“As the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and told the leading priests what had happened. A meeting with the elders was called, and they decided to give the soldiers a large bribe. They told the soldiers, ‘You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’ If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you so you won’t get in trouble.’ So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say. Their story spread widely among the Jews, and they still tell it today.” Matthew 28:11-15 (NLT)
Having encountered the risen Christ, the women left the empty tomb with a message of excitement and anticipation that Jesus would meet with His disciples in Galilee! At the same time, the religious leaders were getting the news from the guards that the stone had been rolled away and Jesus was gone! Fearing the fallout after a public execution and knowing that Jesus had predicted He would rise again, the religious leaders concocted an unbelievable response:
“A meeting of the elders was called, and they decided to give the soldiers a large bribe. They told the soldiers, ‘You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’” Matthew 28:12-13 (NLT)
Could it have happened that way? The story sounded plausible, and many believe it even today. But, there are several problems with the stolen body theory.
First, the religious leaders anticipated a possible theft and, even, forewarned the governor with a strong appeal to have the tomb guarded. In the previous chapter, Matthew tells us:
“The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. They told him, ‘Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while He was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent His disciples from coming and stealing His body and then telling everyone He was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.’ Pilate replied, ‘Take guards and secure it the best you can.” So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it.’” Matthew 27:62-66 (NLT)
Second, how would the soldiers know who stole the body if they were asleep when it allegedly happened?
Finally, how would a stolen corpse transform the discouraged disposition of the disciples and cause them to give their lives for a resurrected Christ if He was, in fact, dead?
“When you read the New Testament, there’s no doubt that the disciples sincerely believed the truth of the resurrection. The idea that the empty tomb is the result of some hoax, conspiracy, or theft is simply dismissed today.” – William Lane Craig, PhD, DTh