Denying the Resurrection

So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying was spread abroad among the Jews, and continueth until this day (Matthew 28:15).

Stories attempting to deny the truth often take much more faith to believe in than the truth itself.

As Jesus arose from the dead, the Roman guard had trembled and became as dead men (Matthew 28:4); they later report to the Temple authorities the things which had taken place (Matthew 28:11). The chief priests had no desire to believe them; their power and influence were centered on the Temple, and as good Sadducees, they denied even the potential of the dead to be raised (Matthew 22:23). They did not disbelieve the Roman guard, but instead attempted to suppress the evidence, giving them financial incentives to claim that the disciples came and stole the body while the guard slept (Matthew 28:12-14). Thus they did so; Matthew inserts himself into the narrative to declare that this story had circulated among the Jews for years after, even unto the time he was writing his Gospel (Matthew 28:15).

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Such is the way it has gone ever since among those who would deny Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. For generations many maintain great disincentives from maintaining confidence in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. If Jesus is risen, as Peter would make it clear in Acts 2:14-36, then Jesus is Lord and Christ, the King. If Jesus is King, then Caesar is not as powerful as he would imagine himself to be. If Jesus is King, and His people represent the temple of the living God (1 Corinthians 3:16-18, 6:19-20), then the Temple in Jerusalem has but a short time left, and its authorities are soon to be obsolete. If Jesus is the Christ, the hope of Israel, then His teachings must be true, and all must submit to Him, and not heed the Pharisees, scribes, and other professed teachers of the Law (Matthew 5:17-20). If Jesus is the risen Lord, the one like a Son of Man who received an eternal Kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14, Revelation 1:12-18), then He will bring to nothing the kingdoms of this world, and He is the true and full revelation of the One True God, a light in the darkness to those who persist in idolatry (Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:1-3). Those who benefit from the philosophies of men, idolatry, who exercise authority in governments, and who receive honor and respect as teachers, religious or otherwise, have much to lose and little to gain from the truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Throughout time some have maintained their integrity, have conceded their error, and submitted themselves to Jesus as the Risen Lord. We praise God for such good and honest hearts. Unfortunately, far too many have responded to the good news of the resurrection of Jesus like the chief priests did. They have found it easier to make up stories which deny the resurrection, no matter how fanciful or incredible, so that they can persist in living as they had formerly.

Some have claimed that Jesus did not truly die, but only fainted on the cross. They would have us believe that the Romans were not as effective as we might have imagined they were at executing people; that He was pierced in His side but made no movement or provided no indication of life (John 19:33-37); that He was wrapped in linen with many pounds of spices and aloes and remained merely unconscious (John 19:38-40); and then, after all that, to “awake” on the third day in full strength, roll the rock away, and fend off or cause great fear to come upon a whole Roman guard (Matthew 28:1-4). A truly incredible story! It takes far more faith to believe this than to accept the resurrection of the dead.

Some have claimed that the Apostles and others suffered from a mass hallucination. It strains credibility to suggest that more than five hundred people would suffer the same hallucination at the same time (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Beyond this, those who claim to see things in hallucinations persist in them, and yet the Apostles and their associates claimed to see Jesus in the resurrection only over a forty day period, and then no longer (Acts 1:3). Claims of hallucinations cannot make sense of the story as written.

Yet perhaps the most commonly held view is the story circulated by the Roman guards and among the Jews in Matthew 28:13-15: the disciples stole the body of Jesus away while the Roman guard slept. First of all, the Roman army was nothing if not disciplined. Far less serious infractions than sleeping on the job led to decimation; if it were not for the chief priests’ intervention, this entire guard would have no doubt been executed (cf. Acts 12:18-19). The Roman guard would not have been sleeping, and they certainly would not have stayed awake had the disciples come, rolled the rock away, and took the body of Jesus!

Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, let us carry out this “story” to its end. Why would the disciples have taken the body? They would have wanted to do so in order to claim that Jesus was risen from the dead. According to the modern point of view, the death of Jesus would have led these disciples to some kind of religious experience or enlightenment so as to begin to claim that Jesus is actually Lord in heaven, that through their own study and observations they were able to re-tell the story of Israel and its hope in the Messiah along the lines of Jesus the crucified but risen Messiah, and this all on their own.

Such is a fabulous tale, and again takes far more faith than to accept the Gospels as written! Who among the disciples expected Jesus to rise again? They did not understand what Jesus meant when He had told them so beforehand (Matthew 16:21-23, 20:17-28). Simon Peter claimed to be ready to die with and for Jesus, ready to establish the Kingdom on earth, and struck a slave to that end (Matthew 26:30-35, 51-54). The disciples scattered when Jesus was arrested (Matthew 26:56); they even doubted when they saw Jesus in the resurrection (Matthew 28:17). Beyond all this it was apparent to everyone that the Apostles, particularly Peter and John, were “unlearned” and “ignorant” men from Galilee (Acts 2:7, 4:13): are these the men who on their own will devise a most compelling and novel re-imagination of God’s purposes of His Messiah?

The greatest testimony to the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is His disciples. Before the resurrection they are everything you would expect from proud but uneducated Galilean Jews, fervent in zeal, expecting the Christ to come, defeat the enemies of Israel, and ultimately usher in the day of resurrection, and ready to rule with him in that Kingdom. As Jesus is tried, executed, and raised from the dead, the disciples accept the truth of what is going on, yet still do not understand what it is or what it represents (e.g. Acts 1:6). Yet, after the Holy Spirit falls upon them in Acts 2:1-4, they are transformed into proclaimers of the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth, boldly indicting those who crucified Him, standing firm where they had once shrunk back, declaring that God raised this Jesus whom they had crucified from the dead, that He was the Servant of whom Isaiah spoke, He is begotten of God in the resurrection, He has all power and authority and will return one day to judge the living and the dead (Acts 2:17-10:41). The Gospel they preach, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets in Jesus of Nazareth, is something no human would imagine from the pastiche of messages given in the Law and the Prophets and yet does embody and fulfill them; so it is that Paul can say that God has revealed the mystery of the Gospel in his time (Ephesians 3:1-6).

The Apostles and the Kingdom of Jesus they worked so hard to affirm only make sense in light of Jesus’ resurrection. Denying the resurrection leads only to stories more fabulous and more incredible than the sober testimony preserved in the New Testament. Ultimately no disincentive against belief in Jesus the Risen Lord is worth condemnation and eternal separation from God (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). We do well to trust the testimony of the Apostles, trust in Jesus the Risen Lord, and seek to live according to His will!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Hateful and Hating

For we also once were foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another (Titus 3:3).

