Matthew 27 62-66 and Matthew 28 11-15: THE GUARDS AT JESUS' TOMB


I am going to examine the part played by the guards in the resurrection story under three headings: The opponent's reservations, Pilates response and the guard's report.

(1) The opponent's reservations.

Jesus' enemies were:

(a) Aware of his prophecy.

After Jesus' burial a deputation of chief priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate and said: "We remember that while he (Jesus) was alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.'"

It seems some of the prominent Pharisees remembered what Jesus said to them when they asked him to authenticate his ministry with a miraculous sign. He told them that the only sign they would be given was the sign of the prophet Jonah. Just as Jonah spent three days in the belly of the huge fish so, "The Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Mt12v39to40.

The Pharisees didn't believe that this prophecy would actually come to pass - only that the disciples of Jesus might steal his body to make it look as if it had come to pass. The enemies of Jesus dismissed his prophecy as the idle boast of an arch deceiver. They would have been better advised to ponder why Jesus should make such a strange prediction.

Jesus made several predictions during his lifetime that are recorded in the gospels. For example: "All the nations of the earth ... will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather the elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other." Mt24v30to31.

This and similar prophecies are ignored or ridiculed by the majority of my countrymen - but Jesus keeps his word - he will return.

(b) Awry in their assessment.

The deputation from the Sanhedrin tell Pilate to: "Give the orders for the tomb to be made secure until the third day, otherwis, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. The last deception will be worse than the first." v64.

Jesus' enemies were way off target. The disciples were totally disillusioned and demoralised. Their hopes had been dashed. They had expected Jesus to be a second David: a mighty warrior who would free the Jews from their Roman oppressor and set up an earthly kingdom.

The huge expectations Jesus' disciples had of him had not been realised. He had let them down. Their reaction to his arrest and crucifixion was to scatter and hide.

The enemies of Jesus continue to misunderstand the role of his followers. Why else should Christians be persecuted in so many countries. The disciples of Jesus pose no threat to the leaders of China, Iran or North Korea. So why are they discriminated against and persecuted?

(c) Active on the Sabbath.

The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate ...

In his commentary on Matthew, William Barclay observes: The chief priests and Pharisees actually approached Pilate on the Sabbath with their request. They broke the Sabbath in a futile attempt to put an end to the influence of Jesus.

Throughout the history of the church men and women have stopped at nothing to suppress the truth as declared by Jesus. During my time as a Geography teacher I would speak out during staff meetings if I disapproved of certain policy decisions. I can remember on one occasion the Headmistress of my school saying, "Mr Reed, if you don't like it here you know what you can do."

I am afraid that there are Christian leaders who take the same view of anyone who disagrees with the doctrinal statement of the denomination they belong to. In order to maintain this position, the teaching of Jesus has to remain buried. The apostle John, a devoted follower of Jesus, wrote: To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. Jn1v13.

Neither Jesus, nor any of his apostles including Paul, left the church with a doctrinal statement to believe in; the reason being that Christians would put believing in the statement before believing in Jesus. This already happens with doctrinal statements thought out by men!

The church at Corinth was full of different erring factions. Paul did not push for them to be excluded from the church. The only person he said should be excluded was a young man having sex with his step mother. See exposition on 1Corinthians5.

Jesus did not leave us a doctrinal statement. He left us instead the 8 Beatitudes which are all about the way to BE. If we are poor in spirit then unlike Jesus enemies and some staunch Calvinists we shall accept the fact that there are things we might be wrong about.

Why, for example, do so many Christian fundamentalists hang on to a belief that the appropriate punishment for unbelief is a future life of never ending torment when Jesus said: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna." Mt10v28. See Article on the Afterlife.

(d) Alive to the significance of an empty tomb.

The chief priests were worried that Jesus' disciples might steal his body and tell the people that he had been raised from the dead. They were afraid that this last deception will be worse than the first.

An empty tomb would take some explaining. In view of the lie that Jesus' enemies eventually spread abroad it would actually have been more credible if no guard had been posted.

The foes of Christianity often miscalculate - none more so than Mao tse Tung who thought he could eradicate Christianity by expelling missionaries and persecuting the faithful. His policy led to the growth of the house church movement and indigenous Chinese Christian leaders. Stalin, who also set out to destroy the church, underestimated the influence of Christian grandmothers who used household icons to nurture faith in the young.

