People have tried to explain the resurrection of Jesus away as a myth or even a con. Some have claimed that the stories of Jesus’ resurrection are copied from pagan stories. But if you read these pagan stories you see that they are fundamentally different from the story of Jesus’ resurrection. They were not about real historical individuals but were symbols of the crop cycle (the “death” of winter and the “resurrection” of spring). They were not one-off events but repeated constantly each year, linked with secretive rituals.
Some have questioned whether the tomb was really empty on the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion. But if it hadn’t been, the Jewish leadership and the Roman military would soon have displayed his dead body to disprove the Christian claims which were a major problem to them both.
Instead the Jewish leadership put around the story that the disciples had stolen the body, which indicates they knew the tomb was empty. By the way, this story is incredible. Firstly, Jesus’ disciples were clearly honest, sensible people who were highly unlikely to have been dishonest enough to make up such a story. Secondly, the body was guarded by soldiers. Thirdly, are we really to believe that they would be willing to be tortured and suffer terrible deaths for a story they knew to be untrue?
The disciples said they saw the risen Jesus, but could they have been hallucinating? The problem with this idea is that hallucinations arise from preconceived ideas already present in the mind. But, first century Jews didn’t expect individual resurrection and the disciples didn’t expect Jesus to rise. In fact, to begin with, they refused to accept reports that he had risen from the dead. Also it is highly unlikely that 500 people would all hallucinate at the same time. In any case, hallucination doesn’t account for the empty tomb.
But, if the disciples didn’t steal the body, could someone else have done so? Some people say the Jewish leadership or the Romans stole the body. But, as I’ve already said, they wanted to destroy Christianity and would therefore have displayed Jesus’ dead body.
Another theory is that Joseph of Arimathea (who got permission to bury Jesus) stole the body. But Joseph was a respected member of the Jewish ruling council who had everything to lose by following Jesus. He wouldn’t do that for a lie. And, as a follower of Jesus, he wouldn’t have allowed his fellow-Christians to die terrible deaths for what he knew was a lie.
But did some unknown person steal the body? The question is, why would someone do that? As we have seen, a follower of Jesus wouldn’t have done so, nor would a loyal Jewish person or Roman. Besides, the tomb had a military guard on it to prevent anyone stealing the body!
Another suggestion is that the disciples went to the wrong tomb by mistake! What, a number of them on different occasions?! The Jewish authorities certainly knew which tomb it was: they set a guard on it.
Another theory is that Jesus wasn’t really dead and he revived in the tomb and stole away. This theory requires us to believe that though Jesus was flogged within an inch of his life (many died under such flogging), was nailed to the cross for six hours losing blood, was speared by an experienced Roman soldier yet he survived! Not only that, he was totally bound in tight grave clothes from neck to foot. The tomb was sealed by a stone which took more than one man to move and guarded by soldiers yet he got away! It also requires us to believe that his disciples lied or believed this half-dead man was conqueror of death, the prince of life and that they were totally transformed by this belief, even being willing to suffer and die for it.
These theories are all incredible and when you think of the impact Jesus has had on the world for 2000 years (with 2 billion people currently believing in him) there is only one credible conclusion: Jesus rose from the dead, after dying a terrible death for your sins and mine. Will you respond to him in penitence, trust and love?
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction