EDITOR’S NOTE: This groundbreaking series is being offered in celebration of a previously top-secret project and now unprecedented new 3-Volume book series (over 10-years in the making) from best-selling scholar Dr. Thomas Horn and acclaimed biblical history and theology majors Donna Howell and Allie Anderson: THE MYSTERY OF JESUS FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION—YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
Just as promised, regardless of all the missing justice in the system that contributed to His death, Jesus arose on the third day after He was buried.
Though today we view “a day” as a twenty-four-hour period, the Jews, Greeks, and Romans did not. In their form of counting (and by extension, Christ’s words regarding His rising), Jesus could be murdered on day one, remain in the tomb on day two, and rise on the “third day.”
Pilate arranged for guards to be placed at the entrance of the tomb. According to laws regarding dereliction of duty in that day, being asleep while the tomb was tampered with would have been immediate grounds for execution, so these guards had every reason to stay awake to ensure nobody would steal Jesus’ body.
The stone in front of the tomb was sealed. Commonly, when we think of this episode, imagine a giant, round, disc-shaped stone, likely because of the presence of the Greek word kulio in the narrative. That term can be translated as “rolled,” which denotes an item with a circular shape. However, in the Second-Temple era, Jewish burials did not follow this method, so that’s likely not what was blocking the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. Amos Kloner, a specialist in Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine archaeology and a professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, states the Greek word kulio can also mean “dislodge,” “move back,” or simply “move.”[i] The stone in front of Jesus’ tomb, he explained in 1999, was far more likely to be the standard burial stone of the day: it would have been shaped like a cork. Imagine a kind of mushroom-shaped rock on which the “stem” was the same size as the door, fitting like a puzzle piece into the opening and extending a couple of feet inside the tomb. From outside the tomb, the rock was seen to protrude from the opening another foot or so around the door’s outline. A wax seal would have then been placed between the doorway and the overlapping lip of the bulge, bleeding into the entrance and “gluing” the stone into place.
This is another layer of evidence supporting the idea that nobody, outside of a group of soldiers with proper moving equipment, could simply “heave-ho” and roll the stone away. It’s likely that the writers of the Gospels, in referring to the stone having been “rolled,” were actually describing the nearly impossible “uncorking” miracle performed by an angel who then sat atop it like it was a flat chair (it’s more difficult to imagine the angel “perching” on a circular disc).
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Yet the stone was moved, even while the guards watched the angel of God do his work. When the ground shook and the mighty angel popped the rock out of the way like it was nothing, the guards fainted (Matthew 28:1–8; Mark 16:1–8; Luke 24:1–9; John 20:1).
When Mary, the mother of Christ, and Mary Magdalene made their way to the tomb, they found it empty. Two “men” (angels) in glittering, white garments stood beside them. Their response to the arrival of the women is, in hindsight, somewhat humorous: “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, ‘The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again’” (Luke 24:5–7). In modern English, their words could be reworded to say, “What are you doing looking for the Living One here, at a gravesite? What did you girls think you were going to find here? He’s alive, obviously! He already told you back in Galilee that He would be murdered, but would raise to life on the third day. Don’t you remember that?”
(In the book Afterlife, by Donna Howell, Allie Anderson, and Josh Peck, a very responsible and breathtaking case is made for the legitimacy of the Shroud of Turin as Christ’s burial cloth. If you are like many readers who have felt as though this subject was never given proper scientific attention—or if you feel it’s a subject primarily for Catholics—you may want to pick up a copy. Many skeptics have made glaring errors in their research of the relic, and, unfortunately, many faithful “Shroudites” have reported details about it that sound inspiring and miraculous, but are easily debunked by science. In Afterlife, Howell, Anderson, and Peck account for the forensic facts about the cloth while uprooting the inaccurate reports of recent history. It’s a short, to-the-point read with no fluff, and the case for the Shroud is convincing. It has already been a faith-building tool for many readers, including many skeptics, who have provided feedback letting us know that, whether or not the Shroud is the legitimate burial cloth of Christ, we handled the topic reliably.)
The disciples returned home, but Mary Magdalene stayed at the tomb, wrestling with her emotions and weeping. As she went in to gaze at the empty cavity in the rock, sat two angels—one at the head and one at the foot of where Jesus had been laid. The angels asked Mary why she was crying, and she said, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him” (John 20:13). At that moment, she sensed the presence of another, and spun around to see Jesus. He was so immersed in the luminescence of His risen glory that she didn’t recognize Him right away. Jesus asked why she was crying and who she was looking for, and, mistakenly assuming He was the gardener, she said again she was in pursuit of the body of Jesus.
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Without a big explanation, and without any theological lessons or complicated diatribes, Jesus simply said her name: “Mary.” With that one word, she recognized her Lord and Savior, shouting “Master!” (John 20:16). The biblical account doesn’t go into detail, but we can imagine she was overwhelmed with questions and possibly asked them aloud. It’s also possible Jesus provided some answers, but next we read that she ran back to tell the others, who, again, did not believe her (Mark 16:11).
