The Empty Tomb: The Crux of Christianity

By David M. McNabb

I imagine that many of you are puzzled at the wording of the title of this article. The word "crux" is the Latin word for cross. As such, and knowing how pivotal the death of our Lord Jesus on the cross is to our faith, "crux" has come, in modern usage, to mean "a determinative point," or "a main or central figure." That being the case, would not the cross on which our Savior died indeed be "the crux of Christianity?" This is certainly true, from one point of view.

What makes Jesus of Nazareth unique, however, was not so much His death - which, with the exception of the myriad prophecies fulfilled thereby, was not unlike the deaths of many other men. The unparalleled characteristic of the Lord Jesus was His resurrection, for He alone emerged victoriously from the grave.

Paul, himself, shows the importance of the resurrection. In I Corinthians 15:12-21, he says, "Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead."

If Christ be not raised, our faith is vain; and we are yet in our sins! Our entire belief system pivots on the fact that the Son of God came to Earth, died as all men, and rose again. Paul shows in this passage that the hope of Christianity is embodied in the resurrection of the dead.

Jesus tried to explain to His disciples how these things would unfold. Even these men and women, though exposed to the unfailing faithfulness and truth of our Lord throughout His life and ministry, still struggled with the reality of both His death and His resurrection. John, the son of Zebedee, ran to the tomb with Peter upon hearing that Christ had risen. John outran Peter, but stopped outside the tomb until Peter went in and verified that it was empty. Thomas refused to believe until he could behold Him with his own two eyes, and touch His wounds.

The reality of the resurrection was indisputable, and thus the hope of all believers in the Son of God was established: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming." (I Cor. 15:22,23.)

The enemies of the Gospel, then, have to decide between two methods of attack on the resurrection: deny Jesus' resurrection itself, or deny His death, thereby eliminating the need for the resurrection.

Many have decided that it is easier to pursue the former tactic. This was what the Jewish leadership did when they developed their story almost immediately following His disappearance from the tomb. Their explanation, which has survived unto this day, is that His disciples stole His body and lied about His miraculous resurrection and subsequent appearances unto them. They even bribed the Roman guards, hired for the express purpose of preventing just such a fiasco, to corroborate their story by saying that they had all fallen asleep on duty - a fact that, if proven true, bore a penalty of death. Oddly, it seems not one of the soldiers were punished for this act of gross negligence. (Matt.27:62-66; Matt. 28:11-15)

This seems, for common man, to be the simplest explanation of the events, for if Jesus, the man of Galilee, did in fact live, then surely He died. The only point of controversy would be His emergence from the grave.

Mohammed, the "prophet" of Islam, chose instead to deny the death of Jesus. Islam claims that Jesus was one of the great prophets of Allah, listed together with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and other Old Testament prophets, and ending with Mohammed himself.

The Muslim "holy book" - the Qur'an - is divided into 114 Suras, or "recitations," roughly ordered from longest to shortest. Regarding Jesus' death, Sura 4:157-158 reads, "And their saying: Surely we have killed the Messiah, Isa son of Marium, the apostle of Allah; and they did not kill him nor did they crucify him, but it appeared to them so (like Isa) and most surely those who differ therein are only in a doubt about it; they have no knowledge respecting it, but only follow a conjecture, and they killed him not for sure. Nay! Allah took him up to Himself..."

Sura 5:109-110 also denies that Jesus died in his thirties. "On the day when Allah will assemble the apostles, ... Allah will say: O Isa son of Marium! Remember My favor on you and on your mother, when I strengthened you with the holy Spirit, you spoke to the people in the cradle and when of old age..."

Islam denies the death of Jesus - eliminating the resurrection - yet claims that this "Isa" was a great prophet of God. The problem, they say, is that everything recorded by the New Testament writers, particularly the writings of Paul, is lies and myths. So Jesus was a true prophet, but those that knew Him lied about Him to create a new religion. This rhetoric often effectively eliminates the Bible - if only the New Testament - as an evangelistic tool among professed Muslims.

But what of the Qur'an? This same "Isa, son of Marium" - whose crucifixion is denied in its pages - himself prophesied in Sura 19:30,33, saying, "Surely I am a servant of Allah; He has given me the Book and made me a prophet; ... And peace be upon me on the day I was born, and on the day I die, and on the day I am raised to life." This is not an alleged attempt by someone to invent a story, but is written in their own book.

I have taken the time here and gone into some detail, because the resurrection of our Lord and Savior is so crucial, that it is a primary target of the naysayer. But the truth of the Gospel is undeniable, and the unbeliever winds up opposing himself: whether bribing trained Roman soldiers to tell an improbable, and unconvincing, story that they all fell asleep on duty; or to deny the death of someone one claims to believe in as a prophet, who himself prophesied that he would die and be raised again.

Paul instructs us concerning them, "And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will." (II Tim. 2:24-26.)

God grant that we may have a manifestation like Acts 4:33, where "with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all." We are born again unto this hope, as Peter said in I Pet. 1:3-5, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."

Thanks be to God, who did not suffer His Holy One to see corruption. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day according to the scriptures, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

"And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death." (Rev.1:17,18.)