“On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 1-6 ESV).
The word “behold” isn’t used very often in modern English. Yet, it’s the perfect word for the consideration of Christ’s empty tomb. In the Greek, the word translated “behold” means to “look upon with understanding, to see with the mind, to see with inward spiritual perception” (Strong’s Concordance). What do you see when you “behold the empty tomb?”
I’ve seen the empty tomb, or should I say, “tombs.” For there are two empty tomb sites in Jerusalem. I’ve visited both of the sites where Jesus’ body may have been laid. The first, is the traditional one found in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The church was commissioned to be built in 326 AD by Constantine under the urging of his mother, Helena, in order to preserve both the tomb and the site of Christ’s crucifixion.
Unfortunately, in their effort to preserve they have actually obscured any sense of what the place may have looked like in the first century. Within the church, they built a shrine over the tomb called the “Aedicule” (Latin for “shrine”). While the ancient church building was amazing to visit, I didn’t find it in any way helpful to me in “beholding” the empty tomb. Too much of gold and glitter, incense and icons for my taste.
However, I loved visiting the second site known as the Garden Tomb. It is located next to Gordon’s Calvary, so named because of British General Charles Gordon’s conviction that the skull-like cliff must have been the hill called “Golgatha,” which means “place of the skull,” where Jesus was crucified. It is difficult to see the face of the skull in the cliff face today because of erosion and because they have located a bus terminal on the ground in front of it. Although difficult to make out from the Garden tomb, I learned that you can still see the skull clearly in the rock face when looking from the top of the walls surrounding Jerusalem.
While those who manage the Garden Tomb make no claim that it is the authentic location of Christ’s tomb, it is a tomb that closely resembles the biblical description in many key details. Because of these details and because it is preserved in such a natural fashion, it makes for an excellent site 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. In our 2013 visit, 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 there!
Seeing the two tombs in Jerusalem was a meaningful experience, especially visiting the Garden Tomb. But regardless, both tombs were empty. Jesus isn’t there. He is risen! That’s the message we can “behold” when we consider the empty tomb. Christ is risen. He has defeated sin, death and the grave. Christ lives! And as the lyrics to the hymn say:
“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living, just because He lives” (Words & music by Bill Gaither).