Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus got permission from Pilate to bury the body of Jesus. Since the Sabbath was approaching, they had only enough time to give it a preliminary burial (Mark 15:43-46). The first day after the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome journeyed to the tomb to finish the traditional burial procedures. They brought expensive spices with them to anoint their Lord’s body.
Perhaps the women didn’t remember when another woman anointed Jesus with an alabaster flask of ointment in the home of Simon the leper earlier in the week. When others objected to the extravagance, Jesus said, “She has done a beautiful thing to me . . . she has anointed my body beforehand for burial” (Mark 14:3-9).
By the way, the fact that Mark and the rest of the gospel writers say that women were the first to arrive and find the tomb empty is partial evidence the story is true. How so? Women were not held in high esteem at that time and in that part of the world. Their testimony, for example, was not accepted in a Jewish court of law. Nor could they own or inherit property. This is why widows were so poor. The early church would never have concocted a resurrection alibi with women so much at the center of the story if it were not true.
As the three women approached the tomb, they discussed the matter of the stone. “Who will roll away the stone from the entrance of the tomb?” As soon as they asked the question, they looked up and “saw that the stone had been rolled back.” Mark adds, “It was very large.” Matthew says it was “a great stone” (27:60). Apparently the stone was too big for three women to move it themselves or else they wouldn’t have been preoccupied with it.
It’s worth noting that the stone was not rolled away to let Jesus out of the tomb but to let the disciples in. Miraculously, He left beforehand. We know from the post-resurrection appearances Jesus made that space, time, and matter did not limit His resurrection body. The way He appeared and disappeared indicates that He possessed a new and supernatural physical capacity. Gone were the limitations He experienced as the Son of Man.
When the women arrived and discovered the stone rolled back, they entered the tomb and found a “young man” dressed in a white robe. Jesus’s dead body was gone. The word Mark uses to describe the young man suggests he was an angelic being. The other gospel writers confirm this. Matthew tells us that a great earthquake took place and that an angel of the Lord descended from heaven to roll back the stone. For two thousand years, skeptics have looked in vain for another explanation for the empty tomb.
Frank Morrison, for example, was an English journalist who set out to prove that the story of Christ’s resurrection was nothing but a myth. However, his investigation led him to a different conclusion and to place his faith in the risen Christ. He wrote a book that is today considered a classic apologetic on the subject of the resurrection, a book the author said he didn’t plan to write called Who Moved the Stone? Morrison calls the stone that rolled away from the entrance to the tomb “the one silent and infallible witness in the whole episode.”
Morrison explores some of the theories skeptics have put forth regarding the giant stone and the empty tomb. Some say Joseph of Arimathaea took the body to a different grave. Morrison debunks in on the grounds that Joseph would not have done this secretly. He was a rule-follower. That’s why he went to Pilate to ask for permission to bury the body of Jesus. He went to great lengths to provide a proper burial for Jesus, even laying him “in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock” (Matthew 27:60). Morrison argues that if Joseph had moved the body, he would have gone through the proper channels for making that happen. And when news spread about a resurrection, Joseph and others in the know would have easily shown the story as false.
Another theory says the disciples stole the body. The Chief Priests and the Pharisees actually anticipated this might happen and asked Pilate to set guards in front of the tomb. Pilate listened, placed a Roman seal on the tomb, and set a guard. When stories began circulating about the empty tomb, Matthew records one of history’s greatest attempts at a political cover-up.
While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. Matthew 28:11-15
This first-century attempt at a cover-up makes Watergate look like child's play. Speaking of Watergate, the name Chuck Colson is forever associated with the Nixon Watergate scandal that rocked the political integrity of our nation. Colson served in the White House as the Director of the Office of Public Liaison and was also known as Nixon’s “hatchet man.” He served seven months in federal prison in Alabama for obstruction of justice. It was during this time that Colson became a born again believer in Jesus Christ and later founded an international ministry called Prison Fellowship, to which he dedicated the rest of his life.
Colson said, “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because twelve men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for forty years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled twelve of the most powerful men in the world and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me that twelve apostles could keep a lie for forty years? Absolutely impossible.”