The Surprise of the Empty Tomb — Soon Jesus Christ will Again Surprise our Unbelieving World
- The surprise of the empty tomb — a metaphor of the victorious Christ
The surprise of the empty tomb is a metaphor for the ever-conquering power of the risen Christ. The surprise of the empty tomb is a symbolism of the ‘surprising’ and conquering resurrection power of the victorious Christ! The surprise of the empty tomb is the surprise the apostles of Jesus experienced at the news from the women-friends of Jesus, who went, early in the morning on the first day of the week, to visit the tomb of the Lord and were surprised to see that the stone that was used to cover the mouth of the tomb had been rolled away and that the body of Jesus was no longer inside the tomb. The surprise of the empty tomb is the surprise the apostles had, when finally, they arrived at the sepulcher of Joseph of Arimathea, on the morning of the third day after the crucifixion, and discovered that the tomb was now empty. The surprise of the empty tomb explains the surprising astonishment and scandalizing unbelief of the apostles of the Lord, about the resurrection of Jesus, even though their master elaborately explained to them that he would indeed be killed, but that on the third day, he would rise from the dead.
The surprise of the empty tomb is the mixture of anxiety and joy the women — Mary Magdalene, Mary Cleopas, Mary Salome, Joanna and ‘the other women’ — had, when they could not find the dead body of Jesus in the tomb and did not know who took it away or how he got out of the tomb. The surprise of the empty tomb explains the loss, the friends of the Lord, — the three Marys, — felt, when, ‘surprisingly’ they saw that the large stone with which the Jews sealed the mouth of the tomb of the ‘King of the Jews’ had been rolled away by heaven-knows-who. The surprise of the empty tomb is the joy of Joseph of Arimathea on seeing that his friend Jesus has risen from death and that his tomb is empty. The surprise of the empty tomb describes the chilling amazement and awe that must have befallen Herod and Pilate on hearing that the Galilean crucified at calvary, the one who said he would rebuild the temple in three days, has risen from the dead after three days.
The surprise of the empty tomb is the dismay and disappointment of the Jews on hearing that the same Jesus that they condemned, crushed and crucified has risen from the dead — and now possesses even greater glory and power. The surprise of the empty tomb is the puzzle and perplexity the guards who were posted to guard the tomb of Jesus, so that his followers would not steal his body away and claim that he has risen from the dead, had, when they could not account for when and how Jesus’ dead body came back to life and left the tomb and how the sealed tomb became empty. The surprise of the empty tomb describes the crippling frustration of the chief priests and the elders of the Jews, when they could not stop Jesus, even after killing him and burying him and sealing his grave with a heavy stone and placing guards to watch over the tomb. The surprise of the empty tomb is a metaphor for the final victory that always belong the Christ, the Lord.
2. The Surprise of the Empty Tomb According to the Narrative of the Evangelist Matthew
“Now after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre. 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 upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment 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. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. Lo, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” (Mt 28:1–8)
“Behold, Jesus met them and said, “Hail!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘his disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So, they took the money and did as they were directed; and this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mount to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted.” (Mt 28:9–17)
3. The Surprise of the Empty Tomb According to the Narrative of the Evangelist Mark
“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so they could go and anoint the body of Jesus. Very early on the first day of the week, at just after sunrise, they went to the tomb. They were asking one another, “Who will roll away the stone from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, even though it was extremely large. When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here! See the place where they put him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘he is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” (Mk 16:1–7)
“So, the women left the tomb and ran away, trembling and bewildered. And in their fear they did not say a word to anyone. Early on the first day of the week, after Jesus had risen, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had driven out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him, who were mourning and weeping. And when they heard that Jesus was alive and she had seen him, they did not believe it. After this, Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them as they walked along in the country. And they went back and reported it to the rest, but they did not believe them either. Later, as they were eating, Jesus appeared to the Eleven and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen him after he had risen.” (Mk 16:8–14)
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4. The Surprise of the Empty Tomb According to the Narrative of the Evangelist Luke
“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices, which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home wondering at what had happened.” (Lk 24:1–12)
5. The Surprise of the Empty Tomb According to the Narrative of the Evangelist John
“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So, she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.” (Jn 20:1–10)
“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” (Jn 20:11–18)
6. His apostles were surprised that he indeed rose from the dead
What a literal reading of these narratives and other Scriptural records shows us is that the apostles and disciples of Jesus, were surprised by the discovery of the empty tomb on the third day after the bloody day of the crucifixion. Jesus’ empty tomb was a bit of a surprise to the ‘brethren’ of the Lord. A bit of a surprise? Yes! Maybe not a total or strange surprise — since the Lord himself, told them severally and repeatedly about it. But there is no doubt, from the reading of these texts, that they were a bit at a loss at the news of the absence of Jesus’ body in the tomb and at the discovery of an empty tomb. It was so because they weren’t entirely sure that Jesus would be resurrected. So, when they could not find his body in the grave, they were worried, they were afraid and the women complained that strangers have stolen his body. Surprisingly, the even the very apostles of Jesus were surprised that he indeed rose from the dead. But Jesus keeps his word! He rose as he promised. He is the Lord. When he says he will do a thing, you can bet he would do it.
