As dawn broke on the third day after Christ’ crucifixion, several pious women made their way to the tomb that Joseph of Arimathea had donated for Jesus’ burial. When they arrived, they found it open and empty. Instead of seeing their Lord, they saw men (angels) dressed in dazzling clothes who announced that Jesus had been raised from the dead. The women returned to the community of Jesus’ followers and gave a full report. No one believed them. Peter and (apparently) John ran to the tomb to see for themselves. They found it as the women had said. The tomb was empty. But surprisingly, rather than spreading the exciting news that Jesus had been raised from the dead, Peter went away perplexed!
Later that day, two other disciples left Jerusalem and headed toward Emmaus, their hometown about seven miles away. As they walked, they shared their thoughts of disappointment over the death of Jesus. A stranger joined them and asked what they were talking about (they didn’t know the stranger was Jesus). They explained how that Jesus, the mighty prophet from Nazareth, had been crucified. They said, “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel,” indicating that their hopes had been dashed (Luke 24:21). They continued: “Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened.” Apparently they expected Jesus to be raised; but even after hearing testimony from the women and the two men, the disciples from Emmaus were not convinced that a resurrection had taken place.
A few hours later they were back in Jerusalem enthusiastically telling others that Jesus was raised from the dead. What moved them from hopelessness to confident proclamation? The answer is plain: they had seen the Lord! By that time, so had Peter. In fact, from that point forward, Jesus appeared repeatedly to His followers for the next forty days before He finally ascended into heaven (Acts 1:3).
The central message of the Church is not simply that Jesus’ tomb was empty—that fact alone was not enough for the original followers of the Nazarene, nor would it be enough two thousand years later. A skeptical mind can imagine many ways to explain how Jesus’ body left the tomb (all of which have been sufficiently answered; see Geisler and Brooks, 1990, pp. 123-128; Bromling, 1993, pp. 33-38; et al.); but for a believer, only one way matters—resurrection. Faith in that is based upon the reliable testimony of people who, after having seen the risen Lord, devoted the rest of their lives to telling the Good News. Jesus left more than an empty tomb; He left credible flesh-and-blood witnesses who said of Jesus, “we have heard” Him, “we have seen [Him] with our eyes,” and “our hands have handled” Him (1 John 1:1).
Maybe an empty tomb should have been enough; after all, Jesus rebuked the disciples from Emmaus for being “foolish” and “slow of heart to believe the prophets” (Luke 24:25). But the fact is, we have much more than that. We have the Good News that Jesus appeared to: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Peter, Cleopas and his fellow disciple from Emmaus, the rest of the apostles, Stephen, James, Paul, and an additional five hundred unnamed people, many of whom Paul indicated would have testified if given a chance (Matthew 28:1-20; Mark 16:9-20; Luke 24:1-50; John 20-21; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; et al.).
Christianity is not faith in an empty cave; it is faith in a Savior Who ever lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25). It is faith in the One Who by His resurrection has the ability to promise: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Bromling, Brad T. (1993), “What Happened to the Body?,” Reason & Revelation, 13:33-38, May.
Geisler, Norman L. and Ron Brooks (1990), When Skeptics Ask (Wheaton, IL: Victor).