(2) Pilate's response.

"Take a guard," Pilate answered, "Go make the tomb as secure as you know how."

Pilate's response seems almost flippant. The reason for this was twofold. Pilate was:

(a) Informed.

I expect that Pilate's informants would have told him that the disciples were demoralised, scattered and in hiding. There was no likelihood whatsoever of them carrying out a clandestine raid on the tomb of Jesus. Then again, how would the possession of a corpse assist in any movement dreamed up by a leaderless group of Galilean peasants of limited ability?

(b) Intelligent.

The Governer realised that the only way the tomb could be found empty was if Jesus did actually rise from the dead. If he rose in power from the dead there would be no holding him; it wouldn't matter how big the stone, how secure the seal or how numerous the guard. It is as if Pilate said, "Give it a go - but one way or another you are wasting your time."

Through the centuries the numerous opponents of Jesus have wasted their time trying to withstand his awesome power. Since Christ's resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit there has been no stopping the spread of the gospel. The Sanhedrin tried to put a stop to Peter and John. They warned the two apostles off but to no effect. Peter told them: "Judge for yourselves whether it's right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard. Acts4v20.

(3) The guard's report.

The guards were:

(a) Confounded.

The guards were overwhelmed by what happened at the tomb of Jesus. An earthquake doubtless broke the seal. An angel whose brightness exceeded lightening, rolled back the stone and sat upon it. So much for that!! Then some of the women arrived who followed Jesus and discovered two more angels in he tomb - but no corpse! By this time the soldiers who had been paralysed by fear at these events recovered somewhat and some of their number went to report to the chief priests.

The events at the tomb showed the sort of power Jesus could have unleashed in life. It will be displayed again when Jesus returns to earth with a retinue of angels and brings to an end this present age.

(b) Credible.

The guards were credible witnesses to events at the tomb. They were probably Roman soldiers. There is no way they would conspire with the disciples of Jesus to remove his corpse from the tomb. They had nothing to gain from this and everything to lose.

The chief priess did not query their account of what happened. They must have known that Jesus had risen from the dead. But it made no difference to how they felt about Jesus. Still, notwithstanding credible witnesses, they would not believe - such is the stubborness of disbelief.

In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Abraham said of the five brothers of the rich man, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."

The chief priests were not going to admit they were wrong. I suppose that one of the things that shakes my faith more than anything else is the unwillingness of some Christians to accept that they are wrong about a young earth, a universal flood and torment in hell. I have written articles on these subjects and shown, for example, that the Biblical account of the Genesis flood was of one local, rather than universal, in extent.

There is abundant evidence that the earth's crust is very old. This is not incompatible with the Genesis account of Creation so long as the 'days' in Genesis are periods of time or stages and not periods of 24 hours.

Some fundamentalist Christians pay no heed to reason or, indeed, Scripture. They hold on to beliefs that are neither rational nor Biblical. They are stubborn. One can only suspect that they see some merit in defying reason and sticking to their traditions. In this they are little better than the Pharisees of old.

(c) Compromised.

The subsequent testimony of the guards is discredited by the huge bribe they took from the members of the Sanhedrin. They, like many, were corrupted by cash. They agreed with the religious leaders to say that during the night they all fell asleep and during that time Jesus' disciples removed the body from the tomb.

This is a ridiculous version of events. It is highly unlikely that all the guards were asleep together. It is even more unlikely that none of them would wake up with the breaking of the seal and the removal of the large stone disc from the entrance to the tomb. The soldiers were bribed to provide a tale even more unlikely than the true version of what happened.

Dear old William Barclay has a masterly summary of the perfidy of the Jewish leaders:

They used treachery to lay hold of him.
They used illegality to try him.
They used slander to charge him.
They used bribery to silence the truth about him.

And they failed! Great is the truth and it has prevailed.

          Christ has risen! Hallelujah!
          Blessed morn of life and light!
          Lo, the grave is rent asunder,
          Death is conquered through his might.

          Christ is risen! Hallelujah!
          Gladness fills the world today;
          From the tomb that could not hold Him,
          See, the stone is rolled away!