Scripture; Matthew 28:11-15
What key questions and unusual observations did you note as you read the passage?
1. What had the guards seen?
2. Why do the chief priests desire to find another explanation for events?
3. What are the obvious problems with the chief priests’ suggested story?
4. Why might the soldiers be interested in the chief priests’ idea anyway?
5. What facts in the gospel records show the chief priests’ hypothesis to be completely false?
6. What key facts are substantiated even by the alternate story?
What are their implications for understanding the passage?
What had the guards seen?
There is no evidence in Matthew’s Gospel that the guards had actually seen Jesus resurrection. However, they had seen the angel that rolled away the stone; they had experienced the earthquake; they had heard the angels’ announcement; and they were aware that the tomb was empty.
Why do the chief priests desire to find another explanation for events?
As unlikely as it seems to us, there were those to whom the resurrection was not good news. The resurrection was the ultimate sign that Jesus had indeed been sent by God to speak to his people, Israel; to call people everywhere to follow God in a new way, and to write the new covenant between God and humanity. As the resurrection established Jesus authority beyond doubt, it also meant that the authority of the chief priests was now empty and quickly passing (Heb. 8:6-13). The people had seen the contrast already before his death, and had said of Jesus that he taught as one who had authority, and not as the scribes (Mt. 7:29). To acknowledge Jesus as resurrected would have been to rescind their own authority. To acknowledge that Jesus was raised from the dead would have also meant that they had been wrong in supporting his crucifixion. To preserve their own authority, power, and position, they had to find another explanation for the empty tomb.
What are the obvious problems with the chief priests’ suggested story?
Most obvious problem with the story is that if the guards truly were sleeping they would not have known what had happened at all; they would have only been guessing both at what happened and who did it. Secondly for guards to sleep on duty was suicidal. Thirdly, obviously a story that requires a bribe to sustain it is not the truth.
Why might the soldiers be interested in the chief priests’ idea anyway?
Besides the money, the reason the soldiers might be interested in the chief priests’ suggestion, is their tenuous position as a result of their failure to guard the tomb. Their responsibility was to make sure that the tomb was undisturbed. It was obvious the tomb had been disturbed. That meant that they had been derelict in their duty. As a result, they were subject to the death penalty anyway. This corruption of justice suggested by the chief priests at least provided a hope of escape.
What facts in the gospel records show the chief priests’ hypothesis to be completely false?
To begin, the first visitors at the tomb were women and the guards knew it. Hadad they been beaten up by a small group of grave-robbing women? The suggestion is ludicrous.
Second, the evidence of the eyewitness accounts repeatedly shows inadvertently that the disciples were shocked, disoriented, unnerved, and surprised beyond belief by the empty tomb. This kind of evidence is totally at odds with any suggestion that they had been involved in some kind of a plot.
Third, the tremendous power of the story of the resurrection in the lives of the apostles can only be accounted for on the basis of its truth. The disciples could not have based their lives, could not have taught others deeply, could not have formed new theologies out of a lie. They would not have laid down their lives for a lie.
Fourth, this story the guards told has no way of accounting for the appearances of the resurrected Christ. These also were an integral part of the evidence presented by the early preachers of the church.
What key facts are substantiated even by the alternate story?
Key facts include: The tomb is empty! The body of Jesus is not there! This implies that the tomb was opened so that the guards could also see in. They too were eyewitnesses to an empty tomb.
What is the role/significance of this event/passage in the Gospel story?
What will the enemy do to stop the message that Jesus came to bring? From the beginning of Jesus’ life on earth, Satan had opposed God’s plan. From the dramatic moves of Herod to do away with the children of Bethlehem, through the direct temptations in the desert, to the desires of the crowds to make him king, to the words of his own disciple saying, “This can never happen to you;” to whom he had to say, “Get behind me Satan” (Matt. 16:22,23); to the crucifixion itself, the Enemy had always opposed God’s plan. Now, on the morning of the resurrection, is not surprising that a conspiracy of lies, deceit, and bribery continues to attempt to undermine the good news that God has brought to the human race. Even though his defeat is now obvious, the enemy will not cave, he will redouble his efforts to undo God’s work. This passage serves as a warning to us that our spiritual enemy is indeed a lion lurking, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).
Historically speaking, this vignette prepares us for the book of Acts. In this incident we begin to understand that the chief priests will remain unalterably opposed to God’s message in Christ. We are then not surprised at the conflicts in the early chapters of Acts between the apostles as they preached the resurrection and the Jewish leaders entrenched in their Old Testament authority.
What inspirational “take home” impressed me?
As I stop to think about it, there are still those today for whom to acknowledge the resurrection of Jesus Christ would be to contradict their own worldview. There are those, for example, who refuse to allow for supernatural events. Their rules for the world only allow for scientific happenings that can be repeated, that can be observed with the five senses and test instruments. Since something like the resurrection of Jesus is not repeatable, it must not have happened, they reason. So they too, just like the chief priests, are forced to find an alternate explanation for the eyewitness accounts. Such materialists may suggest, for example, that the Gospels are mythical creations of devotional communities written at later times. This is why it is important for us to know that the earliest copies of the gospel manuscripts found, now date from the first century, within the lifetimes of those who knew the apostles. (See http://debate.org.uk/topics/history/bib-qur/bibmanu.htm) How sad to be unwilling to accept the truth of the resurrection! How dangerous to lead others astray simply to protect our own status.
D. James Kennedy wrote a book once that invited us to contemplate a world without Christ (What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? 1994). If Jesus had lived but not risen from the dead, we would never have heard of him. He would have disappeared into history with all the other would-be leaders that were eliminated by Herod and Pilate. Paul tells us bluntly that without the resurrection, our faith is useless, and we are of all people most miserable (1 Cor. 15:17-19). Dr. Kennedy suggested that so much of what we consider helpful in our world; our educational institutions, our hospitals, our concept of charity, all such things would not exist were it not for the resurrection. Thank God the lies of the chief priests and soldiers did not win! Intellectually, we certainly agree. Yet sometimes we live our lives as if our faith did not have resurrection power. We live day-to-day as if we did not serve a risen Christ. Whenever we do this, we let the lie win in practice even though we would never allow it to win in our confession. That is why Paul prayed, I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (Eph 1:18-21 NIV).