1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.
Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and some other women traveled with Jesus and the twelve disciples (Luke 8:1–3; 24:10). They had heard Christ speaking about what would happen on the third day (24:6–7), but as they made their way to the tomb, they did not expect anything unusual. Their journey was motivated by love, but it was devoid of faith. Whatever confidence they had in Christ had been overwhelmed by the agony of the cross. Faith was gone; all that was left was love.
When the women arrived, they found that the stone in front of the tomb had been moved, and going inside, they found to their great astonishment that the tomb was empty. Notice that the women did not conclude Jesus had risen from the dead. They left the tomb “perplexed” and completely lost for an explanation (Luke 24:4).
It was not that Mary found the body missing, and said, “I have a feeling that Jesus must have risen from the dead,” and Joanna replied, “I think you’re right. I have that feeling too.” The thought did not even occur to them.
So how did they know that Jesus had risen? God told them.
God Gives the Explanation
“While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men1 stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen’” (24:4–6).
God called two angels, and said, “Go and tell them what I have done. These women love My Son, but there is no way in the world that they are ever going to work out what happened. Go and tell them.”
Christian faith rests on believing God’s explanation of what He has done.
How could Mary, the mother of our Lord, have known what was happening when she conceived? God gave the explanation. It was the same with the shepherds. How could they possibly have known that the child in the manger was God in human flesh? God sent the angels to tell them.
And it was the same when Jesus was crucified. Many people saw Him die, but how could they understand what God was doing? God tells us that, on the cross, Christ bore our sin and laid down His life as a sacrifice.
The women would never have figured out why the tomb was empty. God told them what happened. Christian faith does not rest on feelings, impulses, or personal insights. It is believing God’s explanation of events, given to us in the Scriptures. He is risen!
“Risen” Means That Death Is Defeated
Throughout history, death has been like a tyrant exercising a reign of terror over the human race. No one can escape it. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David all believed God’s promise, but death got every one of them. Sooner or later, death sucks all of us in. The question is, how do we get out?
When I was in grade school, our class had a pet mouse, and on weekends we got to take the mouse home. On one occasion, the mouse became intrigued by my red plastic double-decker London bus. And after sniffing around, it decided to climb inside.
This was tremendous entertainment—until the mouse reached the front of the bus. Then we had a problem. The mouse couldn’t move forward, and it didn’t have room to turn back. It was completely stuck.
I remember my father saying, “There’s only one thing to do, son. We’ll have to destroy the bus!” He took a knife and cut the roof open. The mouse was free. I can’t tell you what a relief that was. But my bus was never the same. It really was rather curious; a bright red London bus with the roof cut open! Of course, this made things even more interesting for the mouse. Before the mouse had a way in, but no way out. Now it could go in through the door and come out through the roof!
When Jesus died, He cut a hole in death. For Christ’s people, death is not a prison, but a passage that leads right into the presence of God.
“Risen” Means the Whole Person Will Be Redeemed
All religions have some idea of survival after death, but the resurrection of the body is unique to Christianity. The good news is not simply that Jesus is alive, but that Jesus has risen (Luke 24:6). It is worth thinking about the difference.
The Son of God was alive in heaven before He took human flesh. So why did He not simply leave His crucified body in the tomb and return to the Father? After all, it was only flesh and bone. Why bother with it?
The angels could still have appeared on Easter morning and said, “His body is here in the tomb, but don’t worry, His Spirit is with the Father in heaven.” After all, is this not precisely what we say at a funeral service when a Christian dies?
The resurrection tells us that the body matters. You are a marvelous union of soul and body, and Jesus came into the world not to save part of you but to redeem the whole of you. He came to bring you, body and soul, into the joy of a new creation.
Death separates your soul from your body, and that is why it is such a terrible enemy. It is the tearing apart of what God has joined together, and it will only be defeated when your body and soul are reunited in the power of a new life.
