The third piece of evidence to consider is the scene at the tomb of Jesus when it was first claimed that He had risen from the dead. Like any investigation, the scene of the event holds vital clues in revealing the truth.
A good starting point is to note that it is accepted without doubt that Jesus died and was buried in a tomb. At the time of these events, this site would be a rock with a cleft in which the body was placed. What is also without dispute is that when disciples came to the tomb, the body of Jesus was not there. It was missing! Gone! The tomb where Jesus had been buried was empty.
So where was the body of Jesus? Well there are two possibilities. One, the body had been removed from the tomb by a third party, or two, the body had not been removed by a third party.
Let us examine the first possibility and establish who would wish to hold the body of Jesus Christ. There appear to be three groups of people who had an interest in His body: the Jewish religious leaders, the Roman government and the disciples of Jesus.
Although the Jewish religious leaders and Roman authorities were sworn enemies, they had worked together to ensure that Jesus had been put to death. It is therefore entirely possible that they could work as individual groups or jointly to gain custody of His body. But how likely was that eventuality? Careful reading of Matthew Chapter 27 v 62 – 65 reveals that after the burial of Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman authorities did continue to work together, and did have a vested interest in the body. Here is what is documented. “The chief priests and Pharisees [Jewish religious leaders] gathered together to Pilate [Roman governor], saying “Sir, we remember when He [Jesus] was still alive, how that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise.” “Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, “He has risen from the dead.” “So the last deception will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.”
The sole aim of the Jewish religious leaders was to ensure at all costs the body stayed in the tomb. They had no interest whatsoever in stealing the body of Jesus. They wanted to ensure they knew the exact whereabouts of the body, so that the followers of Jesus could make no claim that He had been raised from the dead. Take time to read the opening chapters in the Acts of the Apostles, and you will discover that in Jerusalem there was political and religious mayhem, instigated by the followers of Jesus, who were preaching a simple message – He has risen! Jesus is alive. If the Jewish religious leaders or the Roman government had been able to produce the body of Jesus, not only would the unrest have been dispersed instantly, they would have brought an end to Christianity once and for all. But they didn’t! They couldn’t! They did not have the body.
So what about the other group, the disciples of Jesus? Is it possible they stole the body, and in the words of the chief priests and Pharisees caused the ‘deception’ that Jesus was alive? Well let us examine the scene.
We know that a guard had been set at the tomb. We are not exactly sure whether it was a Jewish or Roman guard. If it were a Jewish guard, it would have been the guards of the temple who would have been given the responsibility. They worked in groups of ten, were not allowed to stand or sleep on duty, and were subject to strict discipline if they failed in their duty. A Roman guard on the other hand was even more elite. They were the first century equivalent of the SAS. They worked in groups of sixteen, each man guarding 6 feet of space, a combination of men standing, lying and sleeping in four-hour rotations. We also know that a stone was place over the entrance to the tomb, and sealed with a Roman seal, to ensure it was not removed. As this was the only entrance, it is true to say that a stone was placed over the only exit from the tomb (Matthew Chapter 27 v 60; Mark Chapter 16 v 3). Writings in Cambridge Library reckoned to be 1st century manuscripts describe the stone as “one which 20 men could not roll away.”
The disciples themselves were afraid. The bravest and most outspoken of them, Peter, had denied being associated with Jesus, such was his fear (John Chapter 18 v 15 – 18; 25 – 27). They were not a group of people who were fired up for a fight with an elite unit of guards. In addition, there is one piece of evidence associated with the disciples, which will be the subject of Part 5 of this series, which dismisses any likelihood they had taken the body from the tomb. It is never recorded that the disciples wished to claim the body of Jesus, only that they wanted to give the body a respectful burial by anointing it with spices, as was the custom of the time (Mark Chapter 16 verse 1; Luke Chapter 23 verse 56).
Matthew Chapter 28 v 12 – 15 describes how the Jewish religious leaders paid the soldiers who guarded the tomb a large sum of money. In accepting this bribe, the soldiers agreed to tell people that the disciples came at night and stole the body. This incident became so infamous, that the Jewish people talked about it for years to come.
Not only can we look at the scene at the tomb from the outside, we are given detail of the scene inside the tomb. John Chapter 20 verses 6 – 7 tell us that Peter “went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself.” This is not consistent with the scene of a robbery. There is no evidence of rush or hurry.
Matthew Henry in his commentary of these verses says, “The grave clothes in which Christ had been buried were found in very good order, which serves for an evidence that His body was not stolen away while men slept. Robbers of tombs had been known to take away the clothes and leave the body, but none ever took away the body and left the clothes, especially when they were fine linen and new (Mark Chapter 15 v 46). Anyone would rather choose to carry a dead body in its clothes than naked. If they were supposed to have stolen it, would they have left the grave clothes behind? It cannot be supposed they would find time to fold up the linen.”
So, was the body removed by a third party? Well the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman authorities made it clear their objective was to seal the body in the tomb, and bribed the soldiers to say it was stolen when they discovered the tomb was empty. The disciples made it clear they wanted to do the customary burial rite, and treat the body with spices. The tomb was guarded from the outside, and the scene inside was one of order, not the scene of a crime. There is no evidence that the body was removed or stolen from the tomb, by a third party. Why then, was the tomb empty? How did it happen? Three separate written accounts give details of the events that occurred.
Matthew Chapter 28 verses 1 – 6, “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from Heaven and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightening, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come and see the place where the Lord lay.’”
Mark Chapter 16 verses 1 – 6, “Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, ‘Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?’ But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away – for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.’”
Luke Chapter 24 verses 1 – 6, “Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. They went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but He is risen.’”
Three individual witness statements documenting the exact words spoken, “He is risen.”
The evidence from the scene of the tomb is reason to believe that He is risen! Jesus is alive!