4-6-5 The Missing Body Of Jesus
Islam considers Jesus to be a great prophet, but says he didn’t die nor rise from the dead. This raises at least two fundamental questions:
- The teachings of Jesus were based around His predictions of His forthcoming death and resurrection. If these didn’t come true, then how can He be a “great prophet”? For the whole thrust of His message was falsified if He neither died nor resurrected. He promised life to His followers conditional upon His own resurrection. “Because I live, ye shall live also” (Jn. 14:19). He surely isn’t worth accepting as a prophet if His teaching was so fundamentally deluded.
- If we are to accept Jesus as a prophet, surely His words must be written down somewhere for this claim to be true? If the New Testament is so hopelessly corrupt, as Islam claims, then where is the true record of His words?
If Muslims accept that the words of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament are true, then they really have to accept the rest of the book. For they would be hard pushed to prove that the four Gospels are inspired by God but the rest of the New Testament isn’t. If the New Testament is indeed the inspired record, as Christians believe it to be, then the repeated stress it gives to the death and resurrection of Jesus must be given its’ full weight. The words of Jesus Himself state in crystal clarity that He died and resurrected: “I am he that liveth and was dead; and behold, I am alive for ever more, Amen; and I have the keys of hell and of death” (Rev. 1:18). These words teach that His resurrection is the basis of the Hope He offers to mankind. And Paul was inspired to write in perfect harmony with this: “Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept…For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:20-23).
And perhaps most piercingly, Paul extended this logic : “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins….if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:17). These words are so relevant to Islam. If Jesus Christ is merely a prophet whose words are helpful for “this life”, then not only are we listening to a deluded man, but “we are of all men most miserable”. But the example of the disciples and early Christians shows that they were not in this case at all. They were willing to suffer the loss of all things for preaching the good news of the resurrection of Jesus. They felt impelled by the reality of the resurrection to preach this, with no prospect of personal gain but only loss. They smiled at their sufferings (Acts 4:18-20; 5:41), and turned the world upside down by their witness (Acts 17:6). Extra-Biblical history confirms that the Roman world was indeed overrun by the Christian preaching of the resurrected Jesus. And the question inevitably arises: why did they do this? A.D. Norris has correctly observed:
“They did it
(i) Because they had stolen the body and let it corrupt somewhere else, and had the ability (for no purpose) to elaborate a vast framework of deceit from Scripture and invented appearances;
(ii) Because a Jesus not quite dead had struggled inexplicably from the tomb and gasped an agonized greeting in their terrified ears
(iii) Because Jesus rose from the dead.
These are not three choices. We have a simple decision to make: conviction, or mental suicide” (The Resurrection Of Jesus Christ p. 13). Theories of stolen bodies and swoons would not have motivated men like Paul to make the dramatic changes which they did, nor would they have been enough to motivate the world-changing evangelism which was inspired by the resurrection of Jesus. Further, despite everyone wanting to know what had become of the body of Jesus of Nazareth, nobody has ever claimed that they obtained the corpse or skeleton. Why would the idea of the resurrection of Jesus become so popular straight after His death, if indeed His corpse or skeleton was still lying in the tomb where He was buried? Where is, then, the missing body?
Men like Confucius and Muhammad developed a large following before their deaths. Yet Jesus died the death of a loser. Why, then, was the movement He started so successful, when His ministry ended in apparent failure? Only His resurrection provides an answer.
If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then the bones of Jesus lay somewhere in Palestine. And there’s been a huge search for them. Significantly, nobody has ever seriously claimed to have found them- anywhere! When His corpse was the most hunted for of all time. There are of course other stories of ‘resurrections’ around the world. But not one of them had the effect which that of Jesus of Nazareth had. Those missing bodies didn’t transform the world by radically transforming countless individual human lives. There’s an account of a supposed ‘resurrection’ of a man in Tibet in 1953, documented in Chogyam Trungpa, Born in Tibet (London: Allen and Unwin, 1966) pp. 95 ff. The account describes the dead body getting smaller over a period of days, and then disappearing. But nobody knows where the man went to. There was no record of anyone meeting the man later. He didn’t change anyone’s life. At best, this is a story of a missing body- not a resurrection. The more one considers those stories, they make the resurrection of Jesus the more unique.