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The Sealed Tomb and the Sealed Room

By Roger Salter
April 23, 2022

The first day of the week after Jesus' crucifixion was a graphic and glorious manifestation of the Resurrection. Morning and evening declared the fact that Christ had risen through many infallible proofs that followed each other in a series of remarkable and coherent events. The first day presents a chain of details that link the believer through faith and prayer to the living Lord and Redeemer. The Easter accounts bond the people of God to their Saviour in sure, and often felt, spiritual union. From empty tomb to doubting Thomas a week later God privileges his trusting folk with clear steps to a confident understanding of the way of salvation and the grasp of eternal life. Every step moves forward to the wonderful climax - the indisputable triumph of the Lord Jesus Christ. Every knee shall bow, those of his adherents throughout the course of time, and those of his enemies on the verge of eternity.

The first report to be considered issues from the phenomenon of the empty tomb. The heavy stone that sealed Messiah's body in the gloom of the grave had been mysteriously rolled away. In absolute amazement Mary Magdalene believes that certain people have removed the body of the Lord and this is her theory related to the disciples Peter and John. Subsequent investigation excludes the notion that no-one else, neither robbers nor officials, had entered the grave for any purpose, pillage or propaganda. Everything pointed to the fact that Jesus had risen and made his way through the supernaturally created "way out". The entrance to dark and still confinement had become the exit to the real terra firma of earth. The Ruler of earth once again walked on the ground of his creation and wise control. It was his majestic reappearance by the power of God that presided over the period that lead to his passion and splendid conquest of sin and death.

The empty tomb yields in its remaining contents the evidence of the resurrection, if closely considered. The strips of linen and the burial cloth are not simply discarded items of no significance. They have great bearing on the divine action that took place "early in the morning" in great power and evident calm. "Then Simon Peter ... arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen" (John 20:6-7). This description suggests neatness and order, not characteristic of robbers or those who wished to whisk the body of Christ away to another location.

Additionally, to the deliberate tidiness of the tomb, the strips of linen would have posed a considerable period of delay to the persons intending a hasty raid. They would more easily have taken the body, wholly wrapped a it was. It would not be easy to unwind the tightly bound steps of linen quickly, while positioning the body conveniently for the purpose, and furthermore Leon Morris in his commentary on John's gospel notes a remark of John Chrysostom, "For neither, if any persons had removed the body, would they before doing so have stripped it; nor if any had stolen it, would they have taken the trouble to remove the napkin, and roll it up, and lay it in a place by itself; but how? They would have taken the body as it was. On this account John tells us by anticipation that it was buried with much myrrh, which glues linen to the body not less firmly than lead . . ." The difficulty of a humanly effected transfer of Jesus' body in a very limited time is insuperable and the grave clothes would have been left in a careless heap. It was Jesus who rose again and shed them. They were done with and thoughtfully placed, the burial cloth tellingly folded and separated from the linen.

On the morning of the first day Jesus had risen! Jesus had emerged from sealed tomb. It was vacant.

On the evening of the first day even more stupendous proof of the resurrection was granted to the disciples. The One who passed through the barricaded entrance of the tomb passed through the locked door of the room where the disciples cowed for fear of the Jews. When Jesus appears and acts no barriers are ultimately able to prevent his access. We may take this affirmation not only in a material sense on the occasion recounted by John, when Jesus passed through solid matter and stood among the company of frightened men, but more prominently as a spiritual truth also; a pastoral consolation - especially when the Savior comes invisibly to bestow the peace of salvation and convince his people of his risen presence graciously accompanying them.

This was his intent on coming to his disciples who were filled with fear and dismay, to impart assurance of forgiveness and everlasting life. The physical walls confining the disciples in their bid for safety were emblematic of the fear and unbelief that forfeit our comfort in the gospel [the entrance to our hearts that Jesus' desires is not registered by a gentle tap on the door as many think, but by a handy battering ramrod, a heavy truncheon or baton, that thumps the door loudly as described in Revelation 3:19-20. Besides, the recipients of the knock on the door of which Jesus speaks is not the awakening of the unconverted to conviction, but the earnest summons to renewed communion with the faithful who have lapsed from close rapport with the Savior].

The confirmation of the resurrection occurs when Jesus speaks to his followers, reveals his wounds to them, and confers a blessing. The appearance is so beyond any semblance of disputation that the quivering disciples become overjoyed when they saw the Lord. A remarkable transformation! A flood of relief.

A Sequence To The Revelations Of The First Day

As a twin Thomas (Didymus) may have entertained, and even added, exaggerated concern as regards accuracy of identification to his doubts about the resurrection of Jesus. It was hard for him to receive the testimony of his fellow disciples: "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."

A week later the disciples were together behind locked doors again and Thomas was present. His mind was still firmly locked against the possibility of Jesus rising again. With immense compassion and patience Jesus affords the doubter conclusive proof of his return from the grave. The invitation to certainty is aptly afforded to Thomas in complete response to all his reservations, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out you hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." Jesus was not chastising Thomas but comforting and encouraging him.

When notable Jewish philosopher Heinz W. Cassirer embraced Christianity he translated the New Testament with the title God's New Covenant. Translating John 20:8 he supplanted the words concerning the other disciple, "he saw and believed", rendering the exact meaning as he "saw, and learned to believe." This was a wise pastoral amendment. Peter and John had not fully comprehended what was declared of Christ in the Sacred Scriptures of the former covenant. They saw the empty tomb, believed in so far as they could, but the full scope of resurrection faith was still to be grasped. Our faith is always gradually developing. This explains Jesus' gentle education of Thomas who was learning to believe. Learning to believe describes us all. Whatever we affirm requires deeper comprehension and appreciation in an attitude of sincere humility. We are all in transit to minds made complete concerning Jesus. He is far greater than we shall ever perceive in this life. The resurrection is of a dimension we cannot possibly measure.


John the Evangelist in his first letter expresses the powerful experience of association with the risen Jesus and the equal reality of our knowing him through the apostolic testimony:

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched -- this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life. The life appeared, we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete" (1 John 1:1-4).

John bases his confident message on the very words he heard Jesus speak to Thomas after the disciple's confession that the risen Jesus was indeed and beyond doubt, "My Lord and my God!" John wrote his gospel with the ardent desire that every hearer of the gospel should wholeheartedly honor the Lord Christ and find salvation in him.

"Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." Chapter 20, verses 30-31.

Roger Salter was born and raised in Australia. He trained for the Anglican ministry at Trinity Theological College in Bristol, England from 1974 to 1979. Following ordination, he served in several parishes in the Church of England and transferred to Birmingham, Alabama in 1994. His life is enriched, and ministry supported by his Irish wife, Maureen, his son, Alexander, and two daughters, Helen and Melanie.

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