The story of life outside of Christ is always ugly. And yet Christians must remember what it was like.

Paul has been encouraging Titus in his work of ministry, encouraging Christians and promoting the Gospel. Paul is telling Titus the types of things which he must tell those who will hear him so they may be encouraged and remain faithful in Christ (Titus 3:1-2). Part of that exhortation involves the continual remembrance of who we were outside of Christ and what God has accomplished for us in Christ: we were foolish, disobedient, deceived, pursuing passion, living in malice and envy, being hated, and hating in turn, but God’s kindness was displayed to us in Christ, who saved us through the regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, justifying us, making us heirs with Christ (Titus 3:3-7). Paul wants this explained so that the Christians would be careful to maintain good works (Titus 3:8).

Why would Paul want to bring to light something so dark and ugly as the lives Christians led before they came to a knowledge of the Lord Jesus? In no way does he want to glorify and exult in the types of things regarding which we all should be ashamed (Romans 6:21). He does so regarding himself in order to magnify the great love and mercy displayed to him and to all mankind in Jesus (1 Timothy 1:12-17). Christians are to do so for a similar reason to an extent as well. Paul’s ultimate reason is for Christians to be productive unto good works (Titus 3:8): we are to recognize how dependent we are on God for our salvation, which was entirely undeserved, and should respond with humility and gratitude. It is to remind Christians that we have no basis upon which to boast about being better than others, for our condition has improved only by the grace of God poured out on us (cf. Ephesians 2:1-18). We are not to look down on those still in bondage but to love them and seek their best interest (Matthew 5:44-48, Romans 12:17-21). It also provides Christians with an understanding of the types of attitudes and behaviors from which they have been rescued; such should be a sober warning to no longer return to them again (2 Peter 2:20-22)!

Among the characteristics of life outside of Christ is hate: being hated by others and hating one another (Titus 3:3). Paul accurately assessed a major element in life in this world: fear of the other continually manifests itself as hate toward the other. What is seen as not directly for us is very easily manipulated to look like it is against us. In worldly terms there is only so much that one can motivate people to believe, feel, and do in the name of love, self-interest, greed, etc., but one can get people to think, feel, and do almost anything to preserve themselves against that which they fear. Fear and hate are intertwined; you cannot hate what you do not fear.

Few motivators prove as powerful as fear. The worst atrocities mankind has ever perpetrated have been done in the name of fear. Strong, powerful nations most powerfully exert themselves by doing what is necessary to cause those who would oppose them to be afraid of their arsenal. For many smaller nations and forces the only form of influence they can wield is to inspire fear and terror into the hearts of those with greater resources and strength. Fearmongering is a powerful thing: “be afraid” is always a powerful motivator for action and only rarely can be refuted.

Fear and hate are everywhere. People are afraid that Christians just might be right about the consequences of sinful behavior; the easiest thing to do is to hate Christians and Christianity in response (1 Peter 4:1-6). Nations fear other nations and develop hatreds and hostilities; groups of people within nations, or from different regions or religions or any other number of ways in which humans divide themselves, find reasons to engender fear and hate toward each other. The cycle never ends. In this present world the cycle will never end.

And yet, for the Christian, “hateful” and “hating one another” are to be in the past tense (Titus 3:3). In Romans 8:15 Paul made clear how Christians did not receive a spirit of slavery to be afraid, but received the spirit of adoption as sons of God in Christ. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18); Jesus provided the means by which we could break through the fear and hate cycle by enduring fear and hate, dying on the cross, and being raised again in power (Ephesians 2:11-18). In Christ all such hostility is to be killed: Christians are to come together as one people from many different nations and languages and exemplify the only power that could overcome the forces of darkness (Galatians 3:28). If the Lord is our helper, who are we to fear? What can man do to us (cf. Psalm 27:1, Hebrews 13:6). Other people may not like us, hurt us, and even kill us; if God is for us, who can really be against us (Romans 8:31)? We may suffer harsh consequences for following the Lord Jesus; and yet He died, but was raised in power, and in so doing struck the deepest fear into the heart of even the cruelest tyrant.

hate killed

How so? Fear and hate get their power from sin and death. Of what is anyone afraid? That they will be taken advantage of and/or experience loss of life, property, and/or standing. The tyrant attempts to get people to do things for him in fear for their lives; the terrorist tries to get people to listen to them or meet their demands in fear for their lives; the fearmonger attempts to get power or influence by giving the impression that he or she is the one that can be trusted to eliminate the threat. Jesus experienced the shame, was taken advantage of, and lost His life, and in so doing gained the victory over sin and death (Philippians 2:5-11, 1 Peter 2:18-25). The tyrant can never overpower the Christian who does not love his or her life even unto death; the terrorist cannot strike fear into the heart of the Christian who trusts that all is well whether he or she remains in the body or goes to be with the Lord; the fearmonger cannot influence the Christian who understands that the only power which can overcome fear, hate, sin, and death is the all-conquering sacrificial love manifest by God in Jesus.

fear conquered

Fear remains a continual temptation for Christians, but our fear always comes from a lack of trust in God, His goodness, His promises, and the ultimate manifestation of His love for us in Christ and Him crucified. To give into fear is to return to the hateful and hating life from which God has rescued us in Jesus. Therefore, brethren, let us stand firm. May we not give into the voices of fear and hate. Let us not be troubled by any fear or terror. Let us trust in Jesus our Lord, who died and was raised again in power, and prove willing to endure any shame or deprivation so as to obtain His glory in the resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Waiting for Judgment

I heard, and my body trembled / my lips quivered at the voice
Rottenness entereth into my bones / and I tremble in my place
Because I must wait quietly for the day of trouble / for the coming up of the people that invadeth us (Habakkuk 3:16).

All has been said. Now the waiting began.

Habakkuk acutely perceived the iniquity and injustice pervasive in Judah in the latter days of the monarchy and wanted to know why YHWH was doing nothing about it (Habakkuk 1:1-4). YHWH responded, making it clear that He was quite aware of the situation and had a most terrifying solution: He was raising up the Chaldeans to overrun and destroy Judah (Habakkuk 1:5-11). Habakkuk attempted to make good theological sense out of this response, asking YHWH how He could have a more wicked nation overrun a comparatively more righteous nation in light of His holiness (Habakkuk 1:12-2:1). YHWH responds by affirming the salvation of the righteous and the end of the arrogant and presumptuous by the very earthly realities in which they trust: as they overpower, so they will be overpowered; the wicked in Judah will be overpowered by the Chaldeans as they overpowered the less fortunate; the Chaldeans in turn will be overpowered by another empire, and so on (Habakkuk 2:2-17).

