The Christ in Prophecy Journal

The Reality of the Resurrection: Debunking Arguments for the Empty Tomb

What outrageous excuses have people concocted for why Jesus’s tomb was empty?

There is simply no way to overemphasize the importance of the Resurrection to the Christian faith, for the resurrection of Jesus is the Christian faith. Christianity stands or falls on the validity — the historical reality — of the Resurrection. The Resurrection of Jesus is either the greatest event in the history of mankind, or it is the cruelest hoax that has ever been perpetrated.

Debunking Arguments for the Empty Tomb

Dr. Reagan: Let’s now consider the evidence of the Resurrection, and in doing so, we must start with the fact of the empty tomb.

Nathan Jones: The Gospels tell us that Jesus was buried in the tomb of a wealthy man, Joseph of Arimathea. Three days later that tomb was empty. It was empty despite of the fact that it had been sealed by a huge stone weighing close to two tons, and despite the fact that it had been guarded continuously by a special contingent of Roman soldiers.

Dr. Reagan: When the soldiers reported their startling discovery of an empty tomb to the chief priests of the Jews, they were given a bribe to tell the people that, “His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.”

Nathan Jones: I want you to note something very important about the response of the Jewish leaders. The significant thing about their reaction is that they did not challenge the fact that the tomb was empty. That’s because the tomb was empty! They simply could not argue with that reality, and so they made up a story to explain why the tomb was empty.

Dr. Reagan: Men have been concocting stories ever since that time. Let’s consider some of those explanations, and as we do so, I think we’ll begin to sense that the shallowness of their arguments speaks louder in many respects than the counter-arguments of Christians.

1) Confusion

Nathan Jones: One of the arguments against the Resurrection is based on the idea that everyone got confused, and in the midst of all this confusion, the disciples simply went to the wrong tomb. Yes, some supposedly learned men have proposed this theory over the years. And yet, the Gospel accounts tell us that Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, both accompanied Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus to the tomb and watched them prepare the body for burial. Are we then supposed to assume that when the women returned they could not find their way?

Dr. Reagan: Even if they did get lost and looked in the wrong tomb, did Peter and John do the same thing? Did the Roman soldiers forget which tomb they were guarding? Did Joseph of Arimathea suddenly have a memory lapse as to where his tomb was located? And, why didn’t the Jewish leaders simply go to the right tomb and produce the body? The answer is simple — the tomb was empty!

2) Theft

Nathan Jones: The oldest explanation of the empty tomb is the one the Jews made up and bribed the soldiers to tell, namely, that the body of Jesus was stolen by His disciples. Yes, this explanation would have us believe that Peter, and Andrew, James and John were body snatchers.

Dr. Reagan: Just stop and think about this argument for a moment. To believe this theory of body snatching, we would have to believe that a small rag-tag band of followers who were scared witless at the arrest of Jesus and who fled into the night to save their own skins, suddenly found the courage three days later to take on a guard of Roman soldiers.

Nathan Jones: Even more significant, what would have been the motivation of the disciples to steal the body? After all, we’re told over and over again in the Scriptures that they did not understand that Jesus was to be resurrected. Their behavior after the crucifixion testifies to this, especially as they sat around in despair mourning the loss of their leader.

Dr. Reagan: And yet, this very group suddenly came alive with hope and went forth boldly proclaiming the Resurrection at the risk of their lives. Are we really to believe that a group of frightened disciples could be transformed into a courageous band of fearless proclaimers by snatching a body, hiding it, and then committing their lives to a lie? That’s more difficult to believe than the Resurrection!

3) Hallucination

Nathan Jones: That brings us to a third theory, and one that has become very popular in recent times. It is the theory that the disciples experienced a series of hallucinations. As one advocate of this novel concept has put it, “They experienced a disruption of the physiochemical structures of the brain in such a way as to be able to see what they desperately wanted to see.”

Dr. Reagan: Now, I will grant that Mary Magdalene might have had a hallucination. After all, she was a frightened and frustrated young woman wandering about in a cemetery at daybreak. As a matter of fact, the reaction of the disciples to her news of the empty tomb and her encounter with angels who informed her of the Resurrection indicates that they thought she had been seeing things.

