The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.
Understanding And Applying the Text
The chief Priests and Pharisees knew Jesus was dead. they saw Him die. Yet they still feared Him. Christ had told them He would rise in 3 days. They knew dead men stay dead. So they believed the only way for Jesus to rise would be through a hoax. Jesus’ disciples would have to steal the body. If people believed Jesus had risen they would lose it all. All they had done to end this Jesus movement would be for not. They went to Pilate to ask for a guard. The fact is they feared the resurrection. So they did all they could to prevent it.
Pilate gave them soldiers to guard the tomb. This tied their hands. When the resurrection did occur the claim the disciples stole the body was ludicrous.
Their intent was to thwart God’s plan. But God used their evil to show His power. Now instead of a simple empty tomb, there was the testimony of Roman soldiers. Roman soldiers saw the resurrection. They saw the angels. They saw Jesus walk out of the tomb. They stood there frozen like dead men and watched.
On the first day of the week Christ arose. The resurrection is key to Christianity. Christianity is not moral teaching. It is not being kind to your neighbor. It is not standing against abortion, racism, or any other social evil. The key is the resurrection. It is a historical event. It happened on Easter morning. Christ stood up and walked out of the tomb alive. He rose from the dead. As Paul says, there is no gospel and no hope of salvation without Christ raising from the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:14.)
Jesus revealed himself to larger and larger groups of followers. He began with the women. He commissioned them to announce the gospel to the apostles. The women had approached the tomb with boldness. While the men hid like little girls.
Matthew mentions only the two Marys came to see the tomb. Mark adds a third, Salome. We infer from Luke many women came. It is customary with the sacred writers, when speaking of a group, to name only a few of them.
There was an earthquake. Angels came down from heaven and rolled the stone away, opening of the tomb. Then the angel sat on the stone he had moved.
This is a favorite passage for skeptics. How many angels were there? Mathew mentions only one. Mark mentions one. Luke and John mention two. This is the answer. We don’t know how many there were. As it was common to point out a few names in a group. So it was common not to mention the entire group. But we know this. There is no contradiction. If there were three there were two. If there were two there was one. Also, the writers have angels at different places and at different times. So skeptics have manufactured confusion over nothing.
The angels scared the soldiers but to the women, the angels spoke to calm their fears. The scene is humorous. Several soldiers trained in warfare. I assume battled they were hardened. They are armed with swords and shields. They stand in terror. Next to them is a group of fearless women armed only with spices for a dead man.
The angel announces the good news. Jesus is not there. He has risen. They invite the women into the tomb to see it is empty. Once they confirmed the tomb was empty the angels charged them to tell the disciples the good news. Matthew said they left quickly. That may mean they left right away. Or it may mean they ran. Or it could mean they did both.
But on the way, Jesus met them. Now they had more than an empty tomb. They had seen the risen Jesus. They touched Him. They grabbed His feet. They worshiped Him.
Jesus gave them the same charge as the angels. Go to the disciples and tell them to go to Galilee. He would see them there.
We do not know when but the angels left. And the soldiers regained their senses. They went to tell the chief priests what had happened. The embarrassment of letting a dead man escape was lost on them. They knew what they saw. But they did not believe what they saw. It was an illusion. It could not be real. But the result was the same. A dead man escaped.
The chief priest heard an incredible story. And they chose not to investigate. Truth did not matter. Their concern was not about truth. Their concern was containing the story. We see the same today. Post-modernists have nothing on these men. The truth was inconvenient. So they generated a false narrative that conformed to their wishes.
Isn’t it interesting how our sinfulness blinds us from the truth? While on the cross they said, Hey if you save yourself we will believe you are the Son of God. But when they hear the report from the soldiers about the resurrection, they still refuse to believe. Jesus did save Himself. They got the miracle they asked for. But they refused to believe when given the very evidence they requested. When someone says, “Show me a miracle and I will believe.” that is false. They may think they will believe. But when given the miracle they are still incredulous.
They could not ignore the fact the tomb was empty. The body was gone. They told the soldiers to say the disciples stole the body while they were asleep. This story has always bothered me. Sleeping on guard duty is a serious, very serious offense. Those who have never served do not understand how serious it is. It places the entire unit in danger.
It was no less serious in the Roman army. A soldier sleeping on duty could be killed. He had put the entire unit in danger. The word from the chief priest would not have saved them.
But since there was not a larger unit involved. And there was no real danger to the army, The commander could deliver a lesser punishment. There is very little doubt there was some punishment. The probability was a dishonorable discharge. This kept the soldiers from getting retirement and ostracized them. But that would not have bothered them. And it could have been desirable. They had money from the chief priests. And money buys friends.