Jerusalem Part 2
The Case of the Missing Body
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
March 27, 2005
Main Passage: John
On Friday we met here
and we did a forensic investigation of the Crucifixion of Jesus. We
talked in detail about the physical abuse Jesus suffered both on the
cross and before the cross, we discussed His state of mind and the
psychological and physiological stress He endured, and we even
identified the probable cause of death… cardiac arrest brought on by
hypovolemic shock, suffocation, and respiratory acidosis. We examined
the court records and identified several breeches of conduct that cast
a shadow on the whole proceeding. We talked about the political and
religious factions that took part in His death. And we also recognized
that Jesus provided no physical or verbal defense to try to avoid the
cross. In fact, all the evidence points to the idea that the cross was
as much His idea as it was the Jewish religious leaders’ and the
courts’. It was fascinating to examine all the evidence surrounding the
crucifixion, and if you missed that message I would encourage you to
visit our website and read it for yourself.
One of the things I want to reiterate is that Jesus willingly laid His
life down. In fact, if He wasn’t willing to do that, there’s no power
on earth—or anywhere else, for that matter—that could have taken it
from Him. Jesus said…
John 10:18 (NLT)
“No one can take my life from me. I lay down
my life voluntarily. For I have the right to lay it down when I want to
and also the power to take it again.”
Well, we know He laid down His life and died. We talked about that on
Friday. The forensic evidence reveals beyond a doubt that Jesus died.
He did not simply slip into a coma and later come out of it. He was
But it’s the second part of that statement that we’re here to examine
today. Jesus claimed He could come to life again. Could He really? Did
He? That’s what we celebrate on Easter, so this morning we want to see
if we truly have a reason to celebrate. Did Jesus really rise from the
dead? What happened to the body? Because there are only two
possibilities: Either He did or He didn’t.
What I want to do here this morning is present to you some of the most
common objections to the resurrection, and see if there are real
answers to them. Now, I am admittedly biased. I have already examined
the evidence and reached my own conclusion. But this morning I think we
can still see if there are honest answers to the honest questions about
Now, simply because of time there are a couple of suppositions you’re
going to have to accept going into this debate. The first is that God
exists, and the second is that the Bible is reliable. If we had time
this morning, we could provide supporting arguments for both of those.
As it is, we will only have time to touch on these this morning. So we
won’t be able to do an exhaustive examination of these facts today. And
I actually do have a couple of messages planned for later this year
that will do just that. But for today, our focus needs to be on the
resurrection itself. Because that’s what Easter is all about. If you
want material regarding these other issues, then talk to me and I’ll
get you some.
But this morning, the question is, “Did Jesus rise from the dead?”
We’ll look at the arguments from both sides, and then you can make up
your own mind about the answer to this most important of questions: Did
Jesus prove His identity by rising from the dead?
And I’ve got to tell you, this is an extremely important question. The
entire Christian faith rests on the fact that He did. It would be
impossible for me to overstate the importance of this. Paul wrote…
1 Corinthians 15:17 (NLT)
And if Christ has not been raised, then your
faith is useless, and you are still under condemnation for your sins.
And it’s important for you to realize this morning, that faith is not
blind. There are reasons we believe what we believe. It is not
illogical or anti-intelligence or anti-science to believe. Rather, the
facts support it. So when someone challenges your beliefs, you can know
that there are answers, and you can defend your beliefs.
So let’s look at ten of the most common objections to the resurrection.
In your notes, I’ve listed the objections and left a little room for
you to jot in your own responses.
Common Objections to the Resurrection:
Dead men don’t rise.
This is the common sense
argument that doesn’t allow for the possibility of a resurrection. It
There is a
1:1 ratio of people being born and people dying. Pigs don’t fly, cows
don’t jump over the moon, and dead men don’t rise.
But the problem with
this kind of an argument is that you’re coming into the argument
saying, “my mind made up. Now, don’t confuse me with the facts.” You’re
ruling out the possibility right at the beginning and then saying, “Now
show me the evidence for the resurrection.”
You’re coming in with a bias against anything supernatural, and because
of that you’re going to have difficulty objectively analyzing the facts
and reaching a fair conclusion. Christians are often portrayed as being
narrow-minded, but this objection is closed-minded. Because you refuse
to even look at the facts.
Objections # 2:
A resurrection is scientifically impossible.
This is the scientific
argument that declares...
laws of nature that prohibit people coming back from the dead. That’s a
fact. And no matter how much you may want to believe otherwise, that’s
not going to change. It is scientifically impossible for the
resurrection to have occurred.
