62Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, 63Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. 64Command 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. 65 Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. 66So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch. (The King James Version, 1769.)
Jesus has been crucified. Darkness covers the land. He dies on the cross. A great earthquake shakes the land. The Roman soldiers who witnessed these events believe that Jesus was "the Son of God." That is the first Roman witness. They will spread the news of what they saw, perhaps in secret. It does become a part of history.
The chief priests and the Pharisees come together. Finally that deceiver of men is dead. They heard the report that Joseph of Arimathaea took down the body of Jesus and buried him in the new tomb he had constructed for himself. Joseph then rolled a great stone over the opening. Gone, finally gone. Who was it that brought up the crazy story of a resurrection first? But once those words were spoken the leaders knew that the threat to peace and their power was not yet finished. What if the disciples sneak to the tomb in the night and remove the body of Jesus? Then the disciples can continue to teach the false doctrine given to them. The end result, a fable that will not die. A false hope that will lead the people, at worse, into rebellion; or constant infighting, at least, with the leadership losing power.
Seeing how much trouble can occur, if they do nothing, they go to Pilate and explain the situation to him. Pilate knew that one of the reasons the priests and Pharisees wanted Jesus dead was because they were filled with envy. It would not motivate Pilate to do anything to help them avoid a theological dilemma. Yet a rebellion? If the disciples begin a political movement to overthrow Roman rule? That he would have to avoid. He could not take a chance on the body of Jesus going missing. Once again Pilate acts, not to save the power of the leaders but to prevent being blamed for a rebellion.
Pilate agrees with the priests and Pharisees and gives them a watch (of soldiers). Perhaps as many as sixteen soldiers went to the tomb to set a guard about it. The priests and Pharisees made sure that the tomb was secure and then used a type of mortar or cement to seal the rock to the face of the hill's wall. During the night at least four guards would be standing by the stone covering the opening. The other twelve would sleep in a semi-circle about the four soldiers. No one was going to get by them. If they failed to keep the body of Jesus in the tomb... their punishment was death!
1In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. 2And, 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. 3His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: 4And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. (The King James Version, 1769.)
It is still night. There are four soldiers guarding the entrance. All of a sudden the earth rumbles under their feet. Is it an aftershock from the earthquake a few days earlier? All the soldiers wake-up. They grab their weapons and stand ready. Yet they did not have anything in front of them to fear. Not in front but above and behind them. The angel of the Lord was descending. As the angel descended the earthquake became greater. This was too much for the soldiers. A loud crack came from the stone as the seal was broken. A low rumble sounded as the hand of the angel rolled the stone away. He sat on the stone, too brilliant for the eye to keep looking upon. How long can a person stand, shaking, in the presence of such a being? Not long at all. They fell to the ground as dead men. Did they see or hear anything else? Who knows? When they did recover they had to face the fact that they had failed in their duty. They broke their camp and began to return to the fortress within Jerusalem.
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. (The King James Version, 1769.)
What were these soldiers to do? They had to make a report to the priests about the failure of the task given to them. How they set the guard, the watches, all things pertaining to their duty. Then they talked about the earthquake. Then the angelic being was described. What the angel did in moving the stone. And worse... that they collapsed in fear and passed out.
The leaders of the people come together for a council meeting. They are told what the soldiers had witnessed. Do they believe them? Perhaps some do and others don't. They do know that this story must not spread. It is too fantastic to believe, but the times are such, that the common people are still looking for a redeemer, a Messiah, and this tale would inflame those passions. The tale must be stopped before it begins to spread. The soldiers have to lie.
Think of it! The people responsible for the integrity of the law are asking soldiers to be false witnesses of the events they observed. The soldiers are told by the leadership of Israel to say, "His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept." If the soldiers were asked, to admit to such a thing, it could bring death. If Pilate finds out... they will be judged. Money, a bribe, to keep your mouth shut, to tell the lie if pressed for the truth... that works. They agree to the deal. And if Pilate finds out... the leaders will intervene on the soldiers behalf. Perhaps they would bribe Pilate as well? Hmm... how large does a bribe have to be to pay-off sixteen Roman guards? To pay off Pilate?
And the false witness, the lie, continues among Jews... even today.
The breaking of the ninth commandment didn't seem to bother the leaders of Israel. False witnesses come in handy on occasion. Bribes? They work, though that is breaking a law as well. Perhaps, because of the political and religious climate they thought they were justified. Perhaps... but not in the eyes of God. This is truly the greatest opportunity to fulfill Daniel's prophecy: "9. 24 Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy."
They missed it this time, but there will come a time in the future, when the truth will be revealed to them in full. Zech "12 10And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn."
Webite administrator: Joseph A Raymond
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada