"All religion, my friend, is simply evolved out of fraud, greed, imagination, and poetry."

- Edgar Allen Poe



Was Jesus resurrected from the dead?
6) stolen by friends?

And when they had assembled with the elders and counseled together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.' "And if this should come to the governor's ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble."

- Matthew 28:12-14 NASB

5.6 Did friends or allies remove the body?


Did Joseph of Arimathea remove the body? He was the one who requested possession of the body and placed it in his own tomb. Though he was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, by this gracious act he demonstrated he was publicly and irrevocably identifying himself with Christ and his teachings. Whatever Christ and his followers were part of, clearly we may deduce that Joseph was now part of it, too.

The question can now be broadened a bit to ask, "Did any group of followers steal the body?" What might have been a difficult task for just Joseph and perhaps Nicodemus to carry out would have been much easier for a larger group of like-minded followers.


Consider what must be done in order to steal and perfectly hide Jesus' body. The operation must be done at a time when secrecy could have been assured. The darkness of night would help, but the first light of dawn would not necessitate the light of torches which could easily be spotted at night.

The guards at the tomb would next have to be dealt with, and this without their deaths as they later returned to report to the chief priests. Presumably this was a Roman guard unit; typically well armed and very well trained. Their concern was how their failure was going to figure with the governor. If it had been a temple guard unit, a less formidable obstacle but nonetheless a problem for potential thieves, there would have been no need for the priests to bribe the guards, nor for the guards to be assured of protection from disciplinary action.

If both of these obstacles could somehow have been overcome, there is next the problem of the stone rolled in front of the tomb. A rock of sufficient size to block the entrance of typical rock-hewn tombs of that era has been calculated to weigh between one and two tons. Though the roughly circular boulder need only be rolled out of place, it would have to be done by several persons and with considerable effort. Likewise, the removal of a dead body from the scene, and either its quick reburial or placement into an alternate tomb, would also have taken a degree of manpower and alacrity; not to mention planning and confidentiality.


Of all the difficulties within this particular scenario, confidentiality is probably the most insurmountable problem of all. Secrets are notorious for being told. It is highly unlikely that the necessarily large party involved all kept the secret and remained unanimously consistent in their alternate explanation.

Next, the disciples' theft of the body becomes totally unbelievable when we are asked to accept that they each maintained that lie even upon their torturous deaths. It is possible to imagine that a few might have deluded themselves into believing their own lie over the course of time. Yet the course of time is exactly what weakens the keeping of secrets. The disciples endured many years of persecution and threats through which they consistently maintained Jesus was risen.

It is important to note that the characteristic fortitude of these men was not in evidence at the time of Jesus' death. At that time they fled. They had failed to understand Jesus' words that he was actually to die. All they probably understood was that they were publicly known associates of a man whom a huge cheering mob had just executed. This is very likely why they were hiding behind locked doors. But something changed their demeanor and it happened very shortly after Jesus' crucifixion. Whatever it was, it was sufficiently profound to give these men a common cause for which they would later each suffer terribly.


Another argument against a resurrection forged by Jesus' friends or allies is the problem of motive. If we basically ignore Scripture and insist that the miracle of resurrection could not, and therefore, did not take place, we should also assume the same thing for Christ's other miracles. His feeding of the thousands, the healings, and the raising of people from the dead: these are all miraculous in nature. Presumably, these miracles would not have taken place either. What would that mean?

Discounting all of Jesus' miracles completely erodes Jesus' claim to the Messiahship. The point is that if Jesus lacked the nature, attributes, and works of the promised Messiah, then why would anyone attempt to stage a messianic resurrection? If he did not perform miraculous signs, cause the lame to walk and the blind to see, be born and die under just the right circumstances, then what was going to make people believe that an empty tomb was significant?

If Jesus was not looking like the Messiah up to his death, a missing corpse would only be just that - a missing corpse. This would certainly not have been the first body that had ever been misplaced or stolen. Many have disappeared or never been found over the years, but our calendars are not measured by relative position to any of those but one. All the evidence for Jesus' resurrection, including the debate itself two thousand years later, should cause us to wonder what it was about this man that had given public credence to the idea that there was something significant about this missing body.


Last, consider Jesus' teachings. They are not disputed to have actually been anything other than what was written. He is not alleged to have quietly been promoting lying and falsehood. Therefore, if his body was going to be secreted away in the night and his resurrection faked, it was not going to be by a friend or ally who believed in him and possibly expected his genuine resurrection. Such dishonest behavior would define the thieves as Jesus' enemies, not his friends. So consequently, if we cannot find Jesus' body among his friends, then it is time to look among his enemies.



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NEXT: Was Jesus resurrected from the dead? - part seven

See also:

What do we know about Jesus from non-biblical sources?

Do miracles really happen?

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If people in search of Jesus' body went to the correct tomb, the suggestion that his body was taken by his followers (for any of several reasons) is likely to be made.

This section identifies whom that would have been, why, and the likelihood of that being the correct explanation.