If Jesus Rose from the Dead, then (#2) the Stone Was Rolled Away

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Truth Encounter Ministries
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Here is the historical record:

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Matthew 28:1-6

Now, someone, quite appropriately, might say 

“Wait a second, it doesn’t logically flow that ‘if Jesus rose from the dead, then the stone was rolled away.’ If Jesus was in His resurrected body, then, as we see later with the disciples, He passed through walls. He could have passed through the stone or the walls of the tomb. He didn’t need the angel to roll the stone away so He could get out.”

This is actually correct in asserting that Jesus could have left the tomb by passing through the rock. In fact, it appears as if He did! Look at the account again. The angel rolled back the stone, sat on it, and told the women that Jesus was not there for He had risen. In the flow of these events, it seems most likely that Jesus had already left the tomb when the stone was rolled away. It would be a stretch to think that the women approached the tomb, the earthquake shook the ground, an angel descended, rolled away the tomb, so that Jesus, who was waiting inside, could then steal away quickly without the women seeing Him, and then the angel tells the women that Jesus was not there and had risen. The text would lead us to believe that Jesus had already risen and departed the tomb.

And, though some correctly say that the text in John does not say that Jesus passed through the walls, and argue against it, the passage leads us to think He did, in some form or other:

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” John 20:19

 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” John 20:26

Now, of course, this could be a “materialization” rather than a “passing through the walls” but I would argue that is splitting hairs. John goes to the trouble to tell us, both times, that the "doors were locked" and "although" they were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. Jesus miraculously entered the room. Just as Jesus walked on the water and His body defied the normal physical properties of specific gravity, He apparently was not bound by the physical properties of a locked room, nor was He bound by the physical properties of the tomb or the stone.

Okay, so why, then, was the stone rolled away if it wasn’t to allow Jesus to escape?

First of all, and most plainly, the text tells us that it was so the women could “Come, see the place where He lay.” This would be impossible if the stone were still sealed against the tomb. But the seal was broken and the stone was rolled away so that they could see for themselves. And it wasn’t just for the women, it was also for the disciples to see, and believe.

This leads us to the second, and most important reason, and that is that it is consistent with God's nature to do things this way. Our Christian faith is not based upon myth or legend or “spiritually discerned” truth claims about ethereal things. Our faith has, from the beginning and to the end, been based upon reality born out in the “warp and woof” of time, as Francis Schafer was want to say. It is somehow in the nature of God that He chooses to affirm to us who He is and that His truth claims are real by showing us in the tangible elements of reality. The plagues of Egypt were real. The pillar of fire was real. The tables of stone were real. Fire actually came down out of heaven on Mt. Carmel. Jesus was born a real baby. He healed real people. He touched real lepers. He was scourged and He was crucified and His physical body was wrapped and laid in a real tomb. And, now, He had risen from the dead and the tomb was empty. The stone is now rolled away so that they could  “Come, see the place where He lay” with their own eyes.

Don’t let anyone tell you that your faith in Christ is a leap in the dark or some metaphysical belief not rooted in reality. God has, from the beginning, married His truth claims with real reality… over and over again.

And lastly, the tomb was empty as a testimony to those who do not believe. Though the Scripture does not detail this, you can be sure that the chief priests and the Pharisees came to inspect the tomb. And the tomb sat there empty for whomever wished to come and lay eyes upon its reality.

As we will deal with later, the empty tomb remains the key frustrating evidence for those who desire to refute the resurrection of Christ. Sir Norman Anderson, considered one of the foremost legal minds ever, after a lifetime of legally analyzing the evidence, concluded:

“The empty tomb, then, forms a veritable rock on which all rationalistic theories of the resurrection dash themselves in vain.”

A veritable rock which would not exist unless the stone had been rolled away.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

