The sun slowly rises behind you. The warmth permeates your very presence. Your shadow is cast out disproportionately out in front of you. Your shadow seeps out into the army that is laid out in front of you. You are but one soldier, a general no less, but just one. The opposing army begins to stand, each squinting due to the sun in utter disbelief. Could it really be that you have come alone, undefended to face this entire army? They scatter to wake their leader, readying for a charge, worried of an impending trap. On the charge, you stand boldly, confidently, arms peacefully by your side, your sword a distant thought in your mind. Come to me, you think, and see what you find.
“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor 15:17)
Let’s think about this very statement. If the resurrection had not occurred our faith is futile. The very heart of the Christian message rests on this singular event. Without it, Christianity is dead. The result is faith in a dead God, a dead person, just as any other faith or religion. It is as if Paul taunts his opponents with this very thread, begging them to explore the resurrection. ‘Come to me and see what you find.’
Paul has told you where to look to debunk Christianity: the resurrection. He begs you to come, look, and see what you find. Like a general, standing alone, awaiting the opposing army’s charge. Foolishness? Or is that confidence rested on something permanent? Is there evidence pointing toward the resurrection? Yes, in fact, there is.
First and foremost is that the tomb of Jesus Christ is empty. Empty. Is it really empty? Suppose it wasn’t, then of course in light of the birth of Christianity the Romans or the Jews would have destroyed their claims. How? They would have simply taken Jesus’ dead body and put it on display for all to see, in a true William Wallace fashion.
In either case, there are even deeper details which I refer to article by Dr. William Lane Craig, “Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” In the following, we’ll consider naturalistic and common reasons for the empty tomb.
1. Theft theory – this is easily the most common theory proposed by a nonbeliever. If the body was stolen who stole the body? There are three possible choices: Romans, Jews, or the disciples.
Let’s consider if the Romans stole the body. Let us remember that Jerusalem was merely part of the Roman empire. The goal of the Romans was to keep the local culture unstirred and peaceful to ensure that Rome would benefit from trade and taxes, thus become wealthier. The punishment of a Roman citizen not following Roman law or other treasonous acts was death, typically by crucifiction. In fact, Roman soldiers were put to death if they were deemed to not have fought hard enough in a battle, a policy that continued even if they won the battle! Jesus was given to the Jews to be killed in hopes of keeping the peace among the Jews. Rome wanted peace (i.e. taxes) not a new religion causing turmoil in Jerusalem!
Now let’s consider if the Jews stole the body. What is the incentive? To aggravate Jesus’ followers even more? Recall that the Jews were quite concerned about how much Jesus’ spoke and indicated that on the third day He would rise. Concerned so much they asked the Romans for additional protection, beyond their temple guard, of Jesus’ tomb. Even so, if the body was stolen then what not put Jesus’ dead body on a stake in front of the temple when the disciples started claiming to have seen the risen Christ? That would have ended Christianity before it even had time to be called such a name!
Lastly, consider if the disciples stole the body. Finally, there is at least a clear incentive! But how did simple fisherman coordinate such a theft? They needed to gain access to the tomb itself, bypassing the temple and Roman guard, break the seal on the tomb, and move the slab of stone blocking the entrance to the tomb itself! If this is possible, then we should easily be able to dig up and steal John F. Kennedy’s body! A feat not easily accomplished now or then. Suppose though, that they were successful, could the lie remained when faced with death? Remember many of the earliest followers of Christ faced, such as James, the brother of Jesus, was put to death for preaching the gospel! Could you take that lie to the grave as you watched all of your loved ones persecuted and killed? And if you could, could all of your friends and extended family? Absurd.
2. Swoon theory – Jesus did not die on the course, rather it only appeared so. This theory has partly been pushed by Ahmadiya Muslims, in the late 19th century, that Jesus was resuscitated in the tomb and went to India to search for the lost tribes of Israel. Once there he adopted the name Yuz Asaf, married Mary, and had children. He then died at the age of 120 and was buried in the district of Srinagar. Come again? The rest of the Muslim world doesn’t share this opinion as it is not founded in the Koran or in any extra-biblical and historical written accounts.
Even so, let’s consider that it was true. Jesus underwent six trials where He was beaten, scoured with 39 lashes that left His back naked, raw, exposed so that scavenger birds nipped at it while on the cross. In addition, He was given a crown of thorns, forcibly placed on His head, tearing His scalp open. Oh I forgot! He was also crucified! His hands and feet were nailed to a wooden cross; a cross that He was forced to carry. All the while He hung on the cross, He bled freely without any food or water for hours. Please, go for a 3 hour run, right now without food or water and see how you fare.
When it appeared Jesus was dead, a spear pierced his side, emitting both blood and water, a clear indication that His blood had clotted. When His body was taken down from the cross it was covered in spices to preserve the body and then tightly wrapped. If He was truly alive at this point, this would add even further stress putting a large amount of weight onto His body. Not to mention the spices adhere to the skin and linens acting as a glue. To take the wrapping off is not be easily done, let alone in such a pathetically, weakened state.
If Jesus feigned His death then this is more remarkable than the resurrection itself!
3. Hallucination theory – All of the post-mortem sightings of Jesus Christ were mere hallucinations. How does this explain the empty tomb again? Was all of Jerusalem hallucinating that Jesus’ body really wasn’t there? When the ‘high’ waned would this not have been then sorted out?
4. Yo! You went to the wrong tomb theory! – Even I am lost for words. However, a close friend stated this to me as a plausible theory. Let’s assume it is correct, wouldn’t Joseph of Arimathea, the owner of the tomb, have sorted this out? Wouldn’t the Jews have pointed people to the real tomb? In addition, have you personally ever lost and buried a loved one? Do you remember where they are buried?
Sometimes it is just easier to believe in the truth. Or put simply by Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson in The Sign of the Four:
“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”