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The Sign of Jonah: Evidence For The Risen Lord

The Sign of Jonah: Why The Christian Faith is True

By Brannon S. Howse


The strongest evidence for the truth claims of Jesus Christ is His resurrection from the dead. In Matthew 12, the Pharisees ask Jesus to give them a sign that everything He says is true. Jesus replies by saying, "no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights" (vv. 39–40).


Jesus foretold His own death, which anyone could do if he were willing to arrange his own death, but Jesus also foretold His resurrection. Then He actually did rise from the dead.


Skeptics and critics have tried to explain away the resurrection by offering a variety of alternate explanations. One such scenario alleges that the women and disciples went to the wrong tomb. Think about this for a minute. How could it be the wrong tomb if the women and the disciples found the burial clothes lying there? Tim LaHaye writes, "The grave clothes of Jesus were still there and in perfect order, lying undisturbed as if enclosing a mummy-yet no body was inside! Everything was still intact. He Himself was gone, but somehow He had left behind His grave clothes. John knew instantly that the only thing that could cause such a miracle was the transformation of Jesus' dead body into a new, resurrected body that was no longer subject to time and space."[1]


And by the way, did the Roman soldiers and Roman authorities also forget where the tomb was? The tomb was closed with a Roman seal that had been broken. This provides another clue that it was the correct tomb. If the women and the disciples had been at the wrong tomb, the Jewish authorities and Romans would have stopped the spread of the resurrection story simply by pointing the women and the disciples to the correct tomb, where they would have found the still-dead body of Jesus.


And consider this:


The tomb that was borrowed for the body of Jesus had been provided by a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea. The Bible says the tomb was brand new. Do you think that Joseph, after spending the money to have someone carve out a small cavern in stone, would just forget the location of this new tomb?


Worldview and apologetic expert Dr. Tim LaHaye entombs the absurd excuse that the women and disciples were at the wrong place:


 "It would have been impossible to challenge people to worship a 'resurrected' Savior if His body were still in the tomb! His disciples might have managed the deception for a time if they had moved to a city several hundred miles away from where the events in question took place. But that is not what they did. Immediately they began preaching right there in Jerusalem that He rose from the dead. And they used the empty tomb as 'exhibit A,' their first piece of evidence."[2]


But maybe someone stole the body. Critics have long claimed that the disciples stole the body to give the appearance that Jesus had risen from the dead. This raises the question: How could the disciples have moved a stone away from the tomb without waking up the guards, assuming they were sleeping? Disturbing a tomb could get you the death penalty, and the punishment for a guard falling asleep at his post was also death. Don't you think the fear of death would have kept at least one of the guards awake, if not all of them? Do you think the disciples would risk being killed for raiding the tomb just to pull off a fake resurrection? Remember, the disciples were a band of depressed and defeated men who had just witnessed Jesus' very public crucifixion. They did not expect Jesus to rise from the dead. It is not plausible that demoralized, scared men would risk being killed themselves for a dead Jesus.


Not only that, to move the stone would have required more than eleven men. Remember, Judas had betrayed Jesus and hung himself, leaving only eleven disciples. Even if these had wanted to perpetrate a hoax, where would they have found others willing to assist in rolling away the stone at the risk of death? Josh McDowell made a compelling discovery as part of his research: "In the Mark 16:4 portion of the Bezae manuscript in the Cambridge Library in England, a parenthetical statement was found that adds, 'And when He was laid there, he (Joseph) put against the tomb a stone which 20 men could not roll away.'"[3]


The Bible states clearly that the stone was moved by an angel from heaven and not by the disciples or the women. Note, too, that the enemies of Jesus never acknowledged that the body of Jesus was missing. In fact, they sought to hatch a plan to explain what the overwhelming evidence, which they saw first hand, revealed-Jesus had risen from the dead. Matthew 28:11–15 recounts: "As they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders and agreed on a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money and told them, 'Say this, "His disciples came during the night and stole Him while we were sleeping." If this reaches the governor's ears, we will deal with him and keep you out of trouble.' So they took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been spread among Jewish people to this day."


If the authorities really believed that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus, they would have had them killed (the punishment for disturbing a grave, remember?). If the body of Jesus was still in the tomb and the disciples were lying about the resurrection of Jesus, the authorities would have put the body of Jesus on display to end the resurrection story. And if the authorities had taken the body of Jesus to a new and secret location they would have produced it. Finally, if the body of Jesus was stolen, why were the grave clothes still in the tomb in the orderly condition one would expect if Jesus had left the graves clothes supernaturally and without unwrapping Himself? They wouldn't be.


Jesus rose from the dead and 11 of his disciples saw Him and spoke with Him and signed their testimony to this fact in blood. Men don't die for a known lie and thus the disciples of Jesus were killed because they refused to deny they saw the risen Savior. This to me is perhaps the greatest evidence for the resurrection; the willing martyrs.   



[1]Tim Lahaye, Jesus Who is He? (Multnomah Books, Sisters, Oregon, 1996) p. 259.

[2]Tim Lahaye, Jesus Who is He? (Multnomah Books, Sisters, Oregon, 1996) p. 245.

[3]Josh McDowell, The Resurrection Factor (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1981),  p.6, 8.