Jesus Christ was crucified by the Romans, under the reign of the Pontius Pilate, the fifth prefect of Judea. Shortly thereafter, Joseph of Arimathea acquired permission from Pilate that he would be able to take down the dead body of Jesus from the cross, and bury it. And so Joseph did. Several days later, the tomb of Jesus was discovered to be empty by a group of Jesus’ women followers, including well-known women in the New Testament such as Mary Magdalene, a women whom Jesus cast out seven demons from. Indeed, nowadays, a substantial majority of historians accept the historicity of the empty tomb. Indeed, after conducting an analysis on the recent trends of New Testament scholarship in Resurrection research, the eminent scholar Gary Habermas notes the following;
…while far from being unanimously held by critical scholars, it may surprise some that those who embrace the empty tomb as a historical fact still comprise a fairly strong majority.
This is not surprising, of course. There is overwhelming historical evidence for the empty tomb. So, we shall now go in and refute a rather popular hypothesis, the hypothesis that the body of Jesus was stolen from the its burial tomb, or purposefully removed from its burial place by some person. This claim is put forth in order to explain away the historicity of the empty tomb without invoking the historical Resurrection of Jesus.
Indeed, what can we say about this claim? Aside from there being zero explicit historical evidence to support such a notion, there is strong evidence from history to show that this would not have possibly happened, and that comes from an artifact known as the Nazareth Inscription. It likely dates to either the reign of Julius Caesar, or perhaps Augustus — at about 30 BC – 30 AD. This is what it says:
EDICT OF CAESAR
It is my decision [concerning] graves and tombs—whoever has made them for the religious observances of parents, or children, or household members—that these remain undisturbed forever. But if anyone legally charges that another person has destroyed, or has in any manner extracted those who have been buried, or has moved with wicked intent those who have been buried to other places, committing a crime against them, or has moved sepulcher-sealing stones, against such a person I order that a judicial tribunal be created, just as [is done] concerning the gods in human religious observances, even more so will it be obligatory to treat with honor those who have been entombed. You are absolutely not to allow anyone to move [those who have been entombed]. But if [someone does], I wish that [violator] to suffer capital punishment under the title of tomb-breaker.
According to the Nazareth Inscription, not only did 1) destroying the body in a tomb 2) removing a body from a tomb or 3) moving a body from a tomb to another location become illegal, but if someone is charged with doing such a thing, they would face capital punishment, i.e. execution. Indeed, this means that in the time of the death of Jesus, it was illegal to steal the body of Jesus and doing so would result in a sentencing of death. This highly removes the probability that anyone would even think of intentionally ceasing Jesus’ dead body from its tomb, especially the disciples themselves. The last thing a disciple of Jesus would do after being devastated by Jesus’ crucifixion, is steal His body and risk death.
Secondly, we must also consider that there is also no motivation for any person to actually steal the body in the first place, and so historically speaking, there is absolutely no warrant for suggesting this hypothesis in the first place. Thirdly, no scholar actually thinks that the body of Jesus was stolen from the tomb, and fourthly, the Gospel of Matthew entails that there existed a guard at the tomb of Jesus in the morning after the burial specifically so it would not be stolen (Matthew 27:62). So it seems to me that the historical evidence is quite overall weighty to establish that indeed, the body of Jesus was not stolen from the tomb. Therefore, Christians can be very happy and comfortable in taking up the position that the empty tomb is not due to some tomb-breaker or grave-bandit, but rather due to the physical Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.