Posted on February 4, 2015
#91: Between the Lines
You’ve heard the phrase, “Read between the lines.” It implies missing information, something more to be discovered with a closer look. From the end of Mark 15 to the beginning of Mark 16 we find just such a gap.
Mark 15:42 pinpoints the day of Jesus’ death/burial: “It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). . . .” The next marker on the timeline comes in Mark 16:1 which says, “When the Sabbath was over. . . ” A full day rests between those lines. What happened on the Sabbath—the day after Jesus died, the day before He arose? Let’s talk about it from the perspective of the Jewish leaders, the disciples of Jesus, and Jesus Himself.
Begin by reading Mark 15:1–16:3. Then for extra insight, read what two other gospel writers recorded in Matthew 27:62-66 and Luke 21:56—and add what Peter hinted at in 1 Peter 3:18-22.
The Jewish leaders and priests must’ve been very pleased with themselves. They’d pulled off what had seemed impossible—managing to squeeze in the trial and execution of Jesus before the high holy day of Passover Sabbath. He was dead and gone, out of their hair. Finally they could relax. He would no longer be increasing His following right under their noses. The huge Passover crowds thronging the temple wouldn’t be clamoring to hear Him teach, or blathering on and on about His miracles. After three long years, it was over; they had their kingdom back.
Still, there was a lingering uneasy feeling. The priests and Pharisees discussed Jesus’ prediction, “After three days I will rise again.” It was nonsense, they agreed; no one came back from a grave. But what deception might His disciples try in an effort to keep His legend alive? They chose several influential delegates to approach Pilate about securing the tomb of Jesus (John 27:62).
Early on the Sabbath (probably the evening of the day Jesus died; the Sabbath began Friday at 6:00 p.m. and continued through Saturday at 6:00), Pilate heard their case. He allowed them the use of a Roman guard, usually sixteen to twenty men. And for the large stone over the tomb’s entrance, Pilate authorized a royal seal, illegal to break. Satisfied, the chief priests and Pharisees returned to the temple for the business of the day—having unwittingly supplied their own proof that Jesus’ coming resurrection was no hoax.
Meanwhile, Jesus’ disciples were cowering in Jerusalem showing no sign of anticipating a resurrection. They spent the Sabbath frightened, shaken, goalless. They accepted the factual truth of Jesus’ death. We have no indication that any remembered His promise to rise again.
If the women who followed Jesus had been expecting His return to life, they would have seen no need to invest in burial spices or to set out early Sunday morning to finish anointing and wrapping His body (Luke 23:56). They wondered who would roll the stone away from the tomb, but they never wondered if they would find His body there.
And what of Jesus? Where was He during that silent Sabbath? His physical body was in the tomb, waiting for the third day. But His Spirit? Peter offers a tantalizing clue:
For Christ indeed died once for sins, the righteous on behalf of the unrighteous, so that He might bring you to God, being—on the one hand—put to death in the flesh but—on the other hand—made alive in the Spirit in which, going, He proclaimed to the spirits in prison who were disobedient when God waited patiently while the ark was prepared in the days of Noah. . . (1 Peter 3:18-20a)
A lot of debate has centered around these verses, but here’s the explanation I think best. Jesus, covered with the sin of all mankind at His death, was justly condemned to hell. He carried that putrid load of sin there, dumped it, then broke the bonds of sin and death—bursting free! In so doing, by His total obedience to His Father (Philippians 2:8), He proclaimed victory to those who had refused to be obedient to God in their day.
Jesus’ Sabbath, though bodily in the tomb, was a day of total spiritual victory over sin, setting the stage for His resurrection-victory over death. In a garden at Eden, satan successfully lured Eve to sin, bringing death and decay into the world. In a garden outside Jerusalem, Jesus—who had conquered sin on the cross—successfully defeated death and decay, bringing life to the world.
The age-old promise God made to Adam and Eve was fulfilled: satan struck the heel of Christ, but Christ crushed satan’s head (Genesis 3:15b). Like the thrashing body of a decapitated snake, satan continues to throw evil around for now. But his defeat is accomplished, and victory is already in the hands of Jesus.
I love Matthew Henry’s summary of that Sabbath day, especially his last line: “Never was there such a sabbath since the sabbath was first instituted as this was; … during all this sabbath our Lord Jesus lay in the grave. It was to him… a silent sabbath, it was to his disciples a melancholy sabbath, spent in tears and fears. Never were the sabbath services in the temple such an abomination to God… as they were now, when the chief priests, who presided in them, had their hands full of blood, the blood of Christ. Well, this sabbath is over, and the first day of the week is the first day of a new world.”
Sunday morning would indeed bring a new world!
© Diane McLoud 2015