Harmony of the Gospels

harmony of the gospels

 

The Guards Report the Resurrection

 

Matthew 28:11-15

Tom Lowe

9/30/2008

Date: Sunday--A.D. 30
Location: Jerusalem

 

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a vital part of the gospel message, because a dead Christ can save nobody (1 Cor. 15:1--19). The empty tomb is proof that He is the Son of God (Rom. 1:4); that believers have a future inheritance (1 Pet. 1:3); that we will once again meet Christians who have died (1 Thess. 4:14--18); that our Christian ministry is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:50--58); and that Jesus Christ will one day judge lost sinners (Acts 17:30--31). The early church bore witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:22; 4:2, 33), and so should we today.
 

11Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.

12And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,

13Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.

14And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.

15So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.

 

11Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch[1]  came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.

What follows occurred while the women were on their way to tell the disciples the good news that Jesus had risen and was alive.

"...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" (Matthew 29:2-4).  As soon as they regained consciousness, some of the soldiers--not all, probably the rest remained at the tomb, waiting for orders to depart--sheepishly went to the chief priests to break the news. They had failed in their mission! The tomb was empty! Since the watch had been set by the priests themselves (Matt 27:65, 66[2]), it made its report to them instead of to Pilate. Pilate had put the soldiers at the disposal of the Jewish Sanhedrin, who then assigned them to keep watch at the tomb. Now, these same soldiers told the chief priests (Annas and Caiaphas), all the things that were done; told them of the earthquake, the descent of the angel, the rolling of the stone away, and the coming of the body of Jesus alive out of the grave. They rightly judged that the plain truth was their best defense. They could not be expected to defend against earthquakes and angels. Their report implies that they saw Jesus leave the tomb after the angel rolled the stone away from the opening. It might have been expected that, after the soldiers told them what happened, some of these religious leaders would have believed in Christ, and repented for putting him to death; but they were stubborn and committed to staying with their fabricated tale that would accuse the disciples of stealing His body.

12And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,

It is easy to imagine the dismay of the religious leaders. However, their reaction was that they were resolved not to believe that Jesus was risen; but their concern was, to keep others from believing and themselves from being downright ashamed of their disbelief of it. They had put him to death, and there was no way of reconciling what they had done, except by getting rid of the evidence of His resurrection. These supposed "godly men" have found that one sin draws on another, and that they have plunged themselves into a wretched necessity of adding iniquity to iniquity, which is part of the curse of Christ's persecutors (Ps. 69:27[3]).

The priests held a meeting with the elders--That is, the senators belonging to the great Sanhedrin or Jewish council of state, elsewhere called the elders of the people, met secretly to map out their strategy, seeing that the Sabbath was over. This was evidently not a full, but a select, council of the Sanhedrin, hastily summoned. The assembly gave "large money" or a large bribe to the soldiers to hide the truth of the resurrection with a lie, saying ... "His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept; a ridiculous statement in view of the disciples' earlier defection in the Garden. How could this band of cowards overpower an armed Roman guard? Matthew observed that this explanation was still commonly reported among the Jews in his day. However, this explanation raises more questions than it answers. Why were the soldiers sleeping when they should have been on guard? How could the disciples have rolled the stone away without waking them? How could all the soldiers have fallen asleep at the same time? If they were asleep, how did they know that the disciples stole the body? If the story was true, why did the soldiers have to be bribed to tell it? If the disciples had stolen the body, why had they taken time to remove the grave clothes and fold the napkin? (Luke 24:12[4]).

13Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.

This pronouncement was as absurd as it was false. On one hand, the terror of the disciples, the smallness of their number (only eleven), and their almost total lack of faith; on the other, the great danger of such a bold venture, the number of armed men who guarded the tomb, the authority of Pilate and of the Sanhedrin; and yet the enemies of Jesus invented such a charade as this accusation which is utterly devoid of legitimacy. If this allegation is scrutinized, it will not pass the test; instead, it will give-rise to several questions:
1. Is it likely that so many men would all fall asleep, in the open air, at once?
2. Is it at all probable that a Roman guard would be found asleep at their post, when it was instant death, according to the Roman military laws, to be found in this state?
3. Could they be so sound asleep that they would not wake-up amid all the noise which must be made by removing the great stone, and taking away the body?
4. Is it at all likely that these disciples could have had enough time to do all this, and to come and return, without being discovered by any person?
5. If they were asleep, how could they possibly know that it was the disciples who stole him?--since they couldn't see anyone if they were asleep.

14And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.

The religious leaders promised the soldiers that if Pilate should learn of their deception they would persuade (convince) him that it is for his own benefit to join them in the deception; and then they said, we will do whatever is necessary to make sure you are not punished for pretending you fell asleep while on duty, which would probably happen otherwise.   [It was a capital offense for a Roman soldier to sleep while on guard; therefore, if Pilate heard that they had done this thing, it would require "persuasion" to make him overlook the offense. Possibly the Jews thought that Pilate was sufficiently involved with them to be ready to aid them to hush the story of the resurrection, especially if they confessed to him that they themselves had invented the lie which the soldiers told.] If these soldiers had really fallen asleep, and allowed the disciples to steal Jesus' body, as they wanted the world to believe, the priests and elders would certainly have been the first ones to ask the governor to punish them for their deceit.

They knew Pilate could be easily bribed (they may have bribed him before this). They also knew that Pilate was not interested in this matter, since he took so little interest in it that he left the guarding of the tomb to them; therefore, it was likely that he would not hear anything about it.

The priests undertook to protect them from the sword of Pilate, but could not protect these soldiers from the sword of God's justice, which hangs over the heads of those who love to make a lie.

