By Dick Blackford
It shouldn’t. He’s God! If I raised the dead it would be incredible, but it isn’t when God does it. Surely the one who gave life in the first place would have no trouble restoring it when it is lost.
Christianity loses its authority, its unique position among the religions of the world, its credibility and its hope for the world if Jesus was not raised from the dead. It was on this very foundation that the apostles based their case (Acts 2:23, 36; 3:14-16; 5:30, 31). This is the miracle of the Bible. If it cannot be sustained there is no use talking about the others and we may as well throw our Bibles away and close the doors of our church buildings. For “we are of all men most miserable,” if Christ be not raised (1 Cor. 15:16-20).
The startling fact with which those disciples were con- fronted that Sunday morning is the same one, which after 2000 years, presents itself to you and me — an empty tomb. What shall I do with Jesus (Matt. 27:22)? By getting to the heart of the matter of salvation, we hope your heart will be pricked upon the contention of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
Many say Jesus was a good man, one of the world’s greatest teachers, but not the son of God. They can’t have it both ways and they need to make up their minds. If he was a good man, could he lie about being the son of God and remain a good man? If he was not the son of God, then he was the greatest impostor and liar the world has ever known. The terms “good man” and “great Teacher” could not describe one who has played a hoax on the whole world for 2000 years. To accept this we would have to believe that single-handedly Jesus perpetrated a universal, mass deception upon all mankind. We are asked to believe that a carpenter’s son was so persuasive that he convinced his own mother to take part in the lie to the point that she would watch her oldest boy be tortured, suffer, and die as a criminal for something they both knew was false. She was the only one who could save him. She was the only one who could have known for sure whether he was miraculously conceived during her virginity. Some had already said Jesus was “beside himself” (Mark 3:21). Mary could have told the authorities her son was touched in the head, has visions of grandeur, and thinks he is the son of God. Let me take him by the hand and I will lead him home and get him out of your hair.
Could Jesus have persuaded twelve men, all from different educational backgrounds and social casts to quit their jobs immediately and to go out with great zeal and preach and convert men to a doctrine they never really believed? Plus, he had the Old Testament prophecies behind every- thing from his birth to his death. And what of his miracles which were not done in a corner (Acts 26:26)? Even his enemies admitted the miracles (Acts 4:16). If he had failed in just one of them, they would have plastered it in the headlines of the Jerusalem Morning News.
How Some Explain The Empty Tomb
How do we account for the disappearance of the body of Jesus other than by a resurrection? Several theories have been advanced but the only serious attempt is the argument that the body was stolen. But by whom? His enemies or his friends? There have been modernists on both sides. But first let us consider the argument they did not make.
The change in attitude and action of that little band of disciples is one of the most convincing evidential facts surrounding the resurrection. Those who feared and fled are now rejoicing that they can suffer for Christ (Acts 5:41).
“The Tomb Is Not Empty.” They could have stopped Christianity it its tracks by refuting the empty tomb and proving the body was still there. The fact that no denial of the empty tomb was ever offered is mute but convincing evidence that John told the truth. Even the authorities said the body was missing (Matt. 28:11-15). John was not wrong about the empty tomb (John 20:1-8).
Stolen By The Disciples. The Jews came up with the best explanation to be found. They couldn’t have done better if they had had 2000 years to think up the best explanation. I have never been worried that anybody 2000 years after the event would be able to come with a better one, short of a resurrection, than those who were bodily present. They had the most to lose and the greatest motivation to come up with the best explanation possible. Theirs is superior to all other explanations that have been offered since. It was not a time for denial but for explaining. They had an empty tomb to account for. But even this explanation will not stand. Imagine having one of those soldiers who had guarded the tomb on the witness stand to be “cross” examined.
Lawyer: “What happened?” Guard: “They stole the body.” Lawyer: “Who stole it?” Guard: “His friends, the disciples.” Lawyer: “When did they steal it?” Guard: “During the night.” Lawyer: “And what were you doing when this happened?” Guard: “I was asleep” (Matt. 28:11-15). An eyewitness with his eyes closed? Going to sleep on duty was one of the worst crimes a soldier could commit. To think the governor would have approved this excuse is absurd. Soldiers cold-blooded enough to gamble over a dying victim’s cloak are not the kind to be hoodwinked by cowardly Galileans who had recently fled for their lives or to jeopardize their own lives by going to sleep on duty. And to ask us to believe all of them went to sleep at the same time is ridiculous.
Even if all of them went to sleep at the same time, it is unbelievable that the disciples could have accomplished this feat so casually. How would they roll away an “exceeding great” stone so big that the three women knew they could not move it (Mark 16:1-4)? Remember also that the tomb was hewn out in a rock” (Matt. 27:60). That means there was no back door and no trap door. The entrance and exit were one and the same. And why would they take off the linen cloths and napkin? This would require additional time and would make the body more difficult to remove. Instead of being a mess, such orderliness of the tomb is not consistent with grave robbers and body snatchers. It is not in keeping with burglars, to be so neat and tidy. Did you ever hear of anyone breaking into someone’s home and cleaning it up?
Furthermore, the disciples were not looking for a resurrection. Their state of despair showed they thought their hopes had ended. Mary went with spices with which to anoint a dead body. The theory that the disciples stole the body falls flat under a fair examination.
