Witness accounts about Christ’s resurrection in the New Testament are a cornerstone of our faith and have been debated for centuries.
One of the standard challenges many Christians face in terms of the Bible’s account is Jesus’ tomb. People may ask, “Has Christ’s tomb ever been found? What if his body is still in there? Or what if the disciples stole Jesus’ body and hid it?”
Joseph of Arimathea’s Gift
When examining the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, the historical record of his empty tomb is impressive.
After Jesus’ death, his body went to a man named Joseph of Arimathea (John 19:38). He was a wealthy member of the Sanhedrin, and everyone would have known who he was and where his tomb was located.
This is significant because skeptics of the resurrection will claim that Jesus didn’t really rise; rather his disciples went to the wrong tomb and assumed that he rose. This would’ve been nearly impossibe due to it being Joseph’s tomb.
Skeptics who acknowledge that Jesus’ followers must’ve known where he was located often claim the disciples secretly stole his body in the night and hid it elsewhere.
Is this possible? Was the resurrection a grand hoax perpetuated by desperate men?
A Story by the Pharisees
The Pharisees were worried that this very thing might happen and went to Pilate to ask that Roman soldiers guard Jesus’ tomb. “’Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise.” Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciple go and steal him away and tell the people, “He has risen from the dead”’…Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can”’” (Matthew 27:63-65 NLT).
These guards set to watch over the tomb, however, would actually become witnesses that Jesus rose from the dead. “Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it…. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint” (Matthew 28:2,4).
When the guards told the Pharisees everything that happened, these religious leaders didn’t seem to hesitate over the possibility that they were wrong about Jesus. They didn’t ponder if Jesus was actually the Son of God. Instead, they paid the guards to tell everyone that the disciples came and stole Jesus’ body (Matthew 28:11-15).
If they couldn’t find any actual evidence to support the story they wanted, then they’d cover up the stark truth that threatened their beliefs.
One way or another, Jesus’ empty tomb demanded an explanation.
To Believe or Not to Believe
The disciples said that Jesus appeared to them and had risen from the dead. The Pharisees dared not allow people to believe that Jesus rose, so they said his body was stolen. Either way, both statements suppose an empty tomb.
The absence of Jesus’ body was such common knowledge at the time that the disciples never had to preach about it when they spoke of Christ’s resurrection.
J. P. Moreland writes in his book Scaling the Secular City, “The absence of explicit mention of the empty tomb in the speeches in Acts is best explained by noting that the fact of the empty tomb was not in dispute and thus it was not at issue. The main debate was over why it was empty, not whether it was empty.”
The tomb stands vacant, challenging all who see it to decide whether they will deny this eye-witness account or believe Christ’s promise.
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