????????? Now while they were on their way, some of the guards came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, “You are to say, His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.”
????????? And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we would win him over and keep you out of trouble. And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day (NASB).
????????? The embalmed remains of Lenin lie in a crystal casket in a tomb in Red Square in Moscow. On the casket it says: ?He was the greatest leader of all peoples, of all countries, of all times. He was the [savior] of the world!?
All is in the past tense for Lenin. How forward-looking, by contrast, are the triumphant words of Christ: ?I am He that [lives] . . . I am alive forevermore.?
THE GREAT CONSPIRACY TO DENY
THE RESSURECTION VV. 11-15
As the women ran to share the news of the resurrection of their Master and Lord, the guards came into the city of Jerusalem to tell the chief priests all that had happened. When the guards revealed the mysterious news to the chief priests, they gave the soldiers money and told them to explain that the disciples had come at night and stole the body while they were asleep. They added that, if the governor hears this and he would not be persuaded by your story, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble. ? The guards then took the bribed money and did as they had been instructed, and this story was widely spread among the Jews up to this day.
Since the time of this great but bogus conspiracy, many other theories have been formulated to explain away the historicity and authenticity of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, I would like to deal with these theories and provide concrete evidence to rebut them.
- The Conspiracy Theory.
This is the theory that is found in this text, Matthew 28:11-15. The Apostle Matthew did not even bother to refute this theory because it is obviously false. This theory does not hold water; it does not ring true. What judge would listen to you in a court of law, if you said that while you were asleep your neighbor came into your house and stole your TV set? Who knows what goes on when he/she is asleep? A testimony like this would be ridiculed in a court of law. Besides, the guards would have lost their heads if they told the Roman governor, Pilate that they were asleep at their post and the disciples came and stole the body. Furthermore, we are faced with a psychological and ethical impossibility. Stealing the body of Jesus was something totally foreign to the disciples and all that we know of them. It would mean that they were perpetrators of a deliberate lie, which was responsible for the deception and the ultimate death of thousands of people.
Each of the disciples faced the test of possible torture and martyrdom for his statements and beliefs. People will die for what they believe to be true, though it may actually be false. They do not, however, die for what they know is a lie. If anything is clear from the Gospels and the Book of Acts, it is that the apostles were sincere. They may have been deceived, if you like, but they were not deceivers. Hypocrites and martyrs are not made of the same stuff.
- A Second Theory is that the Romans moved the Body of Jesus.
The religious leaders would certainly have had enough reason for doing so. They had heard that Jesus had talked of resurrection, and were afraid of hanky-panky. So the argument runs, in order to forestall trickery, they took the precaution of confiscating the corpse. But when this is put into scrutiny, this conjecture also falls into pieces.
Having placed the guards at the tomb, what would be their reason for moving the body of Jesus? If the authorities moved the body of Jesus, why didn?t they bring it when the apostles were boldly preaching about the resurrection in Jerusalem? The religious leaders did everything in their power to suppress the preaching on the resurrection. They even arrested Peter and John (Acts 4) and beat them, and threatened them in an effort to silence them.
A few weeks of Jesus? death, the disciples were boldly proclaiming the resurrection. The news spread rapidly. The new Christian movement threatened to undermine the stronghold of Judaism and disturb the peace of Jerusalem. The Jews feared conversion and the Romans detested riots. The authorities had before them one course of action. The Religious leaders could have produced the remains of the corpse of Jesus and published a statement of what they had done. They could have paraded the body of Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem, if indeed, they had it, and that would have smothered Christianity in its cradle.
????? 3. The Wrong Tomb Theory
This theory states that the women distraught and overcome by grief missed their way in the dimness of the morning and went to the wrong tomb. In their distress they imagined that Christ had risen, because the tomb was empty. If the women went to the wrong tomb, why didn’t the high priest and others go to the right tomb to produce the body of Jesus?
At least two of the women had seen where Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had laid the body (Matt. 27:55-61). They had even watched the whole process of burial, ?sitting opposite the sepulcher.? The same two Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus returned at dawn, bringing with them Salome, Joanna, and the other women, so that if one mistook the path of the tomb, she is likely to have been corrected by the others. And if Mary Magdalene went to the wrong place the first time, she can hardly have repeated the same error when she returned in the full light of morning and lingered in the garden till Jesus met her.
Furthermore, it is inconceivable that Peter and John would also run to the wrong tomb. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who saw to the burial of Jesus? dead body, would not have become the disciples of Jesus if they knew that Jesus? body was still in the grave. Joseph of Arimathea, owner of the tomb in which Jesus was buried would have solved the problem. Moreover, the location where Jesus was buried was not a public cemetery; it was a private burial ground. There was no other tomb nearby that would have allowed them to make this mistake.
