Jesus’ disciples all testified that their Teacher, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, rose from the dead. Their testimonies, which are preserved in the Bible, are not the only ancient chronicles of it. Two secular books state the same. The Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote his Antiquities of the Jews around 94, reported that Jesus rose from the dead. The Roman historian Tacitus, who completed his Annals about 116, mentioned the “superstition” of Jesus’ resurrection among His followers. The belief that Jesus rose from His tomb was not a myth that developed over several centuries, but a testimony that His closest followers bore immediately after the Resurrection.
Even the opponents of Jesus and His disciples verified that the sepulcher in which Jesus was entombed lay empty after the Resurrection. Matthew’s Gospel is the only extant source that reports it, but Justin Martyr, an early Christian apologist, proposed to those who doubted Matthew’s account consult Pilate’s report that existed at Rome then. That report is now lost.
If the tomb, which was well known to the Jews, was not empty, then all Christianity’s opponents needed to do was show Jesus’ rotting corpse to every curious investigator. That evidence alone would have overwhelmingly disproved the Resurrection and nipped Christianity in the bud; but they did not do that. Why? Because the tomb was empty.
The apostles had a greater testimony of the Resurrection than an empty tomb. Jesus appeared to them, not once, but several times. They were not the only ones to see the risen Christ. Paul provided a list: “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” (1 Cor 15:5-8). Paul omits Cleophas and the other disciple to whom Jesus appeared during their journey to Emmaus. That is 515 men who saw Jesus after His resurrection.
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Mary Salome, Joanna, and a few others (Luke 24:10), perhaps Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her sister, Mary, the wife of Cleophas (John 19:25), both of whom attended Jesus’ crucifixion, were the first to see the empty tomb. They went early Sunday morning, before first light, to perfume Jesus’ body with spices, but He was not there. They also saw two angels who told them that Jesus had risen from the dead just as He had aforesaid. These women were the first witnesses of the Resurrection, but the Bible only reports that Mary Magdalene saw the resurrected Christ. The disciples did not believe the women’s testimony.
In Biblical times, women could not testify in a court of law. Only men could. Women were considered legally unreliable. The fact that the Lord gave the first testimony of His resurrection to women is emphatic evidence that Jesus regards the most lowly in the eyes of the world equal in spiritual things. Both women and men can receive their own testimony that Jesus rose from the dead.
When Jesus was crucified and when He rose from the dead both contain important revelations, two of which I want to consider. Both Luke’s (Lu 23:54) and John’s Gospel (John 19:31, 42) state that Jesus was crucified on Passover’s preparation day. That was the same day that all Passover lambs were sacrificed in the afternoon—the 14th day of Nisan. Jesus died about the ninth hour, which was about 3:00 in the afternoon, the same time that the Pascal lambs were being sacrificed.
Passover marked the day that the Egyptians let the Hebrews leave their captivity. It was not a willing decision. Moses had to pronounce ten different plagues to convince Pharaoh to let them go. The first three plagues fell on all Egypt’s inhabitants, but the remaining seven, while afflicting everyone else, did not befall the Hebrews. The last plague was the death of the firstborn, not just of every person, but of every beast. The only way that the Hebrews could avoid that plague was to sacrifice a spotless lamb the evening before and paint their doorposts and lintels with its blood. Yahweh had said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you” (Ex 12:13).
The relationship between Passover and Jesus reveals the heart of the gospel, the central purpose of Jesus’ ministry. Death faces every person. We all know that nothing tangible lasts. Everything deteriorates and eventually fades away. No one can avoid death. It is a curse that plagues every person and every beast. Every life form, from a simple yeast to complex mammals, must die. We are no different from the Egyptians when they faced the tenth plague.
