The tomb was empty, and that cannot be argued against. There are some though who make the audacious claim Christ was not completely dead when he was placed in the tomb, and as able to therefore walk out after a few days of rest and healing which gave the appearance of a bodily resurrection. This is known as the swoon theory. The idea Jesus was merely in a state of shock after the crucifixion is hardly believable. Keep in mind the Romans were the ones who carried out this punishment and execution on Jesus and they were exceptional at their jobs. It seems ill informed to believe a well-trained executioner could mistake a body for dead when the person was only in an extreme state of shock. Not only was there tremendous blood loss from the beatings and floggings Jesus endured, but there was a spear thrust into his side before he was removed from the cross. Yet somehow Jesus garnered enough strength to awaken, remove his own burial clothes, break the seal of the tomb, move the stone, sneak past the (again highly trained) guards, and appear before his followers. It sounds like bad fiction.
Adding to the evidence here the authorities were not content to assume Jesus had been dispatched, but they wanted verification of such a fact. McDowell helps make sense of this by stating, “…when Joseph of Arimathea requested custody of the body, the Roman governor expressed surprise that Jesus was already dead and demanded confirmation. Only after receiving a firsthand reportdid Pilate release the body into the hands of Joseph, thus fully verifying the fact that Jesus was dead before he was buried.” It is important to note the Roman soldiers were routinely instructed to break the legs of those who were crucified after a while to ensure they were unable to stand any longer and succumb to asphyxiation. However, when they approached Jesus, the Romans realized he was already dead. This is why the spear was thrust in his side. What would have been the point of breaking legs which were no longer going to stand?
The spear in the side of Jesus raises more evidence against the swoon theory because medical science corroborates the biblical narrative. That means once again proof is on the side of the Christian worldview, and this time it is found in the scientific community. In the Journal of the American Medical Associationthe examination of Jesus’ physical death and the spear in his side was put in the crucible by three very competent medical doctors, and their conclusion?
Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right rib, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and the heart and thereby ensured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge. The idea Jesus could have survived his ordeal on the cross effectively receives a knockout blow.
Another central argument for the reality of the empty tomb and subsequently for the resurrection rests on the first witnesses to see Jesus post-mortem. It would only seem to make sense in a patriarchal society to have men be at the nexus of the story. This is especially true if it is a story which is fictitious and vying for plausibility. Yet, what is known is the first two witnesses to see Jesus after his death were women. This seems to defy reason. Dr. William Lane Craig punctuates this fact,
If the empty tomb story were a legend, then the male disciples would have been made to be the ones who discover the empty tomb. The fact that women, whose testimony was deemed worthless, were the chief witnesses to the fact of the empty tomb can only be plausibly explained if, like it or not, they actually werethe discoverers of the empty tomb, and the gospels faithfully record what for them was a very embarrassing fact. In a male dominated society if a person was attempting to manufacture a story in order to gain followers, believers, proponents, etc. it would be asinine to include women in such an important role as credible witnesses, much less the first witnesses. It would be uncomplicated and far more compelling to have the disciples as the primary witnesses of such an event, and still what the gospels record is the testimony of two women.
The other thing to consider are the numerous eyewitness accounts of those who claimed to see the risen Christ. This is strong evidence indeed when one considers over 500 people claimed to have seen Jesus between the resurrection and the ascension. The numbers are strong, and so people actually saw and met with Jesus post-mortem, they were liars, had mistaken identity, or hallucinated. The mistaken identity is easy quash when one considers they would only have to gaze upon the holes and wounds (or lack thereof) in the hands, feet, and sides of this man claiming to be Jesus. Thomas encountered such doubt and was firmly shown these marks and wounds by Jesus.
As for hallucinations there have never been recorded any hallucinations of this scale or kind before or since, and the people to whom Jesus appeared were not expecting to see him. Consider the disciples again. They were hiding in distress. Why? They had just seen Jesus die and were certain they would be next, so the last thing they would have expected would have been to see Jesus again. Making up a story about seeing Jesus is one thing, but sticking with such a narrative upon penalty of death is entirely different. No rational person sticks so resolutely to a falsified story when threatened with death, and yet so many of the early Christians and disciples were not only threatened, but executed for this very proclamation.
When the eyewitness meetings of Jesus and the empty tomb are harmonized, it paints a compelling portrait. Keller postulates,
If there had been only an empty tomb and no sightings, no one would have concluded it was a resurrection. They would have assumed that the body was stolen. Yet if there had been only eyewitness sightings of Jesus and no empty tomb, no one would have concluded it was a resurrection, because people’s accounts of seeing departed loved ones happens all the time. Only if the two factors were both true together would anyone have concluded that Jesus was raised from the dead.
It would only make sense to claim a resurrection occurred if all the right criteria were present, and historically the evidence certainly suggests it was.
One final thought on strong evidence for the resurrection is found in the earliest documented writer on the resurrection, the apostle Paul. Paul lived a life prior to his conversion of pious Judaism, and was instrumental in many Christians being arrested, beaten, and killed for proclaiming the resurrection. Then something dramatic happens. While Paul is walking one day he encounters the risen Jesus. It should be noted it is not speculation Paul encountered the risen Jesus, but he is convinced for the rest of his life that this is precisely who he encounters. The result is a complete life change which includes radical devotion to Jesus and the claim of the resurrection. Paul paints the resurrection importance and factuality pointedly and earlier than the gospels in 1 Corinthians 15.
The resurrection is not a part of Christianity, but as Paul proclaims (1 Corinthians 15:17) the resurrection is the hinge of Christianity and of hope. In other words, “If Christ hasn’t been raised, the Christian faith is fiction and we are stranded in the fall of humanity, trapped in our imperfections. In other words, there is no hope, no purpose, and no plan for the future. This is all there is.”
Evidence for the resurrection is strong, and the objections by the skeptics are numerous and are still unconvincing. For the Christian there is no greater news than the resurrection, and for the skeptic this news is also great. Because of the work of Christ on the cross and the resurrection of the dead, death is not the end. The grave does not reap victory, but instead death is a comma. There is hope for tomorrow and for all eternity because of Jesus.