All four gospel writers unanimously agree that Joseph of Arimathea claimed the body of Jesus after His death. Here is the account of Luke 23:50-56 (see also Matthew 27:57-61, Mark 15:42-47 and John 19:38-42):
"Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus' body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day [the day before the Sabbath], and the Sabbath [Saturday] was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment."
Also, Paul mentions the burial of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:4: "that he [Jesus] was buried." Historically, the common practice was to leave the bodies of crucified victims on the cross as a warning for others as they viewed the decaying and mutilated corpses. Ultimately the victim's bodies became prey for birds and beasts or were thrown in a common grave. However there are also records of relatives or even friends allowed to claim the body of a victim. Because of the independent, consistent testimony of all gospels and Paul, there is no reason to reject the burial account as fictitious.
It is important to notice that all gospels also mention the presence of women (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, Salome, and others) at the burial on "Preparation Day" (still Friday, the same day as the crucifixion). As all gospels record, they (Mary Magdalene) are also the ones who discovered the empty grave. Some have claimed that the women found the grave empty on Sunday morning because "they just went to the wrong tomb." That is extremely unlikely if one realizes that all women were present only two days earlier during the burial. Matthew also mentions the posting of guards at the tomb.
The case for the empty tomb and Jesus' missing body is strongly supported by the evidences:
1) The discovery was made by women. In the first century women were not considered reliable witnesses. So the fact that women are in all gospels named as the first witnesses to the empty tomb is very significant, since their word would have been widely rejected. If the account would have been invented, surely a man (why not Joseph of Arimathea himself?) would have been chosen to make that discovery.
2) Paul confirms the empty grave. Paul testifies in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." Paul does not explicitly mention an empty grave but implies that after burial Jesus rose, hence His body must have been gone.
3) The Jerusalem factor. Jesus was publicly executed in Jerusalem and it was here the apostles at Pentecost, only 50 days later, began to proclaim the resurrection. It would, for obvious reasons, have been completely impossible for the new faith to get off the ground in Jerusalem if the body had still been in the tomb.
4) The Jews never denied the empty tomb. There are no recorded accounts of the Jews denying that the tomb was empty. In fact the opposite is true. They confirm the grave was empty, and in order to explain it, they claim that the disciples stole Jesus' body. Matthew 28:12-13: "When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, 'You are to say, "His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep."'"
Finding an empty grave by itself does not yet prove a resurrection. However the fact that the grave was empty is essential to the resurrection's truthfulness. If anybody would have been able to produce Jesus' body, any resurrection claims would be voided.
Rob VandeWeghe is a skeptic turned Christian by studying the evidence for Christianity. More articles like this by Rob are available at www.WindmillMinistries.org
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