That’s what the
objection says. But the problem with it is that it misrepresents what
“laws of nature” are. Because there’s not a sheriff someplace that will
shoot you for breaking the laws of nature. They’re not that kind of
laws. The laws of nature are simply an expression of what is normally
observed. They’re descriptive, not restrictive. They don’t prevent
anything from happening, they simply explain why they don’t happen.
You see, if God exists… and we talked about that earlier… if God
exists, then He is the One who put the laws of nature in place. And if
that’s true, then He has both the ability and the authority to suspend
Objection # 3:
The Bible simply contains religious testimonies written by the already
of the resurrection found in the Bible are tainted with the religious
biases of the writers. They had placed their lives, their futures,
their families… everything… on Jesus. So they would grasp at anything
to support a resurrection myth. Relying on their testimony would be
like taking George Lucas and asking him to write a critical review of
Star Wars. Or like taking Don Cherry and asking him to referee a hockey
game between Canada and the Czech Republic.
But just because the
disciples were followers of Jesus Christ does not automatically mean
that they are unreliable as historians. In fact, since they were
followers of Jesus Christ, what did Jesus teach them? He taught them a
high moral standard, based upon honesty, integrity and truthfulness.
And so if they were going to follow His teachings it makes sense that
they would strive to be honest and accurate in their accounts of what
Just because the disciples were followers of Jesus does not
automatically discredit them as historians. It does not mean that they
lied. In fact, we know that their writings are accurate because of
collaborative evidence, as there are at least 22 extra-Biblical
writings plus archaeological evidence that supports the Bible’s account
of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Sir William Ramsay was one of the greatest archaeologists who ever
lived. And when he began his work, he was very skeptical of the
Biblical writings, especially the writings of Luke. He expected to
disprove the Bible through archaeology. But after examining the
archaeological evidence, what did he conclude?
“Luke is an historian of the first rank… This author should be placed
along with the very greatest of historians.”
~ Sir William Ramsay
And it’s only logical to conclude that if Luke was so precise and
accurate in his writing, then that would carry over into his writings
on the resurrection.
Now, the centerpiece of
the whole resurrection account is the empty tomb. The place where Jesus
was buried was found empty. Let’s focus in on that for a few minutes.
Perhaps the women went to the wrong tomb.
these were emotional, psychologically drained, desperate women. It’s
quite possible that they just weren’t thinking straight and went to the
But you need to
understand, this was not a little execution that happened off in the
corner someplace. This would have been the most publicized execution…
probably ever… in this region of the world.
This was not a quiet event. There were mobs of people present at the
crucifixion. People knew what had happened. They knew that Jesus had
been crucified and they knew where Jesus was buried. I can tell you
today whose tomb Jesus was buried in… Joseph of Arimathea. And he was
friendly with the disciples. If the women had gone to the wrong tomb,
he certainly would have pointed it out.
Plus, if you assume that the women went to the wrong tomb then you’d
also have to assume that Peter and John who came later also went to the
wrong tomb. And wouldn’t they have wondered what happened to the Roman
guards and the seal that was placed over the tomb… shouldn’t there be
remnants of that? And don’t you think they would have double-checked
and made sure they had the right tomb before they staked their lives on
And plus, if this was the wrong tomb, that means that there was a right
tomb someplace. That means there was a body someplace. And if the
Romans or the Jewish leaders wanted to disprove the resurrection and
discredit the disciples all they needed to do was present that body.
They would have loved to have done that. But they didn’t do it because
it was the right tomb.
So what if the body was missing? That just means it was stolen or moved.
Even if the
body was missing, what does that prove? It only proves that there was a
body missing. And that is a far cry from a resurrection. In fact, right
now there are thousands of people agonizing over missing bodies in
Southeast Asia. Three months ago, the Tsunami swept thousands of people
away and they died. It was a tragedy, but nobody is claiming that they
came back to life again. A missing body does not a resurrection make.
If the body was missing, it means that somebody stole it or moved it.
Well who, then? Who
would have stolen or moved the body? There are really three
I suppose there is a
fourth possibility, that some common grave-robbers stole the body. But
grave-robbers don’t steal bodies, they steal valuables from graves. But
in Jesus’ case, the only thing of any value whatsoever was left behind…
the linen cloth that Jesus was buried in was left in the tomb. So you
can immediately rule out grave-robbers.
We can talk about the Roman Government and the Jewish Leaders together
here. Because neither one of them had any motive whatsoever to hide the
body. They would have loved more than anything to be able to produced
the body because that would have instantly crushed this whole new faith
of Christianity and wiped it out of existence, and they desperately
wanted to do that. But they didn’t do that. Why? Because they didn’t
have the body. Neither the Roman authorities nor the Jewish religious
leaders wanted an empty tomb, because the empty tomb was essential to
the Christian faith.
