NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verses 62b-64: The next day, the leading priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. They said, “Sir, we remember that while that impostor was still alive He said, ‘I will rise from death in three days.’ So give the order for the tomb to be guarded well for three days. His followers might come and try to steal the body. Then they could tell everyone that He has risen from death. That lie will be even worse than what they said about Him before.”
Early church scholar Chrysostom writes: “But note carefully the disciples’ love of truth. They do not conceal from their reader what was said by their enemies. They call Jesus an impostor. Note the contrast between the savagery of the authorities and the simple and truthful disposition of the disciples. Not even at His death did the authorities surrender their anger. But is it worthwhile to inquire concerning that point also where He said, ‘After three days I rise again’? His detractors clearly understood this saying. Even if they did not grasp the metaphor of Jonah, they remembered this.”1
Verses 65-66: Pilate said, “Take some soldiers and go guard the tomb the best way you know how.” So they all went to the tomb and made it safe from thieves. They did this by sealing the stone in the tomb’s entrance and putting soldiers there to guard it.
I’m sure after Joseph, Nicodemus, and the women left, the Jewish leaders did not expect what happened next. For all their excuses and alibis for having Pilate send guards to the tomb, it would have never crossed their minds to request such action if they too did not fear that He might rise from the dead just as He proclaimed He would. Certainly, the words in a Messianic psalm do apply here, “But the one who rules in heaven laughs at them. The Lord makes fun of them. He speaks to them sternly, and it fills them with fear.”2
Their hatred was so bitter that they could not help but call Jesus an “impostor.” It is a word that was used in Greek literature for a wandering vagabond that goes around pretending to be something he is not. The Rabbis explain their meaning of such an individual as: “One who incites [individuals to idolatry, and referred to as a meisit (also mesit)] is a layman [as opposed to a prophet], who incites an individual. [The Mishnah here expresses the view of Rabbi Shimon who argues with the Sages, maintaining that one who incites a city is hung, rather than stoned].”3
Also in the text, we find that a meisit is described as someone who persuades others to respect and revere him. In such cases, a meisit is not only an impostor but also a deceiver. But the Psalmist saw a light in the darkness when it came to such actions by one’s enemies, “Even human anger can bring you honor when you use it to punish your enemies.”4 And Solomon also had a word for them that they should have heeded, “There is no one wise enough to make a plan that can succeed if the Lord is against it.”5 The deception that the Pharisees tried to fabricate and the thing they attempted to prevent, became the reality upon which our eternal hope is based.
Likewise, if those who criticize and denounce the idea of a rapture taking place would try and prevent the second coming of Christ, they would be just as unsuccessful as these Pharisees. And just as He arose, He is returning, no matter what the skeptics say or try to do. But Pilate was no doubt growing tired of their constant bickering and requests, so he authorized the stationing of guards around the entrance of the tomb. Not only were they to guard against the disciples from coming and stealing the body so they could trumpet that He had risen, but they were ordered to seal the stone.
This echoes what happened to Daniel when he was put in the lions’ den in Babylon, “A big rock was brought and put over the opening of the lions’ den. Then the king used his ring and put his seal on the rock. He also used the rings of his officials and put their seals on the rock. This showed that no one could move that rock and bring Daniel out of the lion’s den.”6 We can also add that the Jewish Fathers made this comment that perhaps one of His own disciples may have repeated: “Daniel, that greatly beloved man, was engaged in acts of loving-kindness [all his days. For it is said of him, Your God whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.7”8
In summary, these religious cynics saw Christ’s claim to be the Messiah, and the King of the Jews, a great error which had led many astray. His crucifixion had for the time being canceled His claim as Messiah and King, thus scattering His followers. These skeptics knew that a similar claim of being the Messiah had been made by many others who came before Jesus, but there was no record of their ever being resurrected. So if Jesus was an impostor like the rest, why worry about Him rising from the dead? His miracles were, in some part, also performed by magicians of that day, as well as the prophets of old; yet they were accepted and believed to be real because they never claimed to be the Son of God.
They also knew that for someone to claim that they would be resurrected from the grave, its fulfillment would be a feat hard to accomplish, but if successful it would impossible to deny. They realized that the resurrection of Christ would be the only chance for His cause to survive. Not only would it impress His image in people’s hearts as the triumphant One, but they would then be labeled as defeated doubters. In recent times there has been an uptick in efforts to disprove the death of Christ on the cross and debunk His resurrection, to the point that some are suggesting that He really didn’t die on Calvary but went into a coma and that the coolness of the grave brought Him back to consciousness.
There are even now archaeological undertakings to find His grave so that His bones can be retrieved. Never mind that He was pierced in the side so blood and water could run out, allowing Him to bleed to death in order to provide the blood necessary for sins to be blotted out. Also, we have no record that after His grave was discovered empty, that Peter, James, and John returned to the grave on a regular basis to show their respect, or that Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother came once a year to put flowers near the opening of His tomb in memory of His death and burial.
So why then, if His death is a myth and His resurrection a fairy tale do His critics fear these truths? Why do they spend so much time trying to explain them away? That’s because they fear an even greater threat to their campaign of doubt and suspicion. Jesus promised that He would rise from the grave, and He did! He also promised that after He went away He would come again, and He will! That is what they fear, His return to resurrect all those who died with faith in His coming and transform those alive who wait for His appearing. They know, that if this does take place as He promised and as His followers believe it will, they will be proven to be the faithless fools they really are. Had He not died, He would not have been buried; had He not been buried He would not have risen from the grave: had He not been raised from the grave He would not ascended into heaven; had He not have ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us to follow Him, He would not be coming back.
Early church theologian Origen has this to say: “What do you say, chief priest? Do you really think that Christ said to His men ‘after three days I will rise again9 and then secretly commanded them to steal His body during the night and to tell everyone that He had risen from the dead after three days?10 Yet it is manifestly incredible that after giving such great moral instruction to all peoples and after demonstrating such great power throughout all of Judea, He would then turn and deceive His disciples. Even they would find fault with their Commander and therefore refuse to do His bidding, most especially in view of the danger which would have threatened them from the people if they had confessed the man just crucified to be both their Teacher and the Messiah. But if it is hardly believable for Him to have said such a thing to His disciples, see if it is not more logical to believe that just as He performed great miracles and predicted that His gospel would be preached ‘to the ends of the earth,’11 that His disciples ‘would stand before rulers and kings12 and that ‘Jerusalem would be destroyed by an army,’13 so also did He predict His resurrection when He said ‘destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’ Indeed, it was for that reason that the chief priests and Pharisees said to Pilate, ‘That impostor said, while He was still alive, “after three days I will rise again.”’14”15
All of these things are part of our faith and hope that is kept alive by the fact that Christ still lives today and is changing thousands of lives. His blood is still cleansing; His power is still healing; His words are still changing men and women whom society, medicine, science, and psychology cannot redeem. But the greatest proof of all is not far hence, His triumphant return in clouds of glory.
1 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 89.1
2 Psalm 2:4-5
3 Mishnah, Fourth Division: Nezikin, Tractate Sanhedrin, Ch. 7:10
4 Psalm 76:10
5 Proverbs 21:30
6 Daniel 6:17
7 Ibid. 6:19
8 The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan, loc. cit., p.34
9 Mark 8:31
10 John 2:21
11 Matthew 26:13
12 Mark 13:9
13 Luke 21:20, 24
14 See verse 63
15 Origen: Commentary on Matthew 145