This is the promise of Christ: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am” ( John 14:1–3 NLT).
He promised, not just an afterlife, but a better life.
We Westerners might miss the wedding images, but you can bet your sweet chuppah that Jesus’ listeners didn’t. This was a groom-to-bride promise. Upon receiving the permission of both families, the groom returned to the home of his father and built a home for his bride. He “prepared a place.”
By promising to do the same for us, Jesus elevates funerals to the same hope level as weddings. From his perspective the trip to the cemetery and the walk down the aisle warrant identical excitement.
Weddings are great news! So, says Jesus, are burials. Both celebrate a new era, name, and home. In both the groom walks the bride away on his arm. Jesus is your coming groom. “I will come and get you . . . ” He will meet you at the altar. Your final glimpse of life will trigger your first glimpse of him.
But how can we be sure he will keep this pledge? Do we have any guarantee that his words are more than empty poetry or vain superstition?
Dare we set our hope and hearts in the hands of a small-town Jewish carpenter? The answer rests in the Jerusalem graveyard. If Jesus’ tomb is empty, then his promise is not. Leave it to the apostle Paul to reduce the logic to a single sentence: “There is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back” (1 Cor. 15:23 NLT).
Paul was writing to Corinthian Christians, people who had been schooled in the Greek philosophy of a shadowy afterlife. Someone was convincing them that corpses couldn’t be raised, neither theirs nor Christ’s. The apostle couldn’t bear such a thought. “Let me go over the Message with you one final time” (1 Cor. 15:1 MSG). With the insistence of an attorney in closing arguments, he reviewed the facts: “[ Jesus] was raised from death on the third day . . . he presented himself alive to Peter . . . his closest followers . . . more than five hundred of his followers . . . James . . . the rest of those he commissioned . . . and . . . finally . . . to me” (1 Cor. 15:4–8 MSG).
Line up the witnesses, he offered. Call them out one by one. Let each person who saw the resurrected Christ say so. Better pack a lunch and clear your calendar, for more than five hundred testifiers are willing to speak up.
Do you see Paul’s logic? If one person claimed a post-cross encounter with Christ, disregard it. If a dozen people offered depositions, chalk it up to mob hysteria. But fifty people? A hundred? Three hundred? When one testimony expands to hundreds, disbelief becomes belief. Paul knew, not handfuls, but hundreds of eyewitnesses. Peter. James. John. The followers, the gathering of five hundred disciples, and Paul himself. They saw Jesus. They saw him physically.
They saw him factually. They didn’t see a phantom or experience a sentiment. Grave eulogies often include such phrases as “She’ll live on forever in my heart.” Jesus’ followers weren’t saying this. They saw Jesus “in the flesh.” When he appeared to the disciples, he assured them, “It is I myself!” (Luke 24:39 NIV).
Five hundred witnesses left a still-resounding testimony: it’s safe to die.
So let’s die with faith. Let’s allow the resurrection to sink into the fibers of our hearts and define the way we look at the grave. Let it “free those who were like slaves all their lives because of their fear of death” (Heb. 2:15 NCV).