Can you imagine what would have happened to the Christian faith if you
had Peter out there preaching about how Jesus rose from the dead and
all of a sudden the Romans or the Jewish leaders produced the body? It
would have completely destroyed the credibility of the believers and
Christianity would have been proven false and would have never gotten
off the ground. More than anything, the Romans and the Jews would have
loved to parade the body up and down Main Street in Jerusalem
proclaiming, “You say He’s risen? Looks dead to us.”
It’s inconceivable that the Romans and Jews would have stolen the body,
or if they had that they never produced it. So let’s talk about the
First, it would have been completely out of character for the disciples
to steal the body and then lie about it. It’s not impossible, but it’s
unlikely because they had sat for years under the instruction of Jesus
who taught them that high moral code. It would have been completely
inconsistent with His teachings for them to steal the body, lie about
it, and then be willing to be put to death for a lie.
Secondly, it would have been inconsistent with what else was going on
in their lives at the time. Think about it… when the soldiers came to
arrest Jesus, all of the disciples ran away and hid. Peter came back,
and ended up following Jesus at a distance through the initial trials.
But when a servant girl… a servant girl… recognized him as a disciple,
he was so scared that he denied it. After His death, the disciples were
devastated. As far as they were concerned, it was over. So what makes
you think that this frightened, distraught group of people somehow
mustered up the courage to go to the tomb and take on the entire Roman
guard that was stationed there… the highly trained, well-armed Roman
soldiers… and steal the body?
Third, there was a story that was spread at the time that in fact the
disciples had stolen the body. The historical record is that the Roman
authorities paid the guards to say that they had fallen asleep and that
the disciples had stolen the body. But that’s absurd. If they were
asleep, how in the world would they know who stole the body? Plus, if
every one of them did fall asleep, don’t you think that when the stone
was moved they would have awoken? Because there was a huge stone rolled
in front of the tomb that would have taken 20 people to move. Plus the
fact that for Roman soldiers to fall asleep on duty, it would have been
a death penalty situation. But there’s no record whatsoever of them
being reprimanded or punished in the least. Doesn’t that seem odd?
And fourth, the most important reason the disciples couldn’t have
stolen the body is because they had nothing to gain from it. It would
not make sense for them to claim, “We’re going to steal the body and
then lie about it, and then we’ll have the unspeakable privilege of
traveling around as penniless evangelists for the rest of our lives,
being beaten, being thrown in jail, being whipped, and being put to
death for a lie. I mean, it just doesn’t make sense. And remember, in
the end it cost them their lives.
The fact the disciples died for their faith doesn’t prove anything.
you’re making a big time out of the fact that the disciples died. But
what does that prove? It doesn’t prove anything, because there have
always been people willing to die for their beliefs, whether their
beliefs were true or not. September 11th is proof of that. The
terrorists were willing to die that day for their beliefs. That doesn’t
mean their beliefs were true. That doesn’t mean that what they did was
right. People have been dying for religion throughout history.
But there’s a major
difference between what the terrorists did and what the disciples did.
I would agree that people throughout history have been willing to die
for their faith if they believe it’s true. And I will concede that the
terrorists believed that when they died that day they would go straight
to Paradise. But there’s a major difference, and that difference is
People will die for their faith if they believe it is true, but they
will not die for their faith if they know it is false.
And the disciples were in a position to know whether or not Jesus had
really risen from the dead. And I remind you that all but one of the
remaining eleven disciples were put to death proclaiming that Jesus had
risen. In fact, six of them chose to be tortured through crucifixion
rather than recant their claims that Jesus had risen from the dead and
that they had seen Him. And nobody knowingly dies for a lie.
Okay, I just mentioned
that the disciples claimed to have seen Jesus after the resurrection.
And there were others, too. Let’s shift our focus to these appearances.
Because there were several of them. Just in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul
summarizes several of them that are described in detail elsewhere…
1 Corinthians 15:4-8
He was buried, and he was raised from the
dead on the third day… He was seen by Peter and then by the twelve
apostles. After that, he was seen by more than five hundred of his
followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have
died by now. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles.
Last of all, I saw him, too…
And then there are other
accounts of Him appearing to Mary Magdalene and to others as well. So
here’s an objection…
Paul claims that 500 people saw Jesus at the same time. But these are
500 nameless people.
How do I know
that what Paul wrote is true? I mean, these are 500 nameless people. I
need their names, I need their phone numbers, I need their addresses, I
need their emails. How do I know these people really existed? This
evidence is so sketch that it’s really no evidence at all.
