What's to be done with that tomb..? The empty one... the one that contained Jesus' body... I feel sure the vast majority of today's citizenry give it little or no thought at all. But for the thinking soul who grasps the enormity of the implications, that empty tomb silently screams for an explanation. And through the passing of time, some attempts to explain it away have been clever, while others have been lame. In his excellent book, "Does God Believe in Atheists?", John Blanchard lists and answers some of these efforts to explain away the empty tomb.
1. "The tomb wasn't empty." 'This is woefully weak: why did the authorities not encourage people to visit it and see for themselves?
2. "The first visitors all went to the wrong tomb." 'Yet we are specifically told that at least two of them had been present at the burial just 36 hours earlier and 'saw the tomb and how His body was laid in it.' What's more, the tomb had been donated by Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent local citizen; would he have forgotten the location of his own carefully chosen burial plot?'
3. "The body was stolen by a person or persons unknown." 'There is not a shred of evidence for this, let alone any opportunity or motive. As Norman Anderson wryly comments, 'A Jew of that period could scarcely be suspected of stealing bodies on behalf of anatomical research!'
4. "The Roman authorities removed the body." 'They obviously had the opportunity, but why would they have done so? Why post a guard in the first place? If they had moved the body elsewhere, why did they not produce it when Jesus' followers began to announce His resurrection?
5. "The Jewish authorities removed the body." 'As they were hand in glove with the Romans, and knew of prophecies that Jesus would rise from the dead after 3 days, they had both opportunity and motive for hiding it elsewhere for 4 days, when they could then squash the 'Jesus movement' at birth. Then why did they resort to arresting, imprisoning, flogging and executing the first Christian preachers when they could have killed off their movement by producing the body? The Jewish authorities' silence speaks volumes.
6. "Jesus' disciples removed the body." 'This was the story cobbled together by the frantic religious authorities, who circulated the rumour that the disciples had snatched the body while the guards were asleep, but it runs into an avalanche of problems. (a) Would every one of the guards have fallen asleep on duty, knowing as they must have done that such an offence attracted the death penalty? (b) How did the disciples manage to break the seal, roll away the massive rock and take the body away without a single soldier noticing what was going on? (c) If the guards were asleep, how did they know who had stolen the body? Did the body-snatchers leave a business card? (d) If the guards were awake, how (and why) did a handful of men who had run into hiding 'with the doors locked for fear of the Jews' suddenly pluck up enough courage to tackle an armed squad of soldiers and risk the death penalty for breaking the governor's official seal-- all for the purpose of taking possession of a body already in the safe keeping of one of their own friends? (e) Why is there no record of their ever being charged with a capital offence?
7. "Jesus never actually died." 'This is the so-called 'swoon theory.' 'This asks us to believe that after a succession of savage beatings by Roman soldiers, and being left for hours nailed by the hands and feet to a wooden beam and a vertical pole, Jesus lost consciousness, but remained alaive, even when His body was ripped open by a soldier's spear in order to ensure that He had died. We must believe that nobody noticed any sign of life throughout the removal and burial of the body, and that later, revived by the cool air or the strong-smelling spices with which He had been embalmed, Jesus came out of coma, wriggled free from the tightly-wound grave-clothes, pushed aside the rock sealing the tomb, overcame the soldiers, ran off naked (the grave-clothes were left behind) and, by the time He met with His disciples a few hours later, had made such a complete recovery that He persuaded them He had conquered death and begun a radiant new life. Surely only the grossly gullible would swallow such nonsense!'
Conversely, Blanchard continues, 'evidence for the truth of Jesus' resurrection is plentiful and persuasive...'
It begins 'with the fact that the Bible records six independent, written testimonies (three of them by eyewitnesses) telling of eleven separate appearances over a period of forty days. Skeptics have suggested these 'appearances' were hallucinations, but this line of attack founders on the fact that they fail to meet the necessary criteria. He appeared in a garden, in a home, on a roadside, out in the country, on the seashore and on a hillside. He appeared at many different times of day, and hardly ever in places where He and His disciples had spent time together. What is more, He appeared not merely to individuals but to two, three, seven, eleven and on one occasion several hundred people at once. It is difficult to discount the force of this accumulation of evidence.
Too, one of the most 'striking piece(s) of evidence for Jesus' resurrection is the sudden transformation of the disciples from a dejected, faithless and depressed rabble, cowering behind locked doors, to a fearless and dynamic band of believers, prepared to face persecution, imprisonment and execution rather than deny their convictions.'
This, indeed, could well be the most compelling proof of all: changed lives. Where philosophical arguments and logic do not convince, it is very difficult to deny the inner change of spirit, perspective, priorties, and attitude that characterize the life of one who has been saved by Jesus. And, only if He rose again and lives today, could He change lives continually. Praise to His Name, He IS risen! He is risen, indeed!