think that it was a long distance. It’s just right there, very, very, very close. This was in the garden there.
The eighth thing is that the treatment of the body and its placing in the tomb was witnessed by Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and the mother of Joses, according to Matthew 27:61. We have two witnesses who love Jesus, they cared deeply about Jesus, so if Jesus is still alive, why would they be mourning and wanting to go back two days later to wrap the body in further spices? They’re watching and they’re witnesses that everything is being done, and they’re there as late as they can, until dusk.
Then, ninth, we see that Matthew alone relates that it’s Joseph’s own tomb. John, that it was in a garden and in the place where He was crucified. All except Mark notice the newness of the tomb. John does not mention that it belonged to Joseph. That’s sort of a summary from Henry Alford’s work on the Greek New Testament. Each brings out distinct things; not everybody covers all of the details. This helps us to understand these things.
Alfred Edersheim was a trained Orthodox Jew who became a believer in the mid-19th century, and then he went on to teach at various institutions. He wrote a classic work that is called The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. It’s about that thick, and it is one of the best works, only to be surpassed by a current four-volume set that’s coming out by Arnold Fruchtenbaum.
The reason this is superior to Edersheim is, first of all, there’s a lot of new information that’s come out. Secondly, references to Jewish literature were not universalized by the mid-19th century, and so it’s difficult to track down his sources. Whereas, Arnold’s work has identified where all the sources are according to current designation, so if you’re trying to do research to find all the original documentations in the Mishnah, Talmud, all these other various Jewish writings, you can do that.
Edersheim gives the following details of the burial customs. First of all, tombs were part of the family possessions and were acquired long before they were needed. That’s a lot like what we do today. If you purchase a pre-need funeral from the funeral home, you’ve got your lots, you’ve got a niche for cremation, things of that nature. That was not unusual. Joseph had purchased this tomb to make sure that everything would be taken care of in the event of his death. Sometimes these were natural caves, but more often, they were rock-hewn tombs cut out of the side of the hills.
Bodies were wrapped tightly in clean strips of linen cloth. Numerous spices, including myrrh, myrtle, aloes and later on hyssop, rose oil, and rosewater were used. Initially, in this case, there’s a hasty involvement with about 75 pounds of spices. That’s not unusual for someone significant. Jesus was a known teacher. He was called a rabbi; not officially a rabbi, but He was respected as a rabbi, as a prophet, and so people would have honored His body as Joseph and Nicodemus did.
There’s a contemporary of Jesus, Rabbi Gamaliel, who would have trained the Apostle Paul. Gamaliel was buried with about 90 pounds of spices, so that is not uncommon for somebody of significance.
Each burial cave, which is called the me’arat, had niches, called kokhim, where the dead body was laid until it had decomposed, and then the bones would be put into an ossuary. Often within these areas, there would be a large room where the body would be laid out on a bier for preparation before it is placed into its niche.
During Jesus’ time, there’s a huge interest in the deaths of prophets and religious leaders, and so His burial site would have been known to everybody. It was typical for people to make pilgrimage to the sites of dead rabbis and other religious leaders, and so Jesus’ burial site would’ve been known to everyone. It would’ve been very unusual for people to have said, “Oh, He’s not there. The tomb is empty.” Everybody would say, “No it’s not. It’s right there; we can go there.” The fact that it was well-known goes to giving evidence that the tomb was empty. Nowhere is anybody claiming the tomb is not empty.
Once He’s buried, then the question came up about securing the tomb. And the key passage for this is Matthew 27:62–66.
62 “On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, [So this is on Shabbat. He’s crucified Friday afternoon. He’s buried late Friday afternoon. The next day the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, because they realize…] 63 saying, ‘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, sealing the stone and setting the guard.”
A couple of observations here I want to point out. First of all, what I’ve highlighted in blue. Notice that the religious leaders are saying, “This is what He said, ‘After three days I will rise.’” In our idiom, when we think “after three days …” If I’m talking now—it’s Thursday night—after three days would be Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday night; after three days is Monday. Okay? But notice, in the same sentence they say, “Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day.” Not until after the third day.
We think “after the third day” means the fourth day, but in their idiom, “after the third day” and “until the third day” all mean the same thing. That’s where people have gotten confused in trying to figure out what day Jesus was crucified; they add too many days between Sunday counting back. “After the third day,” so they have to figure it all out. As far as their idiom is concerned, “after three days” and “until the third day” mean the same thing. That means it doesn’t include the third night.
Think about that. We will go into this in detail. When Jesus referred to the pattern of Jonah—three days and three nights—every Western mind says, “That’s got to be in excess of 72 hours.” The problem with that is that doesn’t fit any pattern of the usage of that idiom in the Old Testament. We will see this in our study in Samuel on Tuesday night.
I touched it briefly in 1 Samuel 30 when David and his men capture that Egyptian slave. He uses both of those terms “after the third day” and “three days and three nights” and then “on the third day” as synonymous. That “three days and three nights” is a synonym for “on the third day.” That means it didn’t include the third night.
