“What color is the dress?” That question was the topic around office water coolers and on the Internet in late February and early March. For those of you who were mercifully spared from that discussion, the issue surrounded a photo of a striped dress that was posted online. Some saw a blue and black dress. Others saw a white and gold dress. Theories abounded about why the dress looked so different to people (including that it was all a hoax), but the debate raged on.
When I finally gave in and looked at a photo of the dress, I saw what was clearly a white and gold dress, so much so that I didn’t understand the debate. I tried hard to see any hint of blue and black. Nope. Nothing. It reminded me of the artwork back in the 1990s that at first looked like nothing more than a pattern of random, abstract colors until you let your eyes lose focus and then you would see a hidden object. (I was always tempted to claim to see random objects in those just to mess with others who were trying to see the hidden object.)
Two things stood out to me about the entire dress saga. First, it reaffirmed our culture’s full immersion into relativism. So much of me wanted to yell out at the top of my lungs, “Someone go get the dress and see what color it actually is!” But instead of pursing the absolute truth concerning the color, people seemed more inclined to talk about how they perceived the colors. The conversations I heard centered on why each camp was right to see the dress colors as they did. One dress; different colors; everyone is “correct.”
Second, I was amazed at how hard people were trying to see something that they clearly couldn’t see. I was one of them. I found myself really wanting to see any hint of black and blue just to be able to understand how others could see it. To me, the issue was settled. The dress was white and gold, but I was actually trying to see something that I knew was false – a blue and black dress.
In Romans 1:25, we read that the world willingly exchanges the truth of God for a lie and in 1 Corinthians 3:19, we read that the world’s wisdom is foolishness to God (and conversely, God’s wisdom is foolishness to the world). It is as if God gives the world a white and gold dress, yet the world struggles mightily to see a black and blue dress. The world will do anything it can to look past the obvious truth of God and manufacture lies to believe – as foolish as they may be.
The foolishness of the world is clearly seen in the empty tomb theories.
Skeptics have pretty much abandoned their attempt to discredit the historicity of Jesus. You used to encounter a scholar attempting to disprove the existence of Jesus here and there several years ago, but today the approach is centered on disproving the miraculous nature of Jesus. (You have probably heard of the attempt to separate “the Jesus of history” from “the Jesus of myth.”) Skeptics have conceded that Jesus lived 2,000 years ago and that He was a gifted teacher who was crucified. And for good reason; the historical record of this is sound. Instead their effort has centered on undermining the miraculous nature of Jesus as recorded in the Bible, and the Resurrection is at the center of this attack. Four theories are commonly proposed to explain away the empty tomb. You will see that these theories prove the great lengths to which skeptics will go to ignore the plain truth of the gospel.
As you guide your kids to study the Resurrection, you might want to consider sharing the following four empty tomb theories and challenging them to refute each one. Not only will you sharpen their critical thinking skills, but you should find their faith is strengthened as they see that it can stand up against real attacks from the world.
The Wrong Tomb Theory
This theory attempts to explain away the resurrection by suggesting that the disciples, in their sorrow and confusion, went to the wrong tomb which is why they did not find Jesus’ body within it. Jesus’ body remained in the tomb in which He was actually buried.
Response 1: The tomb was visited by several people; it is highly unlikely that all of them would have forgotten where it was. Think about who would have known the tomb’s location: several of the women (Matthew 27:61), the soldiers guarding it (Matthew 27:66), Nicodemus (John 19:39), and Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:59-60) who owned the tomb! It is, quite frankly, absurd to believe that every single one of these individuals corporately forgot the tomb’s location.
Response 2: The tomb was rather unique; it is highly unlikely that another one just like it would have been found and confused with the right tomb. We’re not talking about finding the same grain of sand on a beach when we talk about Jesus’ tomb. We can first narrow the location down to those around Golgotha (John 19:41) – the site of the crucifixion. We can further narrow the location down to only new tombs (John 19:41) and only tombs guarded by a team of Roman soldiers (Matthew 27:66) with a Roman seal placed on the rock blocking the entrance (Matthew 27:66). When you consider those details, it seems rather unlikely that they found a similar tomb meeting all of those criteria.
Response 3: If the disciples truly went to the wrong tomb as the theory goes, why didn’t the Jewish leaders immediately go to the right tomb and present Jesus’ body when word of the resurrection began to circulate? Surely that would have squashed the resurrection narrative in its infancy.
The Swoon Theory
According to this attempt to dismiss the Resurrection, Jesus did not actually die, but merely passed out – or swooned – and was revived in the coolness of the tomb. He then exited the tomb and showed Himself alive because he was indeed alive, never having died.