The guards, meanwhile, hastened to tell the chief priests what had happened. This moment in the story is hugely important. Had there been any chance the tomb had been tampered with by anyone other than an angel, the guards surely would have been executed. The chief priests, who had made easy work of Jesus’ trial, would have been able to sentence these men to death with as little as a quick jaunt over to see Pilate or Herod. But, after listening to the guards’ accounts, the priests instead bribed them with a giant sum of money to lie about what they had seen. If the story were to reach the governor, the priests said, they would protect the guards from harm. We know the soldiers went along with the plan because they lived long enough to spread the lie: “So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day” (Matthew 28:15). A number of other questions abound about this woven tale: If the guards had been asleep when the disciples had supposedly stolen the body, then how could the guards have known who did the deed? If the guards had not fallen asleep, then why didn’t they stop the tomb-robbers? Furthermore, if dereliction of duty carries a death sentence, then surely stealing the body under the watch of the Roman guard would also be a crime punishable by death. So how could the disciples have gotten away with it? Why weren’t they persecuted? These questions and countless others make the theory that the body was stolen look ridiculous. Be that as it may, most of the Jews of Jesus’ time through, at least, the day the Gospel of Mark was written believed this version of the story.
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Nevertheless, Jesus continued to materialize, alive and well, in front of people all over the place, showing that His “third day” prediction had been fulfilled. After appearing to Mary, He met two men on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13–16), and they ran back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples (Luke 24:33–35). (These were the two who recognized Jesus by the breaking of the bread (afikomen). It’s true that would not have been the Passover feast, but that hadn’t kept Jesus from breaking the cracker in a way that identified Him as the Lamb whose body and blood had replaced the previous sacrificial lambs.) While His disciples were still discussing this event behind locked doors (for fear of the Jews: John 20:19), Jesus suddenly appeared among them, standing in their presence while they ate. Terrified, and believing they were looking at a ghost, Jesus said, “Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:38–39). Then, as casual as ever, Jesus asked if they had any meat. When they offered a piece of broiled fish, He took it and consumed it while explaining:
These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.… Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. (Luke 24:44, 46–49)
As detailed in the book of Acts, the men followed these instructions about waiting in Jerusalem until they would be empowered from on high. Meanwhile, Luke’s account winds down to a grand finale. The last words of his Gospel preview the Savior’s Ascension to His place at the right hand of the Father:
And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen. (Luke 24:50–53)
But this isn’t quite the end for the other three Gospel books.
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After Jesus left His followers, Thomas (one of the remaining eleven apostles) walked in and heard what he had missed. Earning forever the name “Doubting Thomas,” he declared that unless he saw the nail prints in the Savior’s hands, ran his finger along the site of the wound, and “thrust” his hand into Jesus’ side, he would not believe (John 20:25). For a second time, Jesus evidently walked through a wall or locked doors. He appeared to Thomas a week later and invited the doubter to do precisely what he had wanted. Jesus said: “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.… Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:27–29).
At the Sea of Tiberius, Jesus appeared again to the disciples, this time specifically to “Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples” (John 21:2). They had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. Jesus, who was standing on the shoreline about a hundred yards away, told them to lower their nets once more, on the right side of the boat. Believing they were following the advice of a distant stranger, they obliged, likely with the intention of showing the “stranger” his counsel would do no good. But when they did as he said and lowered the nets again, they made such a catch that they couldn’t even reel in all the fish. John told Peter, “It is the Lord,” and Peter jumped instantly into the sea and swam to meet Him. As the boat arrived behind Peter minutes later, they saw Jesus by a fire and holding some bread. He instructed them to join Him for a meal, and they did so without hesitating (John 21:1–14).
This is the last episode of Jesus’ life John described in his Gospel. John, the “disciple that Jesus loved” (a self-reference used often throughout his entire book), concluded his whole account with this:
And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen. (John 21:25)
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Matthew’s Gospel also draws to a close at about this point, but not before Jesus presents the Great Commission. Again, Christ appeared in Galilee to the eleven, and He left them with these final words before He departed from them physically:
All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always[s], even unto the end of the world. (Matthew 28:18–20)
With a final “Amen,” the Gospel of Matthew concludes.
In the final verses of Mark, we read again of this same appearance of Jesus, His parting words, and the nature in which He left:
[Jesus said:] “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”
So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen. (Mark 16:15–20)
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Acts 1:3 indicates that when Jesus appeared to many people over the period of forty days, it was with “many infallible proofs” while “speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Even in His glorified, posthumous state, Jesus was still teaching about the Kingdom of God. First Corinthians 15:5–8 gives yet another account of Christ’s appearances, one of which involved a group of five hundred people!: “And that he was seen of Cephas [Peter], then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me [Paul] also” (1 Corinthians 15:5–8). This reference to James was in regard to Jesus’ half-brother, and his life was changed forever as a result. He went on to become a major leader in Jerusalem, dying a martyr’s death like the rest of the apostles who so believed in His Sonship they willingly perished in the most brutal ways…just to spread the word.
Or, rather, just to spread the Word.
Christ’s work, as carried on through His apostles and disciples of the early Church, is far from over…
UP NEXT: The Book of Acts
[i] Kloner, Amos, “Did a Rolling Stone Close Jesus’ Tomb?” Biblical Archaeology Society, Biblical Archeology Review 25:5, September/October, 1999. Last accessed March 14, 2022, https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/25/5/1.
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