“You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away.’” (Matthew 28:13)
On Monday we took a look at the “embarrassing” evidence given by the testimony of the women regarding the Resurrection. Today and Friday we will look at the “enemy” evidence — that is, confirmation of the truth of the Resurrection that comes from the enemies of Christ and the Gospel.
The Religious Leaders
Everyone on both sides of the debate over the historical truth of the Resurrection agrees that enemy attestation is a powerful proposition regarding the proof of the Resurrection. The enemies of Jesus hated Him and schemed to have Him put to death. The Jewish religious leaders and the Roman government had absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose in making any statement would help to prove the truth of the Resurrection. And yet we see that they did indeed make such statements.
Now, in order to have a resurrection, you first need an empty tomb. Do you know who was the first group to testify to the tomb of Jesus being empty? You might think that the witness of the women that we looked at on Monday would be the first testimony to the Resurrection, but you would be wrong. Look at the following passage:
While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ”You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day. (Matthew 28:11-15 emphasis added)
While the women were still hurrying to share the glorious good news of the Resurrection, the guards were already reporting that it had occurred. Some skeptics argue that those who testified to the empty tomb did so because they had gone to the wrong tomb. The facts decimate this argument. First, the location of the tomb was known. This is called “the Jerusalem Factor” — Jesus was publicly executed and put into a known tomb, which belonged to Joseph of Arimathea. Two men, who were themselves Pharisees, buried Jesus: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. All this points to the fact that there could have been no confusing the precise location of Jesus’ burial site.
Even if it was possible that some people had gone to the wrong tomb, and if the guards had inexplicably become confused about which tomb they were supposed to be guarding, if the real tomb was not empty, the religious leaders would simply have gone to the correct tomb — again, the location of that tomb was widely known — and produced the dead, decaying corpse of Jesus Christ and paraded it around Jerusalem for all the world to see. The reason they could not do so was because Jesus was no longer in the tomb. He had risen bodily from the grave.
Remember, if someone has any kind of bias against someone else, what reason would the first person have for saying anything positive or helpful about the other person? There would be no reason, except for the fact that it must be true! The only story the enemies of Jesus could come up with for the tomb being empty was that the disciples had stolen the body.
In order to even consider that theory, one must believe that someone came to Jesus’ tomb and broke the Roman seal that stood for the authority and power of the Roman Empire. To do such a thing was punishable by death. And remember that if these audacious grave robbers were Jesus’ disciples, that notion doesn’t square with what Scripture frankly reports—that the terrified disciples had scattered and hid for fear they would meet with the same agonizing death as Jesus.
Next, these daring individuals rolled away a two-ton stone without being detected by the guards . . . or, even more unbelievably, they overpowered the guards and subdued them. The Bible doesn’t specifically identify who had been stationed to secure the tomb—either Roman soldiers or Temple guards—but both groups were trained killers who would have been held harshly accountable for such an incredible blunder. Are we really to believe that Jesus’ ragtag group of disciples, untrained civilians who had two swords between them (Luke 22:38), somehow rediscovered their courage and carried out a daring, commando-style raid to steal the body of Jesus? The very idea, even upon first blush, is preposterous.
As with the witness of the women, the enemy attestation to the Resurrection is there to encourage you and strengthen your faith. As Peter wrote, we are not following “cleverly invented stories” about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. No, we are trusting in the true, eyewitness accounts of those who were there, accounts from those who loved Him and those who hated and feared Him.
On Friday, we will look at the most powerful “enemy” testimony of all, that of the Pharisee Saul.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!