In our prior feature lesson, we began studying the subject of Jesus' resurrection. We noted the importance of Sunday--the first day of every week--since that is the day the Lord arose from the dead. We also began considering some theories men have formulated in an attempt to explain away the resurrection of Christ (e.g., the swoon and wrong tomb theories). No one in the first century denied that the tomb was empty, but there have been various stories fabricated in an effort to avoid the inescapable conclusion that Jesus was brought back to life!
Let us analyze two more of these theories at this time.
THE STOLEN BODY THEORY
There are those today (as there were in the first century) who believe that the disciples stole the body while the guards slept. Let us weigh the evidence, however. The guards were professionals. They knew if they fell asleep while on watch they could lose their lives. To illustrate, consider another New Testament passage regarding the responsibility of Roman soldiers. Acts 12:18,19 - "Then, as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers about what had become of Peter. But when Herod had searched for him and not found him, he examined the guards and commanded that they should be put to death." Under such strict circumstances it is unreasonable to think that all of the soldiers fell asleep. Even if they did fall asleep, surely one of them would have woke up if someone tried to move the heavy rock away from the tomb--it would have been very noisy! In addition to these facts, we need to remember that the disciples were depressed and very cowardly at this time. How can we explain that they would suddenly become so brave and daring? They didn't even understand that Jesus was to be resurrected. Why would they go to all the trouble to steal the body and fake it?
Others have tried to argue that the religious leaders moved Jesus' body. That suggestion is completely illogical. Why would they have the tomb guarded and then move the body themselves? If the authorities had the body in their possession or knew where it was, why--when the disciples were preaching the resurrection in Jerusalem--didn't they explain: "Wait! We moved the body, see, He didn't rise from the grave"? And if that failed, why didn't they explain exactly where Jesus' body lay? If that failed, why didn't they recover the corpse, put it on a cart and wheel it through the center of Jerusalem? Such an action would have destroyed Christianity in its infancy! The conclusion is infallible: they didn't have the body; they didn't steal it and neither did the disciples.
THE HALLUCINATION THEORY
Another attempted explanation claims that the appearances of Jesus after the resurrection were either illusions or hallucinations. Of course, this too is impossible for several reasons: (1) Why would the disciples hallucinate when they really didn't even believe or understand that Jesus was going to be resurrected? Hallucinations are very rare (unless a person is using a mind-altering drug). Clearly, that wasn't the case here. Perhaps we could believe that a few of them hallucinated--that is, if they had really expected that Jesus was going to be brought back from the dead. The fact is that none of the disciples believed this at the time! They were discouraged and depressed, and when they heard the wonderful news they were in disbelief! (2) How could over 500 people all experience hallucinations of a risen Christ over a period of forty days? I Corinthians 15 provides us a record of many people who saw the risen Christ. On one occasion, over five hundred people saw Jesus at the same time! Did they all hallucinate simultaneously? Let's be reasonable! Hallucinations are personal things. Even if you get two people in the same room to hallucinate at the same time, what is the chance that they will have the same hallucination? Plus, are we supposed to believe that they hallucinated when they put their hands in His side and their fingers in the holes in His wrists (cf. Luke 24:36ff; John 20:24ff)? Were they hallucinating when they ate with Him? (3) Most importantly, if they were only hallucinating, where was the actual body? The hallucination theory can't answer any of these questions. It too is false.
Are there any other theories that would explain where the body of Jesus went? Perhaps, but they all have difficulties that can't be overcome. The final possibility is the only reasonable one: Jesus Christ was raised from the dead by the power of God! That is the only logical explanation for where the body could have gone!
There is one other important point I'd like you to contemplate on this subject: the lives of the early Christians. This may be the most compelling testimony of all. Think about it: what caused the disciples to go everywhere telling the message of the risen Christ, if they really didn't believe the resurrection occurred? If there had been some visible benefits or monetary gain for their efforts, then we might be able to conceive how they could conspire together to fool the whole world into thinking that a dead man had been raised, never more to die. The behavior they manifested, however, was not fraudulent but whole-hearted allegiance to the risen Christ, and there was nothing in it for them physically! They wouldn't benefit with prestige, wealth, increased social status, or material benefits. The only "reward" they earned for their efforts on this Earth was being beaten, stoned to death, thrown to the lions, tortured, and crucified. Every conceivable method was used to stop them from talking, yet they laid down their lives as the ultimate proof of their complete confidence in the truth of their message. They preached and fully believed that Jesus was risen! They died as martyrs believing it. Why would anyone do this if they knew their message was false? The answer: only a lunatic. But friends, who can believe that a group of lunatics worked together to fabricate a lie and attempt to deceive the world? Lunatics are not capable of plotting or pulling off this sort of grand, master plan, especially since there was no external motivation for them but rather much outside pressure to cease preaching Jesus as the risen Christ. Friends, we can know that the disciples didn't steal the body and then die for a lie! They didn't all hallucinate! Jesus died and rose from the tomb three days later. These proofs are infallible! They believed it and preached it, and so must we!
Let us conclude this study by briefly considering some of Peter's words in Acts 2 that are relevant to this subject - "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know--Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it" (2:22-24). Peter boldly affirmed that they had murdered Jesus, but God had raised Him up from the dead!
After quoting from David, Peter went on to state that David "spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear" (Acts 2:32,33). Peter explained that the miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit (which had been manifested earlier in the chapter) was related to Jesus' ascension into heaven. Of course, Jesus' ascension did not happen until several weeks after His physical body was restored to life. Our Lord's resurrection had even been prophesied by David. Jesus' flesh would not see corruption; in other words, it would not be allowed to decay. God predicted nearly 1000 years ahead of time the fact that the Messiah's flesh would not decay! This prophecy has been clearly fulfilled.
Peter continued - "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' Then Peter said to them, 'Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:36-38).
Dear listeners, Jesus is the Son of God. He is both Lord and Christ. He was resurrected on a Sunday morning nearly 2000 years ago. Do you believe that? The resurrection gives us hope presently for that which is to come beyond physical death. The Bible promises that all will one day be raised for the judgment--the just and the unjust, the righteous and the wicked (John 5:28,29). Are you ready for that day? If you want to live a life of hope for eternal life, then you must obey the commands of the risen Savior. He commands you to believe, repent, and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:15,16)!
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.