The Empty Tomb of Jesus
The quickest way to stop the new Christian religion in A.D. 33 was to produce a body. However, the leaders of the day did not do so. Why? The tomb was empty. Jesus had risen.
Last week we discussed the proofs of Jesus’ death, such as the medical cause of death and the confirmation by non-Biblical sources. Today, we discuss the proofs of Jesus’ resurrection, namely the empty tomb. The civil and religious leaders of the time could easily have stopped the Christian religion in its tracks by producing a body.
The only reason Christianity could have grown was that converts truly believed that Jesus rose from the dead. Why would they martyr themselves for a failed Messiah? Who would spontaneously organize and devote their lives to a man they knew had supernatural powers but did not lift a finger when he was arrested, tried, and executed? What kind of a leader is that? He had the visibility. Why didn’t he perform a miracle and incite his followers to revolt from Roman rule? No, he basically says nothing during his trial, is convicted and executed along with two criminals. Not too inspiring! However, ten of the remaining eleven disciples would die martyrs’ deaths because of him. The only answer that makes sense is that Jesus rose from the dead.
The empty tomb was not a legend but was reported in extremely early sources
In the Lee Strobel’s 1998 book The Case For Christ(1), he interviews Dr. Gary Habermas, distinguished professor at Liberty University. Habermas reports that the resurrection of Jesus is reported an a common Christian creed found in I Corinthians 15: 3-8:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Habermas explains that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians between A.D. 55 and 57. In the passage above Paul indicates that he had already passed on the creed to the church at Corinth. He last visited Corinth in A.D. 51, which is less than 20 years after the crucifixion. He probably received the creed himself in A.D. 32 to 38 (within a couple of years of the crucifixion) in Damascus after his conversion (Acts 9:19) or when visiting the disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-28).(2)
Jesus’ resurrection was no legend formed hundreds of years after the fact. It was a common belief a mere couple of years after the crucifixion. It could only account for the willingness of the early Christians to die for their faith. They wouldn’t do so for a failed political leader. They would for a risen Lord.
For Further Reading
Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus(Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1998)