Harmony of the Gospels


(41) Tomb Sealed

Scripture: Matthew 27:61-66 (focal passage); Luke 23:55, 56

Tom Lowe



 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James follow Joseph of Arimathaea to the tomb where Jesus was buried. The Pharisees and chief priests meet with Pilate on the Sabbath to request that a guard be placed at the tomb to prevent His disciples from stealing Jesus body. The Guard is set and the large coin-shaped rock sealed the tomb.

(Luke 23:55) And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the  [1]sepulchre, and how his body was laid.
(Luke 23:56) And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day  [2]according to the commandment.

The faithful women from Galilee stayed by Jesus while he hung on the cross, and then they followed Joseph as he took the body to the tomb and put it inside. They were led to do it, not by their curiosity, but by their affection for the Lord Jesus. Although they were all in tears, they saw the sepulcher and noted where it was, since they planned to return on Sunday morning with spices and fragrant oils to embalm the body of the One they loved. It was more an evidence of their love than of their faith; because it appears that they  did not remember or believe what he had so often told them, that he would rise again the third day. On Saturday the women rested, in obedience to the commandment concerning the Sabbath (Saturday) and returned to the tomb the following day, which would be Sunday. We know that they could have saved their money and effort, since in a short time there would be a greater honor put upon His body, by the glory of His resurrection, than they could put upon it with their most precious ointments.

In burying the body of Jesus, Joseph also buried himself, in a sense. That act separated him forever from the nation that crucified the Lord of life and glory. He would never be a part of Judaism again, but would live in moral separation from it and testify against it.

(Matthew 27:61) And there was  [3]Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary,  [4]sitting over against the sepulchre.

Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joses followed Joseph to the tomb. Once there, they watched the burial (no disciples were present). But after Joseph left they stayed in a place where they could observe the tomb and morn the death of their Savior, and shed rivers of tears.

Note. True love for Christ will carry us through the most difficult times; death itself cannot quench our love for Him.

(Matthew 27:62) Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,
(Matthew 27:63) Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.
(Matthew 27:64) Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.

The first day of the Passover, called the Day of Preparation, was the day of the crucifixion. The next day the chief priests and Pharisees were uneasy. Perhaps they were surprised by the respect shown to Christ’s dead body by Joseph and Nicodemus, two honorable counselors, and looked upon it as a bad omen; nor can they forget Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, which also baffled them. Then, when they remembered what Jesus had said about rising again, they went to Pilate and asked for a special guard to be placed at the tomb. This was allegedly to prevent His disciples from stealing the body, and in so doing, creating the impression that He had risen. Should this happen, they feared, the last deception would be worse than the first; that is, the report concerning His resurrection would be worse than His claim to be the Messiah and the Son of God. Actually, it is very improbable that His disciples would steal Christ’s body because:
1. They had not shown the courage to stand-up for Him while He lived, when they might have done Him and themselves real service; therefore, it was not likely that His death would put courage into such cowards.
2. How could they have benefitted themselves by stealing His body, and making people believe He was risen; because, if he did not rise and appear to the people, they would call Him a fraud, and His disciples, would suffer the most by their deception, and would have had reason to cast the first stone at his name

Note: It was highly unusual for the religious leaders to meet with Pilate on the Sabbath, and for the women to prepare the spices for His burial on the Sabbath; because the Law prohibited all forms of work on the Sabbath. That shows how much they hated our Lord; so much so, that they would break their own Law and God’s commandment.

His enemies did what they could to defeat the predictions of Christ’s resurrection. Since it was the Sabbath they should have been spending time in prayer asking forgiveness for their sins of the past week, but instead, they were dealing with Pilate about securing the sepulcher, and so adding rebellion to their sins. Their request reveals that they remembered that Jesus (that deceiver—that’s what they called Him who is truth itself) had said, After three days I will rise again. He had said so, and his disciples remembered those very words, but when his persecutors also remember them, it provoked their rage and hatred. Thus, the same words meant one thing to Christ and something different to His enemies; to the one it was a savor of life unto life, to the other of death unto death.

Notice how they complimented Pilate with the title of Sir, while they disrespected Christ with the title of Deceiver. Accordingly the most malicious slanderers of good men are often the most distasteful flatterers of great men.

