The Empty Tomb

W. Terry Varner
March 31, 2013

On Sunday morning, following His resurrection and burial on Friday, the tomb of Jesus was empty. As with His burial, we have inspired records stating the tomb was empty (Matt. 28:1-15; Mark 16:1-14; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18). These texts declare that “He is not here, but is risen!” (Luke 24:6). “He is risen, He is not here” (Mark 16:6), and “He is risen from the dead” (Matt. 28:7).

Five different writers state that Jesus would be raised “the third day” (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul). These writers declare incontrovertibly the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus! The phrase is a prediction! Anybody could say, “I will arise again.” Only a fool will say he is going to rise again “the third day”—unless he is going to rise. An empty tomb does not prove the resurrection; however, the resurrection demands the tomb to be empty. If the tomb remained occupied, then the resurrection from the dead would be disproved.

It is necessary to define what the word “resurrection” means. The word resurrection is from the anastasis (Greek) and resurrectio (Latin) and refers to “a rising from the dead” (Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon 41). The question is “what died?” Jesus commended His spirit to the Father, so it was not the spirit of Jesus (or for that matter of any man when he dies) that is returned to the dust of the ground (grave). The term resurrection cannot be applied to the spirit, but rather to the body of Jesus.

Wilbur Smith wrote: “If death affects the body and the body is not raised, death is the conqueror; if Christ can be said to have conquered death then His own body must have been delivered from death’s power. One should be careful to recognize that resurrection means bodily resurrection . . . . Any other use of the term is a misuse of the word” (Therefore, Stand 363, emp. added).

This is what Jesus predicted would happen to His body. This is what happened to His body. For me, this is my first deep conviction resulting from the resurrection of Jesus on the third day— that if this came true, then I am bound to believe everything else that Jesus said. In speaking reverently, may I say, that if Jesus had not been God’s Son as He claimed to be—One able to forgive sins, One able to judge the world in years to come, and One who is the only way to God (John 14:6)—then God would have left Him in the empty tomb to turn to dust.

The resurrection of Jesus is God’s stamp of approval. It is the ultimate verification, Paul said that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with power . . . by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). The word declared means “to separate; mark off by boundaries; appoint” (Abbott-Smith, Greek Lexicon 323). This suggests the uniqueness of His resurrection, as being “separate” from, “marked off by boundaries,” “appointed,” and “declared,” as being different from all other resurrections recorded in the Bible. The resurrection of Lazarus (John 11), of the widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7); of Jarius’ daughter (Matt. 9); and of Dorcas (Acts 9:40-41) were raised to die again; whereas, Christ was raised to die no more!

We need to declare with fervency the resurrection of Christ to a skeptical world, as did Paul in Athens (Acts 17). [Adapted from my article, “The Resurrection—Ultimate Verification” in Life's Greatest Acclamation—God (104-106) by Charles C. Pugh III.]