The Empty Tomb – Jesus rose from the dead ! But centuries of tradition and gaudy decorations cover up the impact of the historical event

Empty Tomb

The Scriptures testify to the empty tomb of Jesus the Messiah and His bodily resurrection from the dead.  Please keep reading to the end to see the Biblical evidence for the Resurrection of Christ. Jesus was probably buried in a tomb that looked something similar to this one, pictured above, or like the one pictured below.

The Empty Tomb of Jesus probably looked something like this; before centuries of tradition and excavation of the surrounding rock hill and building of ornate edifices over and over the tomb, and other buildings around the area, to accommodate pilgrims and other traditions of “the stations of the cross”, actually hide the reality of the Biblical and historical account. 

The real tomb where Jesus was probably buried is now inside the “Church of the Holy Sepulchre”, inside another edicule, covered over by centuries of building and repair, and layers of history of damage and repair, tradition and decoration.  The original rock hillside was excavated in order to build a church there.  (In 326 AD, by Constantine, inspired by his mother Helena’s visit there.)  Before Constantine had a church built there, the Romans (Hadrian in 135 AD) had built pagan temples (to Jupiter and Venus) on the site, in order to keep Christians from making pilgrimage there.

“When the Roman Emperor Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem in AD 130-131, he constructed a temple to Jupiter and Venus over the site of the present Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  In AD 325 Constantine ordered the removal of Hadrian’s temple.  Local Christian tradition had claimed this to be the site of Jesus’ tomb, and, remarkably, when Hadrian’s temple was cleared away, a tomb area was indeed discovered beneath it.  Constantine had a church contracted on the site and built a small structure or edicule, within the building to enclose the tomb itself.  the present “Church of the Holy Sepulchre” is the continuation of Constantine’s church.” (Archeological Study Bible, NIV, “The Location of Jesus’ Tomb”, Zondervan, 2005, p. 1615)

The original church built by Constantine was very heavily damaged by fire by the war between the Byzantines and Persians in 614 AD (rebuilt in 626 AD), and then again by Muslims in 1099.  On October 18, 1009, Fatimid Khalif, Al Hakim, ordered the complete destruction of the church.

The church today was rebuilt a little before the Crusades, with constant renovations by the Crusaders, from 1048-1187.  There have been other renovations and repairs since that time. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been overlayed with centuries of construction, damage from wars; the Crusades; earthquake damage, lots of church building and ornate and elaborate decoration, and gaudy statuary and idolatry, in order to mark spots of certain events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ, to accommodate pilgrims.  The wearing down of stone is apparent from the centuries of pilgrims that come to this place.  Several different church communities are in charge of different areas of the church today. (between the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox churches.)

Diagram from the “Generation Word” site.

This is an excellent diagram that shows the relationship of the original landscape of the place of Golgotha (Latin: Calvary)[Matthew 27:33; Mark 15:22; Luke 23:33; John 19:17], the place where Jesus was crucified, and the tomb where His body was laid; – it shows the relationship with the current church structure which now hides the original landscape and it’s Biblical and evidential impact.  That is why most Protestants who go to Israel to visit the ancient sites, usually prefer to visit “Gordon’s Garden Tomb”, a much more simple looking empty tomb that gives a more “Biblical atmosphere”.

But at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the elaborate decorations, statues and icons of Jesus and Mary (idolatry !);  lamps, candles, and many other things to accommodate pilgrims and pilgrimages and external worship and kissing of artifacts and bowing to statues, all truly go against the Biblical principle in John 4:19-24.

19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

What the area of Golgotha/the Crucifixion and location to the tomb probably looked like.  It was outside the city walls at that time (Hebrews 13:12), but the city walls of Jerusalem have been expanded since the time of Jesus.  

Below is another drawing showing how it is likely what it looked like when Hadrian, the Roman pagan Emperor, built a temple to Jupiter and Venus to block the Christians from pilgrimage, worship and veneration at the site of the crucifixion and burial, the empty tomb.

Diagram of Hadrian’s temple to Jupiter and Venus. (built around 131-135 AD)

These diagrams and most of the pictures (except the first two at the beginning of the article) are found at this web-site (“generation word”, Jerusalem 101), which, as far as I can tell, seems pretty credible and careful, but I don’t know what kind of Christian or church or theological bent the main Bible teacher of this site is from. There are a lot more diagrams and comparisons of what we can see today in Jerusalem and Israel with the Biblical evidence.  There is a lot of interesting diagrams and pictures of “Holy Land” sites, so well done, that one almost feels he doesn’t need to go there to see it all for oneself.

Unfortunately, the external emphasis of the ornate and gaudy statues and icons and idolatrous actions of pilgrimages kissing stones and bowing down and praying to statues, has given the on looking Muslims and Jews over the centuries a very bad picture of what Christianity is.

