Have you ever really sat down and thought through who rolled away the large stone sealing the tomb of Jesus? Christian apologist Lee Strobel, whose newly-revised New York Times bestseller The Case for Christ was released recently, walks readers through his investigation about this question.
Strobel, who was a former legal editor with the Chicago Tribune and an atheist-turned-Christian, recalled in his years-long quest to "follow the evidence wherever it took [him]" about the Bible and Jesus in gathering information for his book, that he went to meet renowned Christian apologist William Lane Craig, PhD, DTh, in his Atlanta office, one day to ask him about Jesus' tomb.
He wanted to ask Craig "how secure his (Christ's) grave was from outside influences?" "The tighter the security, the less likely the body could have been tampered with. 'How protected was Jesus' tomb?'" Strobel inquired.
First, Dr. Craig found it necessary to describe how first century tombs looked and worked based on archaeologists' determinations from excavations of such sites.
"There was a slanted groove that led down to a low entrance, and a large disk-shaped stone was rolled down this groove and lodged into place across the door. A smaller stone was then used to secure the disk."
Craig said that while it would be easy to roll the large disk down the groove, it would require "several men" to roll the stone back up in order to reopen the tomb. "In that sense it was quite secure."
That explanation, however, did not satisfy Strobel, a so-called "document rat" who sniffed out every possibility during his days as a journalist. He probed further with a question that has been bandied about by skeptics and leading experts alike: "was Jesus' tomb guarded?"
The widely-held theories are that Roman soldiers kept watch over Christ's tomb and faced death if they failed to complete their assignment. Also, should the guards fail and the body be stolen from the tomb, it could perpetuate the belief of a risen Savior among followers of Christ.
Strobel asked Craig, "'Are you convinced there were Roman guards?'"
He was surprised by what the expert had to say. "'Only Matthew reports that guards were placed around the tomb ... I don't think the guard story is an important facet of the evidence for the Resurrection. For one thing, it's too disputed by contemporary scholarship. I find it's prudent to base my arguments on evidence that's most widely accepted by the majority of scholars, so the guard story is better left aside.
"'The idea that the empty tomb is the result of some hoax, conspiracy or theft is simply dismissed today. So the guard story has become sort of incidental.'"
Regarding guards, Strobel says there are several viewpoints documented in the Bible. Boston University's Dr. Michael Martin points out that in the Gospel of Matthew when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary arrived at the tomb at dawn there was a rock in front of it, but after an earthquake an angel descended and rolled back the stone.
In the Gospel of Mark the two women arrive at the tomb at sunrise to find that the stone had been rolled back, while in Luke, when the two arrive at dawn, they find the stone already rolled back and two men are inside.
The Gospels vary in their perspectives on exactly how Jesus' tomb was opened. Matthew and Luke, however, both agree that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were both onsite and likely shared news of the Resurrection with the other disciples.
Dr. Craig said, "'The core of the story is the same: Joseph of Arimathea takes the body of Jesus, puts it in a tomb, the tomb is visited by a small group of women followers of Jesus early on the Sunday morning following His crucifixion, and they find that the tomb is empty. They see a vision of angels saying that Jesus is risen.'"
After Strobel applied his investigatory skills, what does Strobel believe for sure?
His opinion on the stone and the tomb seems to somewhat lean towards one theory — perhaps one of the few times that Strobel has not arrived at a decisive answer.
He tells The Christian Post, "I think the example of the angel at the tomb is a good one. I don't think we have good evidence in terms of who it was who actually rolled the stone away."
The former journalist concludes that the Bible is a mystery that may never be fully understood.
"We look through a glass dimly in this world, the Bible says. We don't have all the answers, but I believe we have enough evidence to draw conclusions from and to trust that one day we'll get the remainder."
For more information about The Case For Christ, click here.