Jesus is Risen! April fools!
There is a certain irony when Easter Sunday falls on April 1st—April Fools’ Day. After all, when the first disciples announced his resurrection, many people assumed that they were joking.
But it was no joke.
As the disciples persisted in their stories of Jesus’ appearances after the crucifixion, the Roman and Jewish authorities began to take things a little more seriously. Their response was: “Fine. So the tomb is empty. Where did you hide his body?”
Thus began attacks on the disciples as grave robbers. These attacks were so significant in fact, that Matthew’s account of the resurrection has guards placed at the tomb so as to prevent any possibility of grave robbing ever having happened.
Surprisingly, this idea that the disciples stole the body of Jesus in order to begin a new religion based on his “supposed” resurrection persists today. When you think about it, it is a very convenient way to explain what happened if you do not believe in Easter as a miracle of God.
The main problem with the idea of the disciples as grave robbers is that it assumes that they understood that Jesus was going to rise on the third day after his death. Trouble is, every gospel account has the disciples confused by Jesus’ predictions, disbelieving them, or arguing with Jesus about them. Jesus also only shared these predictions with his inner circle of disciples. Consequently, taking Jesus’ body wouldn’t convince the wider world that the prophesies were true because no one knew about them at the time!
Despite this, the grave robbing idea itself won’t die! “Okay, so maybe the disciples didn’t take the body, but somebody did!” Here are some other “suspects”:
The Jewish authorities. On the surface this makes zero sense but the argument is that the temple authorities secretly removed Jesus’ body in order to prevent his grave from becoming a shrine. In fact, the “angels in white” who are at the tomb in the gospel accounts were, in fact, temple priests. That they told the disciples that they would see Jesus in Galilee is evidence that they were trying to disperse people from the area. This is an unlikely scenario simply because, prior to the resurrection, Jesus was dead and his disciples were in hiding. The Jewish authorities would have considered the whole “Jesus movement” to be dead along with him.
The Gardener. Why does Mary accuse the gardener of stealing the body in John 20? It implies that he has a motive. What could this be? The gardener is, in fact, Jesus but she does not know this when she makes the accusation. Was this included to address a story that was floating around at the time of John’s writing? This possibility makes no sense either because the gardener would have no motive.
Nameless Robbers. If not Jesus’ disciples nor the gardener, then it was nameless grave robbers who took the body. Grave robbing was a significant problem at the time—given widespread poverty. However, stealing valuables from tombs is one thing. Taking a body is quite another and would serve no purpose.
Outside of a faith-belief in the resurrection, the best evidence that the body of Jesus was not stolen but resurrected (no joke!) is twofold:
1. The conflicting eye witness accounts suggest that something extraordinary did actually happen. A resurrection would be cause for confusion along with excitement and the fact that there isn’t one agreed upon version of events points to an actual resurrection.
2. Most importantly, the disciples would have been safer remaining underground. There was no good reason for them to come forward in the way that they did unless the story was true. The fact that the disciples were so transformed by what happened, proclaimed the story so forcefully and, in the end, sacrificed their lives for the truth of the resurrection is the best evidence that it actually occurred.
See you in church,