The Bible tells us that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb that Joseph had reserved for himself. Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jewish nation. He would have been a TMZ-quality celebrity, as everyone knew members of the Sanhedrin. Because Joseph was so well-known, it also would have been well-known where this tomb was…meaning most people would know where Christ was buried. If this story was a lie, it would have been extremely easy for Jewish leaders to point that out and those writing the Bible would have been discredited as frauds.
Some remembered that Jesus claimed that He would return from death, so to make sure nothing happened, precautions were put in place. First: There was a slanted groove that led down to a low entrance, and a large disk-shaped stone was rolled down this groove and into place across the door. Although it would have been easy to roll the stone into the groove, it would have taken several men to roll it back up in order to reopen the tomb (The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel). Furthermore, they sealed the stone and the opening with a type of clay or wax.
Finally, the Romans assigned a 24-hour watch at the tomb with a trained guard unit of four-to-sixteen soldiers. Josh McDowell notes that these were not ordinary soldiers. “When that guard unit failed in any way—falling asleep or leaving their position, for example—(they would be) stripped of their own clothes (and) burned alive in a fire started with their own garments or they (would be) crucified upside down.” It simply would have been impossible for anyone to have slipped by the guards and moved a two-ton stone.
The fact that women were the ones to discover the empty tomb is incredibly important as well. Understand that at that time, the testimony of women was considered so worthless that they weren’t even allowed to be called as witnesses in court. If the writers of the Bible were just making up a story (as some believe they were), they would have made well-known males like Peter or John the discoverers of the empty tomb. The fact that the Bible says women did it actually makes the story more believable.
However, one of the most telling reasons that this story is true is the fact that no shrine for Jesus was created. It was customary in Judaism for the tomb of a prophet or holy man to be preserved as a shrine. The Jews follow Abraham, and to this day, they travel to Hebron (where he is buried) to remember their dead leader.
Same with Buddhism. They know that Buddha is buried in India, and his followers travel there regularly.
Those who follow Islam know that Muhammad is buried in Medina. They go to his burial site every year (Mark Driscoll).
There were at least fifty such cites in Jesus’s day (Matt Perman). Yet once the tomb was found empty, no one visited Jesus’s grave. It did not become a holy place of worship because Jesus is not dead.
Keep in mind, the disciples did not go to some obscure place where no one had heard of Jesus to begin preaching about the resurrection. They went straight to Jerusalem, the very city where Jesus had died and been buried. They could not have done this if Jesus was still in His tomb—no one would have believed them. No one would be stupid enough to believe a man had risen from the dead when His body lay dead in the tomb for all to see (Perman).
Did the Jewish leaders respond that these stories were lies? No. Did they ever point to Jesus’s body and say, “He’s right here!!” No. Instead, they bribed the soldiers to say that they had fallen asleep and the disciples stole the body—an explanation few believed then and no serious scholar believes today. If the Jews or Romans were ever able to produce Jesus’s body, His story is never told. With an event so well publicized, don’t you think that one eyewitness, one historian, one public figure, anyone would record for all time that he had seen Christ’s body? The fact that the Jewish and Roman leaders admit that the tomb was empty is called by experts as “positive evidence from a hostile source.” Basically, if a source admits a fact that makes said source look bad, the fact is genuine (Perman).
Because of the strong evidence for the empty tomb, most recent scholars do not deny it. D.H. Van Daalen says, “It is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions” (Perman).
It would have been impossible for the disciples to steal Jesus’s body, but more importantly…they didn’t want to!! Remember, at this point, they were hiding—terrified that they were going to be killed for following what turned out to be (in their minds) just a regular guy who pulled off some neat tricks. The Jews and Romans obviously had no desire to steal (or hide) the body…they wanted everyone to know exactly where it was. So if no one wanted it…where did it go?
Next post—Step 3: Jesus rose.