Intro: What does C.S.I. stand for? I suspect a few years ago, not many people knew the answer. But prime time TV has educated us. We know it means crime scene Investigation; we have one in Miami, L.A., and even Las Vegas. In a crime scene investigation, evidence is the key. The evidence, or lack thereof, tells the story of what happened and even who committed the crime.
- We have mentioned a few times, in our lessons on the life of Jesus, that Our faith is rooted in historical events. If those events as recorded in the Bible are not historically accurate, then our faith is futile. That is certainly true concerning the resurrection of Christ. As we noticed last week, if Jesus did not actually come out of the grave, then we are still in our sins, and our faith is vain.
- Is the N.T account of the resurrection historically accurate? Is there any evidence to consider? From the beginning, there have been alternative theories to explain the empty tomb.
- Consider with me a few popular alternative explanations for Jesus’ empty tomb:
I. The Disciples Stole the Body: This is the earliest theory. Matthew references it. Matt 28:11-14 1 Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. 12 When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.
A. Did the disciples steal the body and then claim Jesus has risen from the dead? There are inherent problems with this theory.
1. It is illogical.
- If the soldiers were asleep, How did they know it was the disciples who took the body?
- How could the large stone guarding the entrance be rolled away without awakening the soldiers?
- The Roman soldiers guarding the tomb were professionals, charged with guarding the tomb with their lives. They were capable of preventing a few disciples from stealing the body.
- This would make those who testified they saw Jesus liars and frauds. They claimed to be eyewitnesses with empirical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection.
- This deed would have been carried out by a few disciples, unbeknown by others. Yet many disciples claim to have seen him and eaten with him. Would those others have been willing to die for what they knew was a lie?
II. The Wrong Tomb: This theory says the women went to the wrong tomb, and found it empty. They concluded that Jesus had risen from the dead, and their story took hold among the other disciples.
A. There are problems with this theory:
1. The women had been to the tomb before – Matt 27:59-61 – When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. 61 And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.
2. If the women went to the wrong tomb, then the right tomb was still sealed and guarded by the Roman soldiers. The religious and political leaders could have easily disproved the claims of the apostles by going to the correct tomb and producing the body of Jesus.
III. The Swoon Theory: This theory contends that Jesus was swooned (did not actually die) and was later revived. Suffering from shock, pain, and loss of blood, He fainted (swooned) from exhaustion. Thinking that He was dead, the Roman soldiers took Him down and buried Him in the tomb. In the coolness of the tomb, Jesus revived and somehow He left the tomb. He appeared to His disciples, then lived in obscurity to die years later. This was a favorite explanation of the rationalists of the 19th century, but it is ludicrous to consider it. It requires more faith to believe this than to believe in the resurrection.
A. Again, there are inherent problems with this explanation:
1. Jesus would have had to revive sufficiently enough to:
- Break through the burial garments that bound Him, including a hundred pounds of spices used in preparing His body for burial. John 19:38-40 After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. 39 And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. 40 Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.
- Roll away the large stone that sealed the tomb
- Fight off the Roman guards protecting the tomb
- Walk the seven miles to Emmaus where He was seen by the two disciples
- Walk back to Jerusalem where He was seen by the apostles– All within the same day!
2. Every effort was made to make sure Jesus was dead before he was buried. John 19:31-34 – Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.
- The Romans were experts in recognizing a death by crucifixion. The appearance of blood and water from his wound indicated he had suffered a ruptured heart.
- Pilate made sure He was dead – Mark 15:43-45 –Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. 45 So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph.
3. Not only would this make the apostles liars and frauds, but Jesus also for allowing a lie to spread for years!
IV. It was Just a Hallucination. This theory says that all of Christ’s post-resurrection appearances were only supposed appearances. Those who claimed to see Jesus had hallucinations.
A. Why this is not a valid explanation:
1. The post-resurrection appearances were to both individuals and groups. An individual may have a hallucination, but hallucinations do not appear to groups of people.
- The two disciples on the road to Emmaus claimed to see Him in Luke 24.
- Ten apostles claimed to see Him in John 20:19-25.
- Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 15:6 that He appeared to over 500 people at once.
2. There was no reason for the disciples to hallucinate about seeing Jesus. There is no evidence they were emotionally disturbed or suffering from mental illness.
3. Hallucinations occur in people who are expecting to see what appears. They did not anticipate seeing Jesus, and had to be convinced through empirical evidence. John 20:19-20 – Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
V. Mistaken Identity: Some have concluded that it was not really Jesus who appeared to the disciples and others, but an impersonator. This is based on the occurrences when they did not immediately recognize Jesus. (Mary, the disciples on the road to Emmaus)
A. This theory is not difficult to debunk. Authenticating the personal identity of Jesus was at the heart of the post resurrection appearances.
1. It would have been hard to convince the disciples unless it was really Him. They had to be convinced by incontrovertible physical evidence. John 20:24-29 – Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” 26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
2. The apostles traveled with Jesus for three years. It is incredible that anyone could have gotten away with an impersonation. Acts 10:39-41 – And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. 40 Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. The apostles’ ability to properly identify and testify to Jesus’ identity is why they were chosen to be witnesses.
3. The one claiming to be Jesus performed miracles such as suddenly appearing in locked rooms (John 20:19) and causing them to catch a great draught of fish (John 21:1-7) –
VII. It was a Spiritual Resurrection. Christ’s resurrection was not a real physical bodily resurrection. His dead body remained in the grave, but he was spiritually resurrected. This theory is held by some liberal theologians who cannot accept a literal bodily resurrection. They claim that the narrative was told as a physical resurrection to illustrate the truth in an understandable way.
A. There are some problems with this theory as well.
1. What happened to the body, and why were the enemies of Jesus never able to produce it?
2. Again, the nature of the apostles’ testimony is empirical: I John 1:1-2 – That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—
3. Paul argued a bodily resurrection of Jesus as evidence for our own bodily resurrection in 1 Cor.15. If Jesus’ body did not come from the grave, then his argument has no validity.
Conclusion: What does the evidence tell us? When you consider the strength of the apostles’ testimony, and contrast it with the weakness of the alternative explanations that have been proposed, it leads an honest person in only one direction: Jesus resurrected from the dead. It is the supreme event of history (the resurrection is fact). It is supported by empirical testimony provided by reliable witnesses. The empty tomb of Jesus has implications of great significance for both unbeliever and believer alike.
- John 20:30-31– “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
- Do you believe? He that believes and is baptized, will be saved.