To tell us of Saturday of Holy Week, we have only these words from Scripture:
The next day, which is the day after the Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went together to Pilate. They reminded him that when Jesus was alive He had claimed that He would be raised from the dead after three days.
Chief Priests and Pharisees: So please order someone to secure the tomb for at least three days. Otherwise His disciples might sneak in and steal His body away, and then claim that He has been raised from the dead. If that happens, then we would have been better off just leaving Him alive.
Pilate: You have a guard. Go and secure the grave.
So they went to the tomb, sealed the stone in its mouth, and left the guard to keep watch (Matthew 27:62-66, The Voice).
In the short space of six verses of Scripture, two events ensue that disclose the desperation and futility of evil’s last stand.
The long and stressful week of conflict and cruelty had come to an end. In the late afternoon, the body of Jesus was removed from the cross and buried in a tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea.
By Jewish law the burial of a criminal must take place before sunset. Even more pressing, it was late Friday afternoon and the Sabbath would begin at sunset. As darkness fell, the Sabbath began. Yet this was more than an ordinary Sabbath, it was the High Sabbath of Passover.
It is for this reason that the activities of described in the Scripture are astounding and almost inexplicable. On the Sabbath, the Bible tells us: “The chief priests and Pharisees went together to Pilate”
This is scandalous: Jewish law forbids travel on the Sabbath. The priests were expected to be living examples of the law. The Pharisees kept the law and all the rules that formed a hedge around the law. There is no action in Scripture that demonstrates so clearly how desperately the Jewish authorities wanted to eliminate Jesus.
Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath law when Christ brought life and healing to a man with a shriveled hand. After launching their accusation, the Pharisees got together and plotted to kill Jesus (Matthew 12:9–14). Now, these same men break the Sabbath law in order to ensure that Jesus is really dead and gone.
The chief priests and Pharisees were afraid of Jesus, afraid of his followers, and especially fearful of the rumors they had heard of Christ’s immanent resurrection. They knew that if Jesus were to rise from the dead, everything would be different.
The priests and Pharisees pour out their fears to Pilate. No doubt they wanted Pilate to provide Roman soldiers to guard the tomb. Pilate and the Jewish leaders had an uneasy arrangement in the execution of Jesus. The Jewish authority needed Roman sanction to execute a criminal. Pilate pushed the blame off himself and on the bloodthirsty crowd as he washed his hands of it.
In this political tension and gamesmanship, Pilate responds to the Jewish leaders by passing the responsibility back to them, “You have a guard. Go and secure the grave.”
The plain reading of the text indicates that Pilate expected the temple authorities to use their own Temple guards to secure the tomb. They could certainly send to the tomb the same Jewish guards they sent to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Most of us have always understood that Roman soldiers guarded the tomb. Like you, I appreciate the shiny Roman costumes with red tunics that we see in our Easter presentations. However, it is far more likely that the guards at the tomb were representatives of the Jewish Temple. The Jewish Temple authorities sent guards to keep Jesus in the tomb!
Evil’s Failure & God’s Victory
Here is the futility of the Jewish leaders…
- They took on the task of keeping the Son of God in a tomb, but he would rise again.
- They attempted to hold in death “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).
- They endeavored to seal in “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).
God is not defeated. Their attempts to hold Jesus in the tomb were futile! Jesus lives! The power of God raised Jesus to life anew.
A Post-Script to the Story: In a strange twist, it was the Jewish guards send to tomb who were the first witnesses of the Resurrected Lord:
Some of the soldiers who had been standing guard by Jesus’ tomb recovered themselves, went to the city, and told the chief priests everything that had happened—the earthquake just after dawn, the heavenly messenger (Matthew 28:11, The Voice).
Amazing! The soldiers charged to guard the tomb told the story of the Living Lord!
Prayer for Holy Week: Lord, let me believe, even on the darkest day, that your Holy Love and Power overthrow the plots and plans of evil. Amen.
Copyright 2014 © Richard Leslie Parrott