Joseph of Arimathea received permission to take down the body of Jesus from the cross. He has transported the body of Jesus to his tomb, an unused tomb. The women who were followers of Jesus and had come from Galilee watched where Joseph put the body and went home to prepare spices for the body of Jesus. The preparation of the spices is in expectation of decay. The body quickly begins to decay and so pounds of spices were brought to deal with the smell of the body while making preparations for the body. Joseph has wrapped the body in a linen shroud and closed the tomb. The Jewish leaders have requested a guard be placed around the tomb to ensure that no one would be able to steal the body. Luke 23:56 tells us that everyone had gone back to their homes, observed the Passover, and observed the Sabbath.
Now it is the first day of the week, the first day after the Sabbath. The day is just like any other day. There is no expectation for anything amazing today. It is early dawn. The sun is beginning to ever so slightly shed its early light. The women gather and start walking to the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. They go with the spices they had prepared before the Sabbath occurred. They have been waiting with anticipation to go back to the tomb and finish with the honorable burial of their Savior. As they approach the tomb, they discover something unusual. The stone that covered the tomb had been rolled away. The tomb was no longer sealed. But maybe Joseph has also come back early this morning to do some final preparations also. But that is not the answer. The women come to the tomb, go inside the tomb, and do not see the body of Jesus. The linen clothes remain, but the body is not there. Verse 4 tells us that women are perplexed by this scene. What happened to the body of Jesus? No one is expecting a resurrection. Notice that no one says that Jesus must have raised from the dead. Rather, the only response we see in the gospel accounts is that it was believed that the body had been moved. No one thought that the answer to the empty tomb was resurrection. The followers of Jesus did not expect the body of Jesus to be missing.
Verse 3 is very important to our understanding of this event. Luke emphasizes that they did not find the body of Jesus. What we are reading about is not a spiritual resurrection and Luke wants us to clearly know this. It is the body of Jesus that has come back to life. He is not a ghost. He is not a figment of imagination. This is life in the body. This is why Jesus could tell people to see his hands and his feet. The physical body of Jesus is not there any longer.
While the women are trying to figure out what they are looking at and where the body of Jesus is, there are two men in dazzling apparel. The clothing tells us that they are angels, as well as the other gospel accounts. They see these two angels and fall down in fear to the ground. But they angels ask an important question: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The angels seem to be perplexed by the women. Why have you come to the tomb? Why would look for someone who is alive by looking in a tomb? He is not here but has risen. God’s plan has not been derailed! In fact, Jesus told you that this was going to happen. Don’t you remember? In Luke 9:22 Jesus taught his disciples:
“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22 ESV)
Remember how he told you that he would be raised from the dead on the third day? Verse 8 tells us that they remembered Jesus’ words. “That is right! Jesus did say he would be raised from the dead!”
Why The Third Day?
Have you ever asked the question why Jesus had to rise on the third day? Why not the next day? Why not on the fourth day? Or in a week? What is the significance of Jesus rising on the third day? There are two key points to the resurrection occurring on the third day.
To the Jewish way of thinking, decay began on the body after three days. It was after three days that the visible outward signs of decomposition became apparent, making the deceased unrecognizable. Notice these Jewish ideas about death:
“After three days in the grave a person’s belly bursts open and erupts from the mouth and says to the person, ‘Here is what you stole, grabbed, and put in me!'” (Leviticus Rabbah 18:1). In our scientific terms we call this the bloat stage where the gases which have built up in the body push out of the body’s orifices the liquids and liquifying tissues of the body.
“For the first three days after death, the soul hovers over the body, thinking that it will return to it. When it sees that the appearance of the corpse deteriorates, it leaves the body and goes its way.” (Jerusalem Talmud; Moed Qatan 3:5). Here again is the belief that decay begins after the third day.
It was after the third day that decay began on the body in the Jewish mind. The third day was important because of this prophecy:
“Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.” (Psalm 16:9–10 NIV)
The Messiah would not see decay, which it is this passage that Peter quotes in his first sermon explaining the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2:27). Jesus would raise on the third day so that his body would not see decay or corruption. But, why not raise on the next day or the second day? This explains why not the fourth day or in a week. But why not one day later?
The second key to the third day is that the third day was the day of salvation. Listen to the scriptures and notice how the third day is the day of salvation.
“Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. (Hosea 6:1–2 ESV)
And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17 ESV)
1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. (Genesis 22:1–4 ESV)
When Esther inquires before the king to deliver her people from execution, it is on the third day that she goes before the king (Esther 5:1). Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac on the third day (Genesis 22:4). God came down to Mount Sinai on the third day (Exodus 19:11,16). David was delivered from the hand of Saul on the third day (2 Samuel 1:2). The Lord healed Hezekiah of his illness and raised up Hezekiah on the third day (2 Kings 20:5). The third day is the day of deliverance. The third day is the day of salvation. The third day is a declaration by our Lord that not only will God deliver him from death, but that salvation will be offered to the world through this resurrection. The third day stands as hope for salvation. When Jesus is going around telling his disciples that he will be raised on the third day, there was a scriptural clue that deliverance and salvation was coming to the world on this third day.
We need to see a title that Luke gives for the very first time in this gospel, recorded in verse 3. Notice that Luke does not say that they did not find the body of Jesus. Notice the title: Lord Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is the declaration of the lordship of Jesus. The scriptures reveal that God declared Jesus to be Lord by raising him from the dead.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…. (Romans 1:1–4 ESV)
Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”‘ 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:33–36 ESV)
The resurrection is the ultimate declaration of who Jesus is. Jesus was not just a man. Jesus was not just a good teacher. Jesus is not just someone who had some good ideas. Jesus was shown and declared by the resurrection to be both the Lord God, Creator and Ruler over all, and Christ, the promised King, Savior, and Deliverer of the world. If Jesus did not raise from the dead, then he is not the Lord and he is not Savior and King. His teachings are lies and he is a liar. Christianity stands or falls on the risen body of Jesus.
Not only does the resurrection declare Jesus to be the Lord and Christ, but it also makes a declaration for us.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3–5 ESV)
Notice that we have experienced a new birth, radical life change by his great mercy, into a living hope. Peter says we have hope and have been born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus has caused us to have hope. How does the resurrection of Jesus give us hope? Consider what Jesus said while on the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). We noted that this was a quotation from Psalm 31:5 and is the declaration of the a righteous sufferer who is succumbing to the hands of his enemies praying for deliverance. The resurrection shows that Jesus was right to entrust himself to God’s hands because God kept his promise and by his power raised Jesus from the dead. That resurrection from the dead has implication to our lives. The resurrection shows the power of God and that he keeps his promises. When God says something, he does it and he has the power to do anything he does say.
So what is our living hope? The resurrection proves we have new life and are not condemned in our sins through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Further, our living hope is that we have an inheritance that is kept in heaven for us by the power of God awaiting to be revealed in the last time. The resurrection of Jesus proves that he will also raise you from the dead and bring you to your inheritance that is reserved in heaven for you. The resurrection of Jesus is the declaration to you that it is not over when you die, that you will be raised by the power of God from the dead, and receive the reward kept in heaven for you, to those who have been born again. This is the hope we live for. This is the glorious hope we have in Jesus. Paul wrote to the Romans, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). His resurrection is our hope.