Is Jesus’s tomb empty? Did Jesus have a tomb? Did Jesus really receive an honorable burial? Critical historians have wrestled to answer these questions. The following list includes basic facts from obvious sources for Jesus’s burial and empty tomb:
1. One of the earliest sources that attests to Jesus’s burial comes by Saul of Tarsus who taught the account that he received at conversion. Saul also called Paul wrote, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:3–5 ESV). Critical and believing scholars agree that this statement of faith dates to about AD 35 a few years after Jesus’s crucifixion. This confession of faith aligns with Peter’s preaching that David’s body remains buried in his tomb, unlike Jesus whom Peter claimed he and others witnessed resurrected (Acts 2:22–29). Furthermore, Paul’s teaching about baptism confirms his faith in Jesus’s burial. Paul taught that baptism was a burial uniting a believer with Christ in His death (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12). As a witness of the empty tomb, Peter also connected baptism with having power “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21; cf. 2 Peter 1:16).
2. Another significant fact is that Joseph Arimathea, a council member of the Jewish supreme court, placed Jesus’s body in his own unused tomb (Mark 15:43; cf. Matthew 27:57; Luke 23:50; John 19:38). Many would have refuted claims like this for centuries if Joseph of Arimathea did not exist and did not bury the body of Jesus. Joseph’s family would have certainly objected. However, no contrary testimony exists as would have remained if Joseph of Arimathea did not bury Jesus’s body in his tomb.
3. A detail supporting Jesus’s empty tomb is that women and not the apostles were the first to find the tomb empty. This account comes from Mark 15:46–16:8. The earliest Christian writers include Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John who wrote that women were the first witnesses to find empty the tomb of Jesus and experienced hearing from messengers that Jesus had resurrected from the dead (Matthew 27:61; Luke 24:1–3; John 20:1). Anyone finding the empty tomb of Jesus before Jesus’s apostles would be an embarrassment for them especially if they hid in fear (John 20:19). This criterion of embarrassment affirms Jesus’s tomb was empty.
4. A hostile source via an ancient Jewish denial of Jesus’s resurrection claimed that the guards at the tomb witnessed the disciples of Jesus taking his body from the tomb (Matthew 28:11–14). However, this conspiracy accusation against Jesus’s disciples does not stand because of the apostles’ preaching of Jesus’s resurrection despite threat of deadly persecution and an unpredictable response from other followers of Jesus. Furthermore, this argument proves that Jewish leaders set guards at Jesus’s tomb, and thus Jesus must have been buried in a known tomb that was confirmed to be empty.
The big question is “What happened to the body of Jesus?” Many past scholars have suggested a few possible alternatives for who took Jesus’s body, but now unbelieving scholars assume an agnostic position and give no explanations. Furthermore, such appeals to possibility are a fallacious method for reaching conclusions.
The basic facts for Jesus’s burial and empty tomb continue encouraging many to consider the empty tomb, the ancient predictions, and witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection. The apostles proclaimed these evidences and so do Custodians today (Acts 2:22–36; 13:26–41; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3–11).