March 25, 2016


Searching for Jesus’ dead body

Perhaps you’ve seen the new movie Risen, which tells the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the viewpoint of a Roman tribune who was commanded by Pontius Pilate to find the dead body of Jesus after the Apostles supposedly stole it.

While we didn’t particularly like some parts of the movie, we are confident that the Roman soldiers did indeed search for Jesus’ dead body to refute the ridiculous idea that he rose from the dead. They failed, of course, because Jesus did indeed rise from the dead.

This is our belief, which is attested to by our historically reliable Scriptures. Jesus—after dying the cruel death by crucifixion, being wrapped in a shroud and laid in a tomb, and while his tomb was being guarded by soldiers—rose from the dead. He then appeared to Mary Magdalene and other women, to the Apostles, to disciples on the road to Emmaus, and to 500 people at one time.

Nevertheless, there are people who don’t believe it actually happened because it’s not possible for someone who is dead to come back to life. Well, of course not. That’s why Jesus’ resurrection is miraculous.

We don’t doubt that Pilate instructed the soldiers to find the corpse, and even Matthew’s Gospel says that they were instructed to say that Jesus’ disciples stole his body while the soldiers were asleep (Mt 28:11-15). But can you imagine what would have happened to the soldiers if they had, indeed, fallen asleep?

It would have been a deep sleep, too, to think that they wouldn’t have been awakened by the scraping of the boulder as it was being pushed away from the entrance. The story that the chief priests and the elders instructed the soldiers to tell only reinforces the evidence that the tomb was empty.

But we’ve heard people say that maybe Jesus didn’t actually die; he only appeared to be dead. That means that he awoke in the tomb in a severely weakened condition, somehow was able to get out of the shroud that bound him, had the strength to push back the boulder in front of the tomb without the soldiers noticing it, and then make his appearances as a healthy man. Right.

Then there’s the hallucination theory: the Apostles only thought that Jesus appeared to them; it was all a hallucination. Sure. They all had the same hallucination, and that hallucination kept recurring for 40 days. The fact is that Jesus felt that he had to prove to the Apostles that he wasn’t a ghost by telling them to touch him and by eating some food (Lk 24:36-43) and by telling Thomas to examine his body (Jn 20:27).

Of course, hallucination theories explain only Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection. They don’t explain the empty tomb, the rolled-away boulder, or the fact that nobody could produce the corpse.

There’s still the possibility that the Apostles made up the whole story. The fact that the Apostles refused to believe the report of the women to whom Jesus first appeared contradicts that theory. Thomas wasn’t the only Apostle to doubt the Resurrection; all the Apostles did until Jesus appeared to them: “Their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them” (Lk 24:11).

If we were to believe that the Apostles made up the story, we’d have to believe that, after Jesus’ death, they got together and plotted how they could deceive everyone. Somehow they’d have to get Jesus’ body where it was buried and hide it. Then they could claim that he had been raised from the dead and appeared to them. Then they could fan out and preach about Jesus, even while knowing that doing so could mean that they’d be killed as Jesus was.

From what we know about the Apostles—fishermen, a tax collector, other simple men—can we really believe that they could do what they did while knowing that it was all a lie? When it came down to their martyrdom, wouldn’t at least one of them admit that they made it up? Quite the contrary. They preached Jesus as risen from the dead because they knew full well that it was true.

—John F. Fink

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