The Empty Tomb
by Stephanie Landsem
Guards pulled Longinus away, and he didn’t fight them. An empty tomb. Earthquake and light. What could it mean? Jesus was dead. He’d seen him take his last breath . . . There was a reason he’d died there on the hilltop of Golgotha for all to see. A reason he had forgiven those who had killed him. And there was a reason for the empty tomb. Longinus just didn’t know what it was. (Excerpt from The Thief)
As we celebrate Easter, the Resurrection of the Lord, we rejoice at the news of the empty tomb because we—as believers in Jesus two thousand years after his coming—know that empty tomb is a symbol of joy. But the disciples and women closest to Jesus met the news of the empty tomb with fear, confusion, and outright denial.
Thanks to the Gospels and the teaching handed down to us throughout the years, we now know that Jesus came to us in the form of a man, taught us, cured the sick, forgave the sinner, ate with the prostitutes and tax collectors, and healed the blind and even brought his friend Lazarus back from death.
We know that Jesus was then arrested, accused, convicted, and crucified. And even though our human minds can only faintly grasp the full import, we know now that death had no power over Jesus. That he rose from the confines of the rock-hewn tomb in which he had been sealed. And because of his victory, we are saved from the eternal punishment of sin.
But if we, who have the benefit of the Gospel accounts and 2,000 years of perspective, have difficulty grasping the enormity of what happened that morning in a garden outside Jerusalem, what about those who were there? What about his disciples, his mother, the women, the soldiers and even Pilate himself? Could they have possibly understood that the turning point of history was taking place right in front of their eyes?
The gospel accounts make it clear that they did not.
The most immediate reaction we see among the women who went to the tomb and the disciples is fear:
Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:8
Fear was quickly followed by confusion. Many of the Jews, even the disciples, still didn’t understand Jesus. They wanted a king—someone who would overthrow the Romans, restore Israel to its rightful owners, and even reduce their taxes. Jesus had done none of these things. In fact, he’d been killed by the very people they thought he would conquer.
Even the disciples, who had seen Jesus walk on water—had seen his transfiguration, and the raising of Lazarus—didn’t know what to think. It was too much, too amazing, too confusing. Sightings of Jesus were met with outright denial and disbelief:
Then they (the women) returned from the tomb and announced all these things to the eleven and to all the others . . . but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them. Luke 24:9-10
And finally, later that same day, they gathered in the upper room, probably arguing as they were wont to do, when Jesus appeared to them.
For that day, the first day of the week, they were behind locked doors for fear of the Jews, when Jesus came to them and said, “Peace be with you.” John 20:19
What we understand as believers—that the empty tomb is a source of joy—was an idea that took root only slowly in those first days after the resurrection. The disciples’ human nature, their long-held beliefs and hopes, and their fear of the Jews made it difficult, if not impossible, for them to comprehend what Jesus had done.
Only with time, with the appearances of Jesus himself, and with the help of the Holy Spirit could they come to grasp the full meaning: Jesus was alive. And the world had been forever changed.
And once the fear, confusion, and denial were put to rest, the disciples were ready and able to do what Jesus had commanded and take comfort in his love for them.
“Do not be troubled or afraid,” Jesus said. “This is what I command you, love one another, as I have loved you.” Then, as the mist rises from the water and disappears into the air, he was gone from their sight. His last words left a lingering warmth within Martha, like the rays of the setting sun. “And remember, my friends, I am with you always . . . even to the end of the world.” Excerpt from The Tomb, A Novel of Martha
Stephanie Landsem, author of The Living Water Series, writes historical fiction because she loves adventure in far-off times and places. In real life, she’s explored ancient ruins, medieval castles, and majestic cathedrals around the world. Stephanie is equally happy at home in Minnesota with her husband, four children, and three fat cats. When she’s not writing, she’s feeding the ravenous horde, avoiding housework, and dreaming about her next adventure—whether it be in person or on the page.
We’d like to hear from you. Please share your comments below or like us on your Facebook page. Be sure to check back each month for more articles and products available at your local Christian bookstore.