Even unbelievers have trouble arguing with these facts.
By Lesli White
Easter is a time when we not only recognize the resurrection of Jesus, but also keep our focus on the reality of the empty tomb. Even the most skeptical, cynical and unbelieving historians, philosophers and theologians agree that a man named Jesus died on a Roman cross on Friday and was later buried in a tomb that was empty on Sunday morning. They also agree that countless individuals, both men and women, testified that they saw Jesus alive on multiple occasions after He had died, included among whom were James, his half-brother, who initially did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, but later came to faith. The question for all such unbelievers is this: What is the best explanation of how the tomb came to be empty? There is no evidence anywhere in the ancient world that anyone disputed that the tomb was empty on Sunday morning, not even those who crucified Jesus. And they were the ones who stood most to gain by simply hauling out the body of Jesus, pointing to it, confirming His identity and forever putting Christianity in the grave as well. But they didn’t. Here are six hidden facts about the empty tomb that prove Jesus was truly risen.
The Tomb Was Hewn Out of the Rock
It was considered important to bury someone near his or her home and family (Genesis 49:29; Genesis 50:25; 2 Samuel 19:37). Tombs were generally hewn from the rock just outside the village where people lived likely so the living could avoid being defiled by the dead (Numbers 5:1-3. In all four Gospels – Mark 15:46, Matthew 27:60, Luke 23:53 and John 19:41- we learn that the tomb was “hewn out of the rock” and meant it would have been a solid tomb with only one entrance and exit. This removes any argument that the disciples dug a tunnel to steal Jesus’ body. There was only one way to get in and one way to get out and that was through the entrance of the tomb.
Joseph Had Some Help
We know from Scripture that Nicodemus “brought a mixture myrrh and aloes, weighing about a seventy-five pounds” (John 19:39). If you recall, Nicodemus was a Pharisee who became a disciple in John 3 and depends on Jesus in John 7. We can also recall that myrrh was one of the gifts given at Jesus’ birth, given once more at his death. There are accounts of people who watched this take place. The women watched as the men prepared and laid the body, and after leaving prepared their own spices and ointments to be used for Jesus after the Sabbath (Matthew 26:61, Mark 15:47 and Luke 55-56).
The Great Stone
The stone in front of Jesus’ tomb was massive in size. The Bible tells us in Matthew 27:60 that it was just Joseph to roll the great stone to the door of the tomb. The size of the stone would have been similar to a small car, and we know how heavy small stones are, let alone a great stone to cover the door of a tomb. The rock itself was most likely a cork-shaped stone which was moved in front of the tomb door. It would have covered the entire door so nothing could get in or out. Often, we see pictures of a tomb with a round shape, but traditionally these stones were reserved for the wealthiest, royal families, therefore unlikely to be in front of Jesus’ tomb. While the term “role” was used in three of the Gospels, John wrote, Mary Magdalene saw “the stone had been taken away from the tomb” (John 20:1), not using the term “rolled.”
Earthquakes were common in Palestine, though there was nothing common about this one. The time and accompanying events suggest this was a supernatural event. Scripture tells us, “And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it” (Matthew 28:2). This angel was neither quiet nor discreet about removing the stone. In fact, he was so proud that he did this; he sat upon the stone mocking the Roman soldier whose seal he most definitely broke. Although it is not clear if the women witnessed the event, it most likely happened before the women arrived. Earthquakes in the Bible often accompanied divine revelation or a unique act of God. When God appeared to Moses on Sinai to give His law “the whole mountain shook violently” (Exodus 19:18).
The Man in White
“His appearance was like lightning, and His raiment white as snow” (Matthew 28:4). This was such an amazing event, the Roman soldiers trembled and became like dead men. A guard watched over Jesus’ tomb or the Jewish temple police. Pilate said to them, “You have a guard, go, make it as secure as you know how.” And they went and made the grave secure and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone (Matthew 27:65-66). And they went Can you even imagine being an unbelieving Roman soldier, watching over a tomb just before dawn, maybe dozing off since it’s been a long night, and out of nowhere an earthquake, a flash of lighting and a tomb is opened, and an angel of the Lord sitting on the rock? You’d probably be scared to death too.
It is widely held that the Shroud of Turin is the burial linen that Joseph had used to wrap and bury Jesus in. This would be the “linen wrappings” that John described seeing in his Gospel, chapter 20:5-7. The Shroud is a carbon-dated linen which shows that it was made during the time of Jesus and is an image of a man who has been crucified, beaten, pierced and has wounds consistent with a crown of thorns, or something similar on his head. For over 400 years, the Shroud has been kept in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy. No plausible naturalistic explanation of how the image on the Shroud was formed has yet been provided, despite the Shroud having been subjected to intensive scientific study since the 1970s. The balance of the evidence, for and against, is overwhelming that the Shroud is the burial sheet of Jesus, bearing the impression of His crucified and resurrected body.
Christ is risen! He overcame death and rose to new life. He has been accepted as the perfect sacrifice to so that our sins have been paid for. Many skeptics say that to believe in a risen Christ is nothing more than a blind leap of faith with little or no basis in truth. When confronted with the facts, however, those who are intellectually honest have been forced to admit that the Resurrection is a historical event based on irrefutable proofs. The Resurrection is the final proof that Jesus Christ is who He claimed to be.