The Empty Tomb
April 1, 2007 - One of the strongest evidences for Jesus’ resurrection is the fact that three days after His death, His tomb was empty. Consider the following points:
by Matt Perman
- Jesus’ disciples did not begin preaching about the resurrection in obscure places where no one had heard of Him. They began preaching in Jerusalem, the very city where Jesus had died and been buried. They could not have done this if Jesus were still in His tomb. No one would believe that a man had been raised from the dead when his body lay dead in the tomb.
- The earliest Jewish arguments against Christianity admit the empty tomb. Matthew 28:11-15 makes reference to the Jews’ attempt to refute Christianity by saying the disciples stole the body. This shows that the Jews, who opposed Christianity, did not deny the empty tomb. By acknowledging the empty tomb, they admitted the reality of a fact that was not in their favor.
- The empty tomb is supported by the historical reliability of the burial story. Scholars agree that the details of the burial account are some of the best-established facts about Jesus—supported by the inclusion of Joseph of Arimathea as the burier. Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, a sort of Jewish supreme court. People of this ruling class were too well known for fictitious stories about them to be pulled off. Christians couldn’t have circulated a story about Joseph burying Jesus unless it were true.
If the burial account is accurate, then everyone knew where Jesus was buried and could have seen if His body were still in the tomb. If they had found Jesus’ body in the tomb, that would have been decisive evidence to refute the early Christians who were preaching the resurrection.
- Jesus’ tomb was never venerated as a shrine—a striking fact in light of the first century custom to set up a shrine at the site of a holy man’s bones. Historians know of at least 50 such sites that existed in Jesus’ day. The absence of a shrine for Jesus suggests that His bones could not be found.
- The tomb was discovered empty by women. This is important because the testimony of women in first century Jewish culture was considered worthless. If the disciples wanted to perpetuate a myth, most likely they would have told people that it was men who discovered the empty tomb, because their testimony would have appeared more valid.
One could go on to list other evidence for the resurrection as well, such as the numerous credible reports of people who claimed to see Jesus alive after His crucifixion and the willingness of the apostles to die for their belief in the resurrected Christ. Together, the evidence is overwhelming—the Lord is risen. He is risen indeed!