Why We Will Never Find a Lost Tomb of Jesus
By Pastor Ron Jones, D.D.
© The Titus Institute, 2007
The Discovery Special on the “Lost Tomb of Jesus” and all the hype surrounding it was like watching a rocket launched into the air only to come crashing down to the earth ten seconds after takeoff.
The evidence was so slim and full of conjecture that not even secular Jewish scholars or liberal scholars would embrace it.
If you would like to read three good articles that show why scholars reject this tomb as Jesus’ tomb go to these links:
Two blogs by Ben Witherington, Professor of NT at Asbury Theological Seminary
An article by Matt Slick of Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry
I am confident that we will never find a lost tomb where the bones of Jesus have been laid. The historical literary evidence is too strong that the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea where Jesus body was laid was empty on the third day and that Jesus had risen from the dead.
There are two kinds of historical evidence, literary and archaeological. The literary evidence comes in the form of written documents and the archaeological evidence comes in the form of artifacts, inscriptions, monuments, and other such remains.
The historical literary evidence is solid and strong that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea on the third day because Jesus had risen from the dead.
Let me share with you briefly four powerful arguments from the historical literary evidence.
1. All four gospels indicate that on the third day after Jesus’ death his body was gone from the tomb because he had risen from the dead.
Matthew and John were two of Jesus’ inner circle of twelve apostles. They both have left written accounts of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Mark was a close associate of Peter and his gospel is a record of Peter’s preaching about Jesus. Luke was a historian and carefully investigated the events of the last days of Jesus. The evidence from the early church that the four gospels were written by these men is also very strong.
For the early church evidence for the authorship of the four gospels click on http://www.titusinstitute.com/davincicode/timelinentgospelevidence.php
It must never be forgotten that the gospels are historical records, historical biographies of Jesus of Nazareth recording the testimony of those who saw the resurrected Jesus.
Matthew and John were there. They saw Jesus resurrected from the dead.
Mark records the testimony of Peter who was there. Peter saw Jesus resurrected
from the dead. Luke was close to Paul. Paul saw Jesus resurrected from the
2. The empty tomb of Joseph of Arimathea was never hidden from anyone.
Where it was located was no secret. It was Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. He was a member of the Sanhedrin.
Matthew records in Matt.27:62-65 that the chief priests and Pharisees knew where the tomb was since they put Roman guard around it. The gospels mention that Mary Magdalene and some of the other women knew where it was. The apostles knew where it was.
That tomb was never lost. It was simply abandoned over time because it
had no special significance to the early Christians who focused on the resurrected
Jesus. Jesus was alive and had ascended to the right hand of the Father.
Venerating his empty tomb would be like a family going to the operating
room where their brother had successful open heart surgery and venerating
it. What’s the point? His death is over! Jesus is alive! The empty
tomb is irrelevant.
3. Matthew records for us that there was an official cover-up story which cannot standup to scrutiny.
There is always damage control by public officials and this was no different. Matt.28:11-15 records that the cover-up story was that the disciples had stolen the body while the guards were asleep. This cover-up cannot stand up to scrutiny.
If the guards had fallen asleep, how would they know it was the disciples who had taken the body? It is an obvious question and yet an important one.
Plus, how could the disciples have gotten past the Roman guards? The Roman guards would have never fallen asleep on the watch. The penalty for that was death. How could some non-soldier disciples have fought the world class trained Roman soldiers? Or how could they have sneaked past them to roll away the stone and steal the body?
The chief priests were unwittingly used by God to provide a powerful testimony to the impossibility of a stolen body by providing a Roman guard.
John shows in Jn.20:1-9 that neither he nor the other disciples understood what Jesus had meant when he said he was going to rise from the dead. The disciples were hiding and none of them went to the tomb until Mary had told them Jesus’ body was gone.
How could they have suddenly gotten the courage to sneak past the Roman guards or fight them and then steal the body and proclaim something about Jesus they didn’t even understand?
This cover-up story is simply untenable.
This is why no one produced the body in the days following the preaching
of the resurrected Jesus. All they could come up with was an explanation
of Jesus’ missing body.
4. The separate appearances by Jesus to his disciples on the day of his resurrection followed by even more appearances.
Jesus didn’t just appear to one person and then tell them to proclaim his resurrection to the world. He appeared to many.
According to the gospel records, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene (Jn.20:10-18, to the other women who came to the tomb (Matt.28:8-10), to Cleopas and the other disciple on the road to Emmaus (Lu.24:13-32), to the eleven disciples in the upper room (Lu.24:33-49), to ten apostles without Thomas (Jn.20:19-23), to Thomas and the other apostles (Jn.20:26-30), to seven apostles (Jn.21:1-14), to the disciples in Galilee (Matt.28:16-20) and to the apostles over a forty period before he ascended to heaven (Acts1:4-9).
In 1 Cor.15:3-8 Paul attests to the fact that he appeared personally to Peter, James and himself as well as to 500 disciples at one time which he says was well-known among the believers and could be verified by those who were still living at the time of his letter.
Jesus appeared so many times to so many different people so that no one could reasonably claim that his disciples were hallucinating or making it up.
The conversion of more than 3000 Jews when Peter preached at Pentecost
demonstrates that the testimony of the apostles to the resurrected Christ
was very convincing. Luke records this in Acts 2.
People may question why I am using the New Testament records to evidence these things. The answer is because the New Testament records are the historical literary evidence we have. Also, these documents were not originally written together. They were separate documents written apart from each other and later collected. They all corroborate the above evidence.
I could say so much more. Out faith is based on solid historical literary evidence. When God entered history by sending his Son to become a man he left evidence of his Son’s deity and resurrection from the dead. That evidence is clear. The body of Jesus is gone, ascended to heaven. That is why we will never find a lost tomb where the bones of Jesus are laid.