(Matthew 27:65) Pilate said unto them, Ye have a  [5]watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.

Pilate answered, “Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.” This may refer to the constant guard that was kept in the tower of Antonia, out of which Pilate allowed them to have as many of the soldiers as they pleased to provide security for the tomb. Was there sarcasm in Pilate’s voice as he said “as sure as ye can?” They did their best. They sealed the stone and stationed guards, but their best security measures were just not good enough. Unger says: “The precautions His enemies took to make the sepulcher sure, sealing it and stationing a guard, only resulted in God’s overruling the plans of the wicked and offering indisputable proof of the King’s resurrection.

Pilate was ready to gratify Christ’s friends, by allowing them to have the body, and his enemies, by placing a guard at the tomb. He wanted to please all sides, while perhaps he laughed in his sleeve at both of them for making such to-do over the dead body of a man. I think it is likely that by this time Pilate had talked to the centurion, who was his own officer. He would have asked How Jesus died, and the centurion may have included in his answer those things that made him conclude that truly he was the Son of God. Pilate would give more credit to him than to a thousand of those spiteful priests that called Him a Deceiver. Tertullion, speaking of Pilate, said, “Ipse jam pro suâ conscientiâ Christianus—In his conscience he was a Christian; and it is possible that he might be under conviction at this time from the centurion’s report, and yet never be thoroughly persuaded, any more than Agrippa or Felix was, to be a Christian.”

(Matthew 27:66) So they went, and made the sepulchre sure,  [6]sealing the stone, and setting a watch.

They sealed the stone; probably with the great seal of their Sanhedrim, whereby they imposed their authority, and there are few who would dare to break the public seal? But they did not trust the seal completely, and so they set a watch, to keep his disciples from coming to steal His body, and, if possible, to prevent Him from coming out of the grave. That may have been what they intended, but God made this good out of it; that they who tried to oppose His resurrection, had the opportunity to observe it, and told the chief priests what they observed. Here was all the power of earth and hell combined to keep Christ a prisoner, but it was all in vain. When his hour was come; death, and all those heirs of death, could not hold him, and could no longer have dominion over Him. To guard the sepulcher against the poor weak disciples was foolish; but to think they could stop the power of God with soldiers was folly; and yet they thought they had dealt with the situation wisely.


__________________________Special Notes__________________________

  [1]Sepulcher—a tomb or grave
  [2]The commandment referred to here is Exodus 20:8;“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
  [3]MA´RY MAGDALE´NE. Different explanations have been given of this name; but the most natural is that she came from the town of Magdala. She appears before us for the first time in Luke 8:2, among the women who “ministered unto him of their substance.” All appear to have occupied a position of comparative wealth. With all, the chief motive was that of gratitude for their deliverance from “evil spirits and infirmities.” Of Mary it is said that “seven devils went out of her,” and the number indicates a possession of more than ordinary malignity. She was present during the closing hours of the agony on the cross. John 19:25. She remained by the cross till all was over, and waited till the body was taken down and placed in the garden sepulcher of Joseph of Arimathaea.
  [4]"Over against," in this context, means opposite, in sight of, before.

  [5]Watch—A guard. A Roman guard was made up of four to sixteen solders. In combat, they would form a square, and were able to hold off a much larger force.
  [6]There are many methods that could have been used to secure the stone. One way to do it would be to put wax in the joint between the entrance and the rock at several locations, and then, using a stamp or ring to imprint the seal or insignia of some government authority in the wax. If anyone tried to move the stone the seal would be broken, and everyone would know that someone had tried to enter the tomb.

Please send me your questions, comments and prayer requests.

 Noah Webster’s name is synonymous with his most famous work, Webster’s Dictionary. His dictionary graces the shelves of countless libraries, offices, and schoolrooms. Even though Webster is remembered for his book of definitions, he did not believe his dictionary was the preeminent project of his life. He also produced, The Noah Webster Bible. He called this edition of the Bible “the most important enterprise of my life.” The man of many words claimed there is no word more important than the Word. Maybe that is why he said, “Education is useless without the Bible.”

Christian Reader, Sept. /Oct. 1988

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