Well, first of all, this
reference to 500 people is accompanied by a list of specifically
identified individuals, five of whom ended up writing their own books
on the subject. Matthew, John, James, Peter, and Paul. The reference to
500 was merely cream on top of the argument. He didn’t name them all
because he was discussing a widely known fact.
I mean, if I tell you that I went to a Rocket game and told you that
there were 2000 other people there, too, just because I don’t name them
all doesn’t mean that they weren’t there. And remember, over half of
these people were still alive. It would have been easy for Paul’s
enemies… and he had plenty… to expose him as lying if indeed he were
lying. But Paul’s saying, “Hey, if you doubt me, there are plenty of
people out there that are going to back up what I’m saying.”
And I think it’s also important for us to remember that the disciples
are writing about these events and telling about them in the very
region where they happened. If they were lying about it, the people
would have run them out of town. I mean, if you’re going to make up a
myth, tell about something that happened in a far off land. Or tell
about something that happened long, long ago. (Maybe even in a galaxy
far, far away.)
If I told you about the huge riots that happened in downtown
Charlottetown this week, you would know that I was lying. But if I told
you about the riots in Eritrea, you probably wouldn’t know if I was
telling the truth or not. You might believe me, you might not.
But here you have the disciples spreading the news in the very area at
the very time the resurrection happened to the very people who would
have known if it was true or false. Look in Acts chapter 2. This is
just a couple months after the alleged resurrection, and Peter is
addressing a crowd of people…
Acts 2:22, 32 (NIV)
“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of
Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and
signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know… God
has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.”
He appeals to their knowledge of recent events. Did they tell him they
didn’t know what he was talking about? No, that doesn’t happen. They
don’t throw him out of town. Instead, 3000 of them that day were
baptized and added to the Church.
The resurrection accounts are contradictory.
Read them for
yourself. If you read the four Gospel accounts of the resurrection,
each account included different facts and different people that saw
Jesus at different times and in different places. The accounts
contradict each other.
Well, first of all, if
you were in a court of law and all of the witnesses told you the exact
same story, the judge would throw their story out because it would be
obvious that they had conspired and rehearsed their story. Because
eyewitness testimonies differ in the details. In a courtroom the main
question is, “Do the witnesses agree on the essential facts?” And it’s
clear in the Bible that all the testimonies agree on the main facts
that Jesus died and rose again and that there were people who saw Him
after He arose.
And second, just because there are different details doesn’t mean that
they contradict each other. Here’s an example. The Macmillans went to
New Brunswick this week. I could be talking to one person and tell them
that Jim went to New Brunswick. I could tell someone else that Lynn was
in Moncton. And I could tell someone else that Jim and Lynn took the
kids to see Aunt Gerti. Which statement is true?
The answer is: all of them are. Just because there are different
details doesn’t mean they contradict each other. In fact, they
compliment each other.
The appearances were hallucinations.
these people did believe they saw something. But that’s not uncommon
for stressed out people to finally cave in psychologically and begin to
see things. It would be like the guy lost and crawling through the
desert who is so thirsty that after a while he begins to see mirages
and think he’s seeing water. It’s just plain, old-fashioned wish
fulfillment. Like the people who claim they’ve seen Bigfoot or the Loch
Well, first of all,
leave Nessie out of this. But there are some real problems with this
hallucination theory. The first one being that hallucinations are not
group events. You don’t find multiple people seeing the same
hallucination. In other words, it’d be like me coming in here this
morning and saying, “Wow, how about that dream I had last night, huh?
What’d you think of it? Wasn’t that something?” You’re going to think,
“What is he talking about?”
Gary Collins is an internationally acclaimed psychologist who has
written over 45 books on psychology related topics, and he put it this
“Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature only
one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly are
not something which can be seen by a group of people.”
~ Gary Collins
And someone else has said…
“Having 500 different people have the same hallucination at exactly the
same time would be a greater miracle than the resurrection itself.”
Plus, these couldn’t have been just hallucinations because Jesus
interacted with the people. He spoke to them, He talked with them, He
ate with them, He showed them His wounds in His hands and side, and
they even were able to touch Him. Doesn’t sound like an hallucination
to me. Neither was He a ghost or a spirit. He had a physical body. And
He appeared to multiple people in a variety of places and in broad
daylight… not when there could have been some question as to who He was
and what the shadows were hiding.
The final objection we’re looking at this morning is related to the
The appearances were simply wish-fulfillment.
told his disciples that He would rise from the dead. So obviously they
would have been watching for Him. They would have expected to see Him,
so they fulfilled their own wishes by thinking that they saw Him.
