What really happened to
the body of Jesus? The
answer to this question is of vital importance.
It was the day of preparation, the day before
the feast of the Passover when Jesus died. According to the Hebrew law, no
executions were to take place on holy days. So the religious leaders came
and asked the governor to break the legs of those who were crucified to
ensure a quicker death.
Now it should be noted that it was difficult to breathe while hanging on a cross. They had to push up with their feet to keep the air flowing, so when a prisoner's legs were broken, the man could no longer push up and that would usually cause the victim to die from suffocation.
Pilate ordered the centurion to do as the Jewish leaders had requested.
So the soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves, but when they came to Jesus, he had already expired. So to make absolutely certain that he was dead, they thrust a lance into his side. We are told both blood and water came from that spear wound. (Mark 15:42; John 19:31-37). So Jesus was dead.
Then Joseph of Arimathea (who was a religious leader who secretly followed Jesus out of fear of the priests), went to the Roman governor and boldly asked for permission to take the body and prepare it for burial.
"Is he dead already?" asked Pilate. When Joseph confirmed it, Pilate called the centurion. "Has Jesus been dead for some time?"
"Yes, your excellency. He died several hours ago."
"You may take the body then," Pilate told Joseph.
It was getting late in the afternoon when both Joseph and Nicodemus (another Jewish leader who followed Jesus) took the body from the cross. They laid him in a tomb which Joseph owned. It was a new tomb, hewn out of solid rock, located near the scene of the crucifixion.
Working quickly to finish before the sun went down and the festival began, they wrapped Jesus' body in several clean linen cloths. As is the burial custom of the Jews of that day, they anointed the body with a mixture of myrrh and aloes probably weighing about 75 pounds. Then they rolled a large stone over the entrance to the tomb. Several women who had been at the crucifixion watched to see where they put the body. (Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:43-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42).
The next day was Friday, the Passover Sabbath. In A.D. 30, the Passover fell on Friday. As Saturday is the normal Sabbath, there were two "Sabbaths" in a row that weekend. (Roger Rusk, "The Day He Died," Christianity Today, March 29, 1974, pp. 4-6. See Day He Died).
The chief priests visited the governor after the prophet's death.
"We remember that impostor claimed while he was alive, 'After three days I will arise.' Therefore, command that the grave be made secure until the third day after the crucifixion to keep his disciples from coming in the night to steal the body and declaring, 'He has risen from the dead.'"
"You have your guard," replied the governor. "Make it as secure as you can."
So the priests went to the tomb, placed a seal on the stone in front of the sepulchre to prevent anyone from tampering with the grave, and left a guard of Roman soldiers at the site. (Matthew 27:62-66).
But on Sunday morning, three days after the execution, the tomb was empty. The stone had been moved, and the body was gone. The grave clothes were still in the tomb, flattened as if the body had evaporated. The handkerchief which had covered the face was lying to one side.
The soldiers who had been on guard came to the chief priests and described how the body had disappeared after another earthquake. An angel had rolled the stone away and sat on it. The guards "played dead" until he went away.
The chief priests decided to give a large sum of money to keep the soldiers quiet. "You are to say his disciples came in the night and stole him away while you were asleep. If the governor hears the story, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble." (Matthew 28:11-15).
The enemies of Jesus admitted the tomb was empty, proving something happened—but what? Where did the body go? Over the years a number of theories have been offered in an attempt to explain away that empty tomb. Was the resurrection of Christ faked? Or did he really rise from that grave? These are important questions that must be answered satisfactory.
The Wrong Tomb Theory
It has been proposed by some that all the resurrection stories can be explained away simply because the disciples merely become confused and visited the wrong tomb—an empty one.
Of all the popular theories, this is the weakest. This theory does not effectively deal with the account of the soldier who claimed they had witnessed something supernatural at the correct tomb. If the disciples visited the wrong tomb, the Jewish leaders and the Romans would simply have produced the correct tomb and the body laying in it. That would have squelched all of the resurrection stories that sound popped up. But this was not done, indicating that there was no other tomb and there was no body that could be used to dispell the resurrection accounts.
