Sceptics who claim that Jesus did not rise from the dead have to contend with a rather thorny problem; if the resurrection is a myth, where is the body? Seriously, where is it? Those who contend that Jesus died and stayed dead, have not bothered to consider the logical contradiction of that position in terms of the first century historical record.
The New Testament, together with several non-Christian first century writers such as Phlegon of Tralles and Gaius Seutonius Tranquillus, all record the extreme displeasure of the Roman and Jewish authorities when the news of Jesus’ resurrection started circulating. In fact, they record the attempts of these authorities to quash the rumours of the resurrection. Significantly, and I mean VERY SIGNIFICANTLY, they were never able to produce the dead body. It would have been the obvious trump card! “No, you foolish Christians! He isn’t risen. Here is his rotting corpse! Now go away and stop bothering us!” But they didn’t. They couldn’t. Because the body was no longer there.
Their historical inability to produce the dead body of Jesus is made even more significant by the extreme measures that the Jewish and Roman authorities undertook to ensure that Jesus DIDN’T rise from the dead in the first place. Historical records indicate that they had been aware of Jesus’ previous claims that he would rise from the dead, so they had posted a Roman guard at the tomb. This was not to stop Jesus rising from the dead (because they did not believe he would) but to stop the disciples from stealing the body in order to perpetrate a fraud.
Now, let’s be really clear about this. The posting of a Roman guard was a HUGE thing! The Roman guard was a sixteen-man unit that was governed by very strict rules. Each member was responsible for six square feet of space. The guard members could not sit down or lean against anything while they were on duty. If a guard member fell asleep, he was beaten and then burned to death. But he was not the only one executed, the entire sixteen-man team was executed if any one of the members fell asleep while on duty! This guard was a SERIOUS security step by the authorities to prevent any hint of a resurrection.
Furthermore, historical records indicate that not only was a huge stone rolled across the entrance, but the tomb was then sealed with a Roman seal. This was the seal of the emperor himself. It meant that anyone who broke the seal and opened the tomb would be put death. The Romans did everything possible to ensure that the dead body of Jesus would stay safely in the tomb!
Given these facts, it is inconceivable that a bunch of frightened, bedraggled disciples could have overpowered 16 trained, lethal, hardened Roman soldiers, carried off the body and perpetuated a myth. It really is ridiculous! But if the disciples didn’t steal the body, where did it go? Why were the authorities never able to produce the body?
Historical records describe an earthquake that shook the tomb and nearby precincts on Easter Sunday morning, causing the stone to roll away, revealing an ALREADY EMPTY TOMB. Matthew’s gospel also records that a supernatural apparition appeared as the stone was rolled away, accompanied by a thunderous voice, seemingly from heaven, and that the entire Roman guard were so terrified that they fell to the ground (Matthew 28:1-4).
Historical records also describe numerous subsequent public appearances by the risen Jesus, over a period of 40 days, sometimes involving crowds of up to 500 people at once. The Jewish writer, Flavius Josephus, confirms these post-resurrection appearances, in his book, “The Antiquities of the Jews”.
If sceptics are going to persist in maintaining that Jesus did not rise from the dead, they have to reject not only the substantial evidence of these historical records, but also common sense itself. Where did the body go?
I believe that the body WAS snatched from the tomb. It was snatched from death. It was snatched and restored to life by Jesus himself. His resurrection confirms his deity and his Lordship over all creation – even over death itself. Jesus is his own body snatcher! And he promises that everyone who turns to him in faith and repentance will have their bodies snatched from death, too. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; those who believe in me will live, even though they die.” (John 11:26).
That’s pretty cool!