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If Jesus Rose from the Dead, then (#1) the Seal Was Broken
We don’t spend much time talking about the seal that was placed upon the tomb, but I think it is significant. Here is the historical record: The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. Matthew 27:62-66 The historical account states that the chief priests and the Pharisees “made the tomb secure by sealing the stone…”.  This seal was most likely several ropes that were drawn across the stone and then affixed to the tomb walls with a soft clay imprinted with some symbol of authority. It was also likely that the ropes were also sealed at their juncture in front of the stone. In this way, no one could move the stone or the ropes without breaking the dried clay and destroying the “seal” affixed upon the clay.  The seal was there to “put on notice” that no one was to mess with the tomb. Rome could deal quite nastily with those who did so. Now, this doesn’t mean much to us today, for we are long past the norm of using “seals” as they were utilized in ancient times. but in those days, a seal was inviolable. It represented authority, authenticity, and finality. No one messed with a seal. In the book of Esther, when King Ahasuerus issued the order to save the Jews, he commanded them to “seal it with the king's ring, for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king's ring cannot be revoked.” When Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, “… a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel." In the vision concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, the Scripture says this: And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” Isaiah 29:11 The permanence of a seal against all who were unauthorized to break it was an inviolable part of their world.  It becomes even more apparent when John is caught up to heaven and there beholds the scroll with seven seals. John begins to weep because there was “no one worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.” Of course, we find that the Lamb, “standing as though it had been slain”, was worthy to break the seals. And when each of those seals were broken, great calamity came upon the earth. Seals in the Scripture mean something. And John had wept, because the seal represented an inviolable wall to anyone who did not have the authority to break it. Seals show authority. They show authenticity. And they show finality for all except the one who had the authority to break them. And so, we now come back to the tomb. The seal, whether it was a Roman seal or the High Priest’s seal, represented a fixed closure that no one was allowed to breach. When it was set upon the tomb, there was a finality, a stamp of ultimate authority, that said, “this tomb is closed”. Ah, but God is not subject to the laws or seals of man. I can imagine that when the earth began to shake and the stone was rolled aside, that those clay seals with the authority of man impressed upon them broke into a thousand pieces and lay as trash littering the ground. If Jesus rose from the dead, then the seal of man, meant to keep Him in the grave, had been utterly and completely destroyed. But there is one more thing that must be mentioned regarding “seals”.  In John 6, Jesus said this: Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” John 6:27 If God seals something, it is sealed! In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, Eph 1:13 “… it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. 2 Cor 1:21 This is God’s seal of authority, authenticity, and finality. You are His, sealed with His guarantee. Oh my! [previous] [next]
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If Jesus Rose from the Dead, then (#5) the Angels Would Have Announced It
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Matthew 28:1-6 It may be too bold to say this, but I believe that it should come as no surprise to anyone that the announcement of the Lord’s resurrection was made by the angles, for this, indeed, was a cosmic moment. And, also not surprising, is that there is controversy over this: how many angels, where they were, and what did they really say. Matthew and Mark have one angel; Luke and John have two. We will deal with all of that soon. But today, we want to ponder the fact that it was the angels that announced the resurrection and why. Recall the great passage in Galatians (don’t skip through it… read it): What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.  Galatians 4:1-5 The advent of the Messiah was a “set time”—set by God. It wasn’t just that we landed on a nice calendar day. This was as if all the prophecies and all the promises were set on a timer and they all went off together at this moment. It was a cosmic moment: the time in which God was going to enter the world as a human being in order to redeem those who were in bondage under the law. It was a moment that began with the birth of the Messiah and extended through His resurrection… one big cosmic moment. John Calvin refers to the resurrection as “the closing scene of our redemption.” And the privilege of announcing this cosmic moment was going to be given to the angels. They came to Mary and to Joseph. They came to Zacharias and then on the night of His birth, the heavens were filled with a host of angels announcing the news… not to Herod or to the High Priest, but to the lowly, despised and smelly shepherds. Not in a palace or in the temple, but out in the middle of a common, ordinary field.  Should we, therefore, be surprised that it would be the angels who would announce His resurrection? And, to a woman in a graveyard? We will deal more with this later, but recall that women in that culture were second-class citizens. Jesus changed all of that forever. But it was no small deal in those days that the angels would break the news to a woman, and to Mary Magdalene, who at one time had been possessed by seven demons and no doubt suffered from the ravages those demons would visit upon her.  No, this is not surprising to us, for this is who God is. God’s heart is with the humble. And He blesses His creatures by allowing them to carry out His purposes and plans. Thus, He sends angels to announce the Moment of Moments. So, who are these “angels”?  Well, they are an amazing part of God’s creation. There are tons of them, “innumerable”, says Hebrews 12:22 and “thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand” says Revelation 5:11.  That is a lot of angels! There is even some conjecture that we might each have an “assigned” angel. When speaking of the children, Jesus refers to “their angels in heaven”. This certainly is inconclusive, but there surely are enough of them to go around! Maybe that is why there are so many. One thing we know for sure, they do minister to us: Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? Hebrews 1:14 Angels are strong. They are mighty. They battle the forces of darkness and they serve God as He sends them to fulfill His purposes. They are messengers, but they also carry out some of God’s judgments. When Herod was struck down and eaten by worms because he did not give glory to God, it was an angel that struck him. (Acts 12:23) Some are sent to patrol the earth. (Zechariah 1:8-11) Scripture even says you might have come in contact with angels as they go about their duties in human form: Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2 And so, it was the angels who kicked off the Moment and became quite active in the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. And it was the angels who ministered to Him in His times of need on earth. When Jesus had finished 40 days of fasting and had been tempted by Satan, the angels came and ministered to Him. (Matthew 4:11) When He was in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, and His soul was “deeply grieved to the point of death”, an angel came and strengthened Him. (Luke 22:43) I can imagine, then, how much they would have been straining at the bit to save Him from the scourge and the nails. All they needed was a word from Him and they would have swept in like a ferocious army. When Peter impetuously cut off the ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant, during the arrest, Jesus admonished Peter and said,  Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” Matthew 26:53-54 A Roman legion consisted of 6,000 soldiers. Twelve would be 72,000 mighty angel warriors. If one angel can buckle the knees of the guards, imagine what 72,000 would do?  So, as Jesus was being scourged and nailed, as he hung on the tree, all He needed to do was say the word and the angels would have rescued Him. But He didn’t.  Can you imagine that? Can you imagine how easy it would have been in the midst of all of that pain and suffering to call out for rescue and relief? To just say the word and all the misery of that moment goes away? But no, He didn’t. It was our sin and His love that held Him there—denying Himself for our sake.  The angels who filled the sky with praise and glory at His birth are now held in check, silent at His death. The earth spoke, yes, but the angels remained silent. But! On the 3rd day, all that changed! The angels are released and silent no more. They announce the News of News—“He is not here! He has risen just as He said!” Yes, if Jesus rose from the dead, then the angels would have been there to announce it. You could not have kept them away. He is risen indeed! [previous] [next]