The Passover Plot Theory
A few years ago a book was written by Dr. Hugh J. Schonfield entitled The Passover Plot. According to Schonfield's theory, Jesus plotted his own trial, death, and resurrection in order to fulfill Messianic prophecies, but the ruse failed, and Jesus died shortly after being taken down from the cross. Could Schonfield be right on this?
Dr. Schonfield maintains that when Jesus was on the cross he received a mysterious drug which duplicated the effects of death. But the plot failed when the unexpected Roman lance pierced his side and inflicted a mortal wound. He states the flowing of blood from this would indicates life was still present, but he ignores the entire passage which says both blood and water came forth, indicating death had already taken place. (See Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, San Bernadino, CA, Here's Life Publishers, 1972; pp. 206-207).
If Jesus had been alive when the Roman sword pierced his side, blood would have spurted out with each heartbeat. But this did not happen. Instead, the eyewitness saw blood seeping out, distinct and separate from a water-like substance, which medical experts tell us proves that Jesus died of a combination of crucifixion and a ruptured heart. He was already dead when that sword pierced his side.
Schonfield next dismisses Matthew's accounts of guards being posted at the tomb because they seem vaguely similar to an account in the works of Josephus, an ancient Jewish historian. Because the stories are similar, Matthew "obviously copied" and his account can be wiped from Scripture, he claims.
Schonfield then dismisses the two appearances of Jesus in the upper room (in John 20 and 21) and the account of Peter's seeing the risen Lord (in both Luke and 1 Corinthians) because they contradict, in his mind, the resurrection passages in Matthew. We can only wonder how we can trust Matthew's account of the resurrection appearances if we cannot trust his account of the guards being posted. The author of The Passover Plot carefully removes, with no real supporting evidence, all of the passages which would destroy his theory.
Now Schonfield says that the stage is set for the appearance of the "impostors." These two or three individuals (whose identities apparently will remain lost forever) come to the unguarded tomb and simply walk away with the body. Because they were so convinced the message of Jesus is worth perpetuating, they decide to fake his resurrection. They imitate a risen Jesus by appearing to the disciples. They perform so well in this task that in all of human history only one man (Schonfield) has realized they were really only impostors.
It seems to me a bit miraculous that any actor (or actors) could have completely hoodwinked people numbering in the hundreds who all claimed they had seen the risen Lord. The disciples must have been fools to have missed face to face what Schonfield says he has detected after 2,000 years. (Hugh J. Schonfield, The Passover Plot (Bernard Geis Associates, 1965, pp 170-181).
This theory becomes, in the end, extremely farfetched. Schonfield creates many more problems than he answers. To accept the fantastic details of his Passover plot one must exercise an immense amount of blind faith. His theory does not logically hold together and cannot be considered a reasonable answer for the empty tomb.
The Stolen Body Theory
If the body of Jesus was stolen, only three groups would have been likely to take it: the Romans, the Jewish leaders, or the disciples.
The Romans certainly had access to the body, but they had no real reason to steal it. They didn't want to leave the impression Jesus had risen from the dead; they simply wanted to forget the whole incident. Even if they had removed the body to another tomb, they no doubt would have made that transfer clear to the Jewish leaders. I find it difficult to imagine that the Romans would have taken the body away and started a movement which would eventually bring down the empire.
The Jewish Leaders, obviously, did not know where Jesus' dead body was. If he had not come back from the dead, they had everything to lose and nothing to gain by concealing the location of the body. If it still existed and they had known where it was, they would have quickly produced it to disprove all resurrection claims. It seems extremely unlikely they stole the body, and they certainly never made any claim they did do. There claim was that the disciples had done the stealing.
So The Disciples would have been the most likely group to perform such a theft. But these men would have had to face the soldiers, and it is extremely unlikely that they would ever have claimed Jesus had returned from the dead.
