One of the main authors of the New Testament, Paul, said, ‘if Jesus had not been raised our preaching is useless, and so is your faith’(1 Corinthians 15 v. 14). It’s true; this is where Christianity stands or falls – the resurrection of the historical Jesus. It’s amazing that the New Testament never tries to prove the resurrection, it assumes it. The first century person just believed it. Why? Because of the empty tomb – there is no way round it. There are six independent testimonies to it in the New Testament, and three of them are by eye witnesses.
The tomb where Jesus was buried, though guarded (by probably 16 Roman guards) was empty three days after Jesus was buried there. It is described in the Bible as being sealed, secure and setwith a guard (Matthew 27 v. 66). If Jesus did not rise, how do you account for the empty tomb? Here are a few ideas that people have suggested, and my replies to them:
Number 1: The disciples stole the body.
This is an interesting idea, and was first put about by the guards who were supposed to be guarding the tomb and the body. They were bribed to say that while they slept the disciples came and stole the body of Jesus (Matthew 28 v. 13). First, soldiers would not dare to fall asleep on duty for they knew the bitter consequences if they were caught. But more importantly, if I was a barrister in a court of law I would want to ask them how they knew if they were asleep!
Perhaps more significantly though, I would want to ask why would they want to steal the body and then say Jesus was risen from the dead? To propagate a lie? Why did they all face torture and ultimately die for their belief if it was just a hoax? And how would they have stolen the body? Within hours of Jesus’ death and burial they would have had to formulate a plan to get past the soldiers who were there protecting the body because the Jewish leaders had expressed fear that his body would be stolen. They then had to sneak past the soldiers, move a huge stone which was sealed to the grave, unwrap the dead body of Jesus, then carry His naked corpse away from the tomb to do what with it? No Jew would have carried the body, as that would render him ceremonially unclean. And where would they have put it?
No, these disciples were convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Number 2: The authorities stole the body.
That would make more sense. Neither Roman nor Jewish leaders would have wanted any reminder of the significant life of Jesus orthe fact that they sent Him for crucifixion. But when Christianity was growing and they were doing everything they could to stop it, why not just produce the body, parade it rominently, and Christianity would have been crushed. They had no body to produce because they hadn’t stolen it.
Number 3: The women went to the wrong tomb in their distress – it was a mistake caused by confusion.
Grief is a terrible thing. Nevertheless, we do read that the women who followed Jesus ‘observed the tomb and how His body was laid’ before ‘they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils’ (Luke 23:55 – 56). We know too, that where Jesus was buried was not in a graveyard but in a garden where there was a new tomb in which no one had yet been buried (John 19:41). But the question remains whether they had still made a mistake. Then why didn’t the authorities just go to the right tomb and produce the body when they wanted to stop the spread of Christianity? Also, it seems rather far fetched that all the other followers of Jesus also went to the wrong tomb. Further, the risen Jesus showed Himself alive and risen from the dead to literally hundreds of people before His ascension to heaven.
Number 4: Jesus didn’t really die, but swooned into unconsciousness as He hung on the cross in such agony and trauma.
This theory is not a new one. It was first suggested by Venturini in the 16th century. But the argument is really saying that Jesus was beaten, nailed to a cross, declared dead by professional executioners, then had a spear put through His side from which came blood and water, was bound in spice-filled grave clothes, then buried in a sealed tomb. In this grave, He survived three days in a damp cave with no food or drink, revived, got out of His grave clothes, pushed a large rock door out of the way (something which two physically fit people could not do), got past the armed guard protecting the grave, and then walked several miles on feet which had been impaled with nails.
No, there is no plausible objection to the resurrection, it is clearly historical. That is why when people carefully look at the evidence for the resurrection they become convinced that it really happened. It was prophesied in the Old Testament as well as repeatedly by Jesus. The risen Jesus was seen by hundreds of people. Frightened disciples were transformed into people who would go on the streets to proclaim Christ, and later lay down their lives because they were followers of Him. The resurrection of Jesus was recorded or referred to by Jewish and Roman historians, as well as Christians, and leaves Jesus accomplishing something which no other person has ever been able to do.