Nathan Jones: But what about the appearance of Jesus to all the Apostles on three different occasions? Or, His appearance to 500 believers on a Galilean mountain? Or, His ascension into Heaven before a host of disciples?

Dr. Reagan: A hallucination is a highly subjective experience and a very personal one. Like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder. To believe that 500 people could have had the same hallucination simultaneously takes more faith than a belief in the Resurrection. Furthermore, the hallucination theory does not explain the empty tomb.

4) Hypnosis

Nathan Jones: Another modern-day theory is that the disciples experienced mass hypnosis. The advocates of this ideas argue that the disciples so desperately wanted Jesus to rise from the dead that they created an aura of auto-suggestion, which is mental hypnosis, and thus whenever the name of Jesus was mentioned, His disciples believed they could see Him.

Dr. Reagan: Mass hypnosis is a probability, with even as many as 500 people, given precisely the right type of controlled environment and the proper mass media like radio, television, or film. But, mass hypnosis without some form of mass media, and without a professional hypnotist, and without ideal conditions, is utterly outside the realm of sound reasoning. How could 500 people in the open air of a countryside, before the invention of mass media, and before the discovery of hypnosis, be subjected to mass hypnosis? And, how does this explain the fact of the empty tomb? I think it’s obvious that the skeptics are simply grasping at straws.

5) Fainting

Nathan Jones: This leaves us with a centuries old theory that has recently been popularized by an apostate Christian named Hugh Schonfield. It’s called the Swoon Theory. This is the idea that Jesus really didn’t die on the cross. Instead, He just passed out and then woke up three days later. Schonfield has revived this idea in his book called The Passover Plot.

Dr. Reagan: Mr. Schonfield would ask people to believe that after Jesus was scourged and crucified, and after He had laid in a cold, damp tomb for three days without food or water, He suddenly revived, removed His burial wrappings, rolled back the stone, and ran around the country side for 40 days without even the benefit of a dose of penicillin or a tetanus shot. Only a fool could believe such utter nonsense!

6) Nostalgia

Nathan Jones: There is one other theory that has become very popular among modern-day liberal theologians. It is what I call the Nostalgia Theory. It’s the idea that the Resurrection occurred only in the hearts of the disciples.

Dr. Reagan: Several years ago I saw a startling example of that in The Dallas Morning News newspaper. It’s hard to believe, but the newspaper reported that this crazy idea had been proposed to the students of a local Dallas university, a Christian university by the way, by a person bearing the title of Professor of New Testament Theology. He stated in his incredible Easter sermon to the students that Jesus had not really risen from the dead in any literal way. What happened instead, he explained, is that Jesus came alive in the hearts of his disciples as they sat around and discussed his life and teachings, just as had been the case with the followers of Martin Luther King after his assassination.

Nathan Jones: Such a ridiculous concept is a natural outgrowth of liberal apostasy because it leaves them with the kind of Jesus they like — one who was only human. Their “messiah” turns out to be a man who meant well, but who in reality was a deluded fool who thought he was God in the flesh.

Dr. Reagan: This Nostalgia Theory, like all the other theories, fails to explain the well documented post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, and it fails completely to explain the fact of the empty tomb.

Nathan Jones: The tomb of Jesus was empty. It was empty, not because it was the wrong tomb, nor was it empty because the body had been stolen. The fact of the empty tomb was not based on hallucinations or hypnosis. It certainly was not based on daydreaming or wishful thinking. The tomb of Jesus was empty! And that is an historical fact.

Nathan Jones: The tomb of #Jesus is empty! That is an historical fact. #Easter Click To Tweet

In the fourth and final part of this series on the reality of the Resurrection, we’ll look at two of the greatest evidences for the resurrection of Jesus.

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ABOUT AUTHOR View all posts Author Website

Dr. Nathan E. Jones

As the Internet Evangelist at Lamb & Lion Ministries, Nathan reaches out to the over 4.5 billion people accessible over the Internet with the Good News of Jesus Christ. He also co-hosts the ministry's television program Christ in Prophecy and podcast The Truth Will Set You Free.


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