During the time the disciples spent with Jesus before the crucifixion, the concept of a resurrection was simply not something that they understood or grasped. Again and again Jesus predicted this event to them, but they never wanted to see it happen or believed in its necessity until well after the actual event had taken place. Even after the resurrection, many doubted the event had happened when they heard the reports of the witnesses who had seen the resurrected Lord.
The disciples had will or motive for stealing their Master's body. Most of them fled at the arrest, and were still afraid of being persecuted up to fifty days afterward. To steal the body would have been an invitation for disaster.
Can you imagine these men absconding with the body, then concocting a made-up story that Jesus had been raised from the dead so firmly that within a short time all but one of them were martyred? Of the original followers, several were stoned to death, six were beheaded, two were run through with spears, one was killed by clubbing, and one was dragged along the ground until he was dead. Would these men have continued to hold on to story based on one big lie as they and their friends began to suffer persecution, torture and death? That simply isn't logical. The disciples firmly believed in their story of the resurrection, and they obviously did not steal the body. (William Byron Forbush, Fox's Book of Martyrs New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1926, pp. 2-5).
The Swoon Theory
The swoon theory suggests that Jesus was not dead when taken down from the cross, but in the cold tomb he revived and somehow managed to convince the disciples he had come back from the dead. Then, forty days later, he finally succumbed because of his many wounds.
As we have seen, the Romans went out of their way that day to make sure all those executed were dead. It is hard to imagine that those professional executioners could have missed the obvious signs of death as they had witnessed death by crucifixion many times.
Even if Jesus was not dead when he was put into the tomb, it seems even harder to believe he would have remained alive for long. Can you imagine a man who had suffered the things Jesus suffered—the physical beatings, the scourging, six hours of crucifixion, the spear wound, and the loss of blood—reviving with no medical attention in a cold tomb after three days? He would then have had to free himself from yards of grave cloth weighed down with many pounds of spices, roll away a stone three women had felt incapable of moving, scare off the soldiers, walk miles on wounded feet, and then so convince his disciples that he had just risen from the dead that they would all go out and die on behalf of his performance. This seems unlikely.
Even if by some extremely remote chance he could have lived through all of that, it would have been impossible to convince the unbelieving disciples, in his emaciated condition, that he had risen from the dead. I think it is pretty safe to say, on the basis of the four Gospel records, that Jesus was dead when put into that tomb.
Almost immediately after the tomb was found to be empty, some unusual events occurred in and around Jerusalem. People began to claim that had seen the Nazarene alive.
First, Mary Magdalene appeared, avowing she had seen the risen Lord; then several other women saw him. Two followers declared he had appeared to them on a road in the countryside. On two successive Sundays, the disciples claimed Jesus had appeared to them in a room in Jerusalem. Some time later it was claimed that Jesus had been seen by over 500 people at one time.
Many claimed to be eyewitnesses of Christ's resurrection. So many that the event becomes increasingly difficult to challenge. If Jesus had not actually risen from the dead, many of those "eyewitnesses" would have been laughed at, or worse, would have immediately been put to death by the religious leaders. But this did not happen.
Strong evidence supporting the resurrection can also be found in the lives of the followers of Jesus. Ordinary men and women suddenly began to proclaim a message which was destined to bring them into direct conflict both with their fellow countrymen and with the Romans. In the face of cruel persecutions, these men and women fervently held to their story that Jesus was raised from the dead. It just doesn't seem logical that these people would have died willingly if they did not really believe the resurrection had taken place.
The evidence indicates something supernatural happened to the body of Jesus from Nazareth on that Sunday morning so long ago. The behavior of those early Christians cannot be explained apart from the fact that Christ rose from the dead. I've seen no other rational alternative to explain the mystery of that empty tomb apart from a bodily resurrection. When we honestly face the facts, we must come to the conclusion that Jesus Christ came back from the grave. That means, Jesus is alive!
If you would like to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, now is the time to check out How to Become a Christian. That a look at that article and you might also need to understande How to Repent of Your Sins.
The next article on Jesus is The Resurrection and Power. See how his resurrection power can become your power.