But you need to
understand that even though Jesus did talk about His death and
resurrection, the disciples didn’t understand what He was talking
about. John, for example, admits that they didn’t “get it” until after
the resurrection. Sure, Jesus had talked about it, but they didn’t
understand. Only in looking back after the fact did they put it all
together. So these disciples were crushed, they were discouraged, they
were confused, they were dejected. They weren’t looking for Jesus to be
Look at Thomas as an example of the frame of mind of the disciples.
Thomas was a skeptic. Here’s Thomas being told by his friends, “He’s
alive, He’s alive, we’ve seen Him.” How does Thomas respond? “I’m not
going to believe it unless I can put my fingers in His nail holes and I
can put my hand in His side.” Thomas wasn’t going to stake his life on
wish-fulfillment, but what happened? We’re told that Thomas did see
Jesus and ended up being killed for his beliefs in south India.
And Jesus didn’t just appear to His disciples and to believers. He
appeared to unbelievers, too. Such as James, the half-brother of Jesus.
James had not been a follower of Jesus. In fact, he had rejected Him.
Hey, if your brother went around declaring, “I am the way, the truth,
and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me,” you would
probably reject him, too. So James was not a follower of Jesus. And
yet, what was it that suddenly turned James so completely around that
he was willing to proclaim to his death that Jesus was the Son of God
who died and rose again? The only thing I can think of is found in 1
Corinthians 15 where it records that the resurrected Jesus appeared to
And remember, before the resurrection, all of the disciples thought it
was over. They were all thinking about going back to fishing or
whatever their old jobs were. They had been beaten, and they knew it.
Not only that, but they had betrayed and deserted Jesus at His greatest
hour of need. They were ashamed, they were confused, and it all seemed
so hopeless for them. But all of that changed. John Stott, one of the
greatest theologians in the world today, said…
“Perhaps the transformation of the disciples is the greatest evidence
of all for the resurrection… When Jesus died, they were heartbroken,
confused and frightened. But within less than two months they came out
of hiding, full of joy, confidence and courage. What can account for
this dramatic transformation? Only the resurrection, together with
Pentecost which followed soon afterwards.”
~ John Stott
And if you want to talk about someone who was at the complete opposite
end of the spectrum from the disciples, think about Paul. Paul was a
professional persecutor of Christians. He had made it his job and he
really loved it. He was putting them to death, he was jailing them, and
he was beating them. And yet what possibly could have happened that
would have turned him 180 degrees around to become the greatest
promoter of the Christian faith in history? The only thing I can think
of is that he was telling the truth when he said the resurrected Jesus
appeared to him.
So there you have it. 10
Objections to the Resurrection, and what I believe are reasonable
responses to those objections. But really, when it comes to examining
evidence, who is more qualified to do that than legal scholars?
Dr. Simon Greenleaf was a Jewish professor and the man who made Harvard
Law School what it is today. He wrote a famous book entitled, A
Treatise on the Law of Evidence, considered by many to be the greatest
legal volume ever written. He was challenged by a student one day to
investigate the claims of the resurrection and apply the rules of
evidence. He did, and he became a Christian.
Frank Morrison was a lawyer and a journalist who set out to disprove
the resurrection. He investigated, was convinced by the evidence, and
devoted his life to Christ.
John Singleton Copley, one of the greatest legal minds in history,
three times the High chancellor of England, declared:
“I know what evidence is, and evidence like that for the resurrection
has never broken down yet.”
~ John Singleton Copley
And so you and I can have confidence that if we take an unprejudiced
look at the facts of the resurrection that they are reasonable, they
are logical, and you can believe with assurance that Jesus did indeed
rise from the dead and you can know Him today.
Now, just as we finish up here, there’s one thing that concerns me. A
lot of people are going to miss Heaven by a matter of inches. They’re
good people, maybe attend church weekly, and have even read the Bible
and agree with it all. But they’re still going to miss Heaven by a
matter of inches, because they believe in their head but they haven’t
received in their heart. They have a knowledge of who Jesus is but they
have no experience of Him. And that’s tragic.
Would you close your eyes. If you’re here this morning and you believe
all of Jesus’ claims but you’ve never receive Him into your life, I
want to give you that opportunity today. There’s no logical reason to
put Him off. If you’d like to receive Him this morning, then just slip
up your hand.
On Your Own…
Read the resurrection
accounts for yourself. You can find them in the Bible at these
For more proof of the
resurrection from an intellectual perspective, read William Lane
Craig’s “Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the
Resurrection of Jesus Christ” (www.leaderu.com/truth/1truth22.html)
to Bill Hybels, Lee Strobel, Mark Mittelberg, and William Lane Craig
who supplied much of the content and inspiration for this message.)