Regarding the resurrection of our Lord, it is ironic that the thing the Sanhedrin tried to prevent with the placing of a guard became the story they made up to hide what really happened. The Pharisees and chief priests had Pilate seal Jesus’ tomb so that His disciples would not steal His body and claim that He rose from the dead (Matt. 27:62–66). Yet when Jesus was resurrected (28:1–10), His opponents did not repent; rather, they concocted a tale of theft to deceive Israel (vv. 11–15), preferring to save face instead of admitting the truth.
Many enemies of Christianity still say the disciples stole Jesus’ body and fraudulently preached His resurrection, an assertion that is filled with holes. The theory originates in the tall tale for which the soldiers were paid hush money (vv. 12–15); but how could sleeping soldiers have known what happened to the body? Furthermore, the disciples at this point were merely trying to save their own skins (26:56; John 20:19). John Chrysostom writes, “These were men hiding out to simply stay alive” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, first series, vol. 10, p. 530), not those who would risk arrest and execution for robbing a grave.
If they made up the resurrection, why did the apostles not cover up their unfaithfulness at the point of our Lord’s death? Passages like Matthew 26:56, 69–75 show that the apostles report the truth even when it hurts and refuse to concoct stories to make themselves look good; loving truth, they “determined not to conceal even their own shortcomings” (Chrysostom, p. 531). Moreover, the record of women as the first to see the resurrection (Matt. 28:1–10) strongly corroborates the account’s accuracy. First-century Jews thought women were untrustworthy witnesses, and recording them as the first to see the risen Lord was not the best way to prove that Jesus rose from the dead. Making men the first witnesses of the resurrection would be an easier way to convince readers; that the apostles do not do this reveals that they are not out to deceive us.
Matthew Henry says that the best evidence will not convince people unless the Holy Spirit is working within them. Like the soldiers who guarded Jesus’ grave, we will readily sell our souls for a lie if the Spirit does not intervene.
Most of us are probably not guilty of accepting payment to make up a lie about the Christ. However, all of us are tempted in various ways to sell our souls at the expense of broadcasting the truth. Perhaps we keep silent at work so that we can get that promotion. Maybe we never preach the gospel to our neighbors because we do not want to be ridiculed. Ask the Lord to enable you to stand firm for His gospel no matter the consequences.
For further study:
The Bible in a year: