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Ancient History & Christian Devotion

by MARK WARD

You are about to enter the Tomb of the Shroud, a first-century Jewish tomb near Jerusalem. It is certainly not Jesus’ tomb, but if you explore it, you’ll get a rich picture of what Jesus and his disciples would have seen and experienced. And you’ll come to a deeper appreciation of the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The Tomb of the Shroud in Akeldama is a first-century Jewish tomb—definitely not Jesus’ tomb but likely similar to it.

The city of Jerusalem has risen and fallen around the Tomb of the Shroud, but it has survived in its hillside, undisturbed, for 2,000 years. Other tombs on this same hill have been looted. This one is intact. Explore it. Climb down into it and you’ll touch history through your screen.

The upper chamber of the tomb, facing the
entrance

A burial niche in the lower chamber of the
tomb

And don’t think that touching ancient history is something separate from Christian devotion; it is something essential to it. Christianity is necessarily a historical religion; the gospel is good news only if it relates not just theological truth but something that actually happened.


John Updike was right when he wrote of the resurrection of Jesus,

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable,
a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages:
Let's walk through the door.

Descend into this first-century tomb. Seal its images as with a large stone into your own memory. Think of this hole in the actual rock when you think of the sad day when Jesus’ battered body was buried.


Let's walk through the door.

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Entering the Tomb

by MARK WARD

The entrance to the Tomb of the Shroud is actually an entrance to its basement. Most of the elite tombs on this hillside would have had superstructures that looked like small temples.

 

In this video, Dr. Craig Evans explains how the Tomb of the Shroud contextualizes the burial accounts in the Gospels.

The lower chamber of the Tomb of the Shroud. Jesus’ tomb likely would have looked very similar to this.

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In the Tomb with Jesus

by MARK WARD

A tomb made of solid rock wasn’t strong enough to keep Jesus—and neither is your sin.

Somehow the centuries managed to hide this tomb at Akeldama until quite recently. But at one time the tombs here were impossible to hide; this was a burial place for elites, and elites build monuments to their names. People who interacted with and touched Jesus also touched the stones in the area pictured below.

The tomb of Benei-Hezir on the Mount of Olives–a good example of spectacular monument tombs

A Tomb in the Rock

It takes real human touch to carve a tomb. The countless swings of a chisel that hewed the Akeldama tomb out of solid limestone left marks that can still be seen today. And every cubit of that rock had to be hauled out of the tomb, too. This means labor, and labor means money. The elites, at least, put real money into their burials. Wealthy people such as Joseph of Arimathea—and whoever owned the Tomb of the Shroud—gave thought and attention (and cash) to their future burials.

A burial niche in the lower chamber

We Crucified Him

Thirty pieces of silver is no small amount of money. Those who paid Judas to betray Jesus were men of means. But it was the common people, not the rich, who swelled the public cry of “Crucify him!,” forcing Pilate’s weak hand.

Various illustrations of the so—called Tombs of the Sanhedrin—a massive and ornate tomb complex in northern Jerusalem

What would we have done if we were rich Jewish rulers with monumental tombs waiting for us? What would we have done if we were Jewish peasants and all our friends were caught up in the crucify-him fervor?

A stone door rests against a niche on the south wall of the chamber.

In a way, it doesn’t matter. Peter told the Pentecost crowd, “You executed by nailing [Jesus] to a cross through the hand of lawless men” (Acts 2:23)—and yet their situation was not hopeless, even after such a cosmic sin. He told them the same thing the New Testament tells us: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38, ESV).

In that same sermon, Peter said, “God raised [Jesus] up, having brought to an end the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24). Death could not hold Jesus back; a tomb made of solid rock couldn’t keep him in the grave—and your own worst sins are no match for the power of his forgiveness.

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