googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Defending the Resurrection: Where is the Body?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Defending the Resurrection: Where is the Body?

In Matthew 12:38-40, the Pharisees had asked Jesus for a sign to prove His words were from God. Jesus responded that the only sign they would receive would be His resurrection. He said, “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Indeed, Jesus' entire ministry and every promise He made is contingent upon His resurrection. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then every promise He ever made would be dead with Him. 1 Corinthians 15:14 puts it this way, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”

The Pharisees understood how powerful the sign of the resurrection would be. They perhaps understood better than the disciples. After Jesus' death, they said to Pilate, “Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.” They knew that if the people believed Christ rose from the dead, they would believe Jesus' words all the more.

Because the resurrection is such powerful evidence for the divinity of Christ, opponents of Christianity aggressively attempt to deny and discredit it. There are a few standard approaches that unbelievers take to rebut the event of the resurrection. The absent body of Jesus is a silent witness against all of their claims.


Today, perhaps the most common way people deny the resurrection is to say it is only a myth. The first century Church did not believe Jesus rose from the dead but only believed He was a great teacher. As their adoration for Jesus grew, their recounting of His teachings became exaggerated. Eventually, the claim became that He rose from the dead.

This certainly cannot be true. We unfortunately do not have the original autographs of the New Testament authors but the oldest copies we have already include accounts of the resurrection. In his work, The Antiquity of the Jews, 1st century historian, Josephus wrote:
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”
So all accounts we have from the earliest sources, all attest to the fact that even the 1st century Church already believed Jesus rose from the dead. To rebut this, critics will argue that the accounts of the resurrection were added to the text in later dates. How convenient for them. Can they please produce the earlier texts that lacked the resurrection accounts? They cannot; they merely assert the resurrection was added later without having any evidence for such.

But regardless of the early written evidence for the resurrection of Jesus let me ask this: If the resurrection of Jesus is a myth, where is the body?


Some people have argued that Jesus did not actually die on the cross. Rather, He merely fainted or swooned and He was mistaken for being dead. Later, in the cool air of the tomb, He was revived and came out. When His disciples saw Him, they believed He rose from the dead.

This story is hardly credible. It fails to address many critical details given in the text of the gospels. Remember that before the crucifixion, Jesus was beaten and scourged (Matthew 26:67-68, Matthew 27:26). Witnesses to the crucifixion confirm that He died on the cross (Mark 15:39, John 19:30,35). After He died on the cross, a soldier pierced the side of Jesus to confirm He was dead (John 19:34) - modern doctors believe that the description in John indicates the soldier pierced His heart. Finally, a Roman Centurion, acting on Pilate's orders, examined the body of Jesus to confirm He was dead (Mark 15:44-45). It is simply not possible for someone to be tortured, crucified, stabbed in the heart, be examined by a Roman Centurion, and still not be dead.

Let's assume for a moment the highly impossible idea that Jesus truly didn't die on the cross. The cool air that would have been in the tomb certainly would not have revived Him. People who experience shock or blood loss need to be warmed! Why do you think they put blankets on victims of shock? Yet even assuming He did revive in the tomb, what next? In His condition could He have moved the stone, overcome the Roman guard, walked the few miles into town, and still appear ruddy enough to convince His disciples of some glorious resurrection?

The swoon theory borders on the desperate. Keep in mind too that even if all of these outrageous imaginations were possible, Jesus would have eventually died anyway. So where is the body?


Rather than saying the resurrection is a myth, some people say the disciples lied about seeing Jesus alive. This theory defies common sense. Certainly there are some false preachers today who proclaim the gospel only to gain personal wealth. However, in the case of the disciples, they suffered persecution and even death for their preaching. After Jesus' arrest, Peter, out of fear, denied even knowing Him. Later, when directly threatened to stop preaching in the name of Jesus, Peter and John both answered, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:17-20). What could have turned Peter from a coward who denied knowing Jesus into a champion who proclaims Him in the face of persecution? This is not likely if Peter secretly knew the resurrection was a lie! Tradition tells us that all of the apostles except John were martyred for their preaching. Even John was tortured and exiled for his faith. Are there 12 men anywhere who would give up their lives for something they knew to be a lie? Would not even one of them recant to save his own life?

Remember also what they preached: that Jesus was the Way, Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). Would 12 liars with nothing to gain give up their lives to promote the idea that a dead man had been raised and the He was the embodiment of truth?

The Pharisees would have loved to silence any false rumors about the resurrection of Jesus. They could have easily done so by directing people to His tomb. Alas they couldn't. Where was the body?


Knowing that no one would give his life for something he knew to be a lie, some argue that the disciples might have been this zealous if they simply believed Jesus were alive even if He weren't. The disciples so desperately expected the resurrection that they actually imagined seeing Him. This idea contradicts Scripture, though, because we know that the disciples did not expect Jesus to be resurrected. In fact, when they were first told of the resurrection, they refused to believe, thinking the women were telling “idle tales” (Luke 24:10-11). We have too the famous scene of doubting Thomas (John 20:25).

When the disciples did see the risen Savior, it was not a fleeting glimpse. They touched Him. They walked, talked, and ate with Him. He appeared to them on different occasions. 1 Corinthians 15:4-6 even says that He was seen after His resurrection by more than 500 people at once. These events are not possible if the disciples had only imagined seeing Jesus.

Finally, if the disciples had only imagined seeing Jesus alive, that means He was really still dead in the tomb. OK, so where was the body?


From the moment of Christ's resurrection, people have sought to deny it (Matthew 28:12-14). Unbelievers will always attempt to discredit the historicity of the resurrection. No argument, though, no matter how imaginative, will ever adequately address the evidence given in the gospels. What about the testimony of the first century historian? What about the earliest manuscripts? What about the bold preaching of the apostles? What else can explain all these things except that they are true?

And no lie will explain the empty tomb. This Easter, if you should hear one of these myths or some variation on them, ask the critic, “So where is the body?”

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