The Case of the Empty Tomb
“What’s this?!” Kaylene exclaimed, pointing at a dirty cake pan. Returning from ice skating with our family, she found a “smoking gun” of sorts. You see, we have a history of surprising each other on our birthdays, going back to before we were married. Tony had arranged for two students to come over to prepare the surprise cake while we were skating. Unfortunately, in their haste to not get caught in the act, they forgot about the dirty cake pan! We tried to brush it off, to come up with another explanation, but nothing would convince her that we weren’t up to something. She expected it, and there was a dirty cake pan to prove it.
People run into the same problem when they try to deny the resurrection of Christ. It was always God’s plan to atone for our sins by the death of Jesus Christ, and it was always His plan to raise Him from the dead, to show His victory over death, the promise of eternal life. The prophets told us what to expect!!
When He rose He left behind clear evidence: The empty tomb, many witnesses and transformed lives. Big smoking guns. Although many have offered alternate explanations for the resurrection, those scenarios aren’t believable. The following are a few of the most popular yet feeble explanations.
The Substitution Theory. This theory is advanced by Islam, which rejects the idea that Jesus died for our sins to make peace with God and trust instead in their own good deeds. In their holy book, the Koran, we read,
They said, “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Apostle of God,” but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts with no certain knowledge, but only conjecture to follow. For surety they killed him not: Nay, God raised him up unto Himself, and God is Exalted in Power, Wise. (Sura 4:157-158)
But this is not believable. First, is God deceitful? Would He trick people into thinking Jesus was crucified? Why, when the prophets foretold the event, would God trick us this way?
Secondly, could anyone really impersonate Jesus successfully? How could anyone follow the script and take the punishment? For what motive? Wouldn’t the interrogators, the high priests, Pilate and Herod know if they were talking to the right man? His answers made it clear who He was. Also, Jesus’ mother and disciple were at the foot of the cross as he was dying. Wouldn’t they have recognized Him? This would be like us trying to convince Kaylene that we made the cake for someone else. Secretly. We tried that and she saw right through it. The story just doesn’t fit the facts!
The Theft Theory. This explanation was first advanced by the Jews. In Matthew’s gospel we read, “the chief priests…gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.”’”
The story that the disciples stole the body of Jesus is not believable either. Remember two facts: First the disciples had fled Jesus. They were afraid and disillusioned, depressed and cowering. Second, armed Roman soldiers guarded the tomb. They were under threat of death if the body of Jesus was missing from the tomb. So, how could the disillusioned disciples have found the courage and strength to steal the body from the guarded tomb? If the soldiers were asleep, how did they know the body was stolen by the disciples? What would have motivated them to steal the body? What did they have to gain? Most were later killed for their testimony of the resurrection. Why would they die for a lie? It makes no sense.
The Swoon Theory. This explanation says that Jesus was only wounded by the crucifixion. But this can’t be right. The Jews knew He was dead. That’s why they spread the lie that the disciples had stolen the body. Besides, the Romans knew how to kill people. They crucified hundreds of thousands, and they normally broke their legs to insure they would die quickly. But when the soldiers saw Jesus, he appeared dead, so instead, they thrust a spear into his side just to be sure. So, how could Jesus have recovered, escaped from the graves clothes and tomb, overpowered the guards, then journey seven miles on mangled feet and convince the Apostles of His Lordship? Again, it’s not believable.
The Hallucination Theory. This explanation claims the eyewitnesses only hallucinated that Jesus had risen from the dead. All of them. At the same time. On multiple occasions. This would be like trying to convince Kaylene that she only thought she saw a dirty cake pan. Good luck with that!
None of these theories explain the empty tomb and the transformed lives as well the resurrection does. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins and concurred death, just as foretold by the prophets!
Christ is Risen!!