I told you we would look at this segment before we move on to look at the story of the encounter with the two men on the road to Emmaus. But I also asked in the last Gem if what I shared reminded you of another story written by Luke which has remarkable parallels. Then I hinted at the fact that we will explore it in depth later. The story is found in Acts 12 of Peter in jail and the church prayed for him. When Peter got out of jail by God’s hand he went to the house where the church were praying for him and knocked on the door. Rhoda opened it and then went and told those praying that Peter was at the door. Their response? “No way, it couldn’t be. It must be his angel.” Much the same atmosphere as that among the disciples and the women after the resurrection. “He can’t have been raised from the dead! Some one must have taken His body.” Oh you of little faith! Because this story is found in Acts 12 we will look at it in detail when we move on to the Book of Acts next.
This is not a Luke element, it comes from Matthew. But it is a significant little story and connects to what we have read in Luke so I thought I would include it. Not only that, but it is relevant to us these days as the guards’ report is still circulating. Each of the other gospel writers include a segment related to the proof of the fact that He was actually dead and thus verifying His resurrection to be an actual resurrection from the dead. Only Luke doesn’t include this kind of statement. He seems more intent on demonstrating the degree of unbelief that existed among Jesus followers than to be concerned about the verification of Jesus Resurrection and proof that He did actually die as the Scriptures claim.
Pilate couldn’t believe that Jesus was already dead, so he called for the Roman officer and asked if He had died yet. The officer confirmed that Jesus was dead, so Pilate told Joseph he could have the body.Mark 15:44-45
So they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus, they saw that He was already dead, so they didn’t break His legs. One of the soldiers, however, pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also can believe.)John 19:31-35
The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while He was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent His disciples from coming and stealing His body and then telling everyone He was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.” Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.” So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it.Matthew 27:62-66
Guarding Christians was a dangerous job it seems. Oh not from the Christians themselves but from the Roman authorities. Any Imperial Roman guard given the responsibility for guarding someone, if the prisoner escaped, was likely to lose his head. In this case the guards were Roman guards appointed by Pilate himself. Notice the plural form of guards. Usually at the least two guards were appointed for each prisoner. For a high security job or one demanding particular attention four were appointed. Although we are not told the exact number of guards, likely the number was four. We are told “some of the guards went into the city and told the leading priests what had happened.” Inferring some of them stayed close by the tomb but not evident. Thus at least four guards must have been involved. The tomb was sealed and the guards were posted to stand guard outside to protect the entrance to the tomb. We are told why of course. “They were to guard the tomb to prevent His disciples from coming and stealing His body and then telling everyone He was raised from the dead!” Ironic isn’t it. At least four Romans guards were there to prevent the disciples stealing the body and ultimately they have to say “Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole His body.” They must have been the most inept of all Roman guards for that to have happened when they were forewarned that it might happen. Are we to believe the elite forces of the Roman army can’t prevent a few fisherman and misfits of society from stealing the body of their leader when it lies behind a huge stone in a tomb inside a cave? Hardly seems credible. It is much more credible to believe the resurrection than to believe the story spread around.
If Jesus’ body was taken by the Jewish leaders as some have claimed why was it then not paraded around the nation to demonstrate to the followers of this new religion that their leader was indeed dead. Was Jesus’ body taken by the disciples as the Jewish authorities claimed. Matthew’s account makes a mockery of that theory. The guards appear to pre-empt the leaders finding out from anyone else but them alone. So when the women leave the tomb some of them go straight to the Jewish authorities to explain what had happened. I don’t know where Matthew got his information from but clearly the story must have been leaked to the media as we have a copy of it. I am sure those guards were delighted. Rather than facing a likely death sentence they were to be rewarded because the Jewish leaders have contrived the story to be told. But there are huge holes in it. If indeed it was true that the disciples came and stole the body why were the guard not punished anyway by the Romans. After all its clear that they had failed at the very task they were given. And if indeed the disciples had taken the body it does not explain where the disciples boldness came from in the following years to make them willing to foliow the LORD’s persecution. Men who have a contrived scenario do not wish to give their lives for a cause they know is fake. No, the only scenario that makes sense is that Jesus died, was buried, resurrected and then ascended into heaven just as the Scriptures tell us. It is the only story which fits the facts.
There is one more element I wish to draw your attention to. Matthew’s comment: Their story spread widely among the Jews, and they still tell it today. The today immediately referred to here is Matthew’s “today”. In other words at the time Matthew was writing his gospel this account of the disciples stealing the body of Christ was still being put forth. There are various dates for the writing of Matthew. Some think 62 AD others think 85 AD and there is a middle ground date of 70 AD. Let’s conservatively saying we are talking about the period around the 70’s AD. So some forty years after the events this explanation for the disappearance was still being put forward. But it goes far later than that because I have had people offer that story and the reason for the disappearance of Jesus body in this day and age (my today). It is a favourite explanation offered by Muslims to account for why there is no body. Most people realise a claim of the Jewish leaders taking the body does not stand up to the facts. If they had, they would have produced it as Christianity grew. So many people opt for the disciples being the ones responsible which also fails as evidence which will hold up in a court of law. My opinion? No one stole the body. Jesus simply walked out in it after He passed clear through His grave clothes. To emulate what Jesus did you would have to “know the power of Christ’s resurrection too, and before that the fellowship of His sufferings.”
You Will Never Know Your Greatness Until You Are Ready To Face Your Weaknesses.Robb Thompson
Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s project not to snatch people from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven!Rick Godwin
The greatest human disease is control. If we fear less & allow more, who knows what we could achieve.Charlie Efford
Your acceptance was decided on the cross before you were even born.Paul Scanlon