But Jesus was very clear about his resurrection. Jesus told them clearly that he would rise from the dead on the third day. Jesus told them that the ancient prophecies about him, about the Messiah, would be fulfilled. One of these prophecies is that the Christ, the Messiah, will be killed and that on the third day he would rise from the dead. He told them, but they didn’t believe it. Jesus taught them the doctrine of the resurrection, but they didn’t believe him so much in that regard. He even told them that he is the resurrection and the life, and that whoever believes in him, even if such one should die, he/she would live again. (Jn 11:25; 3:16; 5:21; 6:39) But they questioned it! They weren’t sure! They doubted! Human beings are like that. They doubt, they do not believe easily. For this reason, the resurrection and the empty tomb were a bit of a pleasant surprise for them; even for Peter, the pope and vicar of the Christ, the prince of the apostles and lieutenant of the Lord.
7. Many times, Jesus told them He would rise again on the third day, but they did not believe Him
“From then Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21)
“Coming down the mount, Jesus commanded them, “Do not tell anyone about this vision until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” … When they gathered together in Galilee, Jesus told them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were deeply grieved.” (Mt 17:9;23)
“Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes. They will condemn him to death and will deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. And on the third day he will be raised to life.” (Mt 20:18–19)
“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (Mk 8:31)
“They passed through Galilee. But Jesus did not want anyone to know. He was teaching his disciples, saying: The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” (Mk 9:31)
He told the Jews that, if they destroy the temple of God, which is his body, he would rebuild it in three days. But again, they did not believe him. The Jews did destroy the temple of his body at the crucifixion, and as he promised them, he did rebuild it in three days, as he arose from death on the third day.
“The Jews demanded “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do these things?” Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again. … But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body. After the resurrection, his disciples remembered that he had said this. Then they believed the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.” (Jn 2:18–22)
“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple, and in three days I will build another that is made without hands.’” (Mk 14:58)
“And those who passed by heaped abuse on him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! you who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” (Mk 15:29–30)
“Finally, two (false witnesses) came forward and said “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days.’” (Mt 26:60–61)
“And those who passed by heaped abuse on him saying, “you who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” “The next day, the chief priests and Pharisees said to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So, give the order that the tomb be secured until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal him away and tell the people he has risen from the dead. And this last deception would be worse than the first.” (Mt 27:39–40; 62–64)
These passages show us that Jesus clearly and severally taught his followers that he would indeed die, but that he would also rise on the third day. But, from what we infer from their surprise at the discovery of the empty tomb, it looks like, even his followers did not so much believe he would rise again. Graciously, the God of surprises did not fail. He indeed surprised everyone.
8. Everyone was surprised at the empty tomb!
Everyone was surprised at the news of the empty tomb, on the morning of the resurrection. Everyone was surprised at the news of the resurrection. Everyone was surprised at the news updates that were coming in about the Nazarene whom the Jews had killed and buried. The news was that: some women went to the tomb that morning and found it open and empty, they could not also find his body anywhere around the tomb. Some of his apostles also went there and entered the tomb and discovered that it was empty, and that the burial clothes were cleanly wrapped and packed in a corner of the tomb. The soldiers on guard were contacted and they confirmed that the Galilean Rabbi’s body is no longer in the grave and that they cannot really explain when and how he left the tomb without their notice. On that resurrection morning, this was the situation! It was a day of a great surprise. The Carpenter, the Son of David, did another wonder. He surprised everyone, including his followers. He has risen from the dead as he told everyone. The chief priests, the Sanhedrin and the guards-soldiers, were surprised at this and quickly met to devise new plans to deal with this new surprise-situation.
