Physical Evidence - The Empty Tomb
During his speech, Peter also refers, obliquely, to the physical evidence of the early tomb:
"Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day." (Acts 2:29)
The tomb of David was close to Jerusalem and anyone who wished could visit it. Most of those in the crowd had probably done so already. The tomb of Jesus was also near Jerusalem, and anyone could visit it equally easily. Most of those in the crowd had probably already done this as well; the rumours of problems following the burial of Jesus would have been rife. The existence of an empty tomb would thus probably already have been common knowledge.
However, there is additional evidence. One element of this is found in Matthew 28:11-15 which describes a scene in which the authorities bribe the guards to say that the body was stolen by the disciples of Jesus. The passage ends:
"And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day." (Matthew 28:15)
This is one statement that could easily be checked by the first readers of Matthew’s Gospel; all that they had to do was to find a knowledgeable Jew and ask him or her. The fact that the idea appears in the Gospel shows that when the Gospel was published, in the decade before 70 AD, the Jews were attempting to explain the empty tomb by a claim that the body had been stolen.
This picture continues into the second century, where Justin’s 'Dialogue with Trypho the Jew' contains a reference to the same story, as does the writing of Celsus in the same century; Celsus was a Greek philosopher, but was informed by Jewish tradition.
The Jewish authorities, therefore, were spending a considerable amount of effort in an attempt to explain the existence of an empty tomb. There would have been no point in doing this unless the tomb was actually empty.
Summary of the Evidence
We therefore have two main items of evidence:-
The empty tomb.
The witness of those who met Jesus alive after the crucifixion.
Any explanation of what happened must account for these two facts, and must also account for the way that the witnesses were prepared to die rather than to deny what they had seen. There is only one satisfactory explanation - Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead.