Jesus of Nazareth was a Galilean carpenter and Jewish Rabbi who was executed in the Roman occupied Palestine more than 2,000 years ago. According to the gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus was arrested by the leaders of the Jewish Sanhedrin and falsely charged with blasphemy for saying that He would destroy the Temple. This charge was based on a deliberate misunderstanding of what Jesus was teaching. Jesus did say He would destroy the temple, and raise it up in three days. (John 2:19) “But He spake of the temple of His body.” (John 2:21)
The Jewish leaders deliberately misunderstood Jesus because they were angry with Him for driving the money changers from the Temple, and for denouncing their religious hypocrisy. So Jesus was arrested and initially put on trial before a Jewish Sanhedrin court in Judea.
Finding Jesus guilty of blasphemy, the court turned Jesus over to the local Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate, for a Roman trial. Another false charge was made against Jesus before Pilate, the charge of sedition. “And they were the more fierce, saying, He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning from Galilee to this place.” (Luke 23:5)
Sensing that the prefect was not fully convinced, the Jews cried out to Pilate, “If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.” (John 19:13)
The implication was clear. Jesus was claiming to be a king, and therefore a rival to Rome. This could not stand. And so Jesus was executed for crimes against Rome, not for blasphemy, which is one reason why Pilate placed a titulas, sign in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek over the cross of Jesus reading, “The King of the Jews.” Crimes against Judaism were punishable by stoning.
Prior to being crucified, the Bible says that Jesus was severely beaten and mocked. He was scourged. (Matt. 27:27) The cruel Roman soldiers pulled out His beard. (Isaiah 50:6) The face of Jesus became so disfigured He did not look like a human being. (Isaiah 52:13)
From the place of being scourged, Jesus was compelled to walk on a path now called the Via Dolorosa, “the way of suffering.” These 650 yards formed a narrow street of stone, surrounded by markets. Jesus was led through the crowded streets carrying the patibulum, or crossbar of the cross on his shoulders. The crossbar weight between 80 and 110 pounds.
Exhausted by His ordeal, Jesus was bordering on being in a state of hypovolemic shock which occurs when a person loses more than 20 percent, or one-fifth of their body’s blood or fluid supply. Jesus was unable to carry the cross any further. In the providence of God, a man named Simon, of Cyrene (Tripoli, North Africa), was compelled to help. (Mark 15:21)
Once He was placed on the Cross, the life of Jesus ebbed away until finally He dismissed His spirit. “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.” (Matt. 27:50)
Jesus was truly dead. He did not just swoon on the Cross, only to be taken down and buried in a tomb to revive later on and disappear. Jesus died. John’s account gives some important details of the death of Christ. “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:34)
Alexander Metheral, MD, Ph.D, comments on this important detail. “The massive blood loss Jesus experienced from the flogging probably led to heart failure. This would cause clear fluid to collect around the membrane so when the spear penetrated Jesus’ side, it went through the lining and into the heart. When the spear was pulled out, the clear fluid which would look like water came out followed by a large amount of blood from the heart.” Jesus died on the Cross. The Roman soldiers were convinced Jesus was dead for they did not break His legs to hasten His demise by asphyxiation. The Roman soldiers had seen death too often to be fooled by someone just pretending to be dead.
The body of Jesus was taken from the Cross and placed in a borrowed tomb. “When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple: 58 He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. 59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.” (Matt. 27:57-61)
Once the disciples of Jesus had left to observe the Sabbath, a Roman guard secured the tomb, and a Roman seal was placed on the stone. Anyone who approached the tomb had to get permission from the guards, which would not have been given. The whole purpose of the guards was to make sure that the disciples did not come and steal the body of Jesus in order to perpetuate a resurrection hoax. “So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.” (Matt. 27:66)
What happened next has amazed the world for more than two thousand years. “In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. 2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. 3 His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: 4 And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. 5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. 6 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. 7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. 8 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.” (Matt. 28:1-8)
If the women were telling the truth and not just collectively hallucinating, if their story was verifiable, as Peter and John raced to the tomb to confirm the report, the question arises, “Who moved the stone?”
The disciples of Jesus did not move the stone. The ladies were too weak to move the massive two ton stone, and the men were too afraid. They core disciples of Jesus were in hiding, trembling lest they too be arrested and executed. The disciples were in no psychological condition to conduct a raid on the tomb. They did not want to break the seal because they did not want to be crucified upside down if caught.
The Jewish leaders did not move the stone. Their whole purpose was to make sure the stone was sealed and guarded.
The sixteen Roman soldiers assigned to guard the tomb in shifts of four would not have moved the stone. Their own lives were subject to forfeiture if they neglected their duty.
So, “Who moved the stone?”
The Biblical answer is that God moved the stone, not only to let Jesus out, but to let the world in to see the place where the LORD had once been lovingly laid in death.
Now the body of Christ was alive because Jesus conquered sin and death in one fatal blow.
Unable to accept the fact that Jesus was alive, Jewish leaders put forth a false narrative of the events. They bribed the guards with a large sum of money to say that the disciples of Jesus came and stole the body. “Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.12 And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,13 Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.14 And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. 15 So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.” (Matt. 28:11-15) But there is a better explanation, and that is the most simple and logical. Jesus arose from the dead.
“Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!”
The first line of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus begins with the empty tomb. The resurrection message “could not have been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as a fact.” (Paul Althaus, Jesus-God and Man, SCM Press, 1968, p. 100)
Then second, the transformed lives of the disciples provides evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. From the moment the disciples saw Jesus in His resurrected body, they were transformed to the point they were willing to sacrifice, suffer, and die for their faith. Individuals simply do not die for a known lie.
Over a forty day period, Jesus made a number of appearances to His disciples after His death. On Easter Sunday Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, along with the women that came to Jesus tomb. There was Mary the Mother of James, Salome, and Joanna. Later, Jesus appeared to Peter, and two disciples on the Emmaus road. He also appeared to the remainder of the Twelve Disciples with Thomas absent.
“Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. 20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:19, 20)
Later Jesus appeared to them with Thomas present.
There was also an appearance to seven disciples on the Sea of Galilee. On another occasion he appeared to over five hundred people at the same time. There is also an appearance to James. Finally Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus – the man who became the Apostle Paul. These manifold appearances convinced His disciples, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Unfortunately, skeptics of Christianity want something more than faith. They demand scientific evidence.
Christianity does not falter from the cynicism of the unconverted. Indeed, Christianity is the only major religion that points to a verifiable historical fact to confirm its message, and for this reason. “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. 15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. 16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: 17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. 18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. 20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.” (1 Cor. 15:14-20)
Historical data, psychological data, and scientific evidence are no substitutes for faith, but they can enhance what is believed. One day, Jesus shall return to earth the second time for all who believe. Then, the world will have all the empirical evidence it could possibly want.