If we had any doubt that Pilate had Jesus executed to prevent a riot, rather than because Christ was guilty of attempting to overthrow Rome (Matt. 27:11–26), the circumstances of our Lord’s burial prove that the governor believed Jesus was innocent as charged. Most crucified victims in ancient Rome were left on the cross even after they were dead, and the elements and the animals took care of the mess that was left. It was not unusual, however, for Roman authorities to grant the body of a crucified person to his friends or family, provided he was not guilty of high treason. Pilate evidently did not think Jesus was guilty, otherwise he would not have given Christ’s body to Joseph of Arimathea (vv. 57–60).
Like many other first-century Jerusalemites, Jesus was buried outside the city in a cave hewn in a limestone hill. The “great stone” (v. 60) that sealed His gravesite was set on an incline in a channel cut in the rock, making it easier to cover the tomb by rolling the stone downhill. It took several men to roll the stone back up the incline, which discouraged grave robbers and wild animals from trying to enter the tomb. This refutes any theory that Jesus swooned, and, not having died, regained consciousness and rolled the stone away Himself.
Other details that corroborate the historicity of the resurrection are the seal and contingent of soldiers placed at the entrance to the tomb (vv. 62–66). The seal was a soft, moldable substance, probably clay, that was imprinted with the Roman imperial seal and attached to the stone with a rope. Breaking the seal would incur the Empire’s wrath — if someone could get past the guards.
The heavy stone should have been good enough for the religious authorities, but their paranoia that a story might circulate about a resurrected Jesus prompted them to seal His grave. They took these extra measures to prevent the theft of Jesus’ body, so fearful were they of losing their esteem. Yet ironically, we find proof of Christ’s resurrection in that their deeds were overcome. The timid disciples surely could not have broken through the guards and seal. Jerome aptly writes, “The greater their precautionary care, the more fully is revealed the power of the resurrection” (Commentary on Matthew, 4.27.64).
The death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a myth invented by His disciples. He really died and He really rose again. There are many plausible arguments for the resurrection of Jesus, and many Christian apologists have put together helpful presentations of these details. This week, try to find a good resource on the evidence for the resurrection and arm yourself to defend its historicity should an opportunity ever present itself.
For further study:
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