Usage in the Old Testament makes it very, very clear that all these terms “on the third day,” “until the third day,” “after the third day,” “three days and three nights” all refer to the exact same time period. We make a big error when we come in and we try to take “three days and three nights” as the controlling interpretive phrase. That’s because you think like a Western Latin- Greek thinker and not like a Middle-Eastern thinker using Semitic idioms. I’ll say more about that when we get to that discussion.
The women remain on watch at the tomb until the Sabbath, which began at 6 PM. At that time, the Roman guard shows up and seals the tomb. The Pharisees had posted a guard of Roman soldiers to keep watch over the tomb until Sunday morning. The Pharisees asked from Pilate. Pilate gives it to them; he orders them, actually, to take a guard with them. It’s going to be Roman soldiers, not a temple guard; we will see that in a second. The Pharisees go with the Roman guard to make sure everything is sealed. So they’re out there.
Before they seal it, what are they going to do? What would you do? If you’re going to seal the tomb to make sure nobody’s going to steal the body, what’s the first thing you’re going to do before you seal the tomb? You’re going to make sure the body is still in there.
They check it out. The body is still in there. They put the stone back in front of the opening, and then they’re going to seal it so that nobody can come along and get in there or come out of there without breaking the seal.
Now the large rock that will close the tomb is called a golel, which is rolled into a slight groove that’s cut into the rock base to make it difficult to roll it out. Why are they doing that? Not to keep the people in but to keep grave robbers out and to keep animals out. They want to make it very difficult for anybody to get into it, so that it’s going to take more than just one or two grave robbers to be able to move these stones. They are going to be very, very heavy, and you have to roll them uphill out of this groove.
Matthew 27:60, “And laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed.”
Here is a series of first century tombs that are located on Mount Scopus. This is northeast of the Temple Mount. This is just below the Hebrew University. Typically, when we’re on a tour group and we’re on the bus and we go into Jerusalem for the first time, we will make a turn and circle around by Mount Scopus and stop here. You get a great overview of the city, and it’s a good place to talk about everything, but you’re just right above these first century tombs.
Here’s another picture of the same set of tombs that are there. Of course, they’re all empty now, but that doesn’t mean that there have been a lot of resurrections.
Then over near the King David Hotel in a little park area there, there’s this tomb that gives you a pretty good idea of what this looked like. You can see this archway here. The entry into the tomb goes through here, and there’s this grooved section where you have this huge stone. This is the golel that would roll across there.
A lot of times what they would do is that they would take another smaller stone that was called a dopheg, and once they got the big stone in place, they would jam this or wedge it in, so it would make it even more difficult to roll that stone out of position.
Here’s a little closer shot. It gives you an idea of scale. That’s Wayne House bending over and looking in.
Then here’s a shot looking down. Here’s the top of the stone, and you can see this area where in this particular tomb, they created a little channel which would keep the stone in place. Now that’s that tomb. This is a Herodian period tomb, so it would be very similar, perhaps, to the kind of set up at the tomb where Jesus was.
This is a picture of what some people think is the tomb of Jesus. This is called the Garden Tomb. It’s interesting: in English they were able to make that little switch. It used to be called “Gordon’s Tomb” for Gen. Charles Gordon. If you ever watch the film Khartoum—if you haven’t, you need to watch it—with Charlton Heston. Get a little history on the Arab revolts of the late 1800s. He was called “Chinese Gordon,” and he had been a great Victorian general. He had gone to China, and he was hired out there to defeat the rebels in the Taiping rebellion. He had a Bible that was probably scribbled in more than any of yours. You can see that at the British Museum.
He kind of did things his own way. He had his own view of where Mount Ararat was. He had his own view of where Calvary was—or Golgotha. He had his own view of where the tomb was. It was originally called “Gordon’s Calvary” and “Gordon’s tomb,” but for various reasons, they decided to take his name off of it, and they just called it the Garden Tomb. You just had to change the vowel and everything was okay.
He identified this. It’s a nice site to go to. When we take a group to Israel, we always go there; we have communion there. It gives you an idea of what the original site was like because there is not this huge church that’s surrounding it, and so it gives you a sense.
The problem is that the hillside behind it is made up of first and second century BC tombs. This was probably part of that cemetery, not part of where Joseph of Arimathea would have buried Jesus. Not only that, there is no historical record, no attestation anywhere until Chinese Gordon came along and claimed this was the burial site. He’s the first person in 2,000 years to say, “This is where the tomb was.” Everybody else said it was over at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But it gives you an idea of how these tombs were.
This is a map. I thought I had a better picture; this is the only one I could come up with. If you look here , this is sort of an entry chamber where several people can go in. This was where they would lay out the body. You have a small entry here , a small little doorway here going into where the grades were . This is an unfinished grave on the right , and this one on the left  was finished, and it has a small ledge here , where they would place the head. So that gives you an idea.
This is what it looks like. This is the finished ledge over here were they would place the body. I don’t have the corner there where the headrest was. This was the unfinished section over here, so this had never been fully developed or fully used as a gravesite.
