“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again. ‘ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?'” (John 11:23-26 ESV).
The Greek word ἀνάστασις (anastasis) is translated “resurrection.” Literally, it means to cause one to stand up again. This is a physical word that points to a physical reality. Jesus claims that this word is more than an eschatological doctrine that gives us hope at funerals. He claims to be the resurrection and the life. Resurrection is more than a principle to believe. It is a Person to know.
Jesus’ resurrection claim has left a historical footprint in Israel in the form of two tombs: the Garden Tomb and the tomb of Lazarus. While in Israel this past summer we saw many ancient ruins and grave sites, but one of the most meaningful was the Garden Tomb near Gordon’s Calvary.
The Garden Tomb is one of several possible locations for Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built over one of the traditional sites, but the church building hides any idea of what the site may have originally looked like. The Garden Tomb on the other hand is preserved in such a fashion that allows for meditative viewing. Our tour group spent considerable time there and I was even privileged to lead them in a communion service near the empty tomb.
The Garden Tomb has been maintained by a nondenominational charitable trust from the United Kingdom since 1894 named The Garden Tomb Association. It is near the Damascus Gate outside Old Jerusalem. We stayed at a hotel only a 5-minute walk away from the Garden Tomb and enjoyed stopping by nearly everyday. The association does not charge for entry, but does accept donations and runs a small store for support. We loved having our morning quiet times here!
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the tomb of Lazarus in the West Bank town of al-Eizariya (Arabic for “The Town of Lazarus”). We were on a 10-day tour of Israel, followed by another 8 days on our own, but there is so much to see that we just didn’t get to it. Of course, getting to it is complicated by the fact that the traditional town which was once called “Bethany,” now lies on the other side of the wall in a Palestinian controlled area. I regret that we didn’t visit. It is only a couple of miles away from Jerusalem. Perhaps on a future trip. We’d really love to go back some day.
These two tombs tell a story. Both are empty today. Both match the appearance as described in the Bible. Both held a dead body for at least three days. The one in Bethany was occupied by Lazarus until Jesus said, “Lazarus, come forth!”
The one outside the walls of Jerusalem was occupied by Jesus until the first day of the week over 2,000 years ago when the One who said, “I AM the Resurrection” stood up and left it empty till this day.