One of the arguments used to attempt to disprove the resurrection is that the disciples stole the body of Jesus (Matthew 28:13). For this to have occurred three things needed to be in place 1) they must have expected that Jesus would rise from the dead 2) been motivated to steal the body and 3) had the means to carry out the theft. For the stolen body theory to be true the following associated questions need to be answered:
– Expectation: Did the disciples expect Him to rise from the dead?
– Motivation: If they expected Him to rise, why would they steal the body?
– Means: If they wanted to steal it, how could they go about it?
Jesus taught that He would be killed and rise from the dead after three days (John 2:18-21, Matthew 12:40-41; 17:22-23, 27:63), yet the disciples appear to not understand His prophecy (John 2, 22; 20:1-2,9, 24-29). Luke 24:11 tells us that when the women told the disciples that the body was not in the tomb, the disciples heard it as an ‘idol tale and did not believe them’. They were skeptics about the resurrection. When Jesus appeared to the disciples in Luke 24:27-32, the passage describes their first reaction was a belief that He was a ghost. As a result, Jesus proved His identity by showing them His scars and then explaining the Scriptures about Him rising after three days. His followers saw Him perform amazing miracles of healing, resurrection of others and controlling nature, yet they don’t act like a group counting down the minutes to the third day eagerly anticipating His return.
The eleven disciples were weak, scared and dejected after abandoning Him and scattering at the garden. What benefit would stealing the body of Jesus have provided? They would still be leaderless and an empty tomb would prompt the Jewish and Roman officials to watch their actions even more closely or arrest them as well (John 20:19). The disciples followed Jesus because they believed Him to be the Messiah and Savior of the Jewish people from the Roman occupation (Luke 24:21). They awaited a King to rule Israel. Without Him, they had no mission or ministry to carry on. They had no motivation to perpetuate a myth and instead went back to their previous professions like fishing until they were filled with the Holy Spirit (John 21:2-3).
The disciples didn’t have the ability to take the body because they had no way to challenge the guard who was placed at the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66). If the body would have disappeared before the guard arrived, Joseph would have been accused of stealing it. The guards would have notified the officials of this when they arrived to seal the tomb. If the disciples had confronted the guard to steal the body, there would have been a skirmish that would have been known about throughout Jerusalem. If the guards had fallen asleep, the light of torches and the sound of rolling away the rock that covered the entrance would have woken them up. There is no plausible means for the body to have been stolen by a group of peasants or others for that matter.
The disciples had neither the expectation, motivation or means to steal Jesus body. Why would they carry on the mission of a dead teacher to the point of giving up all earthy comfort, traveling to foreign lands and facing persecution and death if they didn’t see Him back from the dead? The resurrection and subsequent appearance of Jesus in bodily form to the disciples is the only plausible explanation for what occurred in Jerusalem 2,000+ years ago.