The adherents of many religions and philosophies of the world erect beautiful monuments where their honored dead are interred. In striking contrast, we Christians assert that our Master is no longer in His cave tomb, the garden location of which was well known on the day He was lovingly laid there and remained known long after.
The central proclamation of historic Christianity is that Jesus walked out of that burial cave when He physically rose from the dead, having promised to do just that before He was unjustly executed. Our King is not crumbling to dust within a pyramid or any other majestic sepulcher built by slaves or admirers. The One Who sets men free and Who is worthy of all adoration is alive forevermore with a glorious, divine majesty that no artistry in stone could ever give.
Jesus Christ was not merely resuscitated, as is the case for example with a drowning victim whose breath and consciousness are restored within seconds or minutes. Following His violent and gory crucifixion, the soldiers who saw Him breathe His last ascertained that Jesus was dead. They plunged a spear into His lifeless body for good measure (John 19:30-34). He was buried shortly thereafter, and His closest friends grieved.
The testimonies of those initially incredulous friends and of hundreds of other eyewitnesses to what happened on the third day after His death are preserved in venerable and more importantly quite reliable ancient documents.* Approximately 2,000 years have elapsed since this miraculous but actual, historical event yet its veracity has never been successfully challenged.
Early Christianity was considered a vile superstition in its Roman province of origin, and at best as a curiosity in the greater Roman world. Christ’s enemies eagerly would have sought His bodily remains, because finding them would have exposed the witnesses to His resurrection as liars, dispersed a fledgling community of shamed disciples, and made Christianity a brief and obscure footnote in history.
But the best those enemies could do was to contrive a deceptive tale about His body being stolen. To this day, not the slightest trace or hint of any remains of Jesus have been found. And the best that His enemies of today can do is to arrogantly scoff.
What some hoped to make a footnote has become the main subject of history’s annals. The capitol of that province which counted Christianity as vile was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, just as Jesus foretold (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). In the following centuries the Roman empire itself was engulfed by the successful, peaceful, and enduring movement which they had supposed to be flash in the pan. This is not the fruit of a fairy tale or of a well intentioned myth.
To sum up, we might say that the principle of habeas corpus bows before the reality of “ascended corpus.” To this day, while the adherents of various belief systems acknowledge that their founders are long dead and buried, billions including this writer have staked all our hope on One Who indeed died and was buried, but Who did not remain dead and buried.
And we acknowledge that if this is false…if Jesus did not truly and bodily rise from the grave, our faith is worthless and we are of all mankind the most to be pitied. Persuaded that it did occur, we present to all the same message that some philosophers of ancient Athens heard from a Christian preacher to whom the risen Christ had appeared:
“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.
And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter.’ ” (Acts 17:30-32)
* Matthew 28:5ff; Mark 16:1-14; Luke 1:2, 24:12ff; John 19:35ff; Acts 2:32, 5:32, 10:39-4, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, et. al.