The Empty Tomb on Easter Morning

The Bible tells us two different versions of the empty tomb of Jesus, but which is accurate? In Matthew 28:11 we are told the guards reported the tomb was empty but were given money to report the body was stolen during the night.

While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day. (Matthew 28:11-15)


Of course, the other version is that the tomb of Jesus was empty because He had risen in total defiance of death, in an ultimate victory over death, over the grave.


The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.

There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them.

“Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:5-10)


In 1878 a stone slab was found in the town of Nazareth. This slab had an inscription from Emperor Claudius who reigned from approximately 41 - 54 A.D. In 49 A.D. Claudius investigated riots by the Jews and was most certainly aware of the stories of Jesus rising from the grave only 16 years earlier and the apostles continuous preaching of his Resurrection.

The inscription on the stone slab gave a stern warning against disturbing a grave or removing a body from any tomb. It goes on to list the punishment for breaking this law as death. Compared to other punishments, the death penalty seems very severe. Could this be a response to the obvious trouble caused by the disciples when Jesus' tomb was empty?

The Bible is not recording two different versions of the events or of the empty tomb. It is in fact recording how the officials were reporting the events. Their claims were that the guards had been overpowered and the followers of Jesus had stolen the body. On the surface this seems plausible, but it does not fit the facts. The Roman army was the finest army in the world. Its soldiers were well trained, disciplined and very capable. It should be noted that Jewish extremist carried out assassinations of Roman leaders and Roman sympathizers, often in very public settings. The soldiers would have been ready for trouble, and it is highly unlikely they would have fallen asleep at their post when assassins were operating in the vicinity. Given these facts, should it be considered plausible that these common fishermen overpowered the Roman soldiers who would have certainly been ready for trouble? Interestingly, the officials were not denying the empty tomb, they were however disputing what happened to the body.

In the second reporting of the tomb the Bible writers are telling us what the eyewitnesses saw and encountered when they reached the tomb. This is not a contradiction, just a complete story of not only the eyewitnesses, but the information being given by the government officials and high priests.

It should be noted that to destroy the story of the disciples that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead, the authorities had only to produce His body. The fact the tomb was empty and the investigation and search which surely followed this discovery are interesting. It can be rightfully assumed an extensive search was ordered and a search conducted for the body. Despite the efforts, authorities were unable to locate any evidence of Jesus other than the reports He had risen from the grave.


All sides agree that Jesus was dead, laid in the tomb, and on Easter morning the tomb was empty. The question we are left with is what happened to the body. Did the disciples, who fled in fear just days before, find their courage and attack Roman guards in order to steal the body? Were they able to escape the guards with the body and dispose of it so well the ensuing search was unable to locate any trace of it? These seem like very bold and brave men who would openly deny Rome, the High Priests, attack soldiers and break into a sealed and secured tomb. Rare bravery that does not fit with the behavior these men had shown in the previous days and weeks. When all of the evidence is examined the story of the disciples stealing the body seems a very unlikely possibility. This leaves us with the eyewitness accounts, and our second possibility, that Jesus did in fact overcome the grave and rise from the dead on Easter morning.

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