Matthew 28:13 “Tell them ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.”
It is the second week since, nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ rose from the dead. It was on that second week after His resurrection that things began heating up – people had to account for His empty tomb. There are many problems when people use naturalistic explanations for Jesus’s empty tomb. Here are 5 of them.
Problem 1: Jesus’s Body was not Stolen. The soldiers were in a panic that morning, after finding Jesus’s tomb empty. After His crucifixion and burial in the tomb, the chief priests and Pharisees wanted Pilate to seal the tomb and guard it with soldiers. Why? Let’s see: “We remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After 3 days I will rise.’ Command the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come and steal Him away, and say ‘He has risen from the dead.’ Pilate said, ‘Go your way, make it as secure as you know how.’ They went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard” (Matthew 27:63-66). So, what would be the fate of these soldiers now, after Pilate’s command to seal and guard it?
The Roman military’s penalty for a soldier that deserted their post or fell asleep on duty was “fustuarium.” That soldier would be surrounded by other soldiers and clubbed to death. So, of all people to go to for help, the soldiers went to the Jews, the people they hated, to try and save themselves from certain death.
Our verse this week is the culmination of the soldiers’ meeting with the Jewish leaders after they found the tomb empty: “Some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, ‘Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ 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” (Matthew 28:12-15).
What would have been the best solution for these soldiers? Simply parade the dead body of Jesus through Jerusalem. Problem solved – Christianity over. So why did the Jewish leaders concoct this story of the disciples stealing the body? That’s the point – no one could locate Jesus’s dead body!
Problem 2: It was a Rich Man’s Tomb. Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy member of the Jewish Council, asked Pilate for Jesus’s body so he could bury him in his tomb: “Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus… he granted the corpse to Joseph. Joseph bought fine linen, took Jesus down from the cross, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb” (Mark 15:43-46). Crucified criminals are not buried in tombs. Is this significant?
We were told in 730 BC that another clue to who the Messiah will be is that He will die with criminals but His grave will be with the rich: “They made His grave with the wicked, but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth” (Isaiah 53:9). Jesus was crucified between 2 thieves as a common criminal, but He was buried with honor, in a rich man’s tomb! Jesus fulfilled prophecy – again!
Problem 3: It was Joseph of Arimathea’s Tomb. Because it was Joseph’s tomb, it’s location would be known. There is no way Jesus’s body could be misplaced because people went to the wrong tomb to find His body.
Problem 4: The Stone blocking the Tomb. The stone rolled over the tomb’s entrance weighed 1-2 tons (2000-4000 pounds). Although heavy, two men could move it into place. The difficult task was removing the stone because it was set inside a groove that was not level but sloped. To close the tomb, the stone was rolled down the groove and covered the entrance. To open the tomb, the stone would have to be grabbed at its edges and rolled up the groove. Jesus, if somehow alive inside the tomb after His brutal beating and crucifixion, could not access the stone’s edges and could not on His own roll it up the groove. He would be trapped inside.
Problem 5: The Weight of His Wrappings. In his gospel, John gives us more details on Jesus’s burial: “Nicodemus also came, brining a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about 100 pounds. They (he and Joseph) took the body of Jesus and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury” (John 19:39-40). Not only was Jesus placed in the tomb – He was wrapped tightly with 100 pounds worth of spices!
After reviewing these 5 problems, anyone with an open mind, who is not biased against the supernatural, should concede that the best explanation for the empty tomb is the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Evidence of Faith’s Substance _ Article #499