"GONE!" Some sharp, creative realtor evidently came up with the concept; now others are following suit. I refer to the practice after the sale of a house in some areas of the country, of placing one word, four simple letters over a house "for sale" sign. The old word which was used to indicate that a buyer had been found was the word "SOLD." The emerging new, more picturesque word in vogue today is "GONE." It is direct, succinct, and conveys the idea of quick and efficient success. It's the kind of sign that makes other potential house sellers say, "I want to list my house with that kind of action-oriented, get-it-done realtor."
Gone is also the kind of word believers can, with theological precision, place in front of the empty tomb of the Lord Jesus Christ. The tomb was empty - Jesus was gone. His absence was not the result of the absurd "swoon theory" held by some, which suggests that Jesus never really died on the cross. They would have us believe that He simply revived, unbandaged Himself, had the strength to move the stone that sealed the tomb and when no one was around simply walked away. Nor was it that His body was removed by followers and placed in hiding as others have theorized. What foolishness comes from the minds and pens of those who deny the existence of God and the supernatural power which can raise the dead.
The angelic messenger had it right that day when he said, "He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay" (Mt. 28:6). The tomb was empty! No, it wasn't that Jesus had revived from a "near fatal" crucifixion. No, it wasn't that His disciples had removed His body. He was gone, resurrected from the grave "And declared [that is marked out or proven] to be the Son of God with power" (Rom. 1:4). The resurrection of Christ demonstrated, to all men for all time, that His Heavenly Father was propitiated (perfectly satisfied) with His sacrificial death on Calvary. It has frequently been noted, and warrants repeating, that the stone that sealed Christ's tomb had not been rolled away to let Him out - it was rolled away to let men in to see that He was gone. He had said, "Destroy this temple [speaking of His physical body], and in three days I will raise it up" (Jn. 2:19). And, He did. The tomb was empty, Jesus was gone – resurrected from the dead.
Many realtors have sold houses, and placed over their "for sale" signs the word GONE. But, among the billions of men who have lived and died through the centuries, only Jesus was physically resurrected from the dead to die no more. A few like Lazarus were raised, but in due course they died and await a future resurrection. Only over Jesus' tomb can the word GONE legitimately be posted to thus proclaim conquest over sin, the grave, Satan, and death itself.
When a person is placed into the grave, "religionists" who have never personally experienced the grace of God sometimes refer to that event as the final resting place. But in reality, that is a cold expression which speaks of impotence and defeat. Jesus was placed into the grave - but, there was nothing final about it. Three days later He was gone.
The empty tomb is an event unparalleled in the annals of history. It should be the focal point of all enlightened thinking. Intellectual honesty dictates that men pause, look inside that empty tomb, and ask some truly crucial questions; questions that continue to be pursued until satisfactory answers are found.
Where has He Gone?
Following His resurrection, there was, for the Son of God, an intermediate stop before leaving for His ultimate destination. He would remain on the earth for forty days (Acts 1:1-3). The purpose of that brief sojourn underscored His great compassion and concern for His followers. His death had taken a terrible toll on them. They were caught totally off guard by His crucifixion. They believed that Jesus was going to establish a literal kingdom on earth in their own day - that they, as His followers, would have a special place of honor in that new order (Mt. 20:21). Jesus had carefully taught His disciples that He would die before He reigns, that there must be suffering before glory, but they comprehended none of those things (Mt. 20:17-19). They had become myopic. Their vision was only attuned to a kingdom on earth. With His crucifixion, shock and disillusionment poured in like an unexpected flood, and down to the depths of despair they quickly descended. Therefore, following His resurrection, the first order of business was to appear to His discouraged and despondent disciples, and demonstrate that He was alive - gloriously alive; that their faith and hope in Him was not in vain. For forty days He would graciously and tenderly minister to them.
That accomplished, Jesus left for His ultimate destination. The writer to the Hebrews wrote succinctly of that destination this way, "For Christ is not entered into the holy places [the tabernacle] made with hands [that is precisely where the high priest of Israel did go after offering a sacrifice for sin], ...but into heaven itself (Heb. 9:24) - the real McCoy. The ancient Levitical priest, in entering the tabernacle (where God's presence was manifested), was entering the earthly shadow of God's throne and presence in Heaven. In contrast Jesus, a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7:1), bypassed the shadow on earth and entered directly into the reality in Heaven.
The apostle Paul connected the empty tomb and Christ's ascension and exaltation in Heaven in his letter to the Ephesians. He prayed that they would know "what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places" (Eph. 1:19-20). Jesus was raised from the grave and ascended into the heavenly places to be seated at the right hand of the Father.
