“When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they 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.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” (Matt. 28:12-15)
Having just celebrated the wonderful historical event of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we must acknowledge that to this very day there are those who believe that Christ did not really rise from the dead. For your Easter Monday reflection, please allow me to provide some reasons why the empty tomb is one of the most verifiable events in history.
I can think of at least 4 reasons why the empty tomb is a historical fact:
- The site of Jesus’ tomb was known to both sides of the debate, Christians and Jews alike. So if it weren’t empty, it would have been impossible for a movement to be founded on the basis of the empty tomb and the resurrection story within the same city. Some scholars have even proposed the silly notion that the women in the story had gone to the wrong tomb! Even if that were the case, the Jewish authorities would have been only too happy to point out the correct tomb with the body and correct the disciples error when they began to proclaim that the Jesus had risen from the dead.
- The simplicity of Mark’s story. From the language and grammar the Gospel of Mark uses we know that he was reciting from an older story that was written down as early as 37 A.D. That is just too early for any legendary or additional embellishments to creep in and obscure the facts of the eyewitness account. Generations after the event there are a number of fictional accounts of the resurrection which describe him emerging in glory and power, with everybody seeing him including Jewish authorities, Roman guards, etc. But in contrast, Marks account is a simplistic factual account without any embellishment or attempt to explain away any difficulties in the story.
- One such difficulty in the story which gives credibility to its factual nature is the unanimous testimony of all four gospels that the empty tomb was discovered by women. To realize the significance of this, we must understand the position of women in 1st century Palestine was very low. Rabbi’s at prayer would give thanks they were not born as women, men would not speak to women in public, women had few legal rights, etc.. Therefore, the fact that women discovered the empty tomb would have been embarrassing for the disciples. Because of this, if the account were fictional, legendary or fabricated it almost certainly would not have featured the women as the first eyewitnesses.
- The earliest Jewish challenge to the resurrection story recorded for us in Matthew 28:12-15 assumes the empty tomb. The initial debate between the Jewish authorities and the early Christian witnesses was not, was the tomb empty?, it was, What happened to the body? This was the reason for the story propagated by the Jewish leaders that the guards had fallen asleep and the disciples came and stole the body and then made up the resurrection appearance stories. You get the sense they were grasping at straws, but the point is-they started with the assumption that the tomb was vacant because they knew it was!
Conc. Of course there is still room for debate on the facts of the account. But for me personally, the best perspective was articulated by one of the church Fathers, Origen, writing in the early third century A.D. , (Contra Celsus II. LVI) he simply made the point that, “men do not risk losing their lives in defence of a lie.”
As I consider the fact that within a few generations Christianity had spread throughout the entire Roman empire, I am struck not only by the disciples fervor but by their willingness to die for their faith:
- 10 of the 11 disciples went to the graves early for their faith.
- In Acts 7:60, the early convert Stephen is stoned to death for giving testimony for what he had learned about Christ. In Acts 12: 2 we are told that James, the brother of John was put to death by Herod for his faith.
- Foxes Book of Martyrs records the stories of hundreds of others who paid for the faith in the resurrection story with their lives in the first few centuries after Christ.
Once again, Origen’s observation, “People do not tend to give up their lives for a lie”
Is it credible to claim that all these transformed lives are based on a hallucination, a misconception or worse, a lie?
If Jesus did not die and rise from the grave – then his whole ministry was a sham. I cannot accept that the powerfully changed lives that I have read about, that I know personally, and that I see in the activities of Corpath members could be based in a sham. I see the same resurrection power that raised Christ from the dead present in His Church and in the lives of his people.
He is Risen!
John Wiseman (with reliance upon Alpha Canada materials)