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Habakkuk responds to YHWH’s declarations as promised (Habakkuk 2:1), yet in the form of a prayer-hymn (Habakkuk 3:1-19). Habakkuk trusted in YHWH because he had heard and believed in the great acts of salvation in Israel’s past: the Exodus, the wanderings in the Wilderness, the Conquest, YHWH’s constant deliverance of the kings (Habakkuk 3:1-15). From those acts of deliverance Habakkuk recognized both YHWH’s great power exercised in His anger and His ability and willingness to deliver His people even from the strongest of foes. Habakkuk was one who was righteous and lived by his faith; he did not doubt for a moment all the devastation about to come upon Judah along with the eventual humiliation of Babylon (Habakkuk 3:16-19). YHWH has decreed; it will take place.

We know that Habakkuk’s confidence is well-placed because we know how it all goes down. Within a few years or decades, depending on when Habakkuk prophesied, the Chaldeans would invade Judah, destroy Jerusalem and the Temple, and exile its inhabitants (586 BCE; 2 Kings 25:1-21). Forty-seven years later Babylon itself would be overrun by the Persians (539 BCE; cf. Daniel 5:25-31). Babylon would be destroyed and rebuilt by the Persians; when the Seleucid Macedonians decided to build a new capital at Ctesiphon up the river, Babylon lost importance and soon faded. By the time the Abbasid caliphs built their capital even further up the river at Baghdad, Babylon was a ruin, lost to the sand until European archaeologists who believed in the name of the God of Israel would excavate it. Yes, Babylon would humiliate Judah, but Babylon would suffer even greater humiliation. YHWH would vindicate His name.

While we know that, and Habakkuk has confidence in it, as Habakkuk puts down his stylus, such is all in the future. For the moment he must wait, and the expectation of terror leads to very physical, and visceral, consequences: Habakkuk’s body trembled, his lips quivered, rottenness entered his bones, and he trembled at the magnitude of what was about to take place (Habakkuk 3:16). Habakkuk knew the terrifying things the Chaldeans would do the people of God and the house of YHWH. It was not yet, but it would be, and soon. Perhaps Habakkuk lived to see the devastation; perhaps not. Regardless, the book of Habakkuk ends with this pregnant expectation: it is going to happen, it will be ugly, YHWH will be vindicated. But it is not yet. When it comes, it will come speedily; but it is not yet (Habakkuk 2:2-3).

As Christians we should be able to sympathize with Habakkuk. We ought to be acquainted with God’s great acts of salvation and judgment: Jesus of Nazareth lived, died, rose again, ascended to the Father, and was given all authority (Acts 2:14-36, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Jerusalem was visited again in judgment, this time by the Romans; the Temple was again destroyed, never to be rebuilt (Matthew 24:1-36). The Romans, in turn, would meet their end (Revelation 12:1-19:21). The promise has been made that Jesus will return as He ascended (Acts 1:9-11): all will rise from the dead, the judgment will take place, the righteous will spend eternity in the Lord’s presence, and the wicked will be given over to their desires in hell (Matthew 25:1-46, Acts 17:30-31, Romans 8:17-25, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-5:11, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, Revelation 20:11-22:6). As Christians, we have every reason to maintain confidence that all these things will take place. Yet we find ourselves in the same position as Habakkuk: we are to wait quietly (2 Thessalonians 3:12). It is not delayed nor will it delay; God is exhibiting patience toward all so they can come to repentance (2 Peter 3:1-9). When it comes, it will come quickly; none will escape (2 Peter 3:10-13).

And so we Christians wait for the judgment. We must keep living by our faith and practice righteousness (Habakkuk 2:4, Matthew 24:42-25:13). It may be within a few years, decades, or perhaps centuries; we cannot know. But we can know that it will happen. The Lord will return. But we wait, as Habakkuk waited. Maranatha!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Gardener

Jesus saith unto her, “Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?”
She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, “Sir, if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away” (John 20:15).

Whom would you be expecting if you were walking among the tombs at the edge of town?

Mary Magdalene was distraught; she had come to finish anointing the body of Jesus of Nazareth but it was no longer in the tomb (John 20:1-2). Peter and John came, saw the tomb was empty, recognized something was going on, but returned to where they were staying (John 20:3-10). Mary Magdalene, meanwhile, had returned to the area of the tomb; in her distress she sought to discover whom had taken the body and where (John 20:12-15). She asked two angels in white, and then she asked the man she presumed to be the gardener. Yet this man was actually Jesus Himself in the resurrection (John 20:16-18)!

The way John narrates the resurrection morning is compelling, dramatic, and powerful. We are able to sympathize with Mary’s confusion, anguish, and distress; she testifies to the power of Jesus’ resurrection since she displays no expectation of the event. She meets Jesus but thinks He is a gardener! We can feel the astonishment and awe of Mary as she is brought face to face with the Risen Lord. And then we most often move on and consider the other great parts of the narrative: “Doubting Thomas,” Jesus and Peter in Galilee, etc. (John 20:19-21:25). Well and good; but why does Mary Magdalene suppose Jesus to have been the gardener?

Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen - Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen as a Gardener - WGA05260

It is possible that John is simply trying to relay a factoid which lends credibility to the story: Mary Magdalene was not expecting to see Jesus and so she naturally presumed that a man who was present near the tomb at that time who was not a soldier would have been the gardener keeping the grounds. While that is possible, John’s use of detail is sparse, and when it is present, it most often has greater meaning, weaving the story of Jesus into the greater fabric of Scripture. In this light the description of Jesus as a gardener is most apt, for who else served as a gardener in Scripture?

In Genesis 2:4-25 we are given details about the creation of man and woman. God formed man out of the dust of the earth (Adam), planted a garden in Eden in the east, making out of the ground all good trees for eating, and God put the man in the garden to dress it and keep it (Genesis 2:7-15). Adam was the first gardener; he kept the garden for a time but then violated the one command God had given him, and he was cast out (Genesis 2:16-3:22).

The Apostle Paul reckons Jesus as the “second” or “new” Adam in Romans 5:10-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:19-51. The first Adam sinned; death entered the world through his sin and the effects of sin spread to all; Jesus accomplished one great act of righteousness through His death on the cross, providing forgiveness for sin and allowing all to overcome its effects through that one action (Romans 5:10-18). Through the man Adam death spread to all men; through the man Jesus we have the hope of resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:19-51).

