And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. (Matthew 28:4)
One of the greatest apologetics for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the empty tomb. Around the modern city of Jerusalem there are at least seven tombs that supposedly held the body of Jesus. The most famous is the Garden Tomb, but all of these tombs have one thing in common – they are all empty. Muhammad is buried in the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (Mosque of the Prophet) in the city of Medina. Buddha’s body was cremated and his remains are divided up among several Buddhist temples. The grave of Confucius is in his home town of Qufu, Shandong Province, China. But there is no burial site on earth that holds the remains of Jesus.
Skeptics offer many explanations for this. Some suggest that Jesus swooned and the coolness of the tomb revived Him, and He walked out under His own strength. Others say that the women in their grief forgot where the body was placed and mistook an empty tomb for the tomb of the Lord. Still others tenaciously hold to the story recorded by Matthew, i.e., “His disciples came by night and stole him away” (v. 13) while the soldiers slept, “and this saying is commonly reported … until this day” (v. 15).
A close examination of Matthew’s account of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection will readily debunk this story. The disciples could not have stolen the body for several reasons. First of all, they feared for their lives: “all the disciples forsook him, and fled” (Matthew 26:56). Secondly, the tomb was guarded by professional soldiers (Matthew 27:65). Peter had a short sword (Matthew 26:51; John 18:10), but he was no match for trained soldiers. Thirdly, the tomb was secured with the seal of Rome (Matthew 27:66) that carried the death penalty for unauthorized tampering. Finally, the soldiers were under penalty of death for falling asleep while on watch, but they willingly admitted to this infraction knowing that their lie would be covered up by the priests (v. 14).
The truth is that Jesus left the tomb unbeknownst to the soldiers. In the meantime, a single angel rolled away the stone that would have taken several men to move (v. 2). The sight of such a display of power accompanied by the radiance of his appearance melted the hearts of these battle hardened soldiers so that they “did shake, and became as dead men” (v. 4). When the soldiers reported back, the chief priests “gave large money unto them saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept” (vv.12-13), “and this saying is commonly reported … until this day” (v. 15). For those who refuse to believe, no amount of evidence will convince them; for those who believe, no evidence is required. “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29).