When Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene, and Salome brought fragrant spices to anoint the body of Jesus, what they witnessed in the empty tomb would not only change their own lives, but the lives of everyone in the whole world forever.
The empty tomb has served as the bedrock for the confidence of many who have entrusted themselves to Jesus that He will raise them into new life on that final day. The biblical premise that believers in Christ will attain new resurrection bodies is grounded upon His own resurrection, and His victory over death is signified by the empty tomb.
What’s remarkable is that secular historians grasp the considerable weight of the implications of this truth. If the tomb was really empty, then a Jewish man in his early 30s has really set the Guinness World Record for becoming the first man ever to defeat death!
What’s even more comforting to hear is that there is a strong consensus amongst scholars and historians that affirm that Jesus’s tomb was indeed somehow empty. However, many liberal historians have questioned the biblical explanation for the empty tomb, and have come up with multiple alternative theories that attempt to explain it.
Here are at least two of the most prominent theories:
1. The Stolen Body Theory: Secular historians say the tomb was empty because the disciples of Jesus stole the body in order to fool the world into thinking He resurrected from the dead. Let’s cover some of the problems with this theory:
i. The disciples were a bunch of cowards. They ran away and hid from Christ when He was arrested by the temple guards from fear of experiencing punishment for being associated with Jesus, the one who had proclaimed himself the King of the Jews. If that’s the case, why would the disciples risk their lives to steal his body?
ii. Let’s assume they did want to steal the body. They would have had to sneak around the Roman guards, roll the circular stone that sealed the tomb (the rock weighed at least a ton), enter the dark tomb, collect the body and run out without getting caught! This would be considered a tremendous feat to accomplish.
iii. Lastly, what was their motive? If their motive was so that they could fabricate the lie that Jesus actually rose from the dead, then we see in Scripture that even the disciples did not believe that Jesus will raise His body from the grave (John 20:9). Again, they were cowards, so why would they risk dying for a lie?
2. The Swoon Theory: Some have also advocated for this view by claiming the tomb was empty because Jesus left the tomb Himself. He never really died but it only seemed as though He did. He entered into a semi-comatose state, due to shock and loss of blood, which made Him appear to be dead. But due to the reviving effects of the spices, the coolness of the tomb, and having three days to recover in the tomb, He was able to get up from His burial bed and leave the tomb. The disciples ran into Him and mistakenly thought he rose from the dead. Let’s discuss the problems:
i. Jesus got beaten and ripped to shreds. He was then nailed and crucified on the cross. By the time the Roman executioners were about to break his legs, they found that He was already dead, but to be extra sure of it, they pierced His side with a spear to let all the blood and water drip (John 19:34). These Roman executioners were professionals in killing, and would know with great certainty whether Jesus was still alive or dead.
ii. Even if Jesus was alive in the tomb, it would have been very unlikely that He would have possessed the strength to move the stone that sealed Him inside the tomb, given the injuries He had sustained from the beating and the crucifixion. And even if He was able to do so, He would have had to do it stealthily to avoid notice from the guards. This theory is equally as absurd as the first.
The biblical explanation for the empty tomb, that Jesus was raised three days after His crucifixion, stands to be the only explanation that can hold itself together under heavy scrutiny. So, let’s continue to trust the words of Jesus that the empty tomb signifies his triumphant victory over the bondage of death and is risen indeed!