Is there an afterlife? What happens when we die?
At death, the souls of Christian believers are made perfect by the power of God and immediately pass into heaven while their bodies rest in the grave awaiting the resurrection on the earth’s last day. When Christians die their soul immediately enters into the presence of God experiencing great comfort, rest, celebration and worship of God. During the resurrection at the last day, all Christian believers are raised up by the power of Christ and He will openly acknowledge that they belong to Him and that they are to be relieved from all charges of fault and sin because of His payment of their debts then they will be made perfectly happy in the total enjoyment of God throughout eternity.
It was the Breaking News that turned the world upside down. As the news headline spread, everyone in the region and eventually in the world would have heard the claims of hundreds of eye witnesses. A following would develop that would become the preeminent movement in the world based only on this news. This historical event would be the most discussed and most transcribed event of its era yet many would deny its authenticity. Skeptics would challenge the historicity of the event years later claiming that it couldn’t be proven scientifically. This headline would have all of the same limitations for scientific proof of other historical events because categorically, it’s very difficult to scientifically prove historical events. Sir Karl Popper, perhaps the greatest philosopher who ever lived would later say, “You cannot prove history scientifically.” Taken to its logical conclusion, if one refuses to accept the historicity of a past event based on its lack of scientific evidence then all of history comes into serious doubt. Necessarily we’re led to doubt everything that happened before the invention of YouTube.
The truthfulness of History is most often proven by the eyewitness accounts of people who have observed and documented it. The Gospel Writers: Matthew (aka Levi), John Mark, Luke the Scientist and John the Apostle either witnessed or interviewed witnesses of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was not a secret event with limited publicity. Instead news would have spread to everyone in the region even during the 40 days between his resurrection and ascension into heaven. Saul of Tarsus, Simon Peter son of John and James the Just would also write about their first hand encounters with the Risen Christ. Very few doubt the main events in the lives of historical men like Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, yet many doubt the most important event in the life of Jesus Christ. Yet the resurrection of Jesus Christ has greater textual attestation than any event in antiquity.
It is interesting that first century Christians were consumed with two things: (1) A man, Jesus Christ who claimed to be God and (2) An event when this same man was resurrected from the dead. But did Jesus exist? It is a fact that Jesus Christ is the most documented historical character before the age of printing. “No serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus.” (Otto Betz – What Do We Know about Jesus? SCM Press, 1968.) Historically we know that He did exist. The bigger question is the historicity of the resurrection.
When people today think about Christianity, they speak of it as an ideological entity with a political agenda. Others might hold that Christianity is a body of teachings from the greatest Teacher ever, Jesus who taught us an original moral code. But this was not how Christianity was defined in the first century A.D.. Early Christians were known more for their testimony to the historical event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“At no point within the New Testament is there any evidence that the Christians stood for any original philosophy of life or an original ethic. Their sole function is to bear witness to what they claim as an event– the raising of Jesus from among the dead… the one really distinctive thing which the Christians stood was their declaration that Jesus had been raised from the dead…” (J.N.D. Anderson, citing Cambridge professor C.F.D. Moule)
To Recap the Historical Narrative of that first Easter Weekend, it was on Good Friday evening that a wealthy Jewish Disciple of Jesus named Joseph of Arimathea along with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish Sanhedrin wrapped Jesus’ lifeless body in clean linen and laid him in his own new tomb which he had cut in the rock and rolled a giant stone down a slope to cover the tomb’s entrance. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sat and watched with great emotion. Later several Roman soldiers would be posted to lock down and seal the tomb to prevent body theft and resurrection fraud.
As the sun rises on that first Easter Morning, the women emerge from the darkest 30 hours they have ever experienced, an empty void, a Black Sabbath. The gospel writers give us few details about the day between Good Friday Sunset and Easter Sunday Sunrise it is just empty space and dead air. After a Good Friday of despair, darkness, defeat and hopelessness and before an Easter Sunday of joy, light, victory and hope, the women and the disciples endured the longest day of their lives. A day of stark emptiness. A day of dead intermission between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ when His body lays in the tomb. A parenthesis when they reflect on reflect on their cowardice, their denials, and their desperate flights in fear.
For the disciples it would be a dark season of emptiness, wondering what would become of them as they hid from the authorities. The women, not feeling the same guilt as the apostles, would still feel empty, lonely, grieved and without hope. They would spend the better part of these two nights laying on their beds soaking their pillows with tears. And so the story continues in Matthew’s Gospel, “Now after the (Black) Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.” And what they would find was completely unexpected…
What were the disciples looking for on the first Easter Sunday Morning?
On that first Easter morning, there was a band of women and a group of disciples who were hunting. But they weren’t hunting for Easter Eggs, they were hunting for their best friend, Jesus the Christ, the Promised One…
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.”
The gospel accounts testify to the physical, literal, bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because the Resurrection of Christ is so crucial to the Christian faith, gospel writers Matthew, Mark and John are very careful to record the details of what they saw with their own eyes. Luke, another gospel writer, includes eyewitness testimony from as many as 500 people who saw the Risen Christ in order to assure us that Christ is risen from the dead. He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
Holy Saturday is the time in between John 19:41-42 and John 20:1: 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 because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there…(INSERT HOLY SATURDAY HERE)…Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb…
Holy Saturday is the day between the Good Friday Dusk and Easter Sunday Morning Dawn. It consists of over 30 Sabbath hours of time between Friday Sunset and Sunday Sunrise in which the gospel writers give us no details, it is just EMPTY SPACE and DEAD AIR. We know what Good Friday feels like: despair, darkness, defeat and hopelessness. We know what Easter Sunday feels like: joy, light, victory and hope. But does Holy Saturday have a feel?
Recognizing that the Passion Week represents a continuous historical narrative, churches typically pause to enter into emotion of Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday or Tenebrae) and some pause to remember the journey of our Lord on the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday. But then we enter into Holy Saturday, a time when the sanctuaries of the old churches are stripped bare and lay in darkness. No services are scheduled, no sermons are preached, no one gathers for fellowship and there is no Lord’s Supper in order to commemorate the non-event of Holy Saturday. Holy Saturday is a dead intermission, an empty void between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ when His body lays in the tomb. I’ve never heard a message preached about Holy Saturday and I don’t recall singing a Hymn where Holy Saturday is given more than a sentence. But in the sentence of Holy Saturday (or more accurately, the parenthesis) there is an eerie feeling of familiarity to me.
I see that we live every day in a similar yet post-resurrection tension as we wait for the King to come back to consummate the Kingdom he inaugurated 2000 years ago. In between His two advents, we sin, we feel guilt, anxiety, shame, restlessness, we deny Him, sometimes betray Him, life sometimes feels dark and we often wonder what to do next just like the disciples on that First Holy Saturday. The difference living parenthetically on this side of Easter is that we can always turn back with understanding to the significance of the Cross to find forgiveness and mercy and embrace the life and certain hope imparted to us through the Resurrection.
(Inspired by Alan E. Lewis: “Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday“)