Editor’s Note: I am currently blogging through my book Easter: Fact or Fiction, 20 Reasons to Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead. That book is available on Amazon by clicking the picture or link below. Please check it out! (Scroll down for links to the other parts to this post) (CLICK HERE FOR THE AMAZON LINK)
“If my words fail to convince you, the empty tomb may”
– St. Jerome, 300s A.D.
“No one in Jerusalem would have believed the preaching for a minute if the tomb was not empty. Skeptics could have easily produced Jesus’ rotted corpse. Also, Paul could not be telling people in a public document that there were scores of eyewitnesses alive if there were not.” 
– Tim Keller
A strong majority of scholars grant that the tomb of Jesus was found empty after his resurrection. Not all of those scholars actually believe that it was empty because of the resurrection, but they do grant its emptiness. Writing “a strong majority,” here is not an unsubstantiated claim, nor an exaggeration. Dr. Gary Habermas, one of the world’s foremost experts on the resurrection of Jesus (and my apologetics professor during seminary), has surveyed 3,400 scholars in this field, and he finds that upwards of 75 percent of them agree that the tomb of Jesus was empty. Even very skeptical scholars like Dr. Bart Ehrman, an agnostic at best, grants that it is almost certain that Jesus’ tomb was found empty three days after His burial, “We can conclude with some certainty that Jesus was in fact buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb and that three days later the tomb was found empty.”
As a historical fact, the empty tomb is difficult to dispute. Consider how quickly the movement to worship Jesus began in Jerusalem, particularly after Pentecost when thousands joined the Jerusalem disciples. It is clear from both biblical accounts and other history that the Jewish authorities opposed this new “cult” that was following Jesus. Given that, why didn’t the authorities, utilizing their temple guard, go to the tomb of Jesus, roll the stone away, and produce the corpse of Jesus? Yes, His body might have been decomposed after a few weeks, but Jerusalem is in an arid area, and it would likely be dry enough inside the burial cave that the body of Jesus would have been quite recognizable. Except, there is literally not a single ancient account of such a thing happening, not even from the enemies and critics of nascent Christianity.
Perhaps you are familiar with the phrase, “a skeleton in the closet.” This metaphor refers to a situation where there is something hidden in one’s life that could be the undoing of that person. The Tell-Tale Heart, by Edgar Allen Poe, is perhaps the most famous fictional representation of the skeleton in the closet trope. In that Poe classic, one man murders another, and hides his body under the floorboards of his house. Police officers arrive the next day to investigate the scream of the murdered man as he died, but they see no evidence of foul play, and have a very casual discussion with the narrator of the story, who is the murderer. As the officers converse with the unnamed narrator, his guilt manifests so that he hears the heartbeat of the man he murdered, and that heartbeat gets louder and louder. Finally, just before the officers proceed to exit without suspicion, the guilty man breaks down, confesses his deed, and tells the officers where the body is hidden. Thus, the metaphorical skeleton in the closet is revealed to be an actual corpse hidden in the floor beams.
If skeptics of the resurrection of Jesus are correct, then the disciples in the first two decades after the death of Jesus also had a sort of skeleton in their closet. If the tomb of Jesus wasn’t TRULY and FACTUALLY empty, then the Jewish officials could have easily opened the tomb and demonstrated to all that Christianity had a great hidden secret: namely, that it’s founder did, in fact, die, and stayed dead as well. And yet, there is absolutely no historical record that demonstrates that anything like this happened. Indeed, in Matthew 28:15, it is recorded that, at the time of the publication of Matthew (2-4 decades after the resurrection of Jesus), the Jews were saying that the disciples stole Jesus away. There would be no reason whatsoever to make such a claim if the tomb of Jesus had been anything but empty.
Wouldn’t it have been far easier, if it were possible, to have produced the body of Jesus and just been done with it? That probably wouldn’t have turned away every ardent Christ-follower, but it sure would have done so for most of them. However, the presentation of Jesus’ body to His followers never happened, because there was certainly no body to produce. Even if a skeptic went along with the explanation of the Jewish Sanhedrin, that Jesus’ body was stolen by His disciples, that skeptic still must grapple with the reality that the disciples almost all died horrible deaths, refusing to recant their allegiance to Christ. That would be an absurd thing to do if they were the ones that propagated a false story regarding the resurrection of Jesus. The stolen body theory defies logic, and has no ancient historical evidence.
This hoax theory, (That the disciples perpetrated a scam by stealing the body of Jesus and acting like He rose from the dead) not only does not account for the extreme suffering/martyrdom endured by those who would have enacted the scheme, but also doesn’t propose a good reason FOR performing the hoax in the first place. What could their motive possibly have been? I have not read a good skeptical theory that proposed anything worthwhile that the disciples of Jesus could have gained by perpetuating a myth that He rose from the dead. While some unscrupulous pastors and teachers have, in modern times, grown wealthy by exploiting their followers, Jesus clearly didn’t engage in that behavior; He was largely homeless, and it seems that none of His followers ever became very wealthy, comfortable, or materially blessed due to their proximity to Jesus!
Philosopher William Paley, writing in the 1700s, asked a series of questions that would seem to provide some logical prima facie evidence that the resurrection was not a hoax by the followers of Jesus: “Would men in such circumstances pretend to have seen what they never saw; assert facts which they had no knowledge of; go about lying to teach virtue; and though not only convinced of Christ’s being an imposter… bring upon themselves, for nothing, and with full knowledge of the consequences, enmity and hatred, danger and death?” It is highly unlikely that the disciples of Jesus would stick by their story of the resurrection unto their own deaths, unless they were thoroughly convinced that it actually happened beyond a shadow of a doubt. (Chapter continued in the book)
(Note: This is a partial preview of my book, you can continue reading FREE on Amazon via Kindle Unlimited, or you can purchase the book for a few pennies, OR you can find a friend reading it and take it when he isn’t looking!)
Links to the other 20 posts in this series (20 Reasons To Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead)
#5: 20 Reasons To Believe Jesus FACTUALLY Rose from the Dead – #5 The Lithuanian Argument
#11: 20 Reasons To Believe Jesus FACTUALLY Rose from the Dead – #11 Bible Accounts are Too Detailed to Contain Mythic Information
#12: 20 Reasons To Believe Jesus FACTUALLY Rose from the Dead – #12 Bible Accounts of Jesus’ Resurrection are Too Early to be Mythical
#13: 20 Reasons To Believe Jesus FACTUALLY Rose from the Dead – #13 Textual Variants Demonstrate Biblical Reliability
#16: 20 Reasons To Believe Jesus FACTUALLY Rose from the Dead – #16 Skeptical Ancients, or Slack-Jawed Yokels?
#17: 20 Reasons To Believe Jesus FACTUALLY Rose from the Dead – #17 Minimal Facts Argument (Gary Habermas)
 Gary R. Habermas and Mike Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, ©2004), 30.
 Bart Ehrman, “From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity,” Lecture 4: “Oral and Written Traditions about Jesus” (The Teaching Company, 2003)
 William Paley, The Works of William Paley: Archdeacon of Carlisle: with a Life of Author Volume 1 (Palala Press, 2015), 1
 Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Matthew, ed. John Henry Newman, vol. 1 (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1841), 979.
 Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Dutton, ©2008), 203,