Theme: Securing the Tomb
In this week’s Easter lessons we note the futility of those who tried to keep shut the tomb that was soon going to be empty, and of the need for everyone to submit to the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture: Matthew 27:65-66
Usually the Bible is not a funny book. The issues with which it deals are too grave. But the Bible is an honest book, and when it reports situations in life which are naturally funny it reflects them honestly and therefore with an appropriate sense of humor.
There is a situation like this in Matthew’s account of the death and burial of Jesus Christ, preceding his resurrection. For months the chief priests and Pharisees, who were the rulers of Israel, had been stalking Jesus, and they had at last attained his execution at the hands of Pilate, the Roman governor. Jesus had died on the day before the Passover and had been quickly buried. For anyone else or in any other situation this should have been the story’s end. But the leaders remembered that Jesus had foretold his resurrection, and therefore they came to Pilate with the request that he make Jesus’ tomb secure. “Otherwise,” they said, “his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”
Pilate replied—I am sure it must have been in jest—“Take a guard. Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they secured the tomb by putting a seal on it and posting a guard (Matt. 27:62-66). What did Pilate have in mind when he told these leaders, “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how”? It must have been one of two things, as Matthew Henry, one of the great old biblical expositors, suggests. Either Pilate was laughing at the priests for their folly—imagine setting a guard to watch a dead man—or, which is more likely, he was mocking them for their fears. It was as though he were saying, “Do your worst, try your wit and strength to the utmost; but if he be of God, he will rise in spite of you and all your guards.”1 This is what Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher of the nineteenth century, thought the text meant, and he almost laughs as he describes the chief priests begging “Pilate to do what he could to prevent the rising of their victim.”2
When the chief priests and Pharisees came to the Roman governor they explained their request by reference to an anticipated intervention of the disciples: “Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead” (v. 64). But I wonder if this is truly what they feared. For one thing, the disciples were not worth fearing. Doubt on that score had been settled at the time of Christ’s arrest in the garden when these “stouthearted companions” forsook their Master and fled back over the Mount of Olives to Bethany. Apparently, only Peter and John even made it to Jerusalem to witness the crucifixion. But neither of these was any good. Peter denied his Lord. Again, if the chief priests and Pharisees had really feared the disciples, it would have been an easy matter to have arrested them at the same time they arrested Jesus or at least to have rounded them up shortly afterward. That they did not do this indicates that they had no fears on their account.
Why did the religious leaders want Jesus’ tomb secured?
From the study, what was Pilate thinking when he told the men to go and make the tomb secure?