With a few exceptions, both infidels and believers readily affirm that a man named Jesus lived and walked this earth and rose to great heights of fame, but later was crucified by the Romans on a cross and thought to be dead, at which time He was buried, with the tomb sealed by the Roman governor and guarded by Roman soldiers. Both infidels and skeptics also agree that the third morning (the first day of the week, or Sunday), the body of Jesus was missing, and His disciples came to believe with unshakable faith that He was resurrected by the power of God. The debates and disagreements, however, arise pertaining to what happened to the body of Jesus after His death. This article considers the burial of Jesus and the answer to the question, “What happened to Jesus’ body?”

Upon Jesus’ death, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for His body (Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:43- 46; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:38-42). When Joseph asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, Pilate asked the centurion in charge of the crucifixion to confirm Jesus’ death and, having received such, granted Joseph permission to bury Jesus (Mark 15:44-45). The clean/fine linen (Matthew 27:59; Mark 15:46) likely refers to a new piece of cloth (a luxury only the wealthy could afford). Jesus’ burial linen and the fact that He was laid in “a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid” (John 19:41) fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 53:9, that the Messiah, though living and dying as a commoner, would be buried with the rich.

Few question Jesus’ existence, crucifixion, burial, or missing body; the looming question for nearly 2000 years has been, “What happened to the body?” There are only four possible answers to this question, and each one precludes any other possible answer.

(1)  Jesus was not dead. Roman soldiers were forbidden to leave a crucifixion until all victims were confirmed dead. The solders crucifying Jesus knew He was dead, so they did not break His legs, but confirmed His death by piercing His side (John 19:31-34). Jesus unquestionably was dead when His body was taken off the cross.

(2)  Jesus’ enemies took His body. Why would the Jesus’ enemies take His body? They had Jesus exactly where they wanted Him and asked Pilate for a guard at the tomb, specifically so the body would stay there (Matthew 27:63-66). Had Jesus’ enemies stolen His body, all they had to do to stop the spread of Christianity completely was reveal Jesus’ body, for without its resurrected Lord, Christianity is lifeless. Make no mistake: if His enemies had possessed His body, they would have shown the world. This answer cannot explain the empty tomb.

(3) His disciples stole the body. The Jewish leaders disseminated this lie to the people of their day and even bribed the guards and promised them protection (Matthew 28:12- 15). Those same leaders unwittingly sabotaged their own lie, however, by asking Pilate for a guard. Roman soldiers were the best in the world; falling asleep on duty was punishable by death. Why were these soldiers not killed? Also, is it logical to suppose that some 15-60 of the best soldiers in the world fell asleep at the same time? Is it reasonable to suppose a ragtag group of Jewish disciples overpowered those elite soldiers? This theory’s most glaring hole, though, is the fact that men do not die for a lie. Peter denied Jesus (Matthew 26:69- 75), and all forsook Him at His arrest (Mark 14:50). After His resurrection, however, His disciples were gladly willing to die for His name. Had some of those same disciples stolen Jesus’ body, they would not have died for Him. This answer is utterly illogical.

(4) Jesus was resurrected from the dead by the power of God. This is the only logical answer to explain Jesus’ missing body. If Jesus was truly dead (and He was), if Jesus’ enemies did not steal His body (and, clearly, they did not), and if Jesus’ disciples did not take His body (and they obviously did not), then only one option is left: “He is risen” (Matthew 28:6)!

Christian, what is your hope? It is not merely a “feeling in your heart,” but a preponderance of evidence that Jesus is risen! Buddha, Confucius, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, and the great patriarch Abraham all have occupied graves. Only of Jesus, the Son of God, can it forever be said at His grave, “He is not here; for He is risen, as He said” (Matthew 28:6)!

Chad Dollahite