Perhaps the seven greatest events of this world are the creation, the flood, the birth of Christ, the crucifixion of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the ascension of Christ, and finally the end of this world when Christ comes again. The first six of these events have already transpired. The seventh is in the future. These seven acts of God are of primary impact concerning our being and the eternal destiny of our souls. The remaining factor in our salvation is our submission to God, through faith and obedience. We dare not minimize any of the other events listed, but in this lesson let us focus on the resurrection of Christ.
Roman soldiers were known for their hardness, but the morning of the Lord’s resurrection they were perhaps as scared as any mortal man can be. The record does not tell us who these soldiers were or how many there were. Could it be that the soldiers who were placed at the tomb were the same men that were at the crucifixion, and said, “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54)? We do not know.
Nor do we know how large an area was affected by the earthquake when Christ died (Matthew 27:51, 54) or by the one when He rose from the dead (Matthew 28:2), but these certainly were evidence of who He was.
Neither does the record tell us how much the guards actually saw. We know that they had been assigned to guard the tomb because the chief priests and Pharisees remembered that Jesus had said He would rise after three days. Whether they feared it would happen, or actually feared (as they said) that His disciples might come and steal the body and then claim He had risen, they requested of Pilate that the tomb be guarded, and their request was granted. It must have been the providence of God that they went to such lengths to make the tomb secure. All of their efforts came to naught, and made the resurrection even more sensational.
There was a “large stone” rolled against the door of the tomb and the stone was sealed. We cannot now say exactly the details of that seal. It may have included clay or some other substance smeared around the outer edges of the stone sealing it to the wall behind it. It may have been a cord stretched across the stone with a mass of clay or wax at each end adhering to the wall, or maybe one glob of clay or wax at one edge of the stone with a certain Roman mark on it designating that it was against the Roman law to break that seal. Pilate had told the Jews, “Make it as secure as you know how” (Matthew 27:65). But no efforts of mortal men could prevent the resurrection of the Son of God.
We are not told the thinking of the soldiers as they were assigned to guard the tomb or during the long night hours. Did they think this was all a bunch of nonsense? Were they bored during the night? Regardless of what had been on their minds, their attention was suddenly on the earthquake and the appearance of the angel. Yes, they were assigned to guard the tomb, but the bright light of this heavenly being kept them at their distance and they shook with fear and were helpless to intervene. Men have questioned whether the guards actually saw the Lord come forth from the tomb. The record does tell us that“some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened” (Matthew 28:11). So they must have been fully aware of His resurrection. We are not told why only some of the guards came. Where were the others?
The point I make is that there are many details regarding the resurrection of our Lord that we do not know, but we know He rose just as He said He would, and that He fulfilled all the prophecies regarding His resurrection. There are so many of these prophetic statements, but let us consider a few of the more obvious ones.
Psalm 16:10, quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:27), gave assurance that Christ would not be left in Hades, nor would His body see corruption. In Matthew 12:40 and 16:4 Jesus used the sign of Jonah being in the belly of the great fish as being the likeness of His being in the heart of the earth.
Many times He told His disciples of His death and resurrection, but they did not comprehend those things that would actually transpire. “And while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up’” (Matthew 17:22-23).
“Behold we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock Him and scourge Him and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again” (Matthew 20:18-19).
Even the night before the crucifixion He told them, “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee” (Matthew 26:32). (Other references are in Mark, Luke and John, but some are repetitious with these in Matthew). It is obvious that Jesus knew exactly what He must endure, but that He would rise victoriously over death.
Under the Old Law two or three witnesses were required to substantiate a claim. Consider the number of witnesses we have regarding the resurrection of our Lord. From the writings of the apostle Paul:
“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles, then last of all He was seen by me, as one born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:3-8).
And Paul does not mention that He was seen first by Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9), or by the women as they were returning from the empty tomb (Matthew 28:9-10), or by the two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-31). Paul does not mention Thomas’ doubt until he saw the nail prints in the hands of the Lord (John 20:24-28). Nor does he mention the sea side breakfast of Jesus with the seven disciples (John 21:1-12).
Acts 1:3 says “He presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” And then after that forty day period, “while they watched He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9) Jesus ascended on high and is now set down at the Father’s right hand. He had fulfilled His Father’s will and the mission for which He came to earth.
Each Lord’s Day, believers assemble together and partake of the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of the Christ. We eat of the bread which symbolizes His body broken for us (1 Corinthians 11:24), and drink of the fruit of the vine symbolic of His blood shed for the remission of our sins (Matthew 26:28), and in so doing we proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). Let us never let other things overshadow the fact that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3), but it was His resurrection that was the absolutely conclusive proof for all time that He really is who He said He was, and therefore we know that His Word is true and that we who have believed and obeyed Him will also rise from the dead (John 5:28-29) and be caught up in the clouds to meet Him in the air when He comes again. And thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17) in the heavenly home that He has gone to prepare for us (John 14:3). Had He not risen from the dead, after the many times that He said He would, there would have forever been question as to whether He was truly the promised Messiah and Son of God, but Hallelujah, Christ rose, and we know the record given us in the Scriptures is true.
~ Thomas D. Dennis