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By a turn of events that the religious leaders who crucified Jesus had not counted upon, His grave was not assigned with wicked men as they had planned but with a rich man of their own number (Isa 53:9).  In this way the stigma as an evildoer with which they had hoped to seal His death was turned instead to honor.  There were other portents as well that indicated that the tide had turned against them and their sun had set at noon, but none affected them more than the night before at their Passover as they sang the last of the Hallel psalms when their eyes were opened for just an instant to see Him for who He was and what they had done to Him (Mat 23:39, Psa 118).  Although they as quickly hardened their hearts against the truth as their eyes were opened to it, still, they couldn’t escape the dread of the curse that their sin had brought upon them, no matter how hard they tried to dismiss it.  Now, His words that He would rise again the third day, which they earlier dismissed as something only fools would entertain, suddenly seemed more threatening as God began giving them over to their fears.  They were so unnerved by the disquiet that came over them that on the next day, a high sabbath for the first day of Unleavened Bread, as Jesus rested in the grave, they who had hypocritically charged Him with doing what was not lawful on the Sabbath (Mat 12:1-2, etc…), desecrated the sabbath to engage Pilate, a pagan, to address their apprehension.  They actually had no reason, humanly speaking, to fear, for Jesus was clearly dead, and His followers were scattered and cowering in fear—exactly as they had planned.  If they had acted sincerely, though ignorantly, the truth to which their eyes were opened might rather have turned them to God in repentance, and they would have rested on that sabbath for the first day of Unleavened Bread, and the following seventh day Sabbath, waiting to see what came of Jesus’ claims.  For God is full of mercy, as He would soon demonstrate so clearly to one of their own who was even then extremely zealous for their Jewish traditions and advancing beyond many of his contemporaries (Gal 1:3-14); cf. Act 23:1, 1Ti 1:13.  But as even Pilate recognized, they had acted malevolently, from envy, and now their sins had come upon them. 

Using the pretense that Jesus’ disciples might try to steal Jesus’ body and pretend He had risen from the dead, in light of the fears that had overtaken them, and considering that they already had at their disposal the temple guard, what was the real intent of the Roman soldiers they wanted Pilate to order to guard the tomb?  Consider that they would not have had the same understanding we now have of the actual resurrection of Jesus to a glorified body that could appear or disappear at will, or of His eternal, spiritual kingdom, but rather of a coming back to life to reign as an earthly king over an earthly kingdom with which they would now find themselves at odds.  What did their actions, to which their fears had driven them, clearly indicate about the only sort of kingdom to which they would subject themselves, and since they had rejected God’s kingdom, the actual kingdom to which they were now beholden?  Cf. Luk 4:5-6, and note that Rome was the imperial power and greatest earthly kingdom of the day.  Note too that in addressing Pilate as sir they used the word for Lord that they had denied to use for Jesus, referring to Him instead as a deceiver; Mat 27:63.  Consider that in spite of having obtained their will to have Jesus put to death, which they imagined was the ultimate solution to solve their “problem”, in fact they were now forced into an even thornier problem, i.e., keeping Him dead, which clearly set themselves up against God Himself.  Knowing the deceitful nature of sin, how had God clearly warned the Jewish leaders in advance against falling into the situation in which they now found themselves?  See Psa 2:1-6,10-12.  What does the worsening pickle in which they found themselves remind us about the only place to where the way of the wicked can lead, and the only way that leads to eternal life?  Cf. Deut 32:35, Pro 4:19, Isa 59:8-10, Jer 23:12, Joh 14:6, Mat 16:24-25. 

How did Pilate respond to their request?  See Mat 27:65, and note that the guard of soldiers is the word κουστωδίαν; i.e., they were to serve as custodians of the grave to ensure that it remained undisturbed.  Did he assume control of the soldiers and guarding the grave?  What is the significance that he put it on them to be in charge of guarding the tomb, and his words to them to make it as secure as they could?  Since they were in charge, could they later accuse Pilate of stealing the body, perhaps from spite because he didn’t want to put Jesus to death?  See also Mat 27:19,54, Mar 15:39,44 and consider that Pilate recognized Jesus as an extraordinary person who had done no wrong and had made an extraordinary effort to release Him.  It is also almost certain that the centurion, who had seen Jesus die and was so astounded by the way He breathed His last that he declared Him divine, would have shared that experience with Pilate when summoned by him to verify He was dead, confirming all the more to Pilate that Jesus was no ordinary man[1].  It is not surprising then that he wanted nothing to do with potentially opposing “the gods” according to his understanding, and that his words to them have a hint of sarcasm.  For no matter how secure they tried to make the grave, if they were fighting against heaven, as he suspected, and as their own fears were already accusing them, there was no way they could prevail. 

In addition to the guard, what else does Matthew say they did to secure the grave?  See Mat 27:66.  What penalty would the seal communicate to anyone emboldened enough to steal His body as they imagined?  Considering that He was now dead and His disciples had earlier deserted Him and fled, how likely was it that they would now at the risk of their lives steal His dead body in order to deceive others that He was alive if He really wasn’t?  Although Jesus was dead, and death binds its victims so strongly that even His own disciples to whom He promised He would rise from the dead hardly believed it, and the Jewish leaders did everything they could to make the grave secure, was all the evil of hell and on earth able to keep Him bound?  Cf. Psa 2:2,4.  Much rather, in what way did all their efforts to keep Him bound actually end up helping to establish the truth of the resurrection?  Think: although people might find it easy to believe that the disciples stole His body if there had been no guard, how difficult would it be for them to believe it since there was a guard?  In fact, how did the guard they posted actually make themselves witnesses of the resurrection, which witness their sins forced them to deny, thus binding them all the more in the darkness with which they had sought to bind Him?  See Mat 28:2-4,11-13. 

[1] According to Matthew Henry, Tertullian, an early church father, said that Pilate was in his conscience a Christian. 

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