The crux of the Christian faith centers on Jesus’ rising from the dead, nothing else. The whole Christian belief system rises or falls on the question of whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. The Apostle Paul puts it like this: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19). The empty tomb testifies to the truth that Jesus did rise from death three days after he died on the cross, as the New Testament gospels state.
Some will accuse the disciples of stealing the body of Jesus from the tomb, while others accuse the church of later making up stories about the tomb being empty and putting that story into the New Testament gospels. But if one takes the time to follow these accusations to their conclusion, it is easy to see that the testimony of the Bible stands strong, while the accusations against its claims that the tomb was empty because Jesus rose from the dead fall flat.
For one thing, from the get-go it was always the central doctrine of the church that Jesus bodily rose from the grave. It is inconceivable that the Christian church, which began in the very city of Jesus’ execution, could have made any headway had Jesus’ tomb still been occupied. Never mind the fact that Roman guards were watching over the tomb to prevent a theft of the body from happening (see Matthew 27:62-66), and the disciples were scared and in hiding. All that the enemies of Christ would have had to do in order to squelch the growing popularity of the church was go to the tomb and produce the body. But they couldn’t; it was gone.
“Well,” some contend, “maybe the disciples somehow got around the Roman guards, and stole the body anyway, and that’s why the tomb was empty.” That could explain why there was no body there, but does it ultimately make sense that the disciples of Jesus would do this? What we know about all of the disciples (except for John—and church tradition says that he survived an attempt to kill him by boiling him in oil) is that they all died a martyr’s death. They were all killed because they professed and taught their belief in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
The disciples were uniquely positioned to know with certainty whether or not Jesus had resurrected. If the tomb was empty because the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus, would they have gone to THEIR deaths for something they knew was a lie? Nobody does that. The resurrection is hardly the kind of tale that Christians would have invented so as to needlessly implicate themselves with the ruling authorities of the day—whether the original disciples of Jesus early on or the church later.
The tomb was empty, and it is a powerful piece of evidence supporting the resurrection of Jesus from the dead on that first Easter Sunday!