I’m sure some of you have heard of David Copperfield. According to Forbes magazine, he’s one of the most commercially successful magicians of our time. What makes him so successful is his ability to make his illusions appear real. I remember watching one of his shows where he made the Statue of Liberty disappear. I remember wondering how did he do that because it seemed so real. And so does everything else he does in his show, which is why he’s successful and famous.
While David Copperfield is really good at what he does, we know he’s just an illusionist. Just like we know that David Copperfield is an illusionist, many wonder if Jesus was one too. I say that because there are many who think Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t a reality but an illusion.
But is that true? Was Jesus’ resurrection just an illusion or was it a reality?
I’m going to offer you several proofs over the next several posts that I believe tell us that Jesus’ resurrection was a reality and not just an illusion. We are going to start with the death and burial of Jesus. As we do, we see that
The Death and Burial of Jesus was a Reality (vs. Matt 27)
I start here because there are some who would go so far as to say that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. Instead, they claim He just passed out. Since he wasn’t dead, He was able to walk out of the grave. After meeting with His disciples and recovering from His injuries, He lived out His life in relative obscurity in a play to fool everyone that He had resurrected from the grave and ascended into heaven. This is known as the Swoon Theory.
Now, to me, that theory sounds absurd. It’s fraught with all kinds of holes as we will see in a minute. But it comes back up in discussions surrounding Jesus’ resurrection from time to time, especially around Easter. For that reason, we need to start with the death and burial of Jesus so that we will know that Jesus really was dead when He was placed in the grave.
How do we know Jesus was really dead?
A. Pilate would have made sure Jesus was dead
Matthew 27 recounts the arrest, trial, death, and burial of Jesus. If we skip to the end of the trial, we learn that Pilate thought Jesus was innocent. That the accusations against Him were nothing more than trumped up charges levied against an innocent man by a jealous and offended Jewish leadership.
Pilate saw this. Not wanting to condemn an innocent man to death, he gave the people a choice between letting Jesus or Barabbas go. He thought the people would certainly choose Jesus because Barabbas was a notorious criminal and it seemed obvious that Jesus was innocent. But the Jewish leaders stirred the people up so that they chose Barabbas over Jesus, And when Pilate asked what he should do with Jesus, they called for Him to be crucified. I think it’s safe to say that Pilate’s plan had backfired, but, as we learn in verse 24, he didn’t want to risk a riot so he gave in to their request.
I bring that backstory up because after Jesus’ death Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate in verse 58 and asked for Jesus’ body so that he might give Him a proper burial. Pilate conceded and handed Jesus’ body over.
Now, knowing the back story, there was no way that Pilate would have done that if Jesus were still alive.If he did, he would have had a mess on his hands.
Certainly, a riot would have occurred. And most likely he would have been removed from his position as governor. While Pilate knew Jesus was innocent, he wasn’t willing to risk his position and all the privileges that came with it just to save Him. You can be sure, then, that when Pilate handed Him over Jesus was dead.
But Pilate wasn’t the only one who had a vested interest in making sure that Jesus was dead, the Soldiers did as well.
B. Roman Soldiers handled Jesus
You see, in Rome, a soldier’s life was at stake every time he guarded a criminal. If they escaped, he most likely would be killed. This is why John tells us in his gospel that the soldiers ran a spear into Jesus’ heart before taking Him down off the cross. They wanted to make sure he was dead. Even after removing Him from the cross, they would have inspected his body.
All that to say, then, that when Joseph of Arimathea received Jesus, He was dead. Both Pilate and the Soldiers would have made sure of that.
But their examination isn’t all we have to go on, we also know that:
C. Joseph of Arimathea handled Jesus.
He cleaned Him, prepared Him for burial, and placed Him in the tomb.
D. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were present at Jesus’ burial.
They witnessed Him being placed in the tomb and the stone being rolled in front.If Jesus were alive, this group would have realized that and kept Him from the grave. But Jesus’ wasn’t alive. He was dead. We know that because a number of people either made sure that He was dead or handled Him after His death.
While it is true that Jesus was dead when He was placed in the grave, it was also true that the grave couldn’t hold Jesus. Next time we will look at the proofs that tell us Jesus resurrected from the grave.
Question for Reflection
- Do you believe Jesus was really dead when He was placed in the grave?
Post adapted from my sermon: Was Jesus’ Resurrection an Illusion or a Reality?