Jesus’ Tomb – The Purpose
While Romans often buried their dead in underground graves or catacombs, Jesus’ tomb conformed to Jewish religion and customs. Generally, Israelites wrapped their dead in linen cloths, with spices and oils. Nicodemus used a hundred pounds of spices to prepare Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:39). Sepulchres (tombs) were carved out of the rock on a hillside or placed in caves (Genesis 23:19-20 and Mark 5:5). Because dead bodies were considered unclean, Jewish burial plots and cemeteries were always outside the city walls. Jesus’ tomb was a short distance from the Garden of Gethsemane, just outside Jerusalem (John 19:14). How ironic that in death, the holy and pure Jesus — God incarnate — bore the filth of humanity’s sin (Romans 8:3).
Jesus’ death and resurrection mark the most significant event in all history — literally dividing time in half. God’s plan is evident in the purpose of Jesus’ tomb.
- Sealed and guarded tomb (Matthew 27:62-66) – Pilate, the priests, and Pharisees wanted to assure that Jesus would not come back to life.
- Prophesy fulfilled, glorifying God (Luke 24:5-8) – Angels proclaimed Jesus’ birth, as well as His resurrection from the dead.
- New, unused tomb (Matthew 27:59-60; John 19:41) – Joseph of Arimathea, an honoured member of the high council (Sanhedrin), provided his personal burial place.
- Confirmed innocence (Luke 23:4, 23, 41, 47) – The body of crucified criminals were discarded without ceremony. Romans usually left a dead body to the beasts of prey, the final humiliation in a crucifixion. Jesus’ tomb held special significance for His followers as well as His enemies.
Jesus’ Tomb – The Stone
The stone at Jesus’ tomb serves as a reminder of other elements of Christ’s life. When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus is asked to turn a stone into bread (Matthew 4:3). Jesus is the bread of life (John 6:35) as well as the living Stone (1 Peter 2:4). In Mark 12:10, Jesus refers to Himself as the stone that the builders rejected, which becomes a capstone. If necessary, stones would cry out, proclaiming Jesus the King of Kings (Luke 19:40). Before Pilate, Jesus appeared upon the judgment seat, the Stone Pavement (John 19:13). Therefore, it is not surprising that a stone should serve as a phenomenal part of Jesus’ tomb. Upon Jesus’ death, the earth convulsed violently — rocks split, tombs opened, and bodies were raised from the dead (Matthew 27:50-54). This was certainly a prelude to things to come.
To assure that Jesus’ tomb . . . and its contents . . . remained undisturbed, Pilate ordered a large stone positioned against the entrance. A sloped channel assisted the guards in rolling the boulder. A deep groove cut in bedrock at the tomb’s entrance firmly settled the stone. At the urging of the chief priests, Pilate further secured Jesus’ tomb by placing a Roman seal on the stone, stationing four Roman soldiers at the entrance. Every three hours fresh, alert (i.e. not sleeping as indicated in Matthew 28:13) guards would be exchanged.
Jesus’ Tomb – The Evidence
The Sabbath was over, it was the third day, and the women returned to Jesus’ tomb to anoint His body for burial (Mark 16:1). It is not surprising that the priests and Pharisees would vividly recall Jesus’ prediction that He would rise again on the third day (Matthew 27:62-66). In fact, the possibility terrified them. As an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, the earth shook violently again, the stone was rolled away. Like dead men, the guards became paralyzed before the angel of the Lord. Not even the religious leaders’ bribes or the soldiers’ lies could silence the evidence (Matthew 28:11-15).
The evidence of Jesus’ empty tomb remains to change the lives of the believer as well as the skeptic:
“He isn’t here!” (Matthew 28:6; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:6 and John 20:9).