Like the Hebrews in Egypt, we are in bondage. We are enslaved to physical passions—the cravings of the body. The evil lurking in fleshly desires is revealed in the fruit that they bear. Gluttony and poor food choices lead to bad health and early death. Hatred produces wrath and can cause murder. Frustration spawns anger and envy brings contention, both of which divide relationships. A life filled with evil acts generally makes people evil. Evil people enjoy hurting others, even innocent people. Hitler and Stalin are extreme examples, tyrants who wanted to rule over others. Pharaoh was such a tyrant. He personified the evil one, who is the devil. Satan, which means apostate serpent, seduced Eve and became her master. He stole creation because He wants to rule over it as a god; and he made us his subjects by ensnaring us in physical passions.
When Adam disobeyed God’s commandment, his immortal body was changed. It became mortal. Since Adam was disobedient, he received a disobedient body. Everyone who has fasted, or less severe, tried to diet, knows how willful their body is. They are subject to its whims and in turn, enslaved by the evil one, who is a ruthless tyrant.
God determined to save His creation by conquering its taskmaster. He resolved to cast him out and “destroy the works of the devil” (1J 3:8). He cursed creation and everything in it, including Satan, with death, but He offers an escape from the plague, just like He offered an escape to the Hebrews. The escape is the blood of a sacrificial lamb.
When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming to him, he cried out, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus is our Pascal Lamb. The Book of Mormon shows that Jesus was born on the tenth of Nisan. The Law specified that each family select their spotless lamb on the 10th of Nisan and bring it into their house. The same night that the Lord’s people, and perhaps the shepherds in the field keeping watch over their flock, were picking their sacrificial lambs, Jesus, God’s spotless, sacrificial Lamb came into the House of Israel.
Jesus’ death on Calvary’s cross paid the penalty of our rebellion, which rebellion we inherited from Adam through the descent of his DNA. His transgressions made us, like him mortal, but worse yet, it also made us transgressors. Why? Because our fallen natures caused us to produce evil acts. Jesus took the condemnation God’s justice placed on us and paid their penalty. He also seized every rule that we violated, which brought us under condemnation, and “took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Col 2:14). Every ordinance, which no one can perfectly keep, was fulfilled in Jesus’ sinless obedience. More important, the penalties that we deserved were poured out on Him during His excruciating crucifixion. The Lamb of God died to free us from the devil and his tyranny.
Merely sacrificing the Pascal Lamb did not save the household that killed it. Each household had to paint the lamb’s blood on its door posts and lintels. Just acknowledging Jesus as Savior is like just sacrificing the Pascal lamb. It does not save the household until its blood covers the entrance of the house. Jesus told those who believed on Him to repent, take up their cross, and follow Him. They must guard their entrances, cleansing what they allow in with the blood of Jesus. When believers obey the gospel, they repent and make a commitment in baptism to forever follow Jesus; and He cleanses them from sin through His atoning sacrifice on the cross.
Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. He died on Nisan 14. His body lay in the tomb on Nisan 16, and He rose from the dead on Nisan 16. The feast of First Fruits was celebrated on Nisan 16. After daylight, the High Priest would perform the Wave Offering and dedicate the first grains of the recent barley harvest. Before that offering, before it was quite daybreak, the women came to Jesus’ tomb to learn that He had risen from the grave. His Resurrection before the offering of First Fruits shows that Jesus is the first fruit of the Resurrection. He was the first to rise from the dead and in so doing, opened the way for others to follow Him. Paul explained, “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. 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” (1 Cor 15:20-23).
Jesus died on Nisan 14, the same day that the Pascal lambs were sacrificed, to show that He is the Lamb of God; God’s sacrifice for the sins of the world. Only Jesus is able to take away our sins. He invites us to accept that sacrifice and mark our entrances with His blood. When we do, His saves us from death.
We must die. After all, Jesus died; but Jesus rose to life, showing that death is not necessarily permanent. Jesus rose on Nisan 16, before the offering of first fruits, to show that He is the first fruit of the resurrection. Because He rose from the dead, all those who mark their entrances with His blood will rise from the dead.
This is the good news of Easter, the central hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Come to Him. Worship Him. Follow Him and you will find new life, a life without end.