The right hand of a king in the ancient world was the place of special honor and power. This significance and imagery was depicted by the psalmist when he prophetically spoke of Christ's enthronement in Heaven. He wrote, "The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool" (Ps. 110:1). Hear the writer to the Hebrews as he gives the same emphasis. Speaking of Jesus, he said, "Who...when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Heb. 1:3). And Paul wrote, "seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God" (Col. 3:1). The sepulcher was empty, because Jesus was gone. His ultimate destination after resurrection was Heaven, and the seat of honor, power, and intimacy at the right hand of His Father - the incomparable place to be.
Why Is He There?
It may sound redundant, but it is important. Why was Jesus seated at the right hand of His Father in Heaven? Why didn't He remain on earth with His brethren? Or, why wasn't He visiting some far-off corner (if there can be such in an infinite universe) of the world? These are theological questions deserving answers.
Jesus came to earth to die. In His ministry, as Messiah, He was both the priest who offered the sacrifice for sin and the sacrifice that was offered. He was the agent and the object - the sacrificer and the sacrifice. Men were responsible for the part they played in the trial and crucifixion of the Son of Man. But the action of men does not invalidate the sovereignty of God. Concerning His death He would say, "No man taketh it [my life] from me, ...I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again" (Jn. 10:18). And once more, "the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mt. 20:28). In Israel, the ancient high priest took the blood of the slain animal into God's presence in the Holy of Holies (Heb. 9:7). For the high priest to slay the lamb on the brazen altar on the Day of Atonement, and then refrain from taking the blood into the presence of God within the veil would have been unthinkable. The lamb would have died in vain. Its death would have accomplished nothing; providing no benefit for the congregation of Israel.
Similarly, the death and resurrection of Jesus would have been in vain; it would have benefited no one, had He not "passed into the heavens" (Heb. 4:14) to appear before His Father on the basis of His shed blood.
The apostle Paul, in speaking of Christ's exaltation in his letter to the Ephesians, explained that God, "set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places" (Eph. 1:20). And the author of Hebrews said of Jesus, "when he had by himself purged our sins, [He] sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Heb. 1:3). And again, "But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God" (Heb. 10:12).
Israel's Levitical high priests were never extended the position of special honor at God's right hand. They knew nothing of such intimacy and access to the sovereign of the universe. Further, it was unthinkable that they would ever dare to "sit down." The Temple, in which the priests functioned in the time of Christ, was, by today's standards, a billion dollar building. It took more than sixty-two years to complete. Fascinatingly, in that building, the furnishings never included chairs. The reason is significant. Israel's high priest and all of the other priests, twenty-four courses of them in all, never sat down because their work was never done; their work was never done because the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin. But Jesus, on the basis of His once-and-for-all sacrifice, which eternally purged our sins, sat down (Heb. 1:3). He is seated at God's right hand where He functions as our Great High Priest.
What Is He Doing?
In the most basic terms, the job of the priest was to represent the worshipper before God - to gain the worshipper access to God, make him acceptable with God, and to keep him secure before God - to be an advocate and intercessor for the people. The Old Testament priests had severe limitations in all three of these areas of ministry. They could not get the worshippers into the Temple and, therefore, the presence of God because the veil kept the people out; they couldn't gain the worshippers ultimate acceptability before God because the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin; and they could never keep the worshippers, whom they represented, secure. That is evidenced by the fact that they had to offer another sacrifice year after year after monotonous year. In startling contrast -
When Jesus died, the veil was rent from top to bottom (Lk. 23:45), signaling unhindered access into God's presence for every believer.
When Jesus died, His blood did not simply cover sin - it took it away, assuring acceptability before God.
When Jesus died, it was once and for all (infinite in worth and eternal in duration), providing endless security.
Access to God, acceptability before God, and security with God are all directly related to Christ's present priestly ministry. Speaking of Jesus, the writer to the Hebrews wrote, "But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God" (Heb. 10:12). All of that is summed up in the Lord's final words from the cross, "It Is Finished" (Jn. 19:30). These words were not the last cry of a helpless martyr. These words were not the final plea of suffering release. These words were the shout of the triumph of salvation accomplished.
The sacrificial death of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and the ascension and coronation of Christ at the Father's right hand are separate events, but they are an integral part of God's corporate "so great salvation" (Heb. 2:3).
The resurrection of Christ demonstrates that God the Father accepted His Son's sacrificial death for the sin of the world. His present priestly ministry is the application of the benefits obtained by that death. Paul summed it up succinctly when he wrote, "Who is he that condemneth? Shall [It is] Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us?" (Rom. 8:34). Death, resurrection, ascension; and as a result, advocacy for all who place their faith in Him.
The tomb is empty because Jesus is gone. He has ascended to Heaven to be enthroned at the right hand of the Father. He is there functioning as advocate and intercessor of all who put their trust in Him. He has gained them access, made them acceptable, and is keeping them secure. The songwriter put it this way, "More secure is no one ever than the loved ones of the Savior." In Christ, the believer has an anchor of the soul, both sure (strong) and steadfast (it won't slip). Christ has entered within the veil (that is, into the presence of God) on our behalf (Heb. 6:19).
It just doesn't get any better than that!