Judge Judy on her television show is fastidious about eyewitness testimony. Litigants on her show are not permitted to testify as to what someone else said to them to bolster their case. If you want their testimony, she says, you should have brought them here! As a jurist she believes that eyewitnesses are the best evidence and the best eyewitness is one who has no dog in the fight (has a personal stake in this issue).
Thousands of people witnessed the death of Jesus on the cross in Jerusalem. Except for the most extreme critic no one disputes that fact! The Jewish historian Josephus records this event.
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day (The Works of Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews 18.63).
Pontius Pilate the prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, although not a witness to Jesus death yet assuredly a participant in it, was informed of Jesus death: Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph (Mr 15:44-45). There is a document alleged to be Pilate’s report to Rome on the death of Jesus—which cannot be authenticated (it seems plausible that after such a public event Pilate would have wanted Rome to know of this event).
After securing Jesus’ death the religious authorities were determined to quash this “Jesus sect” lest it spread. They knew of Jesus’ teaching especially the claim that he would rise from the dead:
On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ “Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard (Mt 27:62-66).
The religious authority’s plea for Pilate to secure the tomb would play right into God’s hands. If no guard had been posted, no seal placed on the tomb, there would have been no eyewitness to the resurrection. Who better to authenticate the Lord’s resurrection than a Roman guard? For the soldiers to allow someone to break the seal and steal the body would have meant their death. The sealing of the tomb and placing a watch would have the opposite effect—it would spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
As the darkness gave way to dawn it was Sunday and three days since Jesus died. Without warning there was a great earthquake and an angel of the Lord came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. And those Roman soldiers on watch shook with terror and became “as dead men.” The soldiers fled the scene in panic. Did they go tell Pilate? No! They fled to the chief priests and told them what had happened. Were the soldiers accused of lying? No! Instead the religious authorities hatched a plan to suppress this incident. They bribed the soldiers to tell whoever asked, “His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day,” (Mt 28:1-15). Jewish history tells us that as late as the 2nd century AD the Jews were still proclaiming that Jesus’ disciples stole his body!
No doubt this amazing story made it to Pilate’s ears; yet he did not summon the soldiers for questioning or to inquire as to the validity of this fantastic story of Jesus raising from the dead. Judge Judy claims to have a sixth sense for detecting “fibbers” as she is fond of calling them. Wouldn’t she have a “good time” questioning the Roman soldiers under oath?
After Jesus’ appeared to the women, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and the eleven apostles, the best is yet to come. The Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus…was seen by over five hundred people at one time; of whom most are still alive, but some have since died (1Co 15:6: 1Corinthians was written in AD 53-54 by Paul). Twenty years after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus there were still nearly five-hundred people who could give direct first-person eyewitness testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ!
Two-thousand years later people are still giving direct testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is interesting to note that Paul did not see the resurrected Jesus until AFTER Christ’s ascension; Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time (1Co 15:8). He places his testimony last. Is Paul truly the last disciple to see Jesus or are there more? What about you? Can you give testimony to the resurrected Christ? “You ask me how I know He lives; He lives within my heart!” Happy Easter!