Was The Tomb Really Empty?

Tommy Boland Cross Community Church

Christianity is the most verifiable religion in the world; it makes truth claims that can be investigated and demonstrated to be true. As we move toward our celebration of Easter, I have been presenting a capsulized version of my study, Resurrection: Fact or Fiction? We have already discussed the first two of the Four Easter E’s:

Exist – Did Jesus Exist?

Executed – Was Jesus Executed?

Empty Tomb – Was Jesus’ tomb Empty?

Eyewitnesses – Were there Eyewitness accounts?

 

Let’s examine the third E – Was Jesus’ Tomb Empty?

On Good Friday, Jesus Christ died on the cross. Most of His disciples fled when He was arrested, and they all went into hiding after His death, fearful that they too would be executed. Yet just weeks later, the disciples were boldly and publicly proclaiming the Good News of a resurrected Savior. Tradition tells us that ten of the eleven disciples were executed for refusing to recant their story.

Skeptics object, “Many deluded people died for a lie!” That’s true, but the disciples are unique because if they died for a lie, they knew it was a lie!

Most readers know of Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree outreach. However, many are unaware that the ministry’s founder, Charles Colson, pleaded guilty for his role in the Watergate scandal and went to prison. During that time Colson placed his trust in Jesus Christ. The old Colson died; he was Born Again (the title of his famous book). Colson spoke about the truth of the Resurrection: “I know the Resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. . . . Twelve men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled twelve of the most powerful men in the world — and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me twelve apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”

Those who reject the Resurrection insist that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. Fair enough; I will present evidence that should convince any honest thinker that the tomb was indeed empty.

 

Wrong Tomb Theory

One of the more easily debunked claims of unbelievers is that those looking for Jesus’ body went to the wrong tomb. The question we can ask someone advancing this silliness is, “All of them?” The women who discovered the tomb was empty . . . Peter and John . . . the Jewish religious leaders . . . the guards assigned to the tomb . . . Everyone who heard that Jesus was alive went to the wrong tomb?

If those who hated Jesus believed there was any possibility they were peering into the wrong tomb, they would have searched every known grave until they found Christ’s body. But no corpse was ever produced.

 

Stolen Body Theory

Pilate answered, “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard. (Matthew 27:65-66)

Is it credible that the Lord’s disciples went to the tomb and broke the seal symbolizing the authority of Rome? Remember that the terrified disciples had gone into hiding. But if they did summon the courage to return, these audacious individuals rolled away a two-ton stone, undetected by the guards . . . or, even more improbably, overpowered the guards. Are we really to believe that Jesus’ ragtag group of disciples— untrained civilians with two swords between them — conducted a daring raid to steal the Lord’s body? The whole idea is absurd.

 

Swoon Theory

The swoon theory purports that Jesus didn’t die on the cross; He merely fainted (swooned) from the ordeal. Then He was wrapped in grave clothes and 75 pounds of spices were applied to His body. But three days later, Jesus, “refreshed” by the cool, dank air of the tomb, extricated Himself from His grave clothes, rolled the huge stone away from the tomb’s entrance, eluded the guards, and strolled off to meet His followers.

This would be more miraculous than the Resurrection — and that’s not to mention the uninspiring, thoroughly enfeebled condition Jesus would have been in when He met His disciples. David Strauss, 19th-century rationalist theologian, scoffed at the swoon story: “It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulcher, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence . . . could have given the disciples the impression that He was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry.”

 

Hallucination Theory

Hallucination theorists assert there were no post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus; His disciples were hallucinating.

Paul reported that the risen Christ “appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time” (1 Corinthians 15:6). Our response to the hallucination theory is, “Really? All 500 people were hallucinating at the same time?” Psychiatrists say that contradicts principles essential to their nature — that is to say, hallucinations are individual occurrences.

Experts state that expectation plays a major role in a hallucination. Were the disciples expecting Jesus to rise from the grave? Hardly! Scripture reports that “some doubted” when they saw Jesus alive, surely because they were seeing the one thing they didn’t expect!

 

Conclusion

Objections to the Resurrection are not based on evidence; in fact, they are utterly contrary to the evidence! Theologian Raymond Brown wrote: “Criticism of today does not follow the paths taken by the criticism of the past. No longer respectable are the crude theories . . . popular in the past century. . . . Serious scholars pay little attention to these fictional reconstructions.”7

If serious scholars play little attention to skeptics’ crude theories, neither should we! Their theories are irrational and illogical. They reflect nothing more than man mired in rebellion against His Creator, attempting to use natural causes to explain what can only be explained by the supernatural activity of the Almighty.

We have established that Jesus actually existed, definitely died, and that His tomb truly was empty. Next month we will see the final proof for the Resurrection: eyewitness accounts.

 

Tommy Boland is senior pastor of Cross Community Church in Deerfield Beach. He blogs regularly at tommyboland.com.

 

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