I feel somewhat foolish addressing these verses. I feel foolish because what we read here is foolish. How can we be serious about something so silly? And yet, this is the Word of God, so it is worthy of our consideration. Plus the implications and results of these verses have been producing rotten fruit for more than two thousand years. Something must be said, even though your minds may precede mine in each point I make.
As I’ve said several times over the last few weeks, the resurrection of Christ is one of the foundational doctrines of Bible Christianity. If Christ didn’t return from the grave three days after his death, then it would prove that He was either a liar or insane. If Christ wasn’t resurrected, it would difficult, if not impossible, to prove that His sacrifice for our sins was sufficient to meet our needs. If our Great High Priest was not there to properly carry the sacrificial blood behind the veil, sprinkling it over the mercy seat, it might be questioned whether or not an atonement was made. If Christ remained dead, could it be said that He was the eternal Son of God? I won’t say that the resurrection of Christ was more important than the death of Christ, but in some ways it was just as important.
So no one is surprised that Satan and his hordes have attacked this doctrine with such ferocity. The Jews hated the idea before it became a reality, and they were forced by pride and false doctrine to attack it after it became a fact. Unbelievers are wont to disbelieve a great many things about Christ, and this is usually close to the top of their list. The idea is contrary to logic – to science – so the evolutionist, the humanist, and the academic hate it. And that is before we come to the hedonist and his general love of sin.
First, let’s consider the Guards at the Resurrection.
Who were these keepers? We remember that the priests had their own troops, whose primary responsibility was policing the temple. My guess would be that they were some branch of the tribe of Levi. Those Levites had a variety of responsibilities such as corralling animals and preparing them for sacrifice. They might have had responsibilities in regard to the finances collected in the temple. Some of them were singers and other musicians. And I would guess that the temple guards came from their number as well.
But when the priests asked Pilate for security officers for the garden tomb, it appears that Pilate granted to them some of HIS troops. In reading the earlier verses in Matthew 27 it is difficult to say whose guards were involved. But in speaking to them after the resurrection, the priests promise that if word of Jesus’ escape reached the ears of the governor, they would intervene on the guard’s behalf. There were apparently trained Roman troops sent to oversee the tomb. There was probably a troop involved with men serving for several hours before being replaced by others.
So Christ removed Himself from Joseph’s tomb shortly after nightfall on Saturday night. There was apparently no fanfare – no Heavenly chorus of angels – no trumpets. In all likelihood, the guards posted outside the tomb were totally unaware of the resurrection. But then six or eight hours later, it was as if the sky was falling. “And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.”
What is the meaning of that last phrase – they “became as dead men”? Admitting that I could be wrong, it appears that they lost consciousness – they “passed out.” I would say that they “fainted” – but only delicate ladies “faint.” These robust soldiers – these men of the world – “passed out.” Were they so frightened that their hearts stopped for a while? Or was there something else – something divine – which caused them to loose consciousness? We may never know – or we may not know until we know things more fully in Glory.
And we can only guess at what happened when they returned to their senses. But it is MY guess that they began to consult with one another about their next move. They knew that if they reported to their superiors, they might be immediately tossed into the stockade for dereliction of duty. They couldn’t even keep a dead body in its proper place. Apparently, after a little reflection, they decided it would be best to “shew unto the chief priests all the things that were done.” That seemed to be the lesser of two weevils.
Then the priests, after some consultation among themselves, came up with a story for the guards to use. “Saying, say ye,” suggests that they gave the Romans a story to rehearse and recite. They also gave them a quantity of money for their troubles. “So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.”
As I was thinking about this scripture and reading some of the comments of others, I jotted down more than a dozen arguments which disprove the guard’s story. They aren’t in any particular order. And some of these are a little less weighty than others. But put all together they should silence the soldier’s words – in the minds of those who would like the truth.
Reasons why the guards’ words should not be believed.
First, people need to take a closer look at the soldier’s manufactured explanation for the empty tomb. “We fell asleep, and while we slept, Jesus’ disciples came and stole the body.” But remember that these were trained soldiers, part of whose job was to stay alert when they were required to guard something. They had probably spent many a night on sentry duty, and they knew the routine. They should have spent the previous day resting so they could perform their night-time duty. They probably knew of various techniques to stay awake even if they were drowsy. And to actually say that they were asleep at their posts would bring great risk to themselves. They had gone to the Jews – to the priests – to secure their safety. But what guarantee did they have that those priests could be trusted? It is illogical that they would put their lives into the hands of men they hated and oppressed. But they were desperate, and in so doing they raise questions about everything. So they were ASLEEP – how deeply were they sleeping? Were they sitting, and if so upon what? Boulders or hard wooden benches? Were they leaning against something with their eyes closed? And how close were they to the actual mouth of the tomb? How much effort, and therefore how much noise would it take for the disciples to move the stone door? Are you going to tell me that even if two to four men were asleep, they would have all remained asleep during the noisy effort of opening the doorway? Sleeping isn’t a logical explanation for the missing body
And what about the details of their testimony – “His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.” Excuse me, but if you were asleep, then how did you know it was Jesus’ disciples who took the body? One of the tricks of investigators is to get witnesses or perpetrators to repeat and repeat their stories. When the account changes a great deal, they know that the testimony is false. Liars tend to accidentally change their lies – there is no solid hook on which to hinge their testimony. Or conversely, when the testimony is exactly the same – the same words, the same inflections – with precise references to time and other details, then the investigators know that the story was memorized. And then in a case like this, if two, three or four people, tell exactly the same story with exactly the same phrases and details, again, they must have been coached. Usually a multitude of witnesses, tell the same story but in different words. When they all use the same words and descriptions, there is cause for alarm. These guards all told the same story.
And this raises another point – all of this was repeated in public conversation, not a court of law. If these men had reported to Pilate, rather than the priests…. If they had been brought before their Centurion, then there would have been the opportunity for cross-examination of their statements. At that time there could have been the addition of other evidence, both positive and negative. Then all the disciples might have been able to provide alibis and proof to their presence somewhere else that night. Just like the trial of Christ, four days earlier, this is all a sham and a shame – there is no justice to it at all.
Another point to consider is the matter of the hush money. Under these circumstances, it is highly unlikely that these men needed to be bribed to tell the truth. What is more likely – that someone should be paid to lie or to tell the truth? If money was changing hands, then it is almost a guarantee that the story given by the guards was not true.
Furthermore, it is unlikely – improbable – that the disciples would steal the body of Christ. Other than the fact that Jesus had prophesied His own resurrection, the disciples had no reason to take the body. As I said last week, other than Jonah, the Old Testament types – the illustrations – of Jesus’ resurrection were pretty obscure. And the prophecies were more about what the Messiah would yet do, not so much about His resurrection in order to get it done. The nation of Israel was looking for a living Messiah, not a dead one – even if He was resurrected. When Christ didn’t destroy the Romans and establish the Millennial Kingdom, the unbelieving Jew had no further interest in Him. Stealing the body would not have enhanced any of the old, preconceived opinions about the Messiah. Then, there is no evidence that the disciples had made any plans or preparations for any kind of resurrection – actual or manufactured. As sad as it is to admit, the disciples were as surprised at the resurrection as everyone else. They were not thinking along those lines.
But, if we assume that the disciples did come during the night to remove the Lord’s remains, there remains the need to re-inter the body. What could the disciples have done with the body? Wouldn’t someone have become aware that there was an unburied body in the area? There is little reason to think that the disciples would have, or could have, stolen the body of Christ.
And finally, we have the testimony of John – “So (Peter and John) ran both together and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying, yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.”
Can John’s testimony be believed? Was it true? Of course it was! Well then, if some other disciples had come to steal the body of Christ would they have unwrapped the corpse before taking it away? I would think that time would have been very important. They would have opened the tomb as quickly and quietly as possible. Then they would grabbed the body and taken it away as quickly as they could. Especially, with the guards sleeping just a few feet away, they would not have taken the time – a great deal of time – to unwrap the body. And if I understand things correctly, all the spices and ointments would have made those wrappings stiff after three days, or perhaps they remained somewhat sticky. It might have taken an hour to unwrap the body. But again, why would they even consider it? If the body was stolen, it would have been done as quickly as possible.
The priests’ and soldiers’ declaration about the body of Christ is completely ludicrous – impossible. The only answer for the empty tomb, and the empty grave clothes, is the resurrection of Christ. You may risk your soul on the testimony of the Word of God.