Response 1: Even if Jesus didn’t die, He would have surely been incapacitated for much more than three days. He was beaten (Matthew 26:67) scourged (Matthew 27:26) , beaten more (Matthew 27:30), crucified (Matthew 27:35) , and speared (John 19:33-34). Often, the scourging alone was sufficient to kill condemned criminals even before they had the opportunity to be crucified. It is virtually impossible that Jesus could have endured all of this and then walk around as if none of it happened mere days later.
Response 2: The Roman soldiers were sure Jesus was dead. In John 19:31-34, we read that the Jewish leaders did not want to leave those being crucified exposed during the Sabbath. Many people believe that the cause of death during crucifixion is blood loss, but it is not. Crucifixion resulted in asphyxiation. The person being crucified would need to push himself up with his legs to allow air into his lungs. As his body sagged back down, air could not enter his lungs, so he’d have to muster enough energy and push up again. Left alone, at some point, the person would merely run out of energy and, being unable to push up, stop breathing. To hasten this, the soldiers began to break the legs of the men on the crosses. Of course, with their legs broken, they would be unable to push up and would therefore die more quickly. Not Jesus though. His legs were not broken because the soldiers saw that He was already dead. To be absolutely certain, they pierced His side. Now think about this. These Roman soldiers were professional killers. They knew a dead man when they saw one. They were expert executioners. They knew what they were doing and they would never have dreamed about being caught being in dereliction of duty and face the punishment for such an offense. It is implausible to believe that these soldiers allowed a living man to be taken down off of any one of their crosses.
Response 3: For the sake of discussion, let’s assume for a moment that Jesus did not actually die. That still leaves us with an enormous problem. How did He get out of the tomb and escape? He would have first had to unwrap Himself out of the burial wrappings and 75 pounds of spices (John 19:39). Then He would have had to roll away the stone blocking the tomb’s entrance. Then He would have had to sneak past or overpower the guards. And all of this three days after He was severely beaten, scourge, crucified, and speared. Ridiculous.
The Stolen Body Theory A
This theory is actually rooted in Matthew 28:11-15 and can be considered the first theory presented to dismiss the resurrection of Jesus. There are two versions of this one, with the first being that the disciples stole the body, hid it, and then began claiming that Jesus raised from the dead.
Response 1: Let’s think about the disciples for a minute. What are they doing when we last see them? That’s right: scattering and hiding (Matthew 26:56). Peter tried to follow Jesus at a distance, but then he betrayed Jesus three times; one time even to a little girl (John 18:15-18). Only John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 19:26) was present with Jesus while He was crucified and even he wasn’t there the full time. (John’s account has several gaps in it and it seems unusual for John to choose to exclude content. The most likely explanation is that John left the crucifixion during these times to go find some of the women, including Mary’s mother, and bring them to Jesus. That seems highly likely and fitting with John’s personality.) So what happened in three short days to move these – can I say it? – cowards to action?
Response 2: Again, for the sake of discussion, let’s say that they did demonstrate a change of heart (or mustered courage). That presents another problem. How did they get past the guards? Did a bunch of fishermen and outcasts sneak past trained soldiers? Or did they over-power them in combat?
Response 3: Once more for the sake of discussion, let’s say that the disciples did muster courage to steal the body and they did sneak past or defeat the soldiers. Let’s say that they stole the body, hid it somewhere and began to proclaim that Jesus raised from the dead – a known lie to them. Fast forward with me to the end of their lives. Reliable tradition holds that all of the disciples, with the possible exception of John who was “merely” exiled, were executed for their faith – or if you believe this theory – a known lie. Would each one “go down with the ship” and stand by their hoax? All of them? Would you die for a known lie?
Response 4: How do you explain the post-resurrection appearances to well over 500 people? If Jesus was actually dead and His body in a secret place, who was it that appeared to so many?
The Stolen Body Theory B: Jewish Leaders Hid
The second version of the Stolen Body Theory is that the Jewish leaders stole the body, to prevent the disciples from stealing it and claiming Jesus rose from the dead.
Response: There is only one response needed to dismiss this theory: why didn’t the Jewish leaders produce the body to refute the resurrection claims? Wouldn’t they have presented Jesus’ body at the first claim of the resurrection to quiet this claim once and for all?
It’s amazing that people believe these theories, isn’t it? Pray for these people – that God would open their minds and hearts to what is clearly the most reasonable explanation to the empty tomb – Jesus is alive indeed!
Here is more help for leaders preparing for the April 5, 2015 session (Unit 32, Session 4) of The Gospel Project for Kids.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay in 2014. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian and his wife, Tara, and their three children – Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb – live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 1-3 graders at City Church.