Though many people this week are writing about how Jesus died, what His wounds were like and more, I’d like to try something different.
Even in my last column I thought about doing something similar. “What might His death have been like?” was how it ended. Then I planned to move onto this idea, in a third column.
But most people already know how He died. Asphyxiation from the crucifixion added to the already tortuous loss of blood from the thorns piercing His head, and the scourging of His back. “Five bleeding wounds He bears,” says the hymn: two in His hands, two in His feet, and the one in His side where the soldier stabbed His dead body with a spear, to see if He was dead.
Christians recall these truths easily when they want to remember the physical nature of what He suffered. The brighter among us keep the documentation mentally stored for when the myth comes up that Jesus didn’t really die. And perhaps it’s the brightest among us who recall that despite the physical suffering Jesus endured, it was nothing compared to what He suffered when the Father turned His face away from His Son out of disgust for the sin Christ took on Himself.1
Details of His death are well-known.
What we don’t consider as often is how He might have risen.
Last night my wife and I finished viewing The Gospel of John. This superbly done film did not show the actual resurrection of Christ. And over my decades of exposure to the Christian subculture, I don’t remember any adaptation of the account, life-action, animated or whatever, that dared to show Jesus walking out of the tomb. (Tomorrow we’re helping with a children’s Sunday school class; it’s even hard to find coloring-book pages showing His resurrection.)
Scripture itself doesn’t tell us exactly what happened. Evidently the Holy Spirit didn’t think it necessary to reveal such details to the Gospel writers. Does that mean we shouldn’t speculate?
I hope not, because — based on what we learn later about Jesus’ new body — I’m about to try.
Inside the tomb
A damp blackness is stifling; nothing can be seen. It’s much worse than a cave, partly because one could almost sense the walls so close, and the rough-hewn ceiling hanging low. A stench fills the chamber, the odor of death. For about two days2 the mutilated body has lain here, as still as the rock.
Barely anything can be heard from outside the heavy stone rolled before the cavity’s tiny entrance. But if one could go outside, one might see the gardenlike area beyond. At least two Roman soldiers are stationed at the entrance, with an official government seal upon the stone.
Was dawn already approaching? I’d like to think it wasn’t. All is dark outside, still and normal —
Then comes the tremor. It starts low in the earth, making the guards snap to attention.
Inside, the stone walls shake. Maybe a pebble or two falls from the ceiling. Quaking fiercely, the ground rumbles even louder. Will the cave fall in? No — but then maybe — I like to think there was a glow. What sort of supernatural light might have accompanied this transformation?
Under the layers of thick, perhaps dirty and bloodstained fabric, it begins.
Energy from God — Christ Himself — courses through His dead body. Instantly cellular activity begins. Life returns. The revitalized heart starts to pump, slowly at first, then faster, faster!
Sparkling power flows through every artery and vein, repairing breaks, drawing together the torn flesh in His back. Wounds there disappear almost instantly, as if they had never existed. The same is true for the horribly deep scratches in His head. They vanish as if time itself is reversed. What about the metal bits from the whip that may have lodged in His back, or any shrapnel from the cruel thorns that may have broken off into his scalp? Did they simply fall out into the grave cloths? Or did they crumble into nothingness, vanishing as if vaporized?
And as for the five other, formerly bleeding wounds of His …
They will remain. He will keep them as evidence of His sacrifice and also to prove that His body, though new and with supernatural powers, is the exact same body they had seen before.
Tissue mends itself, just beneath His wrists and on His feet. Blood vessels and muscles, already woven back into better-than-perfect health — they could be moved away from the wounds so they will never bleed again. On His hands, the flesh around the holes hardens into new, tougher, impenetrable skin, yet they still show the scars.
On His feet, the nerves, same as all through His new body, are impervious to pain. Yet they still show the scars, on either side where the nails had been.
In His side — perhaps between His underarm and ribcage — the wound from the spear piercing remains. But it will never again bleed or cause pain. Did He know, even as He felt the skin around the wound adjusting itself, that in days He would be showing it to His disciples?
Was His awareness — the spirit He gave up after He breathed His last3 — already reunited with His human body? Or did His awareness return4 seconds later? No one can know yet, but perhaps all along He was aware that He had returned, that His body was being rejuvenated, that He had won!
How long did the physical Resurrection take? Several power-charged seconds? Or in an instant?
Did His eyes open, still wrapped in the grave cloths? Or did He keep them closed while He lifted Himself off the stone slab? Did He pass through the cloths as if He were pure spirit — which He definitely was not — or did He, with a mighty shudder like the earthquake, burst out of them?
Death could not hold Him.
Either way, His body is not simply His restored human body. He has triumphed over death and sin, and His new body — a prototype of our future resurrected bodies5 (though surely far more powerful) — has amazing, superhuman powers we can only guess about from later descriptions in the Gospels.
So He is out of His grave clothes, and surely wearing some other clothing supernaturally given to Him. Dried blood has disappeared from His glorified skin. His wounds are healed perfectly, His scars visible. Blazing with glory, He stands to His feet and walks through the tomb.
Supernaturally the stone has rolled away. Perhaps by now the earthquake has ceased. The guards have fainted at the sight of the angels.
Into the new dawn of the first Resurrection Sunday, the Son of Man walks, victorious over death and the grave.
(Next: what could He do?)
- I remember hearing this a lot during The Passion of the Christ hoopla in early 2004. Christians often brought it up to other Christians emphasizing Jesus’ physical sufferings, or they reminded themselves that yes, though His physical pain was bad, the spiritual pain far worse. ↩
- That is, by our Roman-influenced reckoning; it was three days for Jews. ↩
- John 19:30. ↩
- From wherever He was, and I don’t wish to get into that! ↩
- 1 Corinthians 15:49. ↩