Stolen By His Enemies. When one is trying to solve a crime one of the first things to be done is to establish a motive. There could have been no motive unless it was to show they still had it in their possession when the disciples began claiming a resurrection. Since they did not refute the resurrection by showing they still possessed the body, then there is no motive. The enemies stealing it would be inconsistent with what we already know. Pilate secured the sealing of the tomb and stationed soldiers there to keep the disciples from stealing it (Matt. 27:62-67). Would these same enemies defeat themselves by stealing the body, thus making it look like a resurrection had occurred? They would have had everything to lose. They wanted to keep the body in the tomb. If they did steal it, why wasn’t it produced to defeat the disciples’ claims of a resurrection? Had it been possible, they would have. The fact that they did not have it in their possession is evidenced in that “a great company of the priests believed” (Acts 6:7). Likewise, this theory falls.
The “Swoon” Theory. This theory says there was no resurrection because Jesus never died. He merely fainted. Given time to rest, along with the cool tomb and spices, he revived. Remember, the soldiers made a first hand examination and “thrust a spear into his side” (John 19:34). They should have known better than anyone living today whether Jesus was dead. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus prepared him for burial. They made a “hands on” examination and saw no signs of life. They, too, would have known better than anyone living today. Remember, Jesus was persecuted prior to the crucifixion. He was beaten. A crown of thorns stuck in his brow. He had to carry his own cross. He was then nailed to it and hung on it for six hours. There would have been a considerable loss of blood. Then his side was pierced with a spear. Having the linen garments “bound,” “wound,” and “wrapped” (note those words) around him along with 100 pounds of spices (John 19:39) would have made it virtually impossible to escape. When Lazarus was raised he had been bound hand and foot with grave clothes and his face was bound with a napkin. Jesus commanded, “Loose him and let him go.” Lazarus was unable to free himself. Being bound in these grave clothes plus the sealing of the tomb could certainly have produced an air supply problem. Soldiers are outside guarding the tomb. The “exceeding great” stone covers the entrance. In spites of all this, Jesus escapes! Such a theory insults a child’s intelligence.
Wrong Tomb. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary “sat over against the sepulcher” after the burial (Matt. 27:61). The women “beheld” the tomb (Luke 23:55). Thus, it never occurred to them to say “Oops, wrong tomb” — because of the grave clothes. If it was an unused tomb, why would there be grave clothes rolled up? If it was a used tomb there would be evidence of another burial. All the authorities would need to do was show these confused women that the body was still in their possession. They knew this wasn’t the best explanation and could be easily disproved — a very weak theory.
Hallucination Theory. This asks us to believe that hundreds (if not thousands, 1 Cor. 15:6) of disciples hallucinated at different times and places over a period of 40 days! It still fails to explain the empty tomb. The enemies could have produced the body to show that the disciples’ minds were playing tricks on them. It is hard to see how anyone could make this argument and keep a straight face.
The Cause Theory. I knew a minister in the Disciples of Christ who took this position. It looks at the resurrection figuratively. It was the “cause” of Christianity that was revived. It still fails to explain all the events that occurred. The only motive for one taking this position is that he has a bias which says everything must be explained on a natural (not supernatural) basis. The apostles and many former enemies of Christianity — those who were there — never interpreted it figuratively (1 Cor. 15:1-6). Why would so many be converted to Christianity and accept the consequences that went with it if there was not a literal resurrection?
Other Theories. The vision hypothesis, the optical illusion, etc., are all answered by the empty tomb. One must explain what became of the body, how it happened in the face of the pains taken by both the Jews and Romans to prevent the appearance of a resurrection, along with the fear, cowardice, and despair of the disciples.
The Change in the Disciples
Is it reasonable to believe that men thrust into the very darkness of despair and cowardice could have, within a few weeks, risen to such heights of joy and courage as the disciples subsequently displayed? Their emotions were stretched from one extreme to the other. Peter had denied, cursed, and sworn that he didn’t know Jesus. Yet in just a few days he stands before thousands of those whom he had feared and accuses them of murder and boldly affirms the intention of Christians (Acts 4:19-21; 5:29).
The change in attitude and action of that little band of disciples is one of the most convincing evidential facts surrounding the resurrection. Those who feared and fled are now rejoicing that they can suffer for Christ (Acts 5:41). You can put a man’s head on the chopping block and he might be brave enough to die for something he really believes. But no man is brave enough to die for something he knows is a lie, especially when he stands to benefit in every way by denying it. These disciples were beaten, stoned and left for dead, run out of town, and were outcasts from formerly held respected positions. There was no gain in this life. One cannot find an ulterior motive on their part.
Is it mathematically possible that Jesus could have orchestrated this whole event and made things turn out so that they fulfilled all the prophecies about the Messiah and yet be an impostor? How did he get the Romans, the Jews, his disciples (including Judas), his family, and his own mother to act together exactly as they did? How did he fake the miracles (healing the sick, restoring limbs, raising the dead, calming the storm, cleansing the lepers, feeding thousands, turning water to wine, etc.)? With the Roman soldier we must proclaim, “Truly, this was the son of God” (Matt. 27:54).
Through the centuries the empty tomb has been the Gibraltar of the Christian’s faith and the Waterloo of skeptics. That’s why I have never worried that anyone 2000 years removed from the events would be able to come up with a better explanation. So why have many tried to explain it away? Because of wishful thinking. Once one accepts the resurrection it obligates him to live and behave in a certain way or reap consequences. It is much easier to deny it ever happened and to live a life of indulgence which so vividly characterizes our society today.
It is not incredible at all that God can raise the dead (Acts 26:8). So, what will you do with Jesus? Will you make the change which occurs at baptism and begin your “newness of life”? Remember, preaching the cross includes preaching the genuineness of baptism. Baptism is the bridge that ties us to the cross (Acts 2:23-41; Rom. 6:1-18; Col. 2:11-13; 1 Pet. 3:21).