15So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is one of the most important doctrines of the Christian religion, and is substantiated by the strongest evidence that can be given in favor of any ancient fact. We should bear in mind:
1. That he had often predicted his own death and resurrection (Matthew 12:40[5]).
2. There was no doubt that he was really dead. The Jews, the Romans, and the disciples, were all equally sure of it.
3. Every proper precaution was taken to prevent his removal from the tomb. A guard, usually consisting of sixty men, was placed there for the express purpose of preventing His disciples from steeling the Body, and the sepulchre was secured by a large stone, and by a seal.
4. On the third day the body was missing. They all agreed on this. The high priest did not dare to call that in question. The disciples acknowledged that he was alive. The Jews paid the Roman soldiers to insist that His body was stolen while they slept, and they succeeded in making many people believe it.

This story, which was made up by the Jews, prompts the following difficulties and absurdities:
1. The Roman guard was composed usually of sixty men, and they were stationed there for the express purpose of guarding the body of Jesus.
2. The punishment for sleeping while on guard in the Roman army was death, and it is hard to believe that they would expose themselves to that possibility.
3. The disciples were few in number, unarmed, weak, and timid. They had just fled before those who took Jesus in the garden, and so can anyone believe that in so short a time they would dare to attempt to take His body away from a Roman guard of armed men that were expressly set to defend against that?
4. How could the disciples presume that they would find them asleep; or, if they did, how was it possible to remove the stone and the body, without waking at least one of them.?
5. The orderliness and arrangement of the grave-clothes (John 20:6, 7[6]) show that the body had not been stolen. When men rob graves of the bodies of the dead, they do not wait coolly to fold up the grave-clothes, and lay them carefully by themselves.
6. If the soldiers were asleep, how did they, or how could they know that the disciples stole the body? If they were awake, why did they allow it? The whole account, therefore, was fundamentally absurd. On the other hand, the account given by the disciples was perfectly natural.

The testimony of the disciples, as given by the gospel writers, is one of the greatest proofs of the resurrection; consider the following:
1. They explanation for why the soldiers did not see the Savior when he rose was that they were terrified at the vision of an angel; they became as dead men.
2. They acknowledged that they saw him. All the apostles affirmed this, and many others, as well.
3. They affirmed it in Jerusalem, in the presence of the Jews, before the high priest and the people (See the Acts of the Apostles). If the Jews really believed the account which they themselves had given, why didn't they arrest the apostles, and prove them guilty of the theft, and of deception: things which they never attempted, and which show, therefore, that they did not believe their own report.
4. In regard to the Savior, they could not be deceived. They had been with him for three years. They knew him as a friend. They ate and drank with him; they put their fingers into his hands and side; they talked with him; they were with him for forty days. There were enough of them to bear witness. Law commonly requires not more than one or two competent witnesses; but here were eleven plain, honest men, who declared in all places, and at all times, that they had seen Him. Can it be possible that they could be deceived?
5. They gave evidence of their honesty. They were persecuted, ridiculed, scourged, and put to death for insisting they were telling the truth. Yet not one of them ever expressed the least doubt of its truth. They put up with everything rather than to deny that they had seen Him. They had no self-serving motive for doing this, except for "the love of truth. They obtained no wealth by it; no honor; no pleasure. They went through great and unparalleled sufferings for the simple purpose of announcing everywhere that a Savior died and rose.
6. The world believed them. Three thousand of the Jews themselves believed in the risen Savior, on the day of Pentecost, only fifty days after His resurrection (Acts 2:41[7]). Multitudes of other Jews believed during the lives of the apostles. Thousands of Gentiles believed also, and in three hundred years the belief that Jesus rose had spread over and changed the whole Roman Empire. If they had been deceivers the apostles did it in an age in which they could most easily have been detected.
 
JUSTIN MARTYR, who flourished about A.D. 170, says, in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, that the Jews dispersed the story by means of special messengers sent to every country. 

"Until this day" refers to the time in which Matthew wrote his Gospel; which is supposed by some to have been eight, by others eighteen and by others thirty years after our Lord's resurrection.

The simple truth is that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is a well-accepted fact of history. He presented Himself alive to His disciples after His passion by many infallible proofs. Think of these specific instances when He appeared to His own:
1. To Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9--11).
2. To the women (Matt. 28:8--10).
3. To Peter (Luke 24:34).
4. To the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13--32).
5. To the disciples, except Thomas (John 20:19--25).
6. To the disciples, including Thomas (John 20:26--31).
7. To the seven disciples by the Sea of Galilee (John 21).
8. To over 500 believers (1 Cor. 15:7).
9. To James (1 Cor. 15:7).
10. To the disciples on the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:3--12).

One of the great foundation stones, unshakable and unmovable, of our Christian faith, is the historic evidence for the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here you and I can stand and do battle for the faith because we have a situation which cannot be contradicted. It can be denied, but it cannot be disproved.

________________NOTES & SCRIPTURE REFERENCE______________________

  [1]a group of soldiers or others posted to keep guard  

  [2]Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.  

  [3]Add iniquity unto their iniquity: and let them not come into thy righteousness. 

  [4]Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.

  [5]For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 

  [6]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. 

  [7]Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.


 

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 The pastor of an underground Chinese church told a group of Southern Baptists about the precautions they must take to avoid government persecution. Each time their church reaches ten to fifteen members, they split to reduce attention. They also alternate meeting places for the same reason. Because phone lines are monitored, members meet with a volunteer on a downtown street to find out where the church will meet next. One such volunteer was discovered by the government, arrested, beaten, and put in prison. He lost his job, house, and medical benefits. Another man stepped in and took his place and he too suffered the same fate. One of the visitors said, “I suppose you have difficulty filling that job.” The Chinese pastor replied, “No. We have a waiting list.”

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