It is therefore highly unlikely that Mary Magdalene just happened to think that Jesus was the gardener, for in a very real way Jesus is a gardener. God made Adam the first gardener of the present creation; he sinned and death spread to all men. Jesus, in His resurrection, is the vanguard of the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Through Him all things will be made new; in Him we have the hope of resurrection and the hope John will later see in the imagery of the river of life proceeding out of the throne of God in the midst of the heavenly Jerusalem and the tree of life bearing fruit providing for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1-6).

God has raised His Gardener who seeks to keep and tend His Garden, the church, so that it may grow, bear fruit, and multiply. Through Jesus our Gardener God is making all things new (Revelation 21:5). Let us praise God for Christ our Gardener, and may we ever seek to enjoy the produce of His Garden!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Go and Die With Him

Thomas therefore, who is called Didymus, said unto his fellow-disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16).

Thomas was convinced it was a suicide mission for all of them.

As the third Passover of His ministry drew near Jesus was a marked man if He returned to Jerusalem. He had challenged the existing Temple system (John 2:13-22); He had unrepentantly healed on the Sabbath (John 5:1-18); He taught regarding His relationship with His Father, and the Jews sought to stone Him (John 8:54-59, 10:24-39). Jesus’ disciples saw the writing on the wall: a return to Judea risked stoning or some other form of death (John 11:8).

Yet Jesus insisted. Lazarus had died; He had attempted to communicate this in less direct ways but had to come out with it (John 11:1-15). Jesus knows why He must go down to Judea; His disciples seem less than enthusiastic about the proposition. As He is about to leave Thomas makes this declaration: “let us go also, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16).

Thomas’ declaration is certainly not optimistic. He may have thought it seemed realistic, yet we would rightly call him cynical. Yes, the Jews had threatened Jesus before, yet He had always escaped. Where was Thomas’ faith or confidence in God or in Jesus? It is easy to be hard on Thomas and to question his faith. If we are honest with ourselves, however, we would have to come to the recognition that if we were there and in Thomas’ position, we would probably at least think the same thing if we did not actually say it. Thomas’ sentiment was likely shared among the other disciples as well. The odds did seem long. The way Thomas felt is exactly the way humans feel in those circumstances.

At first it may seem as if Thomas overstated the situation. Yes, Jesus would die during this trip to Jerusalem, but the disciples did not (John 18:8-9, 19:30). They did not physically die with Him. And yet, in a very real sense, the situation happened exactly as Thomas had cynically foretold. The disciples did not die physically, but their lives changed dramatically during their stay in Jerusalem, having seen Jesus not only die but also rise from the dead (John 20:1-29). Thomas would return to Galilee with some of the other disciples and would see the Lord in the resurrection yet again (John 21:1-24). The next time the word of the Lord Jesus came to Galilee it would do so in power to convict and convert people to the Kingdom of God in Christ (Acts 1:8, 8:4). What would be the message that Thomas as well as the other disciples would preach? That people would have to die to the world in Christ so as to rise again and walk in newness of life according to His purposes (Romans 6:1-23). All have to go and die with Jesus!

In a very real sense Thomas and the other disciples went and “died” with Jesus. After Jesus’ death and resurrection they would never be the same; where once was doubt and cynicism there was now faith and hope on account of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Where there was fear there was now boldness to preach the message no matter what resistance was encountered (e.g. Acts 5:17-42). They reckoned themselves as dead to the world and alive to Christ (Galatians 2:20). They took the world by storm. It would never be the same.

Thomas’ story resonates in the 21st century. In the world hope seems like a delusion; we come to the recognition that cynicism and despair prove more realistic and accurate than hope. On a human level our endeavors seem futile and hopeless. This attitude can easily infect and affect the people of God! It is easy to see the spiritual forces of darkness at work all around us and conclude that we are doomed, the situation is hopeless, and decline is inevitable.

If we hope in this life and this world only then these assessments would be realistic. We would have no reason to do anything than be cynical and in despair if we are the only ones at work. Yet we preach Jesus crucified and risen from the dead! We, like Thomas, must go to Judea to die with Jesus. We must die to the ways of the world and to cynicism and despair; we must find hope and new life through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:20, Philippians 3:1-15)! Our hope is not folly but rooted in deep and abiding faith in God as faithful to His promises, confident that He is greater than those who are against us (1 John 4:4). When we look around us we are not to see Satan triumphant; we are to recognize that this is his last gasp as he has gone down to defeat, and that we will overcome him if we hold firm to the Lamb and prove willing to not love our lives even to death, to see victory in what the world would call defeat, for the Lord Jesus reigns in Heaven and He will return to right all wrongs (Revelation 12:1-14:20).

Yet it all begins, as it did for Thomas, by going with the Lord Jesus to Jerusalem to die with Him. Let us put to death the man of sin, the ways of living in this world and the cynicism and despair they engender, and let us find new life through faith, baptism, and obedience to the Lord Jesus in His Kingdom, living in the hope of the resurrection and the fulfillment of all God’s purposes for His people in Christ (Romans 6:1-23, 8:17-25)! Let us die with the Lord so we may live with Him eternally in the resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Not in Vain

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate game-changer.

Some among the Corinthian Christians declared that the dead were not raised (1 Corinthians 15:12). Paul writes strenuously in 1 Corinthians 15:1-57 to affirm the historical reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the centrality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus to the legitimacy of Christianity, and the nature of the bodily resurrection of believers rooted in Jesus as the first-fruits of the resurrection. He speaks of the day of resurrection to come when all the dead will rise and the corruptible will put on incorruptibility and the mortal will put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:42-54). This, Paul declares, will be the ultimate victory over sin and death; this is the moment we have all been waiting for and for which we continue to wait (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).

But what does Jesus’ resurrection and the hope of our future resurrection mean for us now? In 1 Corinthians 15:58 Paul derives some present applications from the resurrection: be steadfast, immovable, and abound in the Lord’s work.

Why steadfastness and immovability? The Corinthian Christians had every reason to ground themselves in Jesus and His truth on account of His life, death, and resurrection, and they would face constant temptations from the world around them to compromise some of that truth. Paul says what he does to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16 for good reason: in the eyes of the world the belief that Jesus has been made King because He was executed by the Romans as an insurrectionist but God brought Him back to life, transformed Him for immortality, and He now rules over everything from Heaven sounds nuts. The world remains convicted of what is generally a truth: once you’re dead, you’re dead. The notion that someone could be brought back to life from the dead never to die again (Romans 6:1-11), in worldly logic, is positively ridiculous. Those Corinthians who denied the resurrection were just maintaining the worldview they had obtained from their ancestors. Many Jews believed in resurrection but could not conceive of God coming in the flesh and dying. Yet, as Paul said, Christ crucified and raised grounds our confidence for living (1 Corinthians 1:18, 15:20-28). To deny those central truths would mean departure from Christ and from the hope of life in the resurrection in Him (2 John 1:6-9); so Paul exhorts the Corinthian Christians, and by extension all Christians throughout time, to remain steadfast and immovable, ever affirming Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and lordship no matter how insane such a view is to the world!