- The Swoon Theory
The word ?swoon? means, partial or total loss of consciousness. In this view the enemies of Christ say that Jesus did not actually die. He was mistakenly reported to be dead, but had swoon from exhaustion, pain, and loss of blood. When He was laid in the coolness of the tomb, He revived. He then came out of the tomb and appeared to His disciples, who mistakenly thought He had risen from the dead. This is a theory of modern construction. It appeared first in the eighteenth century. It is significant that not a suggestion of this kind has come down from ancient times among various attacks, which have been launched against Christianity. Let us assume that Christ was buried alive and swooned. Is it possible that He would have survived three days in a damp tomb without food or water or attention of any kind? Would He have survived being wound in spice-laden grave clothes? Would He have had the strength to extricate Himself from the grave clothes, push the heavy stone away from the mouth of the grave, overcome the Roman guards, and walk miles on feet that had been pierced with spikes? Such a belief is more fantastic than the simple fact of the resurrection itself. Even if this theory were correct, Jesus Himself was involved in flagrant lies.
- Hallucination Theory.
The proponents of this theory say that the resurrection was just wishful thinking on the part of Jesus? friends. The stress of His death led them to hallucinate His resurrection. Hallucination is the ?apparent perception of an external object when no such object is present,? and it is associated most frequently with someone who is at least neurotic, if not actually psychotic.
This theory is extremely subjective and individualistic. For this reason, no two people have the same experience. In the case of the resurrection, Christ appeared not just to individuals, but also to groups, including one of more than 500 people. Paul said that half of them were still alive and could tell about these events (1 Cor. 15:3-9). Hallucinations usually occur at particular times and places, and are associated with events fancied. However, these appearances occurred both indoors and outdoors, in the morning, afternoon, and evening. In order to have an experience of this kind, one must so intensely want to believe that he projects something that really is not there and attaches reality to his imagination. If the disciples were hallucinating the religious leaders and the Roman government would not have taken them serious, and would not have persecuted and put them to death. They would have rather confined them to psychiatric hospitals. The faith of the disciples of Jesus was grounded upon the hard facts of verifiable experience. However, the disciples were persuaded beyond any reasonable doubt that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Evidences for the Historicity and Reliability of the Resurrection
- Eyewitness Testimony
Over 500 people witnessed the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Every reader of the Gospels knows that they include some extraordinary stories of how Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection. We are told of ten separate appearances of the risen Lord to what Peter calls ?chosen witnesses.? It is said that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, the women returning from the sepulcher (tomb), to Peter, to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, to the ten gathered in the upper room, to the eleven including Thomas a week later, ?to more than five hundred brethren at one time,? to James, to some disciples including Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James and John by the sea of Galilee, and to many on the Mount of Olives near Bethany at the time of the ascension. Paul includes himself at the end of his catalogue in 1 Corinthians 15 of those who saw the risen Jesus, referring to his experience of the Damascus road. We cannot lightly dismiss this body of living testimony to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- The Changed Lives of the Disciples
Perhaps the transformation of the disciples of Jesus is the greatest evidence of all for the resurrection, because it is entirely artless. The death of their Master left them despondent, disillusioned, and near to despair. However, they emerge in the Book of Acts as men who risk their lives for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and who turn the world upside down. What has made the change? What accounts for their new faith and power, joy and love? The resurrected Christ sent the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost to infuse them with power and dramatic transformation.
It is difficult to account for the dramatically changed lives of Simon Peter (John 18:15-27; Acts 2-4, and Jude and James, the brothers of Jesus (Mark 3:21; John 7:5; James 1:1; and Jude 1) apart from their belief that they had indeed seen Jesus alive from the dead. It was the resurrection, which transformed Peter?s fear into courage, and James? doubt into faith. It was the resurrection which changed the Sabbath into Sunday and the Jewish remnant into the Christian church. It was the resurrection which changed Saul the Pharisee into Paul the apostle, the fanatical persecutor into a preacher of the very faith he previously tried to destroy.
Church tradition affirms that all the apostles, except John (the brother of James) were martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ. It is unimaginable that they would die for what they knew to be a lie. Christians throughout the years have affirmed their own experience with the risen Christ.
- Physical Evidence
The empty tomb was within close proximity both in time (7 weeks) and space (a short walk) to verify Peter?s claim at Pentecost (Acts 2:22-24). There can be no doubt there was an empty tomb. What about the burial clothes? The burial clothes had not been touched, folded or manipulated by any human being. The position of the clothes and the absence of the body were concurrent witnesses to Jesus? resurrection.
- Corroborating Circumstantial Evidence
The proof of the centuries is that the Christian church has continued to thrive and the Bible is respected through the centuries. The dating of the calendar by Jesus? birth and Sunday as the day of worship in honor of His resurrection?the first day of the week underscore the historicity of Jesus life and resurrection. It is evident in passion plays and in Christian baptism.
I agree with C. S. Lewis that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. Which one do you choose today? Why is the resurrection of Jesus so crucial? Without the resurrection our meeting here this morning is meaningless. All the preaching that great men and women have preached across the centuries is in vain. Without the resurrection, we are all lost sinners and will die in our sins. However, the truth is that Jesus is risen. He has changed my life. He has changed your life; He has changed the lives of millions of people around the world. Since Jesus is alive, there is hope for those who trust in Him. There is absolute hope for those who have placed their faith in Him. Not only that, there is hope for those who have died in Christ since He is risen. Happy Easter