The first thing you need to know about the resurrection body is that it is a body! When Christ appeared to the disciples, their first thought was that they were seeing a ghost (24:37). But Jesus drew their attention to His body: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (24:39). Flesh and bones! This is a real body!
Taking a Virtual Vacation
Suppose you have planned the vacation of a lifetime in Hawaii, but just before you are due to take the trip, you fall down the stairs and break just about every bone in your body. In good cartoon style, you wind up in the hospital bandaged from head to toe, with a thermometer sticking out of your mouth.
A friend, who is a computer geek, offers to take you on a virtual tour instead. He sets up his laptop, and sure enough, you see wonderful views of Honolulu. “It’s so beautiful,” you say. “I just wish that I had been able to go.”
“But you have,” says your friend. “You have been there on a virtual tour.”
Whatever he says, you know that as long as your body is stuck in the hospital, you haven’t been to Hawaii. Going there in your mind, or via the Internet, simply isn’t the same.
The life God promises to His people in heaven is not like a virtual tour. It is not a spiritual experience or a mind game. God sent His Son to redeem the whole of you, and bring you, body and soul, into His presence. The good news is that Christ is risen, and the resurrection of the body is the glorious future that lies ahead of every Christian believer.
What Will the Resurrection Body Be Like?
When the body of Jesus was raised, it was also changed. His body was no longer subject to aging or death. His flesh was transformed and adapted for eternity. That’s why Christians can look forward to heaven.
Scripture gives us four descriptions of the resurrection body.
What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. (1 Corinthians 15:42)
Lazarus was raised from the dead, but he came out of the tomb exactly as he had gone into it. He continued aging, and at some point, the poor fellow had to go through the whole miserable business of dying again! But Jesus rose in the power of an endless life (Hebrews 7:16), and your resurrection body, like his, will be a body that will never die. Your resurrection body will never age, it will never be sick, and it will never decline.
It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. (1 Corinthians 15:43)
When Peter James and John went up the mountain with Jesus, they got a preview of His future glory (Mark 9:2–8). There was a brightness and a radiance about Him. And there will be a brightness, a radiance, a glory about you in the resurrection body as you reflect Christ’s own glory.
It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. (1 Corinthians 15:43)
You will have more energy, more stamina, more speed, better coordination, and greater capacity in your resurrection body than you ever did before!
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:44)
A spiritual body is one that is fully responsive to the Holy Spirit. We will no longer say, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Our resurrection bodies will be as eager to do the will of God as our redeemed spirits.
Here’s what you have to look forward to in the new heaven and the new earth: A body that is adapted to life forever and will never decline. A body that is glorious and powerful. A body that is fully responsive to the Holy Spirit.
Wait till Everybody’s Ready
The gift of the resurrection body is so wonderful that God holds it in reserve until the day when He will gather all His children together.
Christian loved ones who have died are with Jesus, consciously enjoying the glory of His presence. That is better by far than anything they could know here. But God has another gift for them and for us that He is keeping for the day when He gathers His whole family together.
When Christ returns, our Christian loved ones will come with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:14). Then “the dead in Christ will rise” (4:16) and their souls will be reunited with risen bodies adapted for everlasting life.
At the same time, believers who are still alive will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (4:17). We will experience the same transformation in which our bodies are adapted for everlasting life.
On the third day, the tomb was empty. Jesus rose from the dead. We know this because God said so. When Christ comes again in glory and gathers all His people, we too will be given resurrection bodies. God will redeem not just a part of you, but the whole of you. When you get that settled in your mind, you will have far greater anticipation of the joys that lie ahead.
1. Matthew tells us that they were angels (Matthew 28:5). Luke tells us what they looked like.
- Have you experienced a personal tragedy that made it hard for you to believe in Jesus, though you still love him?
- Respond to this definition: “Christian faith rests on believing God’s explanation of what He has done.”
- In your own words, how does the story of the London double-decker bus illustrate what Jesus accomplished in his death and resurrection?
- What difference do you think it makes whether or not Jesus’ body was raised from the dead?
- What stands out to you when you think about the resurrection body?