Paul also declares that the Corinthian Christians, and by extension all Christians, are to abound in the work of the Lord on account of His resurrection and the hope of our own, and that we can maintain confidence that our labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). In this way Paul shows how the resurrection has changed everything. King Solomon, a millennium before the Incarnation of his Descendant Jesus, proclaimed that everything “under the sun” was vain (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12:8). Everything was vain, a breath or vapor, because of the universality of death: you lived only to die and everything you ever did or were would be forgotten (Ecclesiastes 1:4-11). All the labor you worked would perish or its benefit given to a descendant who would squander it (Ecclesiastes 2:18-26). It is good to be wise, but the wise man dies just as the fool (Ecclesiastes 2:15-16). The oppressor and oppressed both die (Ecclesiastes 4:1). Solomon as the Preacher saw the futility of life subject to decay and corruption because the positive joy of it all was as ephemeral as the activities that spawned it.

To this day the Preacher is right about all things “under the sun” in their own terms: if we trust in this world only we will be frustrated and forgotten. Yet, as Paul makes clear, the resurrection changes everything. Hope in the resurrection gives meaning where the Preacher could only see vanity. “Under the sun” all things might be forgotten, but they are not forgotten by God; labor under the sun may seem futile, but on the day of resurrection, when all are raised and stand before God, all will be judged and will obtain what is coming to them on the basis of what they have done in the body (2 Corinthians 5:10). All things may seem futile when seen only in terms of this life but maintain some meaning when seen in light of the life to come in the resurrection: the oppressor will have to pay for what they have done to the oppressed, the wicked will obtain their comeuppance, the righteous will see their reward, and what was formerly a breath or vapor will remain forevermore (1 Corinthians 15:1-57, Revelation 21:1-22:6).

Ever since Babel humans have been making monuments to their own greatness in their fear of death (Genesis 11:1-9); those remain futile endeavors, as vanity and striving after wind, lasting only for a moment before being forgotten, and the world moves on (Ecclesiastes 1:2-12:8). Yet all the labor expended in the name of God in Christ endures, for such efforts will not prove futile, a breath or a vapor, since our God is a God of resurrection. Our bodies may presently be subject to corruption, decay, and death; the day is coming when this corruptible will put on incorruption, and this mortal will put on immortality, death will be fully defeated, and righteousness shall reign (1 Corinthians 15:1-58, 2 Peter 3:10-13, Revelation 21:1-22:6). Yet how can we know? God is presently building that new creation through the resurrection of Jesus and those who have put their trust in Him as their Lord, living in the “now” despite the “not yet” of resurrection and salvation (2 Corinthians 4:1-5:21, 1 Peter 1:3-9). In Christ we become a new creation, having obtained reconciliation with God, and our efforts expended for His Kingdom will remain eternally with that Kingdom (Matthew 6:19-21, 2 Corinthians 5:17-20). Let us therefore, as with the Corinthian Christians before us, remain steadfast and immovable in our confidence and conviction in Jesus’ Incarnation, life, death, bodily resurrection, ascension, lordship, and the expectation of the day of judgment and resurrection to come, and always abound in the work of the Lord, knowing that through Him and His resurrection all will not be in vain!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The God of the Living

On that day there came to him Sadducees, they that say that there is no resurrection: and they asked him, saying,
“Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.’ Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first married and deceased, and having no seed left his wife unto his brother; in like manner the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And after them all, the woman died. In the resurrection therefore whose wife shall she be of the seven? For they all had her.”
But Jesus answered and said unto them, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as angels in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:23-32).

The Sadducees no doubt loved their “gotcha” question for all those who believed in resurrection. How could they expect to be thoroughly upstaged and humiliated by this Man from Galilee?

After Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph He threw down the gauntlet in Matthew 21:12-13, overthrowing the tables of the money-changers, uttering forth the same condemnation on the Second Temple as Jeremiah had done on the First (cf. Jeremiah 7:11). The Sadducees, named from Zadok the High Priest in the days of David (2 Samuel 8:17), were one of the three principal Jewish sects of the late Second Temple period; most of their number primarily included the priests and others who had a vested interest in the perpetuation of the Temple and the status quo. They were not many in number, but they had great wealth and prominence among the people. Jesus’ challenge to the Temple could not go unopposed; the Sadducees were going to put this Galilean in His place.

The Sadducees accepted the legitimacy of the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Since they found nothing explicitly in it regarding the resurrection of the dead, they rejected it; their views on this issue were one of the frequently disputed matters between them and the Pharisees, who believed in the legitimacy of the Prophets and the Writings and thus the resurrection of the dead as well (Matthew 22:23; cf. Acts 23:6-10). It is highly unlikely that this was the first time this “gotcha” scenario in Matthew 22:24-28 had been posed; it was quite likely a common question to a Pharisee or to someone else who believed in resurrection. The purpose of the question was to put Jesus in an awkward position, humiliate Him before the crowds, and cause Him to lose legitimacy.

The scenario is outlandish and to the extreme but one that nevertheless remains possible. The Sadducees focus on Moses’ legislation regarding levirate marriage in Deuteronomy 25:5-10: if a man dies without offspring to inherit his property, his widow shall marry a brother or a near kinsman so as to raise up offspring to inherit the dead man’s property. Therefore the Sadducees posit a family of seven brothers with extraordinarily bad luck: the first marries a woman, but dies before any offspring are born. The woman then marries the second brother with the same result; the same happens for brothers three through seven (Matthew 22:24-28). So they pose their “gotcha” question: if this resurrection of the dead is possible and true, to whom will this woman be married? To all seven brothers? Just the first? After all, they all had her as wife!

No doubt this question had caused great embarrassment and consternation to many Pharisees and others over the years, yet it rested on an assumption and presupposition that Jesus immediately exploits. The Sadducees presume that marriage would continue in the resurrection; Jesus declares it is not so (Matthew 22:29-30). In the resurrection there is no need for marriage; all who obtain the resurrection of life will share in fellowship with God and each other, and since they will never die, there is no need for further procreation (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, Revelation 21:1-22:6). Instead, those who share in the resurrection are like the angels who have no need to marry or procreate (Matthew 22:30).

