Since there is no mention in the Gospels about the women noticing the Roman soldiers on the ground, it can be assumed that they had quickly recovered as those at Gethsemane had and had fled the scene by the time the women arrived. The guards went to the chief priests and reported all that they had seen. After the chief priests discussed the matter, it was decided that the guards would say that they fell asleep at their post and that the disciples had come during the night and stolen away the body of Jesus. The guards were also told that if the news of the incident reached the ears of the governor, then the religious leaders would take care of the matter and the guards would not suffer punishment. Unfortunately, the guards agreed to participate in this deception.
When the women arrived at the tomb, the angel was still sitting atop the stone. He told them not to fear; that Jesus had risen from the dead. He instructed them to tell the disciples and Peter about Jesus’ resurrection and to let the disciples and Peter know that Jesus would meet them in Galilee. The women, at the angel’s prompting, entered the tomb where they found three angels. One was sitting on the right side of where Jesus had been laying. The other two were standing beside the women. The women fell with their faces to the ground in fear of the Lord at the glorious appearance of the angels. The angels repeated what the first angel had told them and revealed some of the prophecies that Jesus had to fulfill with His suffering and death. As the women left the tomb, they were filled with fear and joy.
The women ran from the tomb. Mary delivered the message to the disciples and to Peter. Peter and James raced to the tomb. James got there first and just peered in. He saw the linen clothes lying where Jesus’ body had been. Peter, upon his arrival, went into the tomb. He, too, saw the empty linen clothes. They both noticed, folded and placed by itself, the face cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. (This may be a good place to note that as I understand it, in Jewish custom, when a guest folded their napkin at the table and left, it meant that they were returning to finish their meal. Could the folding of the face cloth be seen as a message from Jesus that He would be back?) The disciples left the tomb.
Later Jesus appeared in the midst of the disciples. He even encouraged poor doubting Thomas to examine the wounds to His hands, feet and side so that he would be convinced that Jesus had truly risen from the dead. After forty days, Jesus gathered His disciples and was lifted up into the sky on a cloud until He had disappeared from their sight. Two angels appeared, standing beside them, and told them that Jesus would come back in the same manner in which He left.
DID JESUS DIE?
Now some may claim that Jesus never died, that somehow He managed to survive the beatings, the whipping and the crucifixion. Of course, this is nonsense. If He had survived, surely the disciples, Joseph of Aramathea, Nicodemus or one of the Roman soldiers witnessing His execution or removing Him from the cross would have noticed (Romans were experts in death). Even if Jesus had some small spark of life left in Him, remember that He was mortally wounded. Could He really survive all that time in a cold tomb with no medical attention for His injuries? Surely He would have died from shock, exposure, dehydration or blood loss. No. Jesus was dead.
SOMEONE STOLE HIS BODY
Could the disciples or some of His other followers have stolen His body? That’s highly unlikely and here’s why:
• His resurrection was still a mystery to the disciples at that time. That’s why they were grieving His death. They had not yet comprehended what he meant when He said that He would rise again.
• If the disciples or some of Jesus’ other followers had stolen His body, would they take valuable time trying to carefully remove the tight wrappings in one piece like a cocoon (which would have been very difficult because it would have been stuck to his body with the gummy spices that had been applied) or to carefully fold the linen cloth that covered His face? Wouldn’t they have taken Him, linen and all, so that they could spend as little time at the scene of the crime as possible?
• Could they have arrived, moved the stone and stolen Jesus’ body without making a sound or being seen by the guard?
• The official story that the Jewish leaders spread was that the guards said that they had fallen asleep and that Jesus’ disciples stole the body. Question: If they were asleep, how would that know who stole the body? The bible states that the Roman guards saw and reported what really happened and that they were bribed by the Jewish leaders to change their story.
• The chief priests and Pharisees did not go out to inspect the tomb. Their lack of concern for viewing the scene of the crime screams cover-up.
• Breaking the seal on the rock in front of the tomb was a punishable offense. None of the disciples were ever charged with such an offence.
• The Roman soldiers couldn’t have been in collusion with Jesus. Not only was their allegiance sworn to Caesar, Jesus (if He was just a man) could not have possibly known which guards would have been chosen to guard the tomb.
There is always the possibility that Jesus was never placed in the tomb to begin with, but that isn’t possible either. There would have been too many witnesses to His burial to try a stunt like that. If the chief priests and Pharisees weren’t sure of His presence in the tomb, then they never would have sealed the tomb and posted the guard. Groups, both for and against Jesus, witnessed His burial, we can be confident of that. He was a high profile and very controversial person. We can be sure that a crowd was at His execution and burial, including the chief priests and Pharisees.
So, if Jesus did not survive the crucifixion, if He wasn’t taken by His disciples or other followers under the cover of darkness, if He was in fact placed in the tomb on the first day and then sealed in by the chief priests and Pharisees, then what is the alternative?
“What does the critical historian do when the evidence points very strongly to the reality of an event which contradicts his expectations and goes against the naturalistic view of reality? I submit that he must follow his critically analyzed sources. It is unscientific to begin with the philosophical presupposition that miracles cannot occur. Unless we avoid such one-sided presuppositions, historical interpretation becomes mere propaganda. We have a right to demand good evidence for an alleged event which we have not experienced, but we dare not judge reality by our limited experience.” (Ronald Sider, A Case for Easter, HIS magazine, April 1972)
“We have no right to begin with the presupposition that Jesus can be no more than a man. For then, obviously, our conclusions may simply reflect our preconceptions instead of representing the actual content of the documents. We must, in other words, objectively try to discover the picture Jesus and his contemporaries had of him, whether we agree with it or not. The question of us is not whether Jesus is pictured as a man. Virtually no one today would question this, for the records tell us that he was hungry and tired, that he wept, that he suffered and died, in short, that he was human.
The question we face today is whether he was depicted as no more than a man.” (John Warwick Montgomery, History and Christianity, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1971)
Could He be who the scriptures say He is? We'll take a look at the validity of scripture in my next article.
Repent and be forgiven! Believe and be saved!