The central truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that as the crucified Messiah, He was buried in a borrowed tomb and on the third day, the first day of the week, He arose from the dead. The Four Gospels are explicit in their presenting Jesus as the conquering Savior over the devil, sin and death. The centrality of the message in Acts is that Christ’s resurrection from the grave is the authenticating proof that Jesus’ death on the cross is efficacious in atoning for the sins of all humanity. The focus of the epistles is that Christ arose from the dead. And the book of Revelation pictures Jesus Christ as the victorious, risen Savior who is coming again.
The foundation of Christianity is the Christ Event, which encompasses the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. It is an historical event etched into fabric of time. If there is no resurrection then Christianity is based on a false premise and a faulty foundation. Paul wrote, “If Christ be not risen our faith is in vain and we are all men most miserable, and we are yet in our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Well, did Christ really rise from the dead or have Christians been deluded? For centuries men have tried to come up with all kinds of theories in hopes of invalidating the resurrection and in so doing strike a death blow to Christianity.
Seven such theories are briefly examined, each proving to fall woefully short in their attempt to invalidate the historical truth of His glorious Resurrection.
First, there is the Swoon Theory. This theory contends that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, but He only passed out, fainted or was unconscious. Upon being taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb, the cool air revived Him and He escaped the tomb on His own power. Such a theory is laughable as the Scripture is clear the Roman soldiers declared Jesus dead and to make sure they pierced His side with a spear, His blood spilling out beneath the cross on which he was nailed (John 19:34). How was one whose body had been beaten and subjected to such torture, who had been declared dead, whose blood had flowed on the ground like a rushing stream, unwrap his own grave clothes, then find the strength to roll back the two-ton stone, then get by the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb, and then present Himself as a victorious Savior? Such a theory is preposterous.
Second, there is the Wild Beast Theory. This one is just as preposterous as the Swoon Theory. The theory contends that a wild beast(s) during the night crept into the tomb, dragged the body of Jesus off into the wilderness and devoured the remains, thus the reason the body of Jesus was never found and the tomb empty. The followers of Jesus taking advantage that the remains of Jesus had been devoured by wild beasts, began a rumor that He arose from the dead. Such a theory doesn’t explain how the wild beasts got by the guards which records reveal they remained at the tomb all night, moved the enormous stone, then unwrapped the graves clothes and never left a “mess” which the authorities would have quickly pointed out.
Third, there is the Mistaken Tomb Theory. This theory contends the women in the fading-darkness of the early daylight hours, with eyes blurred by tears, went to the wrong tomb. The tomb the women went to was empty and they mistook it for Christ having risen from the grave. This theory is truly unlikely, for if the women had gone to the wrong tomb the Roman authorities would have quickly pointed out their error. The Roman and Jewish authorities would have without hesitation produced the correct tomb containing the still-occupied body of Jesus. Let it be noted, the disciples corroborated the women’s report of the empty tomb by going in the daylight hours to the place where Jesus’ body had been lain, to find the tomb empty (John 20:1-9).
Fourth, there is the Stolen Body Theory. Some skeptics contend the body was stolen by the women, disciples or by Joseph of Arimathea. If the women took the body, who moved the huge stone for them and how would they have overpowered the Roman guards? The disciples didn’t steal by night Christ’s body as they were scared and fearing they would suffer the same fate as Jesus, were hid behind locked doors. Plus, how could the scared disciples have overtaken in a fight the trained Romans soldiers guarding the tomb, broken the Roman seal on the stone and then moved the huge stone away. The disciples knew if they had tried such a stunt and were not successful, they would suffer punishment of death. It is highly unlikely that they would all have chosen to die for something that would have been practically impossible to do. And as well, eventually they, being the prime suspects if Christ’s body had been stolen, would have been caught.
Also, Matthew tells us that is was the religious leaders of that day who first devised the Stolen Body Theory. The chief priests and elders connived and paid the soldiers guarding the tomb to declare that the disciples came by night, while the guards were asleep, and took the body of Jesus. The guards “took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day” (Matthew 28:11-15). Plus, it would have been impossible for the disciples to have taken Jesus’ body, for the Roman guards knew if they slept on the job it meant death, and how could eleven men moving the huge stone not wake-up the guards if they had been asleep?
Fifth, there is the Hallucination Theory. This theory contends that those who claimed they saw Jesus after the crucifixion were only imagining they saw Him but in actuality didn’t. This theory insists that the women and the disciples had such an overwhelming desire to see Christ again, coupled with their grief, along with the power of suggestion, resulted in a hallucination. The disciples didn’t expect to see Jesus again (Luke 24), and weren’t sure it was even Him even when they saw him! The biggest problem with the hallucination theory is that hallucinations are usually private and individual, and not experienced as a group. Yet, in one instance Jesus “appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time” (1 Corinthians 15:6). That is a lot of hallucinations at one time!!
Sixth, there is the Spiritual Resurrection Theory. This writer had a teacher in college who actually held to this theory, that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead physically but he only arose spiritually…whatever that means. However, the description of the appearances of Jesus after His resurrection clearly indicate He had a real body. He was physically touched by Mary Magdalene (John 20:17), Thomas felt His wounds (John 20:27), and Jesus ate broiled fish with his disciples (Luke 24:41-43). One who is a spirit cannot be touched, and they most certainly have no need of eating solid food.
Seventh, there is the Imposter Theory. There are those who contend that the disciples really didn’t seen Jesus after his crucifixion, what they actually saw was an imposter who only pretended to be Jesus. Those who hold to this theory surmise it is true as evidenced by some who saw him didn’t recognize him immediately (Luke 24). However, in every case where there was no immediate recognition, the witnesses’ initial doubt about Jesus’ identity was replaced by an assurance that it indeed was Jesus. As well, Acts 1:3 tells us that Jesus “shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days.” Forty days was ample time to give evidence as to whether He was an imposter or He was actually the risen Christ. Every account verifies the disciples saw the Risen Christ.
All theories attempting to explain away what was an actual historical event, have proven to be futile efforts. The records and writings from the Gospels, Paul and other New Testament writers regarding the Resurrection refer to eyewitness accounts, and such writings were written too early for legend to have overshadowed the truth of their content. In the days and months after Jesus’ death, something caused the disciples to be transformed men. What was it that transformed them? They were moved from despair to joyous belief because they had seen the risen Savior. Their discouragement was replaced by the conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead. Their defeatist attitude was replaced with a victorious attitude because the risen Lord empowered them with His resurrection power. Their timidness was replaced by boldness as He was alive for ever more. Their hiding behind locked doors for fear they would lose their lives was replaced by a willingness to freely give their life for the One who was victorious over death. Their desire to cower in fear was replaced with a desire to spread the Gospel to the whole world because they were assured Jesus died for all and arose from the dead for all.
Today the tomb where the body of Jesus was laid remains empty. Why? Because Jesus triumphantly arose from the dead, victorious over the cold dark tomb. One will look in vain for Him among the grave stones, for He is not there, “He is risen!” And those who embrace that glorious Good News will discover as did the disciples, He will transform your life forever!!
O, what a Savior.