How Do We Know The Tomb Was Really Empty?
I was a Sophomore in college, and it was Easter morning, but I didn’t care. I’d never been to church or even seen the inside of a Bible. I turned on the TV in my dorm room and heard a TV preacher talking about Jesus and using the word “evidence.”
That Easter morning launched me into a month-long search for the truth about Jesus. That search led me back to our Easter holiday.
Christianity’s claims about Jesus seem to rest on whether the resurrection happened. What I discovered was so much evidence that I eventually became convinced. Perhaps you need convincing? Or, you may have a cynical friend or family member in need of persuasion?
Does An Empty Tomb Mean Jesus Rose From The Dead?
Over the years, skeptics have tried to discredit the resurrection as hallucination or myth, yet it continues to pervade across generations and cultures.
The public testimonies have been unanimous. Jesus lived amongst people and later was crucified and buried. Not only that but three days after his burial, his grave was found empty. Hundreds of people immediately started claiming they saw him alive.
Even the most reasonable skeptics no longer question any of that. But they do, however, question why Jesus’ tomb was empty. Does the fact that the tomb was empty necessarily mean that Jesus rose from the dead?
Does the fact that the tomb was empty necessarily mean that Jesus rose from the dead?
Did Roman or Jewish Leaders Steal the Body?
Some have made the challenge, “Isn’t it possible that the Roman government or the Jewish religious leaders took Jesus’ body out of the tomb?”
Well, that doesn’t make any sense. The Roman government and the Jewish religious leaders wanted Jesus dead. What would be their motivation to remove the body?
They wanted him to stay dead more than anyone. And if for some reason, they had removed the body – when the uproar arose that the tomb was empty and Jesus has risen, they would have just produced the body and said, “Nuh-uh.”
This objection cannot explain the empty tomb.
Did The Disciples Steal the Body?
The more common challenge to the empty tomb is that maybe the disciples stole the body. That may seem like a plausible option, but when you carefully look at what happened, you realize it’s just not viable.
Jesus had this group of disciples who devoted their lives to him for over three years and ultimately became his best friends.
Between the night Jesus was arrested, and the next morning when He was crucified, ALL of his disciples deserted him.
That’s shocking because there must have been so much pressure on them not to leave him. They must have thought, “How can I do this to him? I’ve got to say something! He’s never needed me more than now. And what if he is God like He claimed? If I turn my back on him, what will happen?”
Who Would Stand Up For Jesus?
There was so much pressure to take a stand for Jesus, but they all turned away out of fear that they would also face execution.
Then Jesus died, and their hope died with him.
The disciples probably thought, “I guess we were wrong. Turns out he wasn’t God after all. I mean, God can’t die, can He?” The pressure to say something on behalf of Jesus was no longer present.
They realized that the people who wanted Jesus dead wouldn’t stand for anyone continuing to talk about him, so they immediately went into hiding.
But three days later, they came bursting into the city declaring that Jesus had risen from the dead and that he was God after all. They were told to stop, but they kept repeating it over and over.
Why would they do that? There was no financial gain to be had, no popularity, no rewards. Why would they suddenly tell people Jesus was alive?
Who Would Die For a Lie?
Eventually, one of them was confronted and told he’d face death if he didn’t take back his crazy story about Jesus rising from the dead. He stood his ground and refused to take it back, so he was executed.
At this point, we have to ask the question: Who would die for a lie? Most people won’t die for the truth, but who would die for a lie?
If the disciples had stolen the body and made up the resurrection story when this guy was about to be killed, wouldn’t he have said, “We just made it up! Sorry. I take it back.” But, no, the first disciple didn’t take it back and was executed over his claim that Jesus rose from the dead.
Now, imagine you’re one of the other disciples, what do you do? “Guys, this got more serious than we intended. Do we need to stop talking?” If it was a lie, you’d give up the act. But that’s not what happened.
They refused to stop proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead. So eventually, a second disciple faced execution. Then a third, and the fourth, and a fifth. The only disciple out of “the twelve” who wasn’t executed was John.
But he was sent to die in exile on an island.
The Only Plausible Explanation
If they had stolen the body and made up the story, don’t you think at least one of them would have buckled under the pressure and denied the whole thing?
Personally, I think all of them would have. But none did. James allowed his head to be bashed in. Peter allowed himself to be crucified upside down. Even still, despite the traumatic consequences, they didn’t recant their claim.
The unanimous testimony, of Christians and non-Christians alike, all throughout history, is the tomb was empty. There was no motive, and no opportunity for the disciples, Roman authorities or Jewish religious leaders to have stolen the body.
The only plausible explanation that completely supports all of the facts is that Jesus Christ indeed did rise from the dead.
There’s one other major challenge skeptics make to the resurrection. We’ll examine it next, and see why it also comes up short, way short.
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