Everyone was surprised — the Jews, the soldiers, the apostles, the woman, the people, and maybe even Herod and Pilate — that indeed Jesus rose from the dead as he said he would do. Everyone was surprised because, prior, they had doubts and fears. The resurrection came as a surprise because both the people of Judah and Jerusalem and Jesus’ own people, Jesus’ apostles and disciples, did not really believe that Jesus would rise from the dead — or at least, they weren’t so sure of it as to stake their faith or fate on it. That’s why they were bewildered at the breaking news of it; that’s why the report from the women about the empty tomb was a surprise to them. Those women who went to visit the tomb of Jesus, told us that they were going to anoint his body with the oil and spices they had bought. At least, from scriptural records, they did not tell us that they were going to welcome the risen Lord or to witness the first-of-its-kind prodigy of the resurrection. That was why they too were surprised to see that the tomb was empty. That was why they wept when they could not find his body and had torun to report the theft or loss of his body to the apostles. The resurrection was a surprise to them all!
9. Do you believe or doubt the words of Jesus Christ? — A lesson from the surprise of the empty tomb
What about us? Do we really believe the words spoken by Jesus or do we have doubts? What about you? Do you really believe the promises made by Jesus or do you wish them away? Do we trust and obey Jesus or do we distrust and disobey him? Are we sure of our faith in him or are we not sure of leaning on him? Do we believe the things God has revealed or do we rather believe in everything else but God? Do we trust that God will do the things he said he will do or do we dismiss them as moralizations that merely teach a godly lesson? When God says he would do something, do we go to the bank with the promise or do we trash them as priestcraft sermons and medieval myths? God’s word is among us in the logos and in the rhema, when we hear his word, do we count on it and bank on it or do we simply say that Jesus is very good at creating parables and fables that did not really exist?
One of the deadest realities of the earth realm is death. Jesus staked his life on death, on the painful and shameful death of crucifixion. He used himself as an example, to teach us that there can be life yet after death. Ahead of time, he told his disciples that he would die or rather that he would allow himself to be killed. But that after being killed and buried in the grave for three days, he would bring himself back to life and be alive again. He did this to confirm his doctrine of the resurrection of the body and of life everlasting — both of which are personified in him — and also to pay the price of death, in order to open to mankind, the gate to true life. In the face of death, what do we do? When someone we love dies or when we are confronted by the reality of death, what do we do? Do we trust in Jesus who is the resurrection and the life or do we weep and worry like those who do not know the one who holds the keys of life and hades? We have a lesson in the surprise of Jesus’ resurrection. We have a lesson in the pleasant surprise of the empty tomb.
10. A Day of more surprises from Jesus Christ is coming soon!
One day we will be surprised at what the Lord Jesus Christ would do. One day the whole world will be surprised at what the Lord Jesus Christ would do. One day you will be surprised by the action or faithfulness or power or love or greatness or glory of Jesus Christ. It could be a surprise to you alone or to your family or to your group. But it can also be a surprise for humanity or for the whole world and all its inhabitants. Jesus is a God of surprises! He is good at wonders and surprises! We use the word ‘surprises’ because of the limitations of human language and because of our little knowledge, but what we mean is that, he is good at being faithful, he is good at doing what he said he would do, he is good at keeping his promises, he is good at being unlike man, he is good at being just and executing justice, he is good at doing what his goodness or his justice or his mercy or his love or his glory demands.
Just as the Jews and apostles woke up on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection and met the surprise of the empty tomb and the fulfilment of the promise to rise from the dead on the third day, one day you will see the dead rise again as Jesus promised. One day the sky will open and the world will be surprised at the sight of Jesus returning to the earth the second time as he promised. Just like the surprise of rising from the dead, one day, when the hour of his second coming arrives, the world will be surprised to see Jesus reappear in glory with his angels. All will be surprised at it. Just as he kept his promise of rising from the dead, to the astonishment of the Jews, one day, he will keep his promise of returning to the world as the judge of the living and the dead — it is on that day, that the sheep will be separated from the goats. On that day those who did not believe will eventually believe and those who believed him will rejoice to see their belief fulfilled. Like the surprise of the empty tomb, like the surprise of the resurrection, that day will surprise many people. But may it be a pleasant surprise and not a painful surprise! Amen!
Michael Richmond Duru
Resurrection Day, April 17th 2022