Gaudy idolatry is what Muslims and Jews and other unbelievers have seen portrayed for centuries by pilgrims from the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic and other ritualistic church traditions.  Photo from the “Generation Word” site.

Some of the architecture is really cool; along with what remains of good evidence of the original sites, so some of the historical preservation is a very good thing. Archeology confirms the Bible.

Church of Holy Sepulchre in relation to the temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock today (built after 691-692 AD in honor of Umar, the second Khalif of Islam, who unjustly attacked and conquered Jerusalem, based on Qur’an Surah 9:29 – ‘fight the people of the book . . . until they pay the Jiziye tax, being brought low in submission”). Photo from the “Generation Word” site.

Biblical Apologetic Reasoning and Historical Evidence for the Resurrection: 

Here is a good article on the Biblical evidence and exegesis and reasoning for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (by Kenneth R. Samples. )  I remember hearing Kenneth Samples on the “Bible Answer Man Radio Program” when Walter Martin was still alive, and also after Hank Hannegraaf became the President of CRI.

Jesus’ being raised to new life three days after His execution pumps the heart of the Christian gospel (doctrine), and is Christianity’s central supporting fact (apologetics). The truth of Christianity uniquely stands or falls on Christ’s resurrection. The apostle Paul explains: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor. 15:14). “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17).

Since the truth-claims of Christianity hinge on the Resurrection, the New Testament accounts of Christ’s resurrection warrant careful analysis and reflection. The writers of these accounts not only report the Resurrection as a factual event but also provide a theological context and explanation of its overall significance to God’s historical redemptive plan.

The entire New Testament was written in light of Christ’s resurrection. Each book therein bears witness to its reality. In fact, this testimony was the essential function of the apostles (Acts 1:22). Jesus’ resurrection was not merely a coming back from the dead (resuscitation, near-death experience, reincarnation) but a resurrection into a new type of human life eternal life with a transformed, glorified physical body no longer subject to weakness, pain, sickness, and death. By His resurrection, Jesus Christ fully and completely conquered death  .

The New Testament Resurrection Scenario

The four New Testament Gospels and various New Testament epistles reveal essential data concerning Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. The following sections summarize these intriguing events. (See Matt. 26:47-28:20; Mark 14:43-16:8; Luke 22:47-24:53; John 18:1-21:25; Acts 9:1-19; 1 Cor. 15:1-58.)

Jewish religious leaders (chief priests and elders) arrested Jesus of Nazareth and tried Him for blasphemy. The Sanhedrin found Jesus guilty and subsequently took Him to the Roman governor for sentencing. Despite finding no basis for a charge against Him, Pontius Pilate condemned Jesus to death as an insurrectionist. Roman soldiers beat, mocked, and crucified Him. His lifeless body was taken down from the cross, covered with a burial cloth, and placed in a newly cut tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea (a wealthy and prominent member of the Sanhedrin). A large boulder sealed the entrance to the tomb, and Roman guards were stationed there to ensure that Jesus’ body was not disturbed.

At dawn, three days later (on Sunday morning, “the first day of the week”), a violent earthquake shook the tomb. An angel of the Lord appeared and rolled away the stone. Terrified at the sight of the angel, the guards were paralyzed. Some women followers of Jesus subsequently arrived and discovered the empty tomb. They encountered the angel, who informed them that Jesus was not there, for He had risen from the dead. Hearing about the women’s encounter at the tomb, some of Jesus’ apostles also found the tomb empty later that morning.

Starting on that original Easter Sunday and extending over a forty-day period, Jesus appeared alive to specific individuals and to small and large groups of people. He appeared to friends and enemies, believers and unbelievers, women and men, in public and in private, at different times, and in different locations. The New Testament describes His postresurrection encounters with Mary Magdalene (John 20:10-18), Mary and the other women (Matt. 28:1-10), Peter (1 Cor. 15:5), two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), ten apostles (Luke 24:36-49), eleven apostles (John 20:24-31), seven apostles (John 21), all the apostles (Matt. 28:16-20), five hundred disciples (1 Cor. 15:6), James (1 Cor. 15:7), all the apostles again (Acts 1:4-8), and finally, later, to Saul, who became Paul (Acts 9:1-9).

