(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)
The photo above is of the Garden Tomb of Jesus. There is another location within the sixteenth century Turkish wall of Jerusalem, and just outside an earlier city wall built around 30 BC. This tomb is housed within the Church of the Holy Sepulcre (yes, that is the correct Catholic spelling!). But I believe (as well as many other archeologists and Bible scholars) that the Garden Tomb is where Jesus was interred after the crucifixion. I will give some reasons for this claim a bit later.
The featured Scripture is John 19:41 and 42:
Now in the place where He [Jesus] was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So there they [Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus] laid Jesus, because of the Jew’s Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.
I have been to Israel twice, in 1993 and 1996. Both times I have had the privilege of visiting the Garden Tomb. The second time the touring group was rather large, and our guide instructed us to enter into the tomb six at a time and stay for only a couple of minutes, so everyone could have the experience of seeing the tomb’s interior. I was part of the first group of six, and I found a spot out of the way beside the open wooden door which protected the tomb after hours. I stood there for about half an hour, not in the way of anyone as the small groups of six came and went, contemplating on what happened almost two thousand years before! It was a moving spiritual experience! As I stood against the wall at the open door’s edge, I ran my hand behind the door and discovered some loose sandstone bits that had dislodged and settled on the ledges of the tomb’s irregular walls. I picked up a few grains and later sealed them in a small plastic bag which I still have. To think that these sandstone grains were just four feet away from the greatest miracle ever – Jesus’ resurrection! And I wonder what amount of energy the surrounding sandstone walls (including these bits) absorbed in that momentous instant!
What are some of the evidences that this Garden Tomb is indeed the place where Jesus was buried, and where the resurrection occurred three days later?
- Our featured Scripture tells us it was “…a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” It was Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. What do we know about Joseph of Arimathea?
✞ Matthew 27:57 through 60: Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate com- manded the body to be given to him. When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. ➔ Joseph was rich, and he was a disciple of Jesus. ➔ He asked governor Pontius Pilate for Jesus’ body, and was granted possession. ➔ Although, like the rock tombs of the day, Joseph’s tomb had a large circular rock ‘door’ of one to two tons weight, that rolled in a groove to close the tomb. But there are no known photographs of the Gar- den Tomb in the last century and a half of modern photography with such a giant rock in place! ✞ Mark 15:43 through 46: Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate marveled that He was al- ready dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. ➔ Joseph of Arimathea was a prominent and re- spected member of the Sanhedrin, the seventy member ruling body of the Jews. ➔ Apparently Joseph was very cautious of the Sanhedrin’s threat of excommunication (see John 18:38-42 below). So he took courage when he openly approached Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body! ➔ He was also waiting for the full manifesta- tion of the kingdom of God. (see Isaiah chapters 11, 60, and 61 to catch a glimpse of the future kingdom). ✞ Luke 23:50 through 54: Now behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man. He had not consented to their decision and deed. He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain before. That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near. ➔ Joseph of Arimathea was a good and just man who had not consented to the Sanhedrin’s de- cision and deed – that of falsely condemning Jesus to torture and crucifixion! ➔ He was from Arimathea, located about 20 miles northwest of Jerusalem. ✞ John 19:38 through 42: After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pi- late that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews' Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby. ➔ Although Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, he kept it a secret for fear of the Jews! The fear was “...that if anyone confessed that He [Jesus] was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue [excommunicated from the center of Jewish life].” (John 9:22). ➔ John is the only gospel that tells us Joseph was joined by Nicodemus, another member of the Sanhedrin! (see John 3:1-10; 7:50-52). ➔ They hastily prepared Jesus’ body for burial by wrapping it in linen cloth with a large amount of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds! The worth of that large amount of myrrh and aloes would be in the range of a quarter of a million dollars! ➔ Why the haste? The Preparation Day for the Jewish Passover was about to begin at sun- down! Jesus died at three in the afternoon! (see Mark 15:34-37).
- If indeed the Garden Tomb was Joseph’s, he would have been a much shorter man than Jesus! How do we know? The foot-end of the burial platform was hastily dug out and extended by about twelve inches to accommodate a taller body! You can readily see the rough excavation at the foot of the body platform, obviously rougher and more hastily dug compared with a much finer quarrying in the rest of the tomb! Joseph probably told a servant to quickly go and dig out that space so the taller body of Jesus could be laid out properly!
- There is archeological evidence that a church or chapel was built adjoining the tomb!
✞ Notice in the photo above there is a hole excavated into the rock a few feet above the tomb door and a bit to the left. It is thought that this is evidence of a support for a roof beam for a church (chapel) that was built honoring the burial and resurrection place of Jesus the Christ! ✞ Not seen in the photo is a depression in the stone in front of the tomb that could have been used to hold water for foot washing! Some say it is the base of a baptismal font, but it does not seem large enough for that use. ✞ Also, one can plainly see the stonework blocking up part of the tomb wall. Why was that wall broken down? Perhaps it was so that worshipers could see directly into the tomb.........the empty tomb!
We will stop here. In the next Gem we will explore the significance of the empty tomb!