Did the disciples steal the body, or was it the enemies who stole it? Maybe the women went to the wrong tomb. Or did Jesus pass out on the cross and revive in the tomb, having merely “swooned” on the cross? Did he roll the stone away from the inside and sneak off?
The ramblings of skeptics have one thing in common. They all deny what the Bible texts really say. They all herald the New Testament documents to be unreliable. But they can read between the lines; they claim that they can reconstruct, from unreliable sources, a reliable account of “what really happened.”
Here is an amazing fact. The New Testament record is so powerful; it is so influential; it must be dealt with. And this interesting detail is unavoidable and unassailable. Wilbur Smith made the observation in the following words:
No man has ever written, pro or con, on the subject of Christ’s Resurrection, without finding himself compelled to face this problem of Joseph’s empty tomb (Therefore Stand, Boston: W.A. Wilde Co., 1945, p. 346-47).
So what happened to the body of Jesus? There is only one explanation that is based on the evidence — and the evidence is overwhelming. There are two lines of evidence that prove Christ’s resurrection. First, there is the empty tomb itself. But second, there is the testimony of witnesses to whom the risen Christ appeared.
No one stole the body of Jesus. The guards were posted at the grave to prevent anyone from stealing the body. This presents an unavoidable obstacle in any body-snatching theory. The enemies did not steal the body, for they had no motive. They surely would have produced it in order to discredit apostolic preaching.
The disciples did not, for they were in no mood to steal it, had no motive to take it, certainly had no opportunity with the presence of as many as fifteen or sixteen soldiers at Joseph’s tomb, and they would not have experienced a radical change from depressed men to dedicated martyrs on the basis of a known lie (Rex A. Turner, Sr., Systematic Theology, Montgomery: Alabama Christian School of Religion, 1989, p. 216).
Christ’s resurrection is attested by the empty tomb: the women found it empty; Peter and John found it empty; the angels said it was empty; the Roman guards terrifyingly declared it to be empty; the chief priests believed it was empty; the grave clothes were evidence that it was empty; and even modern skeptics reluctantly agree—it was found empty.
On resurrection Sunday, Jesus Christ was seen by: Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9-10); by the other women (Matthew 28:9-10); by two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32); by Peter (Luke 24:34); by the apostles (with Thomas absent) gathered in the upper room (Luke 24:36ff; John 20:19ff).
Over the next 40 days (Acts 1:3; cf. 10:41; 13:31), the Lord was seen by the apostles (with Thomas present, John 20:26-31); by seven apostles at the Sea of Galilee (John 21); by his disciples in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20); by 500 brethren at once (1 Corinthians 15:6); by James (1 Corinthians 15:7); by those who saw him ascend to heaven (Acts 1:9-10); and “last of all, as to the child untimely born, he appeared unto me [Paul] also” (1 Corinthians 15:8; cf. Acts 9:3-7, 27).
Therefore, Peter preached Jesus Christ, “whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.... This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:24, 32).
Later he proclaimed that the Jews “killed the Prince of life; whom God raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.... Unto you first God, having raised up his Servant, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities” (Acts 3:15, 26).
Again he testified: “Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even in him doth this man stand here before you whole” (Acts 4:10).
Thus Luke reported, “And with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33).
Upon this solid foundation, the apostles established the church of Christ. For Jesus did not just go missing; the guarded new tomb, wherein he was known to be buried, was found empty the third day.
But his tomb was not merely empty, he was seen over and over again. And 3,000, then 5,000, then multitudes believed; and enemies complained, “These that have turned the world upside down have come hither [Thessalonica] also” (Acts 17:6).