Characteristics of Jesus’ resurrected body are also described. He still bore the marks of the wounds in His hands, feet, and side (John 20:20). He could be seen and touched as a physical body of flesh and bone (Matt. 28:9; Luke 24:37-39). He invited people to examine his body (Luke 24:39-40; John 20:20, 27). Jesus even ate and drank with his disciples after his resurrection (Luke 24:41-43; Acts 10:41). Though certainly material and physical in nature, Jesus’ resurrected body had been transformed into a glorious, immortal, and imperishable body. Jesus was capable of things that ordinary mortals are not; for example, He could appear and disappear in a closed room. Thus, Jesus’ body before the resurrection and his body after the resurrection showed both continuity and discontinuity.  (Kenneth Samples, “If Christ Had Not Been Raised: Reasoning Through the Resurrection”; April 1, 2002; at “Reasons To Believe” – http://www.reasons.org/articles/if-christ-has-not-been-raised-reasoning-through-the-resurrection)

Samples then goes on to list the Five major strands of evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead:
1.  The Empty Tomb.
2.  The Post-resurrection Appearances.
3.  The Transformation of the Apostles.
4.  The Emergence of the Christian Church.
5.  Sunday became the Day of Worship.
Read the entire article for detailed reasoning after each of the five points.
Then Samples goes through “Six Alternate Explanatory Hypotheses”, and demonstrates why each of these six theories are wrong.
Samples has a nice “side bar” (or “end bar”)  with 10 Essential  Truths about the Resurrection.
Samples’ Conclusion:

After almost two millennia the only genuinely reasonable explanatory hypothesis for the events surrounding Jesus’ death is that the apostles told the truth and Jesus truly rose bodily from the dead. The proper way to examine such a miraculous claim is to carefully scrutinize the evidence and follow wherever the facts lead. It is logically illegitimate to reject the Resurrection a priori based upon a preconceived commitment to naturalism. As amazing as the Resurrection may be, the bell of truth resonates on every level.

Contemplation of the inevitability and imminence of one’s death can quickly lead to existential angst, desperation, and despair. The truth and the promise of the resurrected Lord delivers all who believe in Him from this dreaded human predicament. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).

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About Ken Temple

I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I am a sinner who has been saved by the grace of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), through faith alone (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:28; 4:1-16), in Christ alone (John 14:6). But a true faith does not stay alone, it should result in change, fruit, good works, and deeper levels of repentance and hatred of my own sins of selfishness and pride. I am not better than you! I still make mistakes and sin, but the Lord is working on me, conforming me to His character. (Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3:16-18) When I do sin, I hate the sin as it is an affront to God, and seek His forgiveness in repentance. (Mark 1:15; 2 Corinthians 7:7-10; Colossians 3:5-16 ) Praise God for His love for sinners (Romans 5:8), shown by the voluntary coming of Christ and His freely laying down His life for us (John 10:18), becoming flesh/human (John 1:1-5; 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8), dying for sins of people from all nations, tribes, and cultures (Revelation 5:9), on the cross, in history, rising from the dead (Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 28, Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24; John 20-21; 1 Corinthians chapter 15). His resurrection from the dead proved that Jesus is the Messiah, the eternal Son of God, the word of God from eternity past; and that He was all the gospels say He was and that He is truth and the life and the way to salvation. (John 14:6)
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6 Responses to The Empty Tomb – Jesus rose from the dead ! But centuries of tradition and gaudy decorations cover up the impact of the historical event

  1. Renee` Shipp says:

    Hi. I am editing a book for a friend and liked your image at the top; the one of the resurrection tomb of Jesus. I’ve also found the same picture on another website and would like to use it on the cover of the book I am editing. Could you send me some feedback about the image and if you know if it is royalty free. Thank you so much!

  2. Hi Renee,
    I also got it off the internet and did not see any copyright claim on it; so I assume that it is ok to use.

  3. Pingback: He is Risen! He is Merciful and He is Sovereign | apologeticsandagape

  4. Pingback: Why are there no inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock of Surah 4:157 ? | apologeticsandagape

  5. Ken Temple says:

    Reblogged this on apologeticsandagape and commented:

    Archeological evidence for Jesus death and resurrection

  6. θ says:

    In Islam, there’s a certainty of Faith that Allah can’t die nor terminate His life.
    Q.25, v.58. And rely upon the Ever-Living who cannot die, and exalt with His praise. And sufficient is He to be Acquainted with the sins of His servants.

    Immortality doesn’t mean being unable to die.
    The Bible lacks the most important Faith on the God’s negative attribute, that is the divine inability to die. In order to argue about Jesus’ divinity, the Trinitarians assume that the 2nd person doesn’t die alongside a man Jesus when he dies. But ironically nowhere does the Bible precisely say that God can’t die. There are several important negations related to God in the Bible despite an absolutism of “nothing is impossible for God”:
    (i) God is not a god for the dead people.
    (ii) God can’t lie nor changes His mind.
    (iii) God’s voice can’t be heard, His shape can’t be seen, He can’t be touched or approached.
    (iv) God is not a man.
    (v) God can’t look at the iniquity.

    Immortality is not a divine attribute, immortality can be attained as it will be the attribute for the resurrected mortals:
    2 Timothy 1
    10 But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

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