Hope from the Empty Tomb: Jesus Died Once so We Do Not Need to Die Twice
The Gospel is clear–Jesus died once so we don’t have to die twice.
When actual women actually went to an actual tomb and found it empty, God showed his face anew, first through an angel. His words shaped world history, “He is not here, he is risen.” (Matthew 28:6)
His resurrection would bring enough hope to fill the ages. He was the very fulfillment of Isaiah 53 from seven centuries earlier, cited often in the New Testament, such as, “He committed no sin,” but “was pierced for our transgressions.” And, “with his wounds we are healed,” “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases,” and the promise to become “children of light” when we “were like sheep going astray.”
His miraculous birth, crucifixion, and resurrection were no surprise to Isaiah—and his “great Isaiah scroll” is the most complete manuscript among the Dead Sea Scrolls; a copy of that text predating Jesus’ earthly life by one to four centuries (depending on the range of its scientific dating).
Crowds had witnessed his miracles during the previous three years and now believed a rolling stone sealed his fate. No piece of limestone was large enough to retain our Rock of Ages.
The tomb was not a fictitious fairytale place like C. S. Lewis’s wardrobe and Tolkien’s hobbit hole. And Christ rising from the dead wasn’t a clever story captured so brilliantly it became important, but an historical event so important it captured the brilliance of writers, artisans, musicians, teachers, and pastors to the present.
There is little doubt that Jesus was a historical person, cited by other sources like the Roman Jewish historian, Josephus, twice in Antiquities of the Jews (ca. AD 93-94).
Christ’s movement was noted by a Roman governor, Pliny the Younger (AD 112), in his correspondence with Emperor Trajan.
Nor is there much doubt that Jesus was buried. Based on what we know from the material culture of the first century—all people, even the two criminals at Calvary, would have been buried (see Craig A. Evans, Jesus and the Remains of His Day, Hendrickson, 2015). And, it’s firmly recorded that many people claimed to have seen a resurrected Jesus.
Christ’s tomb was a hewn chamber with one of the rare rolling stones (around 4.5 feet in diameter), like ones found with some first-century Jewish burials—befitting wealthy people like Joseph of Arimathea (a “rich man” Matt. 27:57). It was indeed a first-century tomb that most likely stood beneath the sprawling complex of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (founded three centuries later by Constantine’s mother). It’s a tomb that in the first century would have looked similar to the restored garden tomb of “Gordon’s Calvary” nearby—a popular tourist site today.
Consequently, as breath leaves us, we need not worry about Dante’s Inferno—trudging with leaded robes through the fiery abyss of Hell. Instead, billions of Christians through the centuries have taken comfort in the angel’s words in that empty tomb.
Perpetua before the beasts in the Carthage arena.
Bartolomé de las Casas while exhausting himself to help the enslaved in Mexico and the West Indies.
Antonia Locatelli while protecting hundreds of Tutsis in a Catholic Church during the Rwandan genocide.
And today, swarms of parishioners helping elderly neighbors and relatives fight the unseen COVID-19 virus, or live on as spouses have succumbed.
Yes, billions of Christians have taken comfort in the angel’s words. In the empty tomb. In St. Paul’s summary, “Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55, NIV).
Jerry Pattengale, Author of dozens of books, including Inexplicable: How Christianity Spread to the Ends of the Earth—and co-author of the accompanying TBN docu-series. Also, the inaugural University Professor, Indiana Wesleyan University, and a founding scholar of the Museum of the Bible (DC).
Read our blog series, “Evidence of the Empty Tomb.”