“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” (Mark 16:6-7)
The empty tomb is an historical fact. Nothing would have put a quicker end to the fledgling Christian faith than producing the body of Jesus. Yet despite the crack Roman guard watching the tomb to ensure nothing happened to Jesus’ body (Matthew 27:62ff), on the third day the stone was rolled away, the tomb was empty, and the body was nowhere to be found!
No one had an explanation for it and no one ever produced the body of Jesus. From a historical viewpoint this is all quite strange. The Jewish leadership and the Roman Empire could conspire to orchestrate Jesus arrest, His “trial,” and conduct a public crucifixion while Jerusalem was swelling with pilgrims attending the Passover, but they were unable to keep watch over a dead body—very curious indeed!
The empty tomb needed interpretation. Still, an empty tomb does not prove a resurrection—it just means the body is missing. That’s exactly the way Mary Magdalene took it (John 20:1-2). But the angel was quite clear in interpreting what had happened. Not only does he tell the women “He has risen” (Mark 16::6), but he also assured them that Jesus would meet them in Galilee—just as He told them earlier (14:27-28).
This had to be reassuring and help to begin to clear away some of the cobwebs for the followers of Jesus. It was one thing to be told that Jesus was alive after they saw Him die. But to be told that He would meet them as He had prearranged (“just as He told you”- (Mark 16:7)—that was insider information! The fact that this person (there’s nothing in the text to indicate they recognized the young man as an angel), knew something like that and they now had a rendezvous point may not have answered all of their questions, but it at least got them pointed in a positive direction.
The empty tomb needed confirmation. Having been psychologically prepped to meet Jesus later in Galilee, Christ began to show Himself to His followers. He appeared to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18), to Peter (Luke 24:34), the two disciples traveling to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32), the apostles (Luke 24:36-43), and more than 500 others (1 Corinthians 15:6). Multiple appearances to a large number of people at different places and different times provides us with confirmation of the angel’s message—the tomb was empty because Jesus had risen!
Fifty days after Jesus’ crucifixion, the apostles stood together in the very city where He was crucified and proclaimed Christ’s resurrection to some of the very people who had demanded His death. Three thousand people responded by being baptized as His followers (“in the name of Jesus Christ” – Acts 2:38) and the church began that day. The helpless and hopeless apostles were transformed into fearless and faithful followers who went to a martyr’s death rather than cease their proclamation of Christ.
The only explanation for any and all of this is the one given by the angel at the empty tomb: HE IS RISEN!