Belief in miracles lies at the heart of Christian faith. Post-modern, non-Christian man finds the idea of miracles offensive and is suspicious of such an irrational concept. But without the miracle of the Resurrection, Christianity would have passed into obscurity in the first century.
Only Jesus did miracles that proved His power over creation like calming a storm with only a word. His miracles also verified that He was the promised Messiah. But Jesus’ resurrection was the greatest miracle of all! He raised Himself from the dead. It validated all of His claims as to Who He was, and what He accomplished on the cross.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ was a unique event in history. Although Scripture records instances of people being raised from the dead, by Elijah and Elisha, by Jesus and Peter, and Paul, as well as some at the same time as the resurrection of Jesus, His is unique in two ways.
First, all others were raised from death to life through the agency of a person, but Christ raised Himself from the dead. He said, “I have power to lay down my life,” (meaning He would not die unless He purposed to do so, since He had no sin in Him), and “I have power to raise it up again.”John 10:17, 18
A second difference is that all the other people who were raised to life, eventually died again. Their bodies weren’t glorified. Only Jesus rose from the dead, and is alive forevermore in His glorified body. This is our God!
So how do we ‘defend’ this miracle to unbelievers? They mock, they laugh, they dismiss it. “You really expect me to believe that Jesus rose from the dead?”
Some say maybe He wasn’t even really dead, that He just fainted. This is known as the swoon theory, but most serious scholars don’t believe it. Remember, the centurion put a spear up into His side far enough to pierce His heart, in order to confirm He was dead. He did this job every day. He knew a dead person when he saw one.
Also, there was a practice of breaking the legs of the person being crucified to speed death along, since then they couldn’t push up to take a deeper breath. But the Bible says, “But when they came to Jesus, and saw that He was already dead, they did not break his legs.” John 19:33
Also the Jews were convinced He was dead. That’s why Joseph of Arimathea went to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body so he could bury Him.
Matthew 27:57-61 says, “Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.” And Joseph and Nicodemus prepared the body for burial with linen cloths. They would not do this if He was not dead.
The disciples knew He was dead, so they were in hiding, fearing for their lives.
So, since we know Jesus really died, I think we can dismiss the swoon theory.
Another theory says His disciples stole His body, and then circulated the story that He was raised from the dead. The origin of this is in Matthew 28:12, 13 “When they (the chief priests) had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’” Verse 15 says, “So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day,” meaning until the day of this writing, at least. But this story was still going around in 160 A.D. at the time of Justin Martyr.
So let’s consider the option that the disciples stole the body.
Jesus, Whom everyone agreed was dead, was placed in a tomb. This tomb was a cave with only one entrance. A very large and heavy rock was placed into the entrance, probably rolled down into a crevice, so that to remove it would require you to push it uphill.
It’s important that we see details recorded in Scripture, like how large the stone was as an impediment to stealing a body. The women commented on it as they went to the tomb on Sunday morning. “Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, ‘Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?’ But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large.” Luke 24:1,2
Although the disciples didn’t seem to remember that Jesus told them He would be killed and then rise again on the third day, His enemies did. They went to Pilate and asked for a guard to be set by the tomb for this very reason.
“On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.”
“Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.” Matthew 27: 62-66
The stone was the physical deterrent, the official seal from Pilate was the legal deterrent, and the guards were the enforcers.
So Pilate said, “You have a guard.” We know there was more than one individual guard because upon seeing an angel, it says in Matt. 27:4 “and the guards (plural) shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.” Also Matt. 28:11 says, “…some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened.”
A Roman guard was a military unit consisting of up to 60 soldiers. Imagine. And these were given one job: to guard a dead body in a tomb with one entrance sealed with a stone. You’d think they could do that!
Not only that, but if they were tasked to guard a prisoner, and that prisoner escaped, the guard was put to death. This was the Roman way. That was incentive enough to do their job!
They also could not sleep on the job, or they’d be punished.
So, even assuming a dozen guards, consider their story. They see an angel, and fall down as dead men. When they get up, the stone is rolled away and the body is gone. Also remember, the stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out. It was rolled away to let people in to see that the tomb was empty.
They must have been terrified to report this. What? All of them fell asleep on the job? What? Their prisoner is gone? They knew that when they reported it, they would be put to death. It was their only job. It should have been easy. But this was no ordinary person in that tomb!
Have you seen the internet meme, You had one job! Do you know what an internet meme is? It’s either a picture or a phrase that gets used on the internet to explain unrelated subjects. Anyway, this meme, You had one job! shows pictures like an area where they were supposed to paint the word F-I-R-E and they spelled F-R-I-E instead, and it says, You had one job! Or a section in a store labelled Toothbrushes and Toothpaste, and the products are under the wrong sign. You had one job!
Well, these guards had one job, and they failed.
They report the missing body, and are told to circulate the story that they fell asleep and the disciples stole the body while they slept. How it must have hurt their pride to say they all fell asleep on the job; that they had all failed in their assigned task. Not only that but they were given money (a bribe) and assured that it would be smoothed over with the governor, so that they wouldn’t be put to death for letting their “prisoner” escape.
If I could cross-examine them about their story, I’d ask, “If you were asleep, how do you know it was the disciples who stole the body? And if you saw who it was, why did you allow it?”
Further, if the disciples stole the body, you’d think they’d just run in and grab Him and go, wouldn’t you? Yet the body was missing, but the grave clothes remained. Curious.
Where were these disciples at the time? Most had deserted Jesus when He was arrested, and now they were in hiding for their lives, fearing the same fate. Those disciples? They stole the body? Not likely.
Yet, after the resurrection, they were so convinced of its truth, they became bold witnesses. They turned the world upside down.
These were rational men. Almost all (ten of eleven) were killed as martyrs, yet none ever denied that they had seen the risen Lord. Who would die for a lie?
So I think we can dismiss the theory that the disciples stole the body. The alternative is that the bodily resurrection of Christ is true.
Christianity is based on the truth of the resurrection. We believe it by faith, but our faith is not irrational.
Miracles are not recorded in Scripture, merely to entertain us or give us great stories to read to our children. They are there to encourage believers. They are also evidence that demands a response. Faced with these proofs of His resurrection, we must respond in repentance and faith.
There’s a reason we use ‘improper grammar’ and say “Christ is risen,” rather than “Christ has risen.” It’s because once He rose, He did not die again, but remains risen from death, in His glorified body.
A nice Resurrection morning greeting is to say, “Christ is Risen!” and the response is, “He is Risen indeed!”