By Pastor Azel
We should read Matthew 27:62-66 and 28:11-15 together as a single narrative. The first passage gives the background for the stolen-corpse theory whereas the second presents an explanation against the theory that the disciples stole the remains of Jesus.
The Guards at the Tomb (Matthew 27:62-66)
Who are the guards? It has been debated whether the guards are temple police or Roman soldiers. Some say the guards reported to the priests “everything that has happen” at the tomb because they were temple police. Other say the guards are Roman soldiers because they were identified as soldiers (28:15) who answerable to Pilate, the governor at the time. Jewish leaders and Roman rulers work together. The religious and political authorities attempted to eradicate the Jesus movement once and for all. It is not merely the guard, but the two powers were involved in concocting the stolen-corpse theory of Jesus’ resurrection.
Why are the guard posted at the tomb? The priest and elders ironically remembered Jesus’ words, “After three days I will rise again.” Remembering is not equal to believing. The priests and elders knew but did not believe Jesus’ prediction. They were afraid of fraud—“the disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead.” The guards were posted to keep the human intruders away. They were there to prevent tomb raiders from stealing the remains of Jesus Christ.
Witnesses of the Empty Tomb (Matthew 28:11-15)
Matthew 28:11-15 tells us about two contrasting witnesses of the empty tomb, namely, the female disciples of Jesus and the male guards at the tomb. The women, culturally unreliable witnesses, testified for the resurrection, whereas the soldiers testified against it. Matthew 28:11-15 presents an explanation for the stolen-body theory–the denial of the resurrection.
The guards were the eyewitnesses of the empty tomb. They were prepared for human intrusion, not for divine intervention. When divine intervention happened, the soldiers became like “dead men” (corpses). They were among those who had a firsthand experience of the empty tomb. They knew the disciples did not steal the remains of Jesus. They reported everything that had happened at the tomb.
The priests and the elders also knew the truth—the disciples did not steal the body. Knowing the truth does not mean believing it. Also, having evidences does not necessarily ask for faith. They denied the truth of Jesus’ resurrection because they rejected Jesus as the messiah a priori. In so doing, they deceived themselves. Later, they devised an explanation—the disciples stole the body while the guards were sleeping. They adopted the every fraud they were afraid of as their official explanation against the resurrection.
What would the priests and the elders have done if the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus? They would be the first to complain about the soldiers’ incompetency to the governor. They would ask a death penalty for soldiers who were asleep on duty. Ironically, the priests and the elders provided the guards with a relatively large amount of money and official protection. They prevent people from knowing the truth. Their theory of stolen-body of Jesus “has been widely circulated . . . to this very day.”
Matthew 28:11-15 draws out some contrast. The first contrast is between the female witnesses and the male guards. The women who were culturally considered unreliable witnesses testified for the truth, whereas the soldiers preferred wealth to truth. Another contrast is between the priests, the leaders of the Jews, and the disciples, the followers of Jesus. “The chief priests use bribe money to commission the soldiers to spread lies, while the resurrected Jesus uses the promises of his presence to commission his followers to spread the gospel (vv.16-20).