In the lower right picture, you can see the finished one on the left and the unfinished one on the right. This gives you an idea of the size of the location.
When you go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, remember that it was originally two churches. They originally had a small church over Golgotha, and then they had another church—50 yards away—a small chapel-like over the area of the tomb. Then, as I said, in the year 1009 that was destroyed by the Caliph of Egypt.
It’s been built up over the years. It often strikes Western Protestants as just really absurd because you have all the smells and bells, incense and everything else, and people crawling up on the bier where they think they laid out the body of Jesus and kissing it and everything. It’s really great to go in there later in the evening, which is when I like to go. Nobody’s there and you can get a sense of this, because if it weren’t for the fact that the Catholic Church built these churches over these sites, we would have a Holiday Inn there now.
I mean those churches may be distracting for people, but they did preserve those sites down through the centuries. We can be pretty certain based on the evidence that this is the location, because it has a record going all the way back. I just recently discovered that the early church in the first century worshiped at this site, so there is evidence of that.
This is looking down on the tomb. This is called the edicule. It was built in the 18th century over the site of where the tomb would have been. There’s usually, as you can see here, a long line of people who want to go in. You can only go in two or three people at a time, take a quick look, and then the priest there is always hurrying you up, “Hurry up, hurry up; get out, get out.” Right back here through these arches, there’s a couple of doors. If you go through that door, there’s actually a small side room that has two or three tombs in it that shows that this area was a place where there were graves in the first century.
This shows a couple of pictures of these graves that were located there. You’re standing in the open chamber, and then these are the places where the bodies would have been placed during that time.
Of course, afterward the bones are placed in these ossuaries, these bone boxes.
That gives us an idea of the burial process. They would have laid Jesus to rest in a niche in the rock-hewn tomb. Then on Sunday morning, Mary and the other ladies were coming to add more spices, further embalming of the body.
Mark tells us that the women on Sunday morning were quite concerned about how they would be able to get into the tomb because of the size of the stone. They’re not working out; they’re not doing CrossFit every day, so they don’t know how in the world these three ladies are going to get in there and move this heavy stone.
Mark says in Mark 16:3-4, “And they said among themselves ...” Apparently, all the way to the tomb they are discussing, “How are we going to move this rock to get in there to treat the body?”
3 ‘… Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?’ 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large.”
Matthew 28:2 tells us, “And behold, there was a great earthquake …” Now it’s an aorist tense, indicating that this had happened in the past—just simple past. There had already been an earthquake. It doesn’t happen right then—this earthquake. “… For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it.”
Angels are pretty strong. They’re able to roll that heavy stone back. Now what’s interesting is there is a comment in the margin of an ancient manuscript from about the fourth century that is in the margin of Mark 16:4.
There’s a lot of information about this. It’s called a gloss. What would happen is that maybe much earlier a scribe was copying this, and he knew something and so he would write a note in the side margin. Sometimes these would get included in the text later on by mistake. He adds in the margin, “And when He was laid there, he [Joseph] put against the tomb a stone which 20 men could not roll away.”
Some of the scholars who have studied this and written in details about this—written about the history of transcribing and how this would have developed—conclude that this original writing on this manuscript could have gone back to at least as early as the early second century and maybe even more. It could have been something that was written down from tradition about how heavy that stone was. We can’t be absolutely certain about that, but this makes sense and the evidence could support that.
A sixth thing that we see here is that the Gospels all agree that the women found the stone removed when they arrived. The stone is moved. When they looked up, they found the stone rolled away, according to Mark 16:4. “But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large.” Luke 24:1–2, verse two specifically, says, “But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb.”
What has happened here is that the size of the stone gives us a clear indication that it would’ve been impossible for the women to have moved it—it would’ve taken several men. It would’ve been impossible for the injured, beaten, and tortured Jesus if He had just passed out to have moved it from the inside. Since it would have moved laterally, He doesn’t have the leverage to move it left or right. He could maybe push if it was going to roll forward, but that is not the scene at all.
The evidence from His death is that He was certainly dead. The evidence from the burial, the preparation, all of that, indicates that He is certainly dead and not just having passed out. And that the body was still in the grave.
We still didn’t get to the seal on the tomb, the guard on the tomb, or some of these other important features. I want to work our way through this because these details are all very important. We’re not going to remember all of them. At the end I want to summarize it so we can sort of get our mental fingers around this and be able to use some of this information in a witnessing situation if necessary. Next time we’ll come back and work our way through the rest of the evidence.
“Father, thank You for this time together, for all of the details that we have in the Scripture. These incredible details confirm for us, with many convincing proofs, that the grave was filled with the body of our Lord. He was dead. It was sealed. It was secured. There was a guard there. There was no way of escape. There was no way that He could’ve just passed out and crawled out. And there was no way that someone could have stolen the body. This provides the evidence of the resurrection, that something miraculous happened, and the Scriptures tell us exactly what that was.
“Father, we pray that You would strengthen our faith as we study these facts. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”