The Gospel record says that late on Friday afternoon, when Jesus was already dead (John 19:30, 33–35), Joseph of Arimathea asked for His body, “wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone” against the tomb’s entrance and went away (Matthew 27:59, 60).1 On the Sabbath, while the followers of Jesus were resting “according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56), the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate. They told him that Jesus had said, “After three days I will rise” (Matthew 27:63). Upon their request, Pilate ordered that the stone at the entrance of the tomb be sealed and that Roman soldiers guard the tomb (verses 65, 66). From a human perspective, everything was in place to keep Christ confined in the tomb. But in the end, all these precautions only helped to make Christ’s resurrection even more earthshaking.
predictions of Christ’s resurrection
Centuries before Christ was on Earth, David stated, “You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption” (Psalm 16:10). While primarily dealing with the hope of the faithful, this psalm also carries an insightful Messianic glimpse. Both Peter, in his sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:22–36), and Paul, in the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:34–37), applied this passage to Jesus Christ, who was raised before His body would face corruption.
On several occasions, Christ Himself spoke of His forthcoming death and resurrection. For example, at the first cleansing of the temple, Jesus referred to His death and resurrection as destroying “the temple of His body” and, in three days, raising it up again (John 2:21). To His disciples, He mentioned time and again that He would be killed and be raised on “the third day” (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Mark 9:31; 10:34; Luke 9:22; 18:33). And on the way from the upper room to Gethsemane, Jesus told them, “After I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee” (Mark 14:28; cf. Matthew 28:16). As noted earlier, even the chief priests and Pharisees were worried about Jesus’ promise: “After three days I will rise” (Matthew 27:63).
All these resurrection predictions were made by Christ Himself and are recorded in the four Gospels. If the resurrection of Christ was just a vision, illusion, or myth, then Christ lied to His own disciples, promising them what He never fulfilled. But praise the Lord, that was not the case! Those promises of Jesus were recorded in the Gospels either by eyewitnesses of the risen Christ (Matthew and John) or by writers who interviewed eyewitnesses (Mark and Luke). Furthermore, the records themselves were written, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16), many years after the Resurrection, after enough time had passed to make apparent any unfulfilled expectations.
“He is risen”
The Gospels declare that Jesus died about “the ninth hour” of that Friday, known as the Day of Preparation for the Sabbath (Matthew 27:46, 62; Mark 15:34–37, 42; Luke 23:44–46, 54; John 19:42). He rested in the tomb during the Sabbath (Matthew 27:57–60; Mark 15:42–46; Luke 23:50–56; John 19:38–42) and rose from the dead very early on “the first day of the week” (Matthew 28:1, 2; Mark 16:1–4; Luke 24:1–3; John 20:1).
All that Jesus’ enemies could do to prevent the resurrection of Jesus was carefully done. Behind the scenes, Satan himsel “set his guard about the tomb, seeking to hold Christ a prisoner.”2 But neither the sealed stone nor the Roman soldiers nor even the hosts of evil together could hold Christ in that tomb! After healing the man born blind, Jesus had said to the skeptical Jews, “I have power to lay it [My life] down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:18). Now the time had arrived for the One who had raised other dead ones to come back to life.
The Gospel of Matthew says tha “there was a great earthquake” when “an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door” of the tomb (Matthew 28:2). With a mighty power, Jesus Christ left the tomb, triumphantly proclaiming His decisive victory over death, Satan, and the hosts of evil. But He did not come from the grave alone, for He raised with Him “many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep” and who went afterward “into the holy city [of Jerusalem] and appeared to many” as eyewitnesses of the Resurrection (Matthew 27:52, 53). These people were early trophies of His glorious victory over death!
The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, but the Pharisees did (Matthew 22:23; Acts 23:8). Regardless of their conflicting views, how could either party admit that the same Jesus that they demanded to be crucified had been resurrected? The chief priests, attempting to disguise the reality of the Resurrection, bribed the Roman guards to deny it (Matthew 28:11–15), but they could not silence the powerful testimony of those who were resurrected with Him. And even more convincing, no one could deny the many appearances of the risen Christ and the testimonies of those who saw Him alive.
During the 40 days between His resurrection and His ascension, Christ appeared to the women who came to the tomb (Matthew 28:1, 9, 10; Mark 16:9, 10; John 20:14–18), His disciple Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5), two disciples on their way to Emmaus (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13–35), His disciples in the upper room (Luke 24:33–49; John 20:19–29), and “over five hundred brethren at once” (1 Corinthians 15:6).
After His ascension, Christ also appeared to Saul (who became the apostle Paul) (Acts 9:1–9). Paul wrote forcefully, “And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 15, NLT3).
On the Isle of Patmos, the Lord revealed Himself to the apostle John with the words, “I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave” (Revelation 1:18, NLT). By presenting Himself as holding “the keys of death and the grave,” Christ confirmed His divine credentials over death and the grave and His power to finally raise all His faithful children from their graves. The empty tomb points to our risen Savior, and He is the assurance of eternal life!
Alberto Timm is a specialist in the development of doctrines and theology. He serves as associate director for the Maryland-based Biblical Research Institute.
1. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture in this article is from the New King James Version of the Bible.
2. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press®, 1940), 782.
3. Scripture quotations marked NLT are from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.