Sunday, April 10, 2005

Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead? – The Empty Tomb – Part 3

So far we’ve looked at several different aspects of the empty tomb. We know that we have reliable and accurate information telling us that the body was placed into the tomb. We know that the resurrection account started in very location the death and burial took place providing many opportunities for those eyewitnesses involved to be thoroughly questioned. Next we discovered that despite every logical reason for it to be the disciples, it was women who discovered the empty tomb. Finally we examined that both Peter and John went and verified the women’s story.

In wrapping up our analysis of the empty tomb, I want too look at a few other factors that I think provide further evidence the tomb was indeed empty. The first factor is Jewish cultural reverence for its Rabbis. In ancient Judaism the graves of Rabbis were carefully cared for and honored. In some cases, the Rabbi’s students would visit the grave of their Rabbi every year. This is important for two reasons. First, people would have a vested interest in knowing where the tomb was in order to visit it. Many had been healed or had their lives changed by Jesus’ ministry. It is reasonable to think that they would have an interest in where the gravesite was. This leads credence to the fact that the location of the tomb was known by many. Secondly, there is no report of people hanging around Jesus’ tomb years after his execution. Although it doesn’t “prove” anything, the absence of veneration at the tomb of Jesus does highly suggest that the tomb was empty. In other words, if the tomb was empty, than it would have lost its significance as an object of veneration.

A second, and very powerful, evidence for the empty tomb is the response by the Jewish authorities. The very first, and only, response we have from the Jewish authorities is found in Matthew 28:12-15 which says “And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.' "And if this should come to the governor's ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble." And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.” Now for a moment let's ignore the rather obvious information presented here, that is, that the Jewish authorities had to bribe the guards to cover the incident up. Instead let’s look at the inferences that can be made from this account. First off, the fact that they were trying to bribe the guards to say the disciples stole the body presupposes that the tomb was empty. If the tomb wasn’t empty, why say the body was stolen? Secondly, this account eliminates the argument of “they went to the wrong tomb.” If the Jewish authorities were bribing the guards, then they not only knew the tomb was empty, but they knew the location of the correct tomb. The fact that the earliest, and only, Jewish response to the empty tomb allows for both the location of the tomb to be known as well as a verification of the tomb being empty provides a very powerful argument in favor of Jesus’ resurrection.

Although the gospel accounts can easily stand up to the toughest scrutiny, there are other accounts outside of the Bible that specifically mention the empty tomb. Justin Martyr, Trypho 108, and Tertullian De Spectaculis 30 are just a few of the sources that validate that the tomb was empty.

As our examination of the empty tomb comes to a close I’d like you to remember what I said in the introduction to this series. First, we need to access what are the facts. So far we’ve investigated the burial account, eyewitness testimony, the Jewish leader’s response and non-biblical sources, all of which independently verify the truth that the tomb of Jesus was empty two days (three by Jewish timekeeping) after his execution. The second thing we need to do is ask ourselves what is the most reasonable explanation of these facts? The way I understand it, there are only two possible explanations for the empty tomb. The first explanation is that it was a human work. But which humans? Jesus’ enemies had the power to empty the tomb, but they had no motive. Jesus’ followers had the motive to empty the tomb, but they lacked the power. I believe the most reasonable explanation to the empty tomb is the second option, that is that God in his incredible and limitless power, raised Jesus from the dead.

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