Jesus then expertly turns the tables with a masterful piece of exegesis. The Sadducees intended to cause Him consternation, embarrassment, and thus humiliation before the crowd on account of their “gotcha” scenario; upon their own ground Jesus exposes their lack of understanding and faith in God’s Word and power. He does so by quoting Exodus 3:6 in which YHWH declares He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Exodus, as the second book in the Torah, was held as sacred by Jesus and the Sadducees alike. Jesus points out the implication of YHWH’s declaration: how can God “be” the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob if those three patriarchs are dead? If they were no more, then YHWH was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Thus Jesus declares that God is not the God of the dead but of the living; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still live and await the day of resurrection (Matthew 22:31-32). The crowd was astonished at this teaching (Matthew 22:33). The Sadducees were put to silence, having no ability to respond to what Jesus had declared (Matthew 22:34). It must have been a bitter pill to swallow; not only would every Pharisee and anyone else who believed in resurrection give a similar answer to their “gotcha” question, now they would also get called out on the basis of Exodus 3:6. Little wonder many of the scribes thought Jesus had answered well in Luke 20:39; they now had ammunition against the Sadducees!

We can gain much from this story. We see that outlandish scenarios are the desperate last stand of false doctrines; they frequently rest on assumptions and presuppositions that are easily challenged and undermine the legitimacy of the doctrinal position of the one posing it. We learn about the nature of the resurrection: there will be no marriage in the resurrection, nor will their be any need for procreation. While some may have great desire for sex in the resurrection, Matthew 22:30 suggests this is but wishful thinking. Greater glory and joy, after all, awaits us in the resurrection (Revelation 21:1-22:6). Jesus affirms the power of inference: it would be easy to miss the detail of God’s present standing as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to not automatically connect such with the resurrection. Jesus proves willing to rest His entire affirmation of the resurrection before the Sadducees on this inference since they all affirm the canonicity of Exodus.

Jesus proves willing to depend upon Exodus 3:6 to support His argument not because it is the only way to defend resurrection from the Torah but because of the great importance of the revelation of God in Exodus 3:6. God is revealing Himself for the first time to Moses; in Exodus 6:2-3 God reveals Himself to Moses as YHWH. YHWH is a nominal form derived from the Hebrew word for “to be,” thus, something akin to “Is-ness”, “Being,” “the Existent One,” and thus “the Eternal One.” As the Creator, Source, and Sustainer of life (Genesis 1:1-2:4, Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3), YHWH is the God of life and thus of the living. God is not the God of the dead; in Sheol there is no remembrance of God or praise for Him (Psalm 6:5). If God is the God of the living, then He will give life to those whom He loves.

Exodus 3:6 therefore is not properly “proof” of the resurrection; instead, resurrection is perhaps the unexpected but absolutely the logical conclusion of the fact that God is the God of the living, that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If God is the God of the living, then those who stand before God must do so in life, and that is precisely what God has promised all people who serve the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16, 36, 6:40, 10:10, 11:25).

The Sadducees’ great error came long before they stood before Jesus with their “gotcha” question; it came when they did not properly understand the Scriptures, the power of God, or really the essential nature of God. God is YHWH; God is, and is thus the God of the living, not the dead. In God there is life; those who are in God will share in life, both spiritual life in Jesus and life in the resurrection on the final day. Let us put our trust in the YHWH, the God of the living, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and glorify Him in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Faith Despite Hostility

A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.
YHWH, how are mine adversaries increased! Many are they that rise up against me.
Many there are that say of my soul, “There is no help for him in God.” Selah.
But thou, O YHWH, art a shield about me; my glory and the lifter up of my head.
I cry unto YHWH with my voice; and he answereth me out of his holy hill. Selah.
I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for YHWH sustaineth me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of the people that have set themselves against me round about.
Arise, O YHWH; save me, O my God:
For thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongeth unto YHWH: Thy blessing be upon thy people. Selah (Psalm 3:1-8).

David’s world seemed over.

All Israel and Judah had gone over to his son Absalom who had betrayed him and declared himself king. David’s most trusted counselor Ahithophel defected to Absalom. David had just experienced humiliation at the hands of Benjaminites; even Jonathan’s son to whom David had acted in such kindness had turned against him. Nothing would ever be the same; if he lived it meant his son had died. If his son’s rebellion succeeded it would mean his own end. Such was David’s condition during the rebellion of Absalom as recorded in 2 Samuel 15:1-16:23, providing the context for Psalm 3:1-8 according to its superscription.

One might think that such a situation would lead David to despair. David is aware of his difficulties and knows that many believe that he has no hope; nevertheless Psalm 3 maintains a defiant tone of confidence and faith in YHWH despite his circumstances. David knows his enemies have multiplied (Psalm 3:1-2), yet he considers YHWH as his shield and source of strength, the One who answers him when he calls (Psalm 3:3-4). David can lie down in sleep and arise again since YHWH sustains him; he is not afraid of all who arise against him (Psalm 3:5-6). David asks YHWH to rescue him from his plight and to render his foes harmless (Psalm 3:7). Salvation belongs to YHWH; David asks YHWH to spread His blessings over His people (Psalm 3:8).

David’s confidence is well-placed. His forces gain the victory; the rebellion is crushed. Psalm 3 remains. It would give voice and confidence to generations of Israelites who felt surrounded by enemies but who relied upon YHWH for their strength and sustenance.

About a thousand years after David one of his descendants found Himself in a similar situation. He had entered Jerusalem in triumph; within a week He was betrayed by one of His closest associates, condemned to die by the people who once lauded and praised Him, and found Himself surrounded by foes. In that situation Jesus of Nazareth maintained His trust and confidence in God; even though He suffered the taunts of His enemies who were convinced God had abandoned Him, He accomplished God’s purposes for Him in His suffering and death (Matthew 26:1-27:56, Hebrews 5:8-9). Having done God’s will, Jesus laid down and slept in death (Matthew 27:45-66).

Yet, on the third day, Jesus awoke in the resurrection, for YHWH sustained Him (Matthew 28:1-10). Through His death and resurrection Jesus gained God’s victory over the forces of sin and death (Romans 8:1-3, Ephesians 2:11-18). Now through Jesus salvation is freely offered to everyone and the rich spiritual blessings of God available to any and all who call upon His name (Romans 5:6-11, Ephesians 1:3).

