Holy Week: The Tomb

Image of the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

The Biblical record tells of what happened to the body of Christ after the Crucifixion. The most relevant details from that night come from Matthew 27.

57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathæa, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:

58 He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.

59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,

60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.

61 And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.

62 Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,

63 Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.

64 Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.

65 Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.

66 So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.

The disciples of Jesus sought to make the burial of Jesus as dignified as possible. Joseph of Arimathea donated his own tomb, newly dug, to hold the body. From John 19:39, we learn that Nicodemus brought myrrh and aloes for the preparation of Jesus's body. His body was hurriedly wrapped and laid to rest because the Sabbath was nigh. The full Jewish customs for burial gave way to their haste, as indicated by the fact that the women closest to him would later try to bring additional spices for anointing the body. By then, they were unable to enter the tomb because it was sealed. To break a Roman seal was against the law, the punishment for which was death. These women, in their grief, devotion, and courage, disregarded that threat.

The Gospels don't reveal where the spirit of Christ would've been in this moment, what he was doing, or who he was with. Peter spoke to these questions in 1 Peter 3:18-120 and 4:6, but not in the kind of detail that we now possess. For Latter-day Saints, these questions were answered more fully on the 4th of October, 1918. This was the date when President Joseph F. Smith revealed section 138 of the  Doctrine and Covenants for the first time. 

25 I marveled, for I understood that the Savior spent about three years in his ministry among the Jews and those of the house of Israel, endeavoring to teach them the everlasting gospel and call them unto repentance;

26 And yet, notwithstanding his mighty works, and miracles, and proclamation of the truth, in great power and authority, there were but few who hearkened to his voice, and rejoiced in his presence, and received salvation at his hands.

27 But his ministry among those who were dead was limited to the brief time intervening between the crucifixion and his resurrection;

28 And I wondered at the words of Peter—wherein he said that the Son of God preached unto the spirits in prison, who sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah—and how it was possible for him to preach to those spirits and perform the necessary labor among them in so short a time.

29 And as I wondered, my eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them;

30 But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.

We didn't have the details of how Jesus Christ organized the spirits in Spirit Paradise and Spirit Prison to teach/be taught the gospel so their souls could be redeemed until section 138 was revealed. The whole mechanism of performing vicarious ordinances on behalf of the dead in temples relies on the work Jesus Christ did in the Spirit World in the brief space of time between his death and resurrection.

It's here that we learn that those who assist Jesus with this work among the dead are called "the noble and great ones." Those who are redeemed go on to redeem others, including our own family members who receive their vicarious ordinances in the temple. They are also among the noble and great ones.

This is what it means for Jesus to have conquered death. It's not just because he possessed to power to bring himself and others back from the dead. It's because he organized the ability to minister to the dead and to reclaim their souls from hell. They may have died without receiving the gospel of Jesus Christ, but that doesn't automatically damn their souls to hell. Those with the power to redeem the dead, granted by Jesus Christ, can give those spirits another chance to accept his gospel.

Why do Latter-day Saints have temples? What are they for? For redeeming the dead with vicarious ordinances we perform for those in our own families who have died. We do for them what they cannot do for themselves. And our ability to do that was put into place when Jesus was in the tomb. His body was there, but his spirit was not. And thanks to him, the world is forever changed because of it.

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