There have been plenty of messiah pretenders down through history. So why is it that only the followers of Jesus continued to believe in his messiahship after his death? When other messiah pretenders died, their movement died with them.
Christians use this fact as evidence that Jesus must truly have been resurrected; his resurrected body was truly seen by multiple eyewitnesses. Only seeing a resurrected messiah claimant with one’s own two eyes would make a devout Jew believe that someone could be the promised messiah even though he had at one time been dead.
But I suggest another possibility: The reason that only the followers of Jesus continued to believe in his messiahship after this death was because Jesus was the only messiah pretender with an empty grave!
The other messiah pretenders could not be the messiah because Judaism had no concept of a dead messiah. However, the empty grave of Jesus allowed for the possibility, however slim it might be, that Jesus was not dead. So the disciples of Jesus clung to this hope…that Jesus was somehow still alive. Since there was no body that skeptics could point to and say, “Look. There is his body. He’s dead. Jesus can’t be the messiah”, Christians could still cling to a sliver of hope.
“But could he really still be alive? What are the chances that someone survives a crucifixion? Didn’t some of our women watch as a spear was driven into his side? Didn’t these same women watch as his motionless body was prepared for burial and placed in a tomb?”
“He couldn’t have survived. There must be some other explanation for the empty tomb…”
“Maybe God has raised him from the dead!!! Maybe God raised Jesus from the dead and took him directly to heaven like he did Elijah!”
“Hmm. Are there other possible explanations for the empty tomb of Jesus?”
“Maybe the Resurrection of the Dead has begun!!! Maybe Jesus was simply the first to be resurrected; like the first fruits of a harvest; the rest of the righteous dead will be resurrected at any second now!”
“OMG! The Resurrection of the Dead means that the New Kingdom is just around the corner!!!! The end of the age; the beginning of God’s Kingdom on Earth is about to happen at any moment now!”
And then, euphoric disciples start having vivid dreams of a resurrected Jesus. Groups of them see bright lights that they believe to be Jesus appearing to them…and the Resurrection belief is born!
Dear Reader: There are so many possible natural explanations for the early Christian resurrection belief and they are all so much more plausible than a supernatural reanimation/transformation of a three day brain dead corpse.
So …why was the tomb empty?
Answer: The gardener moved the body…just as Mary Magdalene initially believed!
End of post.