Even to this day the people of God frequently find themselves beset by foes. Their enemies are convinced that the people of God have no help coming to them and are finished. Many times God’s people begin to worry that their opponents may have a point. At such times we do well to remember Psalm 3:1-8 and to sing and/or pray it before the LORD our God. In so doing we can remember that David was beset by foes but God gave him the victory, that Jesus gained victory by suffering the evil done to Him by His foes, and take heart and strength and know that through Jesus we will gain the victory as well. God sustains us; we may sleep in death at the end of this life but we know that God will raise us in Christ (Romans 8:9-11, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58). If God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31-39)? If we maintain trust in God, what can our foes do to us? Salvation belongs to our God, and He gives it freely to us in Christ. Let us establish God in Christ as our hope and trust and through Him gain confidence no matter what befalls us!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Linen Cloths

Simon Peter therefore also cometh, following him, and entered into the tomb; and he beholdeth the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, that was upon his head, not lying with the linen cloths, but rolled up in a place by itself (John 20:6-7).

The action is heating up; the story is reaching its climax. The action becomes the focus of the story; extraneous details would just clutter the story, detracting and distracting from the important events taking place. Yet the details that are given prove all the more necessary to ground the story. So it is with John’s narrative of the resurrection.

John relates the events of that Sunday morning in John 20:1-18. In those eighteen verses Mary arrives at the tomb, sees it empty, goes back to tell Peter and John, who themselves run to the tomb, see it empty, then leave, and then Mary (who ostensibly has come back along with Peter and John) looks in again, speaks to angels, speaks to the risen Jesus, and then goes back to the disciples to announce the Lord’s resurrection. This passage is certainly marked by unrelenting action!

Some details are provided despite the fast pace of the story, and one particular detail is associated with Peter and John’s visitation to the tomb in John 20:4-7 (as well as in terms of Peter in Luke 24:12): the othonion, the linen cloths, were lying on the ground, and the soudarion, normally a handkerchief but also used to cover the head of a corpse (cf. Luke 19:20, John 11:44, Acts 19:12), was in its own place and rolled up. They were the only things left in the otherwise empty tomb.

Today we tend to dress up the dead in their best clothing or in some sort of clothing most special to them. In first century Judea it was customary to wrap the dead body in strips of linen cloths (othonion) and covering the face with the soudarion. John pointed out how Jesus’ body was wrapped in the linen cloths with plenty of aloes and spices by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (John 19:40). It is clear that both Peter and John found it odd that the linen cloths and the face-cloth were left behind, and it certainly made an impression on them; John includes the detail in his Gospel, and if Luke had spoken with Simon Peter in writing his Gospel (Luke 1:1-3), it is reasonable to believe that Peter would have also mentioned that detail. But why is it so noteworthy?

The presence of the linen cloths and face-cloth are highly emphasized in defenses of the resurrection of Jesus; it is the reason Peter and John saw and believed Jesus was raised from the dead even though they had not yet understood how the Scriptures had spoken of it (John 20:8). We must keep in mind that a Roman guard was present at the tomb (Matthew 27:64-66); if Jesus’ body had been stolen away from the tomb, it would make no sense to unwrap all the linen cloths and the face-cloth, roll up the face-cloth, and then run away with the body; every additional second of the heist would increase the odds of being seen and/or captured in the act. Grave robbers would just take the body with the linen cloths to their lair and then take it all apart. Even if the story the soldiers said after being paid off to say it had any truth, that the disciples stole the body while they slept (Matthew 28:11-15), it would make no sense for them to leave the linen cloths; how long would it have taken before some of the Roman soldiers would wake up (as if they would ever be caught sleeping, the punishment for which was normally death!)? The best explanation for the presence of the linen cloths is that the One wrapped in it took them off and carefully rolled up the face-cloth and set it aside as He departed. The linen cloths and the face-cloth do provide a wonderful testimony to the resurrection of Jesus!

Thus Jesus left the linen cloths and face-cloth as He departed the tomb in the resurrection. Did He just leave them to prove He is risen from the dead? Or is there perhaps greater meaning and significance to the linen cloths?

And YHWH said unto Moses, “Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil, before the mercy-seat which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy-seat. Herewith shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin-offering, and a ram for a burnt-offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat, and he shall have the linen breeches upon his flesh, and shall be girded with the linen girdle, and with the linen mitre shall he be attired: they are the holy garments; and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and put them on…And Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting, and shall put off the linen garments, which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there: and he shall bathe his flesh in water in a holy place, and put on his garments, and come forth, and offer his burnt-offering and the burnt-offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people” (Leviticus 16:2-4, 23-24).

In Leviticus 16 God provides legislation regarding the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the only day on which the High Priest would enter the Most Holy Place to make atonement first for his own sins and then for the sins of Israel (cf. Hebrews 9:1-7). The High Priest would wear special consecrated linen garments for the occasion, and after he would depart from the Most Holy Place he would take off those consecrated garments, purify himself with water, and then put on other garments to continue to offer sacrifices on behalf of Israel. Therefore the linen garments which the High Priest wore into the Most Holy Place to offer blood for the atonement of Israel were only to be worn there and then taken off.

As the Hebrew author makes clear in Hebrews 7:1-9:28, Jesus is our new High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, having secured atonement through the offering of Himself. Through the details he provides about Jesus’ resurrection John is telling the same story. The angels sat where Jesus’ head and feet lay, evoking the cherubim over the mercy-seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant, placed in the Most Holy Place and where the High Priest would take that blood (John 20:11-12; cf. Exodus 25:18-22, Leviticus 16:11-16, 1 Kings 6:23-28). In this way the empty tomb is as the Most Holy Place; Jesus’ body is not just the sacrifice that makes the rock slab holy since His body lay upon it, but is the fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant itself, bearing witness to the covenant God is establishing with all mankind through Him, and the One in whom God is communing with mankind (Leviticus 6:26-29, 1 Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 1:1-3, 10:5-10). Therefore, the presence of the linen cloths is fitting; as the High Priest in the order of Aaron would take off his garment once he had provided the blood for atonement in the Most Holy Place, so Jesus as our High Priest in the order of Melchizedek left His linen cloths behind after He had finished making atonement in the fulfillment of the Most Holy Place, the temple of His body (cf. John 2:20-22, Hebrews 9:1-14). The Hebrew author speaks of all of this in terms of Jesus’ death; John reminds us that His resurrection is no less important for our atonement. In the resurrection and upon His ascension He is declared the Son of God, the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, Lord, and Christ (Romans 1:4; cf. Psalm 110:1-7, Daniel 7:13-14). Jesus’ death for forgiveness of sins remains crucial yet incomplete without “the rest of the story.” John makes this powerfully clear with the details he provides in his account of the resurrection.

