Why I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ – Part 3Posted: September 27, 2011
In the letter to the Romans (1:3-4), Paul said that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead. The fact that Jesus was raised from the dead is the ultimate proof that every claim he made for himself, such as having the ability to forgive sins (Luke 5:20-26), and being the only way for men to be in relationship with God (John 14:6), is absolutely true.
There’s no question that Jesus did die on the cross.
But some have suggested that though he did die and was buried, there must be a way to explain the fact that the grave was empty three days later without resorting to a miraculous or supernatural answer. One suggestion has been that the tomb was found empty, not because he rose from the dead, but rather because someone stole his body.
This was a common explanation among 1st Century Jews who didn’t want to believe in the resurrection, and has enjoyed different levels of popularity ever since (Matthew 28:11-15). Given the persistence of this explanation, it is fair to ask if it has any credibility. Was the empty grave simply the result of someone removing the body?
How can the empty grave be explained? Christians believe that it was empty because of the supernatural power of God, who raised Jesus from the dead. By saying that someone simply removed the body, skeptics and critics attempt to give an explanation that depends on human power. But what human beings could have stolen the body?
The first group to consider is the friends of Jesus – his disciples. They surely had motive to take the body, but the facts don’t allow us to believe that the disciples took the body.
In Matthew 27:62-66, we’re told that the religious leaders anticipated just such a move by the disciples, and took steps to prevent it. They went to the governor and got permission to put a guard of soldiers outside the grave. We don’t know whether these guards were Romans or Jews, but based on the historical evidence we have available, we know that either group would have been highly disciplined and trained to kill.
Matthew also tells us that the tomb was sealed, likely with the seal of the Roman government. That meant that anybody who broke the seal would face the full anger and military power of Rome.
So here’s what we have: if we are to believe that the disciples of Jesus stole his body, then we must reason that these men who had been so frightened at Jesus’ arrest that not one of them stood with him against his accusers somehow found the courage to take on soldiers trained to kill, and whose only purpose was to guard the tomb. We also must believe that, having defeated these soldiers, the disciples then broke the seal on the tomb, bringing themselves into further conflict with the Roman government. We must believe that they then went out and told the world that Jesus was raised from the dead, when they themselves had the body and therefore knew that this central claim was untrue. And finally, we must believe that they died gruesome violent deaths to protect this lie.
This is all too much – when the facts are considered, it is far more difficult to believe that the disciples stole the body than it is too believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
But what about somebody else – if Jesus’ friends couldn’t do it, is there anybody else who had motive to take the body? Well, a neutral party such as a thief would have had the same difficulties taking the body as Jesus’ friends. After all, the guards at the grave were not going to let anybody get near it. Plus, what thief would want to steal a dead body – what would he get from it?
Well, if Jesus’ friends couldn’t do it, and a neutral party couldn’t do it, what about an enemy? Maybe the religious leaders who instigated Jesus’ arrest, trial and execution took the body. After all, they were the ones who were in charge of the guard, so they surely would have been able to get access to the grave.
Again, this doesn’t line up with the facts that we have. Their very purpose in posting a guard was to ensure that the body remained in the grave, and therefore nobody could say that there was a resurrection (recall Matthew 27:62-64). Yet, within a few weeks of the grave being found empty, Jesus’ disciples were preaching that he rose from the dead, and the very religious movement that they had been trying to prevent was well under way. If they knew that the body of Jesus had been moved, and that the disciples were preaching a lie, why didn’t they simply produce the body and demonstrate the disciples’ deception? Christianity would have been stopped before it even started. The answer is simple: they didn’t because they couldn’t.
The idea that the empty grave can be explained by someone taking Jesus’ body just doesn’t line up with the facts. Jesus’ enemies had no motive to take the body, and his friends were powerless to do it. The only reasonable explanation, in keeping with the evidence, is that the grave was empty because of the divine power of God. He raised Jesus from the dead, just as Jesus said he would.