The linen cloths were left behind; our High Priest has offered Himself as the atonement for our sins and was accepted before the Father. The tomb is otherwise empty; He is Risen; He is Lord. Let us be ever thankful for the atonement of our High Priest and let us serve Him in His Kingdom!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Most Holy Tomb

But Mary was standing without at the tomb weeping: so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she beholdeth two angels in white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain (John 20:11-12).

Sometimes God illustrates profound truths with momentary events. If you pass by too quickly you will miss it!

We are not informed of precisely how Mary Magdalene processed the events transpiring before her on that momentous Sunday morning. She is distraught, weeping, no doubt attempting to make sense of what she was seeing: His body was gone, and therefore, where had it been taken (John 20:1-13)? She had first gone to the tomb, ran back to inform Peter and John of its emptiness, and had come back again (John 20:1-11). As she looks in again, she sees two angels; John indicates one was seated where Jesus’ head had lain, and the other where His feet had been placed (John 20:12). In John’s account, they simply ask her why she was crying; she answered but we hear nothing more of the angels, for Mary then turns and encounters Jesus as the Risen Lord (John 20:13-16). She saw the angels, no doubt, but did she believe that their existence and placement there had any significance?

Every Gospel account has some angelic presence at the tomb. Matthew speaks of one angel rolling the stone away and proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 28:2-7). Mark speaks of him as a young man in a white robe sitting on the right side; he also proclaims the resurrection of Jesus (Mark 16:5-7). Luke describes two men in dazzling apparel standing by the women also proclaiming Jesus as Risen (Luke 24:4-10). Therefore, it is only from John’s account that we see two angels sitting where Jesus’ head and feet had lain, simply asking Mary Magdalene a question, knowing that soon enough she will find her soul’s delight.

At this moment many rush to harmonize in an attempt to defend the historical integrity of the Gospel narratives. Yet we do well to contemplate why John highlights these particular details. The narrative could have continued without significant violence had Mary just run into the “gardener” after Peter and John left. Why, therefore, does John point out that Mary saw the two angels? And why is he so specific about where they sat?

The Evangelists, particularly John, only provide the details they want you to know. And John very much wants us to understand the significance of those angels and why they sat as they did. It is written in Exodus 25:18-22:

And thou shalt make two cherubim of gold; of beaten work shalt thou make them, at the two ends of the mercy-seat. And make one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other end: of one piece with the mercy-seat shall ye make the cherubim on the two ends thereof. And the cherubim shall spread out their wings on high, covering the mercy-seat with their wings, with their faces one to another; toward the mercy-seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And thou shalt put the mercy-seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy-seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.

As all good Israelites would know, God commanded Moses and Israel to build Him first a Tabernacle, and in the Most Holy Place in that Tabernacle would rest the Ark of the Covenant containing the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, a powerful sign of the covenant between God and Israel. On top of that Ark was the “mercy-seat,” and the mercy-seat was flanked on either side by cherubim. The mercy-seat is where God placed His presence and spoke to Moses; the mercy-seat is also where Aaron would bring the blood of the sacrifice to make atonement for himself and Israel (Leviticus 16:11-16). When Solomon built the Temple he built cherubim on both sides of the Most Holy Place for the same purpose (1 Kings 6:23-28).

John had already pointed out how Jesus spoke of His Body as a Temple (John 2:18-22). And here in the resurrection John hints at imagery fleshed out fully by the Hebrew author in Hebrews 9:1-28: in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, He embodies the Tabernacle/Temple service and thus provides the ultimate atonement. Just as the cherubim were placed on the two ends of the mercy-seat on the Ark of the Covenant, so the two angels sit on the slab on which the body of Jesus was laid. The empty tomb is now the Most Holy Place; where His body had lain represents a new mercy-seat, the place where God Incarnate would soon again speak with Mary (John 20:12-16). The angels declare the rock slab where the body of Jesus was placed as the new place of atonement where the holy sacrifice of God rested.

The spiritual implications of this association are staggering. If the tomb is as the Most Holy Place, and the slab upon which Jesus was lain as the mercy-seat, we have further associations between Jesus and the most holy sin-offering described in Leviticus 6:26-29. Far from being unclean or defiled because of bearing sin, and far from being separated from God, Jesus’ body, as the perfect sacrifice for sins, is most holy, bringing cleansing and sanctifying its location (Hebrews 10:5-10). The timing remains significant: the Most Holy Place is not reckoned as the cross or even the upper room but the empty tomb. John is not denying the need nor the efficacy of the cross as is evident in John 1:29, 3:14-15; nevertheless, John is demonstrating that Jesus’ atonement cannot be disassociated from His resurrection. Jesus’ death and resurrection allow for our atonement; He gave His life for sin but received it again in power from God (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, Hebrews 9:11-28). Both of these come together in the empty tomb: the angels sitting where His body, sacrificed for our sin, had lain, and yet the tomb is empty because He is risen. Thus it was the Most Holy Place; the Most Holy Place is now embodied in Christ (John 2:20-22, Hebrews 9:1-14).

And there remains the typology of the Ark of the Covenant and the mercy-seat. The Ark of the Covenant was the sign of the covenant, the repository of the Law by which Israel would be governed; the mercy-seat is where God would meet Moses and Israel, maintain His presence, and upon which the blood of the sin offering would be presented on the Day of Atonement (Exodus 25:18-22, Leviticus 16:11-16). And so it is with Jesus: He is God in the flesh, the image of the invisible God, Mediator between God and man (Colossians 1:15, 2:9, 1 Timothy 2:5). He gave His life as a ransom for sin (Matthew 20:28). God was present in Him and spoke through Him to us (Matthew 1:18-25, Hebrews 1:1-3). That empty tomb is our Ark of the Covenant, both a reminder of where Jesus’ dead body lay, killed for our sin, yet was raised in power, gaining the victory over the forces of evil, sin, and death, the ground of our hope for both forgiveness of sin and ultimate victory over sin and death (Romans 8:1-3, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58).

The reference is quick and fleeting and might be easily missed, yet it provides a glorious key of understanding, wonderfully illustrating how Jesus embodies the story and thus the hope of Israel. The empty tomb was, for a moment, the Most Holy Place; the slab of rock where Jesus lay the mercy-seat. Yet He is Risen, and is the embodiment of the covenant, its atonement, and its holiness. Let